Wrap-up Challenge Post: Back-to-the-Classics 2019

I completed 10 of the 12 categories for this year’s Back-to-the-Classics Challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate.

1. READ. REVIEW19th Century Classic. The House of Ulloa, by Emilia Pardo Bazán, 1886.

2. READ. REVIEW. 20th Century Classic. The Illustrated Man, Bradbury, 1951. 

3. READ. REVIEWClassic by a Woman Author. The Prime of Miss Jean Broodie, Muriel Sparks, 1961.

4.READ. REVIEWClassic in Translation. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie.

5. READ. REVIEWClassic Comic Novel. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino.

6. READ. REVIEWClassic Tragic Novel. Ethan Frome, Edith Warthon.

7. READ. REVIEWVery Long Classic. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers, 564 PAGES1935.

8. READ. REVIEWClassic Novella. The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy, 1886. 

9. READ. REVIEW. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). The Ambassadors, Henry James.

10. READ. REVIEW. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton, 1948.

I can’t pick a favorite. It’s odd, but I loved all these books for different reasons. Not one of them I wish I hadn’t read, and I will easily recommend each and everyone.

The House of Ulloa is a great book in the best naturalism and XIX century Spanish novel tradition. If you like XIX century but have never read any book in the Spanish tradition, you are surely missing. The XIX century is probably the best century for many countries, Spain among them.

The Illustrated Man was amazing. Bradbury has a special place in my heart. He can write short stories. Futuristic, philosophical, vintage nostalgia. He transcends genres for sure.

The Prime of Miss Jean Broodie. My first and I hope not last of Muriel’s titles. Unsettling. A book that keeps your head spinning. It feels like you’re trapped in a spider web, but you want to be there, you want to meet the spider. It’s a peculiar style. Not stream of conscience. Not traditional. Not fully unreliable. Not fully reliable.

And Then There Were None. Comforting. It was the right book at the time. I needed a break. This didn’t disappoint.

The Baron in the Trees. Brilliant concept. There was more humor in the first half of the book. It’s so Italian, pleasantly old school. It has an old book feel. Very different to his other title, If on a Winter Night… It doesn’t read as a modern book, but a legend. It’s part of a trilogy but the three books are also stand alone books. It’s more like he grouped three of his titles that explore three different archetypes. If you see this title, Our Ancestors, that book has these three: The Cloven Viscount, The Baron in the Trees, The Non-Existent Knight. They are published independently and in one book.

Ethan Frome. We all know it’s deeply tragic. If you think Greek tragedy, this is our American tragedy. Those who read it young probably failed to appreciate its beauty. Wharton can write. It’s so short, that it truly merits your time. Wharton reigns supreme. She loves hard. Her characters, the land. There’s something so compelling in this book. It’ll also keep you thinking. It’s a good title to read with company, to comment.

Gaudy Night. Oh, what fun this was! Many love mining her quotes, the references, all the hidden meaning. I just enjoyed it at a first entry level. I know I can come back to this title and keep finding more in it. Definitely, one of her most accomplished titles. If you want to visit Oxford, stay in the women’s dorm, and meet Harriet and Lord Peter, and many more interesting people, in the midst of a mystery, this is your title.

The Death of Ivan Illych. Russian to the bone. A title to contemplate death, God, our existence, and all with that Russian flair that Russian writers possess. Nothing light, only the length. Deep themes contemplated in this book, but rooted in the old values tradition.

The Ambassadors. I’m not sure my opinion is transferable. Reading it in Spanish may have helped me lots. I believe the translator had to make an effort to retain meaning, or even to inject it. I mean that I may have stepped on the translator’s shoulders, which helped. And even if he left the sentences as long and heavy as Henry James wrote them, the Spanish grammar may have helped me draw meaning, and my skill in my mother tongue probably resulted in a difficult but satisfying reading. It didn’t drive me to frustration, but always kept me challenged. It left me with a profound admiration and the desire to read this again, or go for another of his last period titles.

Maybe all this, or the fact that I didn’t expect to understand what I read at all times. His paragraphs are meant to confuse us if we try to extract too much. However, the whole will come to have a meaning, and maybe each reader will construct a different meaning, or possibly we will come to different impressions or conclusions each time we read the book.

Cry, The Beloved Country. Although a book of its time, of course, and at places too sensationalist, it rang true and it educated while not moralizing. Paton’s love for Africa and humankind is timeless. The book is very compelling.

19 thoughts on “Wrap-up Challenge Post: Back-to-the-Classics 2019

  1. Congratulations on finishing the challenge! I have to echo Kaggsy: this is a wonderfully varied list. It reminds us readers that there really is something for everyone in reading classics.

    From your list, the most tempting to me is the Dorothy Sayer book. I’ve read most if not all of the Lord Peter books but really only remember the first one because I re-read it for an online book group. I would love to binge-read them all from start to finish. They are quite long but I enjoy the depth of the which requires such length.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve read so many of my favorite books and I could make so many comments. Gaudy Night was my favorite Sayers. I think Ethan Frome is my favorite Wharton. I read Paton’s book during the apartheid era. It was very apropos then. Love the Bradbury. The Death of Ivan Ilich was the story that introduced me to Tolstoy and turned him into my all time favorite author.

    I found your comments about translations very interesting. I am currently reading Jane Austin in Spanish. I’m getting most of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my. Lovely, lovely. I have that Ethan Frome. I’ve never read ANY Wharton and I want too, badly. And Then There Where None irritated me for some reason! HA! 🙂 I really, really want to read The Illustrated Man…I love Bradbury, too! Gah! 😀 SO many books.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Gaudy Nights” is the only one on your list that I’ve read. (I’m pretty sure I gave it 4 stars!) I’ve only read one Christie novel – “Murder on the Orient Express”. However, I am planning to read more. My mom was a huge Christie fan and has a lot her books. After mom passed away, my dad told me I could have any of her books that I wanted so I brought home most of her Christie books as well as a few other titles from different authors. I am planning to read some of the Christie books in 2020 (maybe even all of them, we’ll see).

    I read “Fahrenheit 451” by Bradbury and really liked it. I might ought to add “The Illustrated Man” to my TBR. Have you read Fahrenheit 451?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some great titles, Silvia! I’ve just posted my wrap-up post & also only completed 10. Ethan Frome -wow! What can I say about this book? It was fantastic & haunting. Gaudy Night, just wonderful & one of my favourite Sayers. I wasn’t that keen on that Christie title. I think it was because none of the characters were likeable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to stop by and read your wrap up. I agree, fantastic and haunting describes it great. Gaudy Night is a formidable Sayers. I also agree with the Christie title. I liked it because of the tension, but the characters, argh, none were likable. I appreciate her Poirot because I always like him, despite his flaws.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  6. Re Bradbury: I like the idea of futuristic vintage. That’s exactly what he is and it doesn’t seem an odd combination at all when reading him. I picked up a very large volume of his short stories a year ago, haven’t got to it yet. Loved the short stories when I first read them as a kid, so I’m hoping the memory won’t be damaged by the revisiting. I must read Jean Brodie, I’ve only seen the movie and that was a very long time ago too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy, I believe he will not disappoint at all. He’s that type of writer so good for the young age, who gets better when we read him in our older age. I have watched the movie, and it’s also a masterpiece. It captures who Jean Brodie is. I’ve only read this title, but I hear all my reading friends rave about her.


  7. So, so impressive, Silvia — what you’ve read and how much you’ve read. I shall have to chase up all those reviews I somehow seem to have missed, but I did appreciate this overview. I’ve got a copy of Ethan Frome to read in 2020 as my first Wharton, and your comments only encourage! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Chris. I’m so blessed with a life that allows me time to read. It’s also a time when acquiring books is relatively easy. But the community is what I appreciate the most. It’s always making me grow as a reader, and it helps me to enjoy the books much more.

      You will appreciate Ethan Frome. It’s a novella, truly succinct.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Silvia: What a very nice (and impressive) list! I really enjoyed your roundup, which makes me want to dash off to check out some books I haven’t read, especially your 19th century selection, Emilia Pardo Bazán, who is totally unfamiliar to me (I Do love a good 19th century realistic novel when I’m in the right mood!). And I really MUST get to Ethan Frome (I love Wharton, but haven’t read this one, which I think is generally considered one of her best) and Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych, which I have absolutely NO excuse for not reading by this point! I also found your comments about reading James’ great Ambassadors in Spanish extremely interesting (and perceptive!). As I think we’ve discussed before, we totally agree about Gaudy Night and Miss Jean — both are fabulous reads!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janakay, XIX century lit has to be the most disputed category for us to choose from. I’m an enthusiast of translations, but in the end, we all know that we always ‘miss’ something, not just language, -which sometimes is not a bad return, what a translation offers-, but the culture and idiosyncrasy that’s embedded in the language, and the type of book the writer chooses to write, which makes “me”, for example, not to be that super excited about Dickens as I’d be of Galdós or Pardo Bazán -his scandalous lover, by the way-, and all this because I’m closer to the culture of these two than the one of Dickens.

      Frome and Ilych, go for them, Janakay, -at the right time, sure, but don’t miss them-. They are so short and compelling.

      I’m working on a post based on my morning subbing spent researching books for future acquisitions in response to your question of what I’d be wanting from Madrid. It’s all good, -I had been asking myself that same question in different ways for a while, with other lists I have-. As you all will see, it’s a very specific type of list, yet I know you’ll see overlaps for sure. I too feel like checking everything you mention that I haven’t read. Actually, some of your praised books finally made it to my read list, such as Ambassadors. I believe the translation helped me. In the case one reads it in English, I think that some books such as this would be better if one reads reviews and Spark notes resumes before or after each chapter or section, or both. I did that too, -on top of reading it in Spanish, which was still difficult in parts-. If we are looking at an impressionist picture, I don’t mind being told that many see lilies, -to say something-, while others wonder if it’d not be lotus plants in the distance. it’s like hiking with a map.

      Liked by 1 person

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