Talking Classics…

The Classics Club Meme – May 2018

The Classics Club has reintroduced its monthly meme feature, and the question for this month is:

What is your favourite classic book? Why?

In truth, I’ve answered this question so often in various tags and memes, I can’t think of much new to say about my favourite book, which is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So here’s a link to my previous post explaining why I love it.

Instead, I thought I’d adapt the question to looking at which of the books that I’ve read from my Classics Club list is my favourite so far. There are plenty of contenders even though I’m not a third of the way through yet. My list is split into five sections:

The American Section is not going well in truth, with some seriously disappointing reads so far. However, I enjoyed my re-read of To Kill a Mockingbird. But I’m giving the prize for this section to:

Passing by Nella Larsen, a book that is as much about marriage and status as it is about race. It tells the story of two women who meet up by accident after many years apart, and renew their childhood friendship. But their lives are wildly different now and soon each becomes a danger to the other’s security. It takes place in Harlem in the 1920s, and is an excellent book that gives real insight into this small section of black society at a moment in time.

The English Section is faring much better, with several five star reads so far. That’s partly because this section is packed with lots of re-reads so I knew in advance I already loved them. The prize goes to:

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. No introduction needed for this one, but I had forgotten just how good it is and how much it had to say about so many concerns of its time. Also, Derek Jacobi’s narration is wonderful – the power of his delivery of the monster’s story in particular moved me to tears and anger, and even literally raised the hairs on the back of my neck at points.

The Scottish Section has been a delight for me. I’m always ashamed at my lack of knowledge of the classics of my own country, so have been thrilled to enjoy nearly every one I’ve read so far. But the prize must go to:

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. This is fundamentally a book about young women seeking the men they will eventually marry but it’s also much more than that. It portrays the society of a particular place at a moment in time and does so brilliantly, showing the subtle social stratifications that limit the lives and suitable marriage prospects of these moderately privileged girls still further. Wonderfully written, with some beautiful descriptions of the wild landscape and weather of the Scottish Highlands.

The Crime Section has been great fun to date, with some hugely enjoyable reads and re-reads. I deliberately went for lighter choices on the whole, to provide some relief from the heavier books in the fiction sections. The prize goes to:

Cop Hater by Ed McBain – a re-read from long, long ago, this is the first book in the long-running 87th Precinct series. Set in the 1950s in a fictionalised New York, it’s part hardboiled, part modern police procedural with a touch of noir thrown in for good measure. Writing, setting, atmosphere and characterisation are all superb and, while some of the attitudes are obviously a bit dated, the storytelling isn’t at all.

The Science Fiction Section has been a mixed bag, with a couple of great ones and a couple that feel too dated now. It has set me off reading all of HG Wells sci-fi classics though, so for that reason the winner has to be:

The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells – by far the grimmest of Wells’ classics, this has some horrific imagery and some scenes of real animal cruelty. But through the story he tells, Wells looks at some of the important themes of his time: the dangers of science without ethical controls, social structures and the new political theories, evolution past and future. Superbly written, I found the depth of the ideas it contained vastly outweighed the horror of the imagery.

* * * * *

So those are the top contenders for favourite from my Classics Club list and, gosh, I’m finding it hard to pick just one to be the overall winner. But it must be done.

The winner is…

THE GOWK STORM

And I’m going to keep going on about it till everyone reads it, so you might as well just give in and get it over with… 😉

So… what do you think of my choices?

50 thoughts on “Talking Classics…

    • It’s a great book, isn’t it? I’ve been reading all his science fictions classics recently and rediscovering what a brilliantly imaginative writer he was… 😀

    • I love his narrations – he does a brilliant version of the Holmes stories too. But he was utterly marvellous in Frankenstein – really brought that monster to life… 😀

  1. The Gowk Storm would be my choice too, although everything on your list is well worth a read, even if I have never managed to finish Dr Moreau.

    • I think I’d have struggled more with Dr Moreau if I’d read it when I was young – I’ve hardened over the years! Still horrific, though. The Gowk Storm is a worthy winner, I feel!

  2. I really like your approach to doing this meme, FictionFan! And your choices are terrific (I mean, Derek Jacobi narrates Frankenstein? What’s not to love?). And the 87th Precinct series is one of the most influential crime fiction series there is, in my opinion. So I’m not surprised that Cop Hater made your list. I do have one question, though: why was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick not on your list?? 😉 *Ducks quickly out of the way of any possible items that may be thrown at me* 😉

    • Aaaaarghhhhhh!!! Don’t mention the whale!! The emotional scars have barely healed! I shall set the cats on you! 😉 😂 Jacobi’s Frankenstein was really great, and I loved Cop Hater – I’d forgotten how good that series was. Of course, now several of the others are languishing on my TBR… 😉

  3. I wonder why so many of our American classics feel so much more out of date than the other classics and genres? Perhaps that’s why you’re struggling a bit. Surely we’re not the only place to have changed over the years?! That said, I think I need to listen to Frankenstein!!

    • I think it’s because I’ve been reading the early ones relating to slavery and have discovered I just can’t stomach them. I have lots of more recent ones lined up, and I’m much more hopeful about them. I think I can tolerate British outdated attitudes better just because I’m used to them – I probably don’t even notice them a lot of the time.

  4. Every time you get to an American novel (with the exception of Passing), my first thought is “don’t read that one!!” We have so many novels in our cannon that are awful, but they’re there because they’ve always been there. Funny, though, many famous authors have argued how horrible our “great” novels were when they were published. If you want help with your list, please let me know.

    • I was doing much better with American books before I started reading the earlier ones about slavery, but I’ve wiped any remaining ones like that off my list and have lots of more recent ones which I’m much more hopeful about! So I haven’t completely given up on American fiction just yet… 😀

  5. Thanks to you, The Gowk Storm is one I’m mad keen to read – I see it as an autumn book, so maybe in a few more months. I’m very hoping I’ll be able to recommend it to my sister and frighteningly well-read brother-in-law. I feel i should have read it first but I will of course cite you in the recommendation 😀 So your efforts are not falling on deaf ears!

    I also want to read Frankenstein this year. And I’ve been planning to get back into audio books. Maybe this should be the one.

    I would try a similar exercise with my own CC list. But since I’ve reviewed practically nothing from it, I’d be struggling a touch. I will catch up; I will catch up; I WILL….. 😱

    • Yes, I think it would work well as an autumn book – I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Haha – this’d be a great one to recommend since nobody’s ever heard of it, and it’s good to know I’m doing my tiny part to introduce Scottish classics to the world… 😉

      I must say I think I got more out of listening to Jacobi narrate Frankenstein than I would have if I’d read it, and I don’t say that often! His interpretation of it is brilliant – somehow he seemed to bring out all the themes and the sadness as well as the horror…

      Haha – if I don’t review promptly, sadly I completely forget the book and the moment passes…

    • Neither had I and least you have a good excuse! I had to spend ages ploughing through internet lists of Scottish books, so I haven’t heard of half the ones on my list… 😉

  6. I had never heard of The Gowk Storm until you reviewed it a while ago, but you have definitely convinced me that I need to read it!

    • Neither had I till I started going through lists of Scottish books to make up my CC list – my knowledge of Scottish fiction is embarrassingly bad. But I’m so glad to have discovered The Gowk Storm, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when you get to it! 😀

  7. I have read your choices except for Cop Hater and the Island of Dr Moreau which are on my list. I read Passing and Gowk Storm athanks to your reviews. I’m really pleased to hear about any of the Scottish classics you promote 🙂 I would like to hear Frankenstein read by Jacobi; have to think about the Audible sign-up though…

    • Oh, what did you think of The Gowk Storm? Sometimes with Scottish books I know it’s their Scottishness that appeals to me so I’m always intrigued to know if they work for non-Scots too – though you don’t really count as non-Scottish! Cop Hater was excellent and I really must read more of the series. And you know I’ve fallen in love with these HG Wells books… 😀

      Audible have a marketing thing where I can send a free copy of any audiobook I own to anyone who’s never received one from anybody before – obviously their hope is that you would then join Audible, but you don’t have to and they don’t pressure you in any way. You’d need to have an Amazon account to access the audiobook. I’d love to try sending you Frankenstein if you’d like it – I think it will work even though we’re in different Amazon regions. If you’d like to try, you’ll need to let me know the email address you use for Amazon – you can email it to me at fictionfan@virginmedia.com 😀

      • I did enjoy reading The Gowk Storm. It is so evocative of the sisters’ emotions and their relationships with each other and of the wild and (at times) bleak landscape. The social mores of the time are well conveyed and the restraints on the women create a real tension, which seemed to be even more powerfully elicited with Morrison’s descriptive but not-overstated writing style. And of course, the Scottish setting and language always resonates for me! My nearest Scottish ancestors were great grand-parents who died before I was born; I’d love to have known their voices.
        Thank you for your kind offer re Audible; I’ll be in touch.

        • Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I thought she got all the nuances of that part of Scottish society brilliantly, especially the religious divide which has always played such a big role here, sadly. And I loved how she made the landscape almost mystical. I think it doesn’t really matter how far back heritage comes from – I always feel connected to Ireland, though in fact I’ve only got about 1/16th Irish blood, I believe. Celts don’t give up on people for at least twenty generations… 😉

          I’ve replied… 😀

  8. I love this post, FF! I am a fan of the classics and am always delighted when I find new ones to love. I was not familiar with The Gowk Storm, but it’s now at the top of my wishlist! My favorite classic is similar to yours in that it is Dickens, but Great Expectations. I was in high school when I first read it, and I was enamored. I look forward to more classics talk with you!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I’m sorry, my memory’s shocking so maybe I should already know this, but are you in the Classics Club? If not, it’s a great way to “meet” other classics fans. Unfortunately I was put off Great Expectations by having to analyse it half to death at University but though that means it’s not one of my favourites, I still agree it’s a great book. I’m a huge Dickens fan – I like to read at least one of his books every Christmas. I do hope you enjoy The Gowk Storm! I’m making it my mission in life to force everyone to read more Scottish classics… 😉

            • Yes, it takes a while to feel like an “established” blogger, doesn’t it? But I hope you go on enjoying it – I never thought I’d stick it out for five years and still be having fun… 😀

            • I’m only three weeks in to blogging (have been on Goodreads reviewing for years though)! 😬 Congrats to you on your five years – that is impressive! I started blogging right about the time my beloved cat passed away. It has kept me super busy at a time when I needed it, and that is a big blessing. Yes, I have really been having fun! I appreciate how warm and supportive you’ve been to me! ♥️

            • Really? You’re doing great for three weeks! It took me about three months to really start connecting with people around the blogosphere, so well done! Yes, I’ve often found the blog is a great way to get a break from “real life” and book bloggers seem to be unusually supportive people. I’m so sorry to hear about your cat – as a cat lover myself, I know how hard it is when we lose one. Aw, my pleasure – I’m glad to have met you! 😀

            • It surprises me, too! I also should have mentioned I’ve been a blog follower for a few years, so I had some blogging friends I had supported without blogging yet also. Thank you for the good thoughts about my kitty. I’m hoping to do a post for him soon. Thank you again. It’s been my pleasure to know you!

    • I’ve been speeding through my list recently but I feel a desperate need for some light summer reading coming on. I can’t wait to hear what you think of The Gowk Storm and Dr Moreau… 😀

  9. You seem to have sold a lot of us on both The Gowk Storm and Passing. They sound wonderful. My library has both, but the copies of Passing are all out, so it is not entirely unknown here in Cincinnati Thanks for your nice reviews without spoilers.

    • I hope so! 😉 They really are both excellent though, and I’m delighted to hear that your library has The Gowk Storm – I really feel it should be better known than it is. If you do get time to read them, I hope you enjoy them both. 😀

  10. I haven’t read any of these, other than TKAMB (which I enjoyed), but your winner (echoes of the wild weather and landscape of Wuthering Heights?) is quite intriguing. That and the American book I’ve never heard of. More to add to my list.

  11. I love how you have categorized your classics! I’m so glad you enjoyed Passing, I picked it up from my library but had to return it before I could finish but I plan to do so now. I never heard of your favorite The Gowk Storm. I’ll look that up too. And of course a book I’ve read many times, To Kill a Mockingbird. Glad that one made the list for you

  12. The Gowk Storm? Okay never heard of it, but your reference to Austen in your review has me intrigued now.

    I approached this question in a similar way as my all time favourite is and probably always will be Persuasion, but in the last 6 years there have been a lot of contenders.

    • Funnily enough, I’m just about to start another forgotten Scottish classic, Marriage by Susan Ferriers, who apparently was also know as the Scottish Austen! Maybe all Scottish female writers of earlier eras get compared to her… 😉 The Gowk Storm is great though.

      Yes, I’m the same with Bleak House. Fortunately, our bookish favourites don’t seem to get jealous when we dally with someone new for a bit…

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