My first year of the classics club

A year ago I had the ambitious – or insane, that depends on your perspective – idea of joining the notorious classics club. The classics club is a book challenge where the goal is to create a list of 50 classics novels and read them in the coming 5 years. And then you win totally nothing :); but you can boast to your friends that you’ve read 50 classics in 5 years and they will mock you.

But how I do I look back on my first year of participating? And am I still on track? Which means I should have read a fifth of the list by now. By the way: you can find the whole list here.

Well, the good news is that I have already read 11/50 classics and am in the middle of my 12th which I hope to finished around New Year. So I’m on track.

As you can see, I’m more or less aiming at a monthly frequency of reading a classic. For me, that’s a way to structure this project. I also did participate at all the spin editions, which helped me choose my next novel.

I did notice that I hadn’t read a real bumpy classic yet this year, so that’s why I decided to start my first Tolstoj, which are lengthy novels. I’m also aware that it’s easier to read classics for me during the Winter (especially December – January), so I’m just going with the flow at the moment.

Before starting, I thought that reading classics would have an impact on my reading pace. Literature tends to read slower and takes more time, but this wasn’t really the case. I’ve never read more books than in 2021.

I must admit that there were times when asked myself why I started this challenge in the first place. There were some disappointing reads which made me scan the books and look forward to finishing it. I had expected to love these books as they survived for so long and pop up at everyone’s favorites’ list. But I sometimes just didn’t get it, or I could only admit that it was well-written prose but that I just didn’t liked the plot.

But the good news is that there were 4 books that I did enjoy enough and that I can recommend if you want to read a classic during the holidays. These were my favourites of 2021:

Jamaica Inn by Du Maurier is just a great gothic novel. I know by now that I mostly enjoy gothic or Victorian classics, so this one was right up in my alley.

Alexandre Dumas is another author whereof I knew I like his writing and storytelling. The man in the iron mask is full of humor and adventure. Maybe not so good as ‘The three musketeers’ (because it lacked Milady, one of my all-time favourite characters), but still good.

The tenant of Wildfell Hall was my first Anne Brönte. It’s a very readable classic that incorporates modern themes. I’m eager to read ‘Agnes Grey’ now.

And then The color purple! The most recent book on my whole list. This is a great book about the struggle of black American woman in the previous century. It has an unique writing style and I understand now why they say that every woman or girl should read this. I would certainly recommend it to my daughter or sister. If I had one of the two.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring, but it will bring some more classics for me. I’ll not give up on this project yet and I hope I can give you a higher number of recommendations in a year from now.

How many classics have you read in 2021?

Love in time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As a teenager, Florentino Ariza falls head over heels in love with the noble Fermina Daza. They send each other secret letters and promise eternal loyalty. Until Fermina returns from a trip and rejects him without giving a good reason. She decides to marry the rich doctor Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino is desperate, but continues to love Fermina during his life, waiting for her husband to die so that he can take another chance at her.

Let me start by admitting that ‘Love in time of cholera‘ has good and bad points. Marquez’s writing is poetic and incredibly atmospheric. Beautiful sentences flow from his pen. They do not always improve the reading pace, but they are not such a hindrance as with other literary classics. Columbia in all its scents and colours really comes to life. At the same time, there is a lot of melancholy in this book. I did not find any magical realism, for which the author is also known. That seems to be more prominent in his other works.

This is an extremely romantic story. The last 40 pages are amazing. Florentino would really do anything for his Fermina. But…

Florentino falls in love at a very young age with Fermina, who then chooses someone else. Florentino now wants to remain faithful to her by not taking another woman as his wife. Decades later, at her husband’s funeral, he stands at her door to declare her eternal love. Yes, romantic, isn’t it?

Only, in the 50 years in between, our Florentino will lie with literally every woman he meets. His heart is obviously already sold to Fermina, so he doesn’t care about those women at all. Some of his mistresses choose this kind of liaison consciously. But there are also problematic cases. For instance, one woman has her throat cut by her husband after her infidelity is discovered. Another dark-skinned woman confesses that she has been raped so many times that she has started to believe sex is her destiny. And at one point, Florentino becomes the guardian of a 14-year-old girl for whom he holds affection as a grandfather would, apart from also initiating her into sex way too early. And spoiler: that girl will commit suicide before her 20s when Florentino suddenly drops her. Romantic, huh?

So I think Florentino is anything but a nice guy and I am actually very happy for Fermina that she chose someone else. This story is more about obsession than romance I’m afraid. I get the hype for the language and the romantic ending. But for the 21st century, the portrayal of the women in this story is too problematic to be completely overwhelmed.

I might pick up his epos ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ one day, but I’m not sure about it yet 🤔.

This is book 10/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Marquez?

The catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield has just been kicked from school, again. He decides to already leave his school and takes the cab to New York. In the next three days, he will be wandering through the streets, meeting old friends, a tutor and his sister Phoebe. We learn that Holden has lost a younger brother Allie and that he’s struggling to find his place in the world.

This is the kind of classic that I didn’t know what to expect from. I didn’t understand the title at all, now of course I do. The story is about a seventeen year old teenage boy who experiences a difficult period in life and is forced to leave his school again. He knows his parents will be disappointed and already leaves for New York but without going home.

The language in this story is repetitive and filthy. Holden is an unsympathetic main character. The story also felt very American. And being told through the eyes of a teenage boy, it was not easy for me to empathize. But still, his thoughts, fears and pains felt real in some way. And I can understand that youngsters will identify with Holden’s story.

I can also understand the negative reviews of this book. It’s no literature. The language is a blur at times But I also think there are a lot of symbols in this book. So I’m a bit in between opinions. I am sure that it appeals to a certain generation, but I don’t feel a part of it. I also don’t know what to think about a certain scene where an old tutor from Holden makes a strange move during the night..

For me, it was nice to discover a more readable classic and finish it in a few days. I also feel that I understand the message the author wanted to bring, which is not always the case. I’m glad I read this book, but I won’t reread it I think.

This is book 9/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read ‘The catcher in the Rye’? What did you think?

CC spin #28: my result

Last Sunday, the spin number of edition 28 was revealed. And the lucky number is 12! So if you have a look at the list that I made for this challenge, you’ll have figured out by now that my book is….

‘Love in time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez! I believe some people might not yet consider this a classic, but I added some more recent books on my list. I must admit this result scares me, as Marquez is one of those authors I’m afraid of without knowing why specifically.

I just think it’s because I didn’t have luck with other South-American authors I’ve tried? 🤷‍♀️ Also, the English version on Goodreads is said to have only 348 pages, but I remember it being longer? And then I checked to Dutch version and it’s 510 pages! What a difference that is?

Anyway, as it’s a Spanish novel, I’ll read it in the Dutch translation and I hope it will be available in the library (it’s not at the moment) before 12th November, the deadline of this Spin edition.

Have you read this book? Any motivational thoughts?

CC Spin #28: my list

Just when I had selected my next classic as I’m planning to read ‘The catcher in the rye’ somewhere this month, I saw the announcement of the next classics club spin. The rules of a CC spin are easy:

  • List twenty yet to read books from your classics club list and number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Sunday, the 17th of October a number is randomly drawn
  • You’ve have to read and review the book corresponding the number by 12th December.

So, my spin result will provide some inspiration for my November TBR. I still have lots of books to go, so it wasn’t hard to choose 20 books. This is my list:

  1. Richard III by William Shakespeare
  2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  3. A clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess
  4. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  5. The remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  7. And then there were none by Agatha Christie
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj
  9. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  10. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. The bell jar by Sylvia Plath
  12. Love in time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  14. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  15. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  16. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
  17. The trial by Franz Kafka
  18. The fifth queen by Ford Madox Ford
  19. The woman in white by Wilkie Collins
  20. Great expectations by Charles Dickens

Come back this Sunday to discover which one will be my result.

Which number do you think I should get?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert travels to America to teach French poetry. He falls in love with the 12-year-old daughter of his landlady, Dolores Haze. He calls her his ‘Lolita’. To be closer to her, he marries the mother. But when she learns the truth she gets run over by a car. Humbert now takes his stepdaughter on a roadtrip through America during which they become intimate.

Lolita is this kind of classic everyone has heard about. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” It’s probably one of the most famous opening lines ever written. The topic is taboo. A sexual relationship between an adult man and a teenage girl. It’s so wrong. Lots of classics are said to be about topics that were sensitive at the time they were published. But this is still sensitive today. It leaves you with a wry feeling and a sour taste in your mouth.

The story opens with ‘Humbert Humbert’ writing his story from prison awaiting trial. He wants to explain his actions to the public. Humbert is an unreliable narrator and this makes for a disturbing story. He takes us back to his childhood love for a young girl of his age and his sexual desire for her that was never consummated. Ever since, he has a longing for young girls, around 12-13 year old. He calls them ‘nymphets’.

So when one day he meets dark haired (no idea why there are always blondes on the cover of this book 🤷‍♀️) Dolores, who is 12 but quite outspoken for her age, he is lost. He constantly seeks for ways to be with her. And day by day, she also warms towards him.

The writing is poetic. Nabokov creates beautiful sentences. His metaphors and images are vivid and full of detail. But this also means it’s a difficult and at times tiring book to read. The pace is slow, every sentence is a story in itself. I must admit that I began skipping parts near the end of the book. It did appreciate the writing, it’s a work of art. But it was all a bit too much.

This is rightly considered a classic. Especially as Nabokov wrote this originally in English instead of Russian. But I’ve read it now once, and for me that’s enough.

This is book 8/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read Lolita yet? What did you think?

Treasure island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The young Jim Hawkins gets his hands on a treasure map from the old sailor Billy Bones. The map belonged to the feared pirate captain Flint and indicates the location of riches on Skeleton island. Jim sets sail to the island with a few friends, but the one-legged cook John Silver turns out to be an old shipmate of Flint and the crew turns against them.

This classic novel was my result for the 27th CC spin and I must admit that I was looking forward to reading it as I had just finished the Starz series ‘Black sails’, which can be seen as a prequel to this novel. I also do have a thing with pirate stories and novels that take place on a ship.

The book opens with Billy Bones coming to stay at the pub of Jim and his parents. He offers old tales of his life as a seaman and is scared of a pirate with a wooden leg. When he dies, Jim finds a treasure map in his belongings, just before a pirate crew can get hold of it. Subsequently, Jim and his friends from the town set sail to Skeleton island but mutiny looms around the corner and Jim has to use his wit to make it out the adventure alive.

I must start with admitting that this was not an easy read for me. I struggled with the language (I read it in English). A lot of words were unfamiliar to me and I had difficulties with understanding what was going on at times and who was speaking. This is a common critic on this novel apparently. Maybe, next time I should read it in Dutch.

But it is a classic adventure novel with a lot of imagination. It highly influenced how we think of pirates and it has a lasting impact on popular culture (Black Sails is a great example of that of course). The story did feel a bit outdated at times, and I expected more action. But still, I believe I enjoyed this one enough.

I in particular loved the opening chapters, where Jim and his mother try to outwit the pirates. John Silver proves the ideal villain, although I can’t help but love him too. It was a short and entertaining read but I had expected to love it even more.

This is book 7/50 for the classics club. And book 10 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this? Did you enjoy it?

CC Spin #27: my result

Last week, I made a list of 20 classics still remaining on my Classics Club list in random order. At Sunday, the spin result was announced. And the lucky number is 6!

This means I’ll have to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island by August 22nd.

I must admit I made a list of 20 books I was looking forward to read. So of course I’m happy with the result. I would have picked up Treasure island soon anyway. We’ve just finished watching Black Sails and now I’m curious to see what happens next. It also seems a perfect summer book and a lighter read than my previous ones.

Are you happy with your result? Have you read Treasure island?

Far from the madding crowd by Thomas Hardy

Sheep farmer Gabriel Oak falls in love with the outspoken and beautiful Bathsheba Everdene, but she refuses him. However, Gabriel stays loyal to her and becomes her shepherd when Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle. Bathsheba wants to govern the farm herself and attracts the attention of two new suitors in doing that. One of them is her neighbour farmer Mr. Bolwood, a quiet single man ten years her senior. The other is a soldier and womanizer who goes by the name of Frank Troy.

I was looking forward to discover Hardy’s writing, expecting a romance that would swoon me away. The story is set in the fictional county of Wessex in the 19th century and centers around Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors. When Bathsheba becomes head of a farm run by men, she wants to do things in her own way.

This is a difficult review to write. Hardy is a master writer. I loved his poetic writing. But I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy the plot at all. I’m no romance person in general, but I had too many issues with the unhealthy relationships that were a focus in this story.

I didn’t like Bathsheba at all. She’s impulsive, restless and can’t make up her mind. Her character evolves during the story, but still I find her selfish in her behaviour towards the men. She only seems to care about her own feelings. Her joke on Valentine’s Day towards Mr. Boldwood made my eyeballs roll out.

And then we come to the men. Mr. Boldwood comes forward as a pusher, or a stalker even. He expects Bathsheba’s love in return for I don’t understand what. And Troy is just the casual bad boy who has a nice talk but don’t takes it serious with any woman. The only character I really felt bad for in this novel was Fanny Robin, poor thing.

But luckily we have Gabriel Oak. Sweet and loyal Gabriel. Patient and trustworthy Gabriel. He always knows what to say or when to stay quiet. Gabriel is perfect. He never stinks. I’m just not into perfect characters. So yes, he is the least annoying, but I found him irritating nonetheless 😅.

I really appreciated Hardy’s writing and the humour in the discussions by the villagers in the local pub. They were fun. But I’ve again experienced that good writing isn’t enough for me. I need to enjoy the plot and this starts with having characters I can relate to.

I still have ‘Tess Of d’Urbervilles’ on my classcis club list, so I’ll definitely give Hardy another change. I really expected to like this one, as everyone seems to do. So don’t let my review put you off from reading this.

This is book 6/50 for the classics club. And book 3 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Have you read and enjoyed anything by Thomas Hardy?

CC Spin #27: my list

Woohoo, time for another Classics Club spin! The rules are simple: list 20 books from your CC list you still need to read in a random order. At the end of this week, a number is chosen and you have to read the book that corresponds to that number on your list.

The result of the 27th edition is announced on Sunday 18th July and you’ve got time to read and review your spin book until Sunday 22nd August (and that is during my summer holidays, so this should work!).

Last time, I read Lady Chatterley’s lover which was ok but not so much fun. In the meantime, I’ve only read Hardy’s Far from the madding crowd from my classics club list and I didn’t enjoy it at all. So I could use a good spin book!

  1. To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  4. The fifth queen by Ford Madox Ford
  5. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  6. Treasure island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  7. The bell jar by Sylvia Plath
  8. The woman in white by Wilkie Collins
  9. Love in time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  11. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
  12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  14. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  16. The remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  17. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  18. And then there were none by Agatha Christie
  19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj
  20. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I’m not hoping on a particular result, as I still have more than enough books to go on my list. Except for Du Maurier and Fitzgerald these are also all new authors to me. Let’s see what we get on Sunday!

Do you participate? What’s your favourite classic from this list?