Friday Frippery! Classics Club 10th Anniversary…

…and a questionnaire

The Classics Club is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has posed us all ten questions about our experiences with the club and with classics in general…

1.  When did you join the Classics Club?

I signed up in June 2016, and took five and a half years to finish my first list of ninety books, having made several changes to the original list along the way. I started on my second list at the beginning of this year – just eighty books this time – and am racing through them in the first flush of enthusiasm that only a shiny new booklist can bring!

2.  What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?

All of these questions are nearly impossible to answer, and my responses would probably be different on a different day! Excluding re-reads (which therefore excludes Dickens who would otherwise always win) I think I’d have to say The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Not only was it considerably more enjoyable than I expected with a lot of humour, but it’s Scottish, and it really helped put a lot of later Scottish fiction into context for me. It has the duality and the national obsession with our love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with our Knoxian brand of Calvinism, both themes that run through much of our literature. I think of it often, which has to be a sign of a great book.

3.  What is the first classic you ever read?

The thing is, I’m relatively ancient, which means that many children’s books I read when young which are now considered classics weren’t old enough to be thought of as classics when I read them! The Narnia books, even The Hobbit, weren’t classics when I read them. Possibly The Wind in the Willows was one of the first that would have counted by my own definition of being more than fifty years old, although I’m pretty sure I read the Holmes stories when I couldn’t have been much older (though shockingly even some of the later Holmes stories wouldn’t have counted as classics when I first read them!), and also some Rider Haggard, especially King Solomon’s Mines. Little Women and its sequels. And Anne of Green Gables, of course! But which was the first? Your guess is as good as mine!

4.  Which classic book inspired you the most?

I don’t know that any have really inspired me, but I did look on Anne of Green Gables as my role model when I was a kid. You could say Dickens’ books inspired me never to become a writer – I decided very early on that I’d never write a book if I couldn’t write one as good as his. The rest is history… 😉

5.  What is the most challenging one you’ve ever read, or tried to read?

Hmm, I’m never quite sure what “challenging” means in the context of books. I’ve disliked many that I’ve read – Lolita, Moby Dick, East of Eden – and abandoned many because I hated them – Earth Abides, Cannery Row, Last Exit to Brooklyn – but I wouldn’t say any of them challenged me. Maybe Heart of Darkness – it took me three reads to really appreciate it and I certainly found the notes essential, so yes, perhaps that counts as challenging.

6.  Favourite movie adaptation of a classic? Least favourite?

That really is an impossible question! Most favourite – any Hitchcock adaptation, especially Strangers on a Train, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, In the Heat of the Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc., etc. So I’m going to pick Moby-Dick – I thought the book was pretty bad but the film cut out all the stuff I disliked about the book and did what the book should have done but didn’t – turned Captain Ahab’s hunt for the whale into a thrilling adventure! I loved the film! And in the same vein, I’ll pick Slaughterhouse-Five as my least favourite – it seemed to miss out most of the complexity which made the book so thought-provoking and the changes the director made to the story weakened its impact and depth. I didn’t hate the film but I wouldn’t really recommend it either.

7.  Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?

The Queen in Snow White.

8.  Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? Respecting? Appreciating?

Hmm, it would be rare for me to put a book I actually expected to dislike on my reading list – so rare I can’t think of one, in fact. I read purely for pleasure so whenever I open a book I hope it will thrill me, and am disappointed if it doesn’t – as happens frequently! However sometimes my expectations are lower than others – like with Silas Marner recently which, based on my lukewarm reaction to Middlemarch, I thought might be a middling read but ended up enjoying far more than I expected to.

9.  Classic/s you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Goodness, I don’t know! That’s far too far in the future! OK, I’ll pick one randomly from my new list and then we’ll see if I actually stick to it – Crime and Punishment!

10. Favourite memory with a classic and/or your favourite memory with The Classics Club?

Hmm, another difficult one! I remember how breathlessly I raced through The Great Gatsby the first time I read it long, long ago. I remember how much fun and laughter I had buddy-reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books with a blogging friend.

I remember how I sobbed over that bit in Little Women/Good Wives that I can’t specify since it would be a spoiler, but you all know the bit I mean! I remember how I swooned over my Darcy – and still do! And with the Classics Club? My favourite memory of it would be seeing some of my blog buddies join in with lists of their own, so that now we can all compare spin lists and exchange opinions! And seeing some of you reading some relatively unknown Scottish classics on my recommendation, and enjoying them! And the chit-chat that reviewing classics always seems to inspire.

Thanks again to all the moderators past and present who have given generously of their time to make the Classics Club the huge success it is!

Have a Classic Day! 😀

The Classics Club Spin #30

Rien ne va plus…

The Classics Club is holding its 30th Spin, and my 13th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 12th June. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 7th August, 2022.

Here’s my list. Some of these are monsters but I’m sure those kind Spin Gods will find me a nice short one… *coughs*

* * * * *

The Scottish Section

1)   The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

2)   Doom Castle by Neil Munro

3)   The Quarry Wood by Nan Shepherd

4)   The Land of the Leal by James Barke

5)   Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The English Section

6)   The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

7)   Evelina by Frances Burney

8)   The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

9)   The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

10) In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

The Foreign Section

11) The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander

12) The Walls of Jericho by Rudolph Fisher

13) The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki

14) The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

15) Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

The Genre Section

16) The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

17) The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

18) Laura by Vera Caspary

19) The Guns of Navarone by Alastair MacLean

20) The Chill by Ross MacDonald

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

Classics Club Round-Up 5 – Scottish

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the fifth and final…

THE SCOTTISH SECTION

As I’ve said many times, I’m ashamed of how few Scottish classics I’ve read, partly because we were mainly taught English literature in our education system and so English classics have always been my comfort zone. But this isn’t a good enough excuse to cover the several decades since I left school! So I was keen to have a Scottish section on my CC list – 20 books, some of which are well known and many others I’d never heard of, selected from various Best Of lists or from the recommendations of family and fellow bloggers. As well as reading the novels, I’ve read a little along the way about the history of Scottish fiction and its characteristics, and learned the meaning of the wonderful phrase “Caledonian antisyzygy” – “the existence of duelling polarities within one entity” or, more simply, duality or opposites – which features in different forms throughout Scottish fiction and, indeed, life: Jekyll and Hyde, good and evil twins or siblings, Highlander/Lowlander, Jacobite/Hanoverian, Protestant/Catholic, nationalist/unionist, etc., etc.

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then – the quotes are from my reviews or, in the case of abandoned books, from my notes on Goodreads:

ABANDONED AND REPLACED

Annals of the Parish by John Galt – removed from the list to make room for one I acquired and wanted to include, Marriage.

Grey Granite by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – “I wonder what happened to Lewis Grassic Gibbon? Sunset Song is undoubtedly great, Cloud Howe is mediocre and dull, and this one is dreadful. Did he only write the other two to cash in on the success of the first?” Replaced by The White Bird Passes.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett – I know loads of people love Dunnett, but I hated her writing style, and gave up on this one at a very early stage. Replaced by The Silver Darlings.

THE BAD ONES

Bad is, of course, a subjective term…

Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill – “It wasn’t long after this point that I decided I’d had enough of the adventures of Mr Misogyny and his dog-kicking boots.”

The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison – “It has its good points, but it fails in the major criterion of what makes a good novel – it has no plot to speak of, certainly not one that builds any suspense or tension, or makes the reader care about the outcome.”

THE MIDDLING ONES

Marriage by Susan Ferrier – “One can tell Emily’s opinion of Mary’s constant moralising and rejection of fun is rather similar to my own – i.e., one suspects she often wants to slap Mary with a wet fish. But for some reason, despite this, Emily grows to love Mary and indeed, (to my horror), even occasionally wonders if she should emulate her.”

The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown – “Well, I’m willing to bet Brown would have got on well with my old friend John Steinbeck. They could have had misanthropy competitions to see who could be the most miserable. I’m tempted to suggest that Brown might have won.”

Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – “There’s a lot of drunkenness which would certainly have been true of Scottish society, but a lack of warmth and generosity of spirit, which doesn’t ring true to me and seems in direct contrast to the feeling of community in Sunset Song.”

Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie – “It takes about half the book before the shipwreck happens, and for most of that time we are introduced to a variety of quirky caricatures . . . and listen while they tell each other how awful life is because they have no whisky.”

The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins – “…religious symbolism abounds in an Old Testament, Garden of Eden corrupted by nasty humanity kind of way, but it’s all a bit simplistic – the good people are so very innocent, and the bad people are hissably dastardly villains.”

THE GOOD ONES

Flemington by Violet Jacob – “Jacob takes us from high society to low, into the drawing-rooms of Edinburgh in the company of the self-important Lord Balnillo and his friends, and into the world of intrigue carried out in inns and back streets under cover of night…”

Imagined Corners by Willa Muir – “As Ned descends into madness, and William wrings his hands helplessly and looks unavailingly to his God for help, their sister, Sarah, rolls up her sleeves and gets on with the job of trying to hold all their lives together. It’s not made explicit, but Muir clearly implies that, in a crisis, forget God and man – it’ll all end up on the shoulders of the womenfolk.”

No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long – “Its brutal, violent depiction of gang culture is in a large measure responsible for the persistent reputation of Glasgow as the city of gangs – a reputation still exploited by many contemporary Glaswegian crime writers…”

The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn – “His portrayal of the sea as a heartless mistress, dealing out wealth and death arbitrarily, is wonderful, and the sailing scenes are some of the best parts of the book.”

THE GREAT ONES

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett – “To Matthew, Bath is a dreadful place, full of riff-raff and the nouveau riche, and he is deeply concerned about the unsanitary conditions prevailing in the famous spas where people drink the waters for their health.”

The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott – “Rothsay’s followers include some great baddies – Ramorny, who has a personal reason to want vengeance against Henry; Bonthron, Ramorny’s beast-like assassin; and the marvellous Henbane Dwining, a skilled physician who uses his arts for evil as well as for good and is deliciously sinister and manipulative.”

Catherine and Ramorny in the dungeon

The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson – “When Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives in Scotland in 1745 to reclaim the lost Stuart crown, the Durie family of Durrisdeer must decide where their loyalties lie. If they make the wrong choice, they could lose everything, but pick the winning side and their future is secure.”

The New Road by Neil Munro – “First published in 1914, Munro is clearly setting out to drag some realism back into the narrative of the Jacobite era, in contrast to the gradual romanticisation that took place during the 19th century both of the risings and of Highland society in general.”

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – “The background story takes us to the Pennsylvanian coal-mines of the 1870s, where we meet Jack McMurdo, an Irishman who has just arrived there after fleeing justice in Chicago. He quickly becomes involved in the Scowrers, a gang of unscrupulous and violent men who control the valley through fear, intimidation and murder.”

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison – “The quality of the writing and characterisation; the beautiful descriptions of the wild landscape and weather of the Highlands; the delicately nuanced portrayal of the position of women within this small, rather isolated society; the story that manages tragedy without melodrama and hope without implausibility – all of these mean it richly merits its status as a Scottish classic.”

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson – “…allowing the reader to find amusement, along with Janie herself, in the scrabbling existence of the women of the Lane and the hardships of Janie’s life. And Janie’s uncomplicated love for her neglectful, inadequate mother makes the reader see her with sympathetic eyes too, for, whatever Liza’s flaws may be, she loves her daughter.”

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – “Spark skewers this Edinburgh society with its fixation on class, its soul-destroying respectability, still suffering from the blight of Calvin’s and Knox’s self-righteous, unforgiving Protestantism, obsessed by immorality and sin.”

The wonderful Maggie Smith in her prime…

THE BEST ONE

Oh, this was a tough decision! The Gowk Storm, The Master of Ballantrae, The New Road, The White Bird Passes – all wonderful books, all eminently Scottish. But my winner has to be the most Scottish of all, full of that Caledonian antisyzygy stuff! It’s a satire on the idea of predestination, an examination of the origins of the sectarianism which still disfigures Scotland today, a tale of sibling rivalry, a story of madness, murder and the devil. And surprisingly, it’s also full of humour…

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg – “The justified sinner of the title is the younger brother, Robert. Abandoned by the man the law says is his father, and subjected to the religious fanaticism of his guardian and his mother, it’s perhaps not surprising that the boy grows up to be somewhat twisted and jealous of his elder brother, who seems to have a golden life. But Robert’s problems really begin when Reverend Wringhim informs him that God has decided Robert should be one of the elect, predestined for salvation. The question the book satirises is – if one is predestined for salvation, does that mean one can sin free of consequences? In fact, is it possible for the elect to sin at all or, by virtue of their exalted status, do things that would be sinful if done by one of the damned cease to be sins when done by one of the elect? The book is not an attack on religious faith in general, but Hogg has a lot of fun with all the gradations of extremity within this particularly elitist little piece of dogma.”

Portrait of James Hogg by Sir John Watson Gordon

* * * * *

In summary, then, too many Jacobites in the historical fiction, too many miserable drunks in the 20th century batch. But also loads of great reads and it’s been a thrill seeing a few of my fellow bloggers read some of the books I’ve loved, and mostly loving them too. I also enjoyed doing a review-along of one of the books on the list, The Silver Darlings, which surprisingly my fellow review-alongers enjoyed even more than I did. I still wouldn’t count myself as well-read in Scottish classics, but I’m better than I was!

And that, as they say, is a wrap for my first Classics Club list!

Thanks for your company on my journey!

Classics Club Round-Up 4 – English

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the fourth…

THE ENGLISH SECTION

When it comes to the Classics, English is my comfort zone. In my day, it was English literature we were primarily taught in school, with a sprinkling of American and almost no Scottish. The same applies to history. The result is that I understand classic English literature without having to work at it, and I understand the social, cultural and historical background. So when I pick up an English classic, I am conditioned to enjoy it, and almost always do. More objectively, I also happen to think that the English have given us some of the greatest writers and finest fiction in the history of the world.

The result of my predisposition towards classic English literature is that this section is heavily weighted towards the good and the great. This was helped by the fact that it contained several re-reads of old favourites, and included five Dickens novels. Anyone who’s visited my blog for any length of time can’t fail to be aware of my abiding love for Dickens!

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then – the quotes are from my reviews:

ABANDONED AND REPLACED

I abandoned no books in this section. I replaced two, but only to make room for two that hadn’t been on my original list that I read along the way and wanted to add. The two that I bumped to make room would both have been re-reads, and will no doubt be re-read again some time in the future:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens was replaced by The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene was replaced by Middlemarch by George Eliot.

THE BAD ONES

Bad is, of course, a subjective term…

No Name by William Wilkie Collins – “As always, I came away with the impression that Collins was trying to ‘do a Dickens’ and was failing pretty dramatically.”

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp – “Sharp clearly felt stupid is a synonym for funny. We’ll have to agree to differ on that.”

THE MIDDLING ONES

Middlemarch by George Eliot – “A book that engaged my intellect more than my emotions and, in the end, failed to make me care about the outcomes for the people with whom I’d spent so much time.”

The African Queen by CS Forester – “Do people change as rapidly as these two do, even in extreme circumstances? Hmm, perhaps, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.”

THE GOOD ONES

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens – “…this is one where the individual parts may not come together as well as in his greatest novels, but it’s well worth reading anyway, for the riots and for the interest of seeing Dickens experiment with the historical novel as a form.”

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens – “The filthy and polluted Thames runs through the heart of the book, appearing again and again as the place where the foulest acts take place, and Dickens uses it to great effect as he builds up an atmosphere of tension and horror.” [I gave this one five stars at the time, but reading back over my review I feel I was too generous, so have reduced it to four for the purposes of this summary.]

Dark deeds by the river…

Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore – “The description of the harvest itself is wonderfully done, full of warmth as Blackmore describes the age-old rituals that surround this most important point of the rural year. For this picture of farming life alone, the book is well worth reading.”

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence – “…as he finds himself struggling to develop satisfying relationships with the women with whom he becomes involved, he knows that this is at least partly due to the influence and pull of his mother’s overweening, almost romantic, love for him. Of course, this being Lawrence, this psychological question plays out largely at the sexual level.”

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer – “And in the tradition of romances, it all ends when everyone becomes engaged to the right partner, so only those of us who have a tendency to over-analyse everything have to worry about the probable unfortunate offspring of some of the more fiery matches!”

THE GREAT ONES

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – “She may not have as much fun as Lizzie, and Edmund is not a hero I’d particularly want to marry myself, but Fanny knows what she wants and has the strength of mind and character to get it, and she deserves to be admired for that!”

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley – “…I’d like to make a law where every scientist should be locked in a room for one week every year and be forced to read and contemplate this book, and maybe write an essay on it for public consumption before being considered for funding.”

Boris Karloff and Edward Van Sloan in Frankenstein 1931

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens – “Nell starts out rather better than a lot of Dickens’ drooping heroines. She’s a girl of spirit who loves to laugh . . . She’s not quite as strong as Kickass Kate Nickleby, but she’s certainly no Drippy Dora Copperfield either!”

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – “Little Dorrit is perfect, hence perfectly nauseating – too good, too trembling, too quiet, too accepting, too forgiving, too much slipping and flitting about (just walk, woman, for goodness sake!), and too, too tiny. Too Dickensian, in fact!”

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – “Had Tess been less pure of nature, she may have been able to conceal her transgression and create a second chance for herself with the besotted Angel Clare, and we see her struggle with the temptation to do this. This reader willed her to do it, her mother advised her to do it, but Tess, pure to the point of idiocy, believed in a world of fairness, where men and women would be judged by the same standards – if she could forgive, surely she could be forgiven? Poor Tess!”

Nada the Lily by H Rider Haggard – “…Haggard’s portrayal has a firm foundation in history and apparently also in the legend and folklore of the Zulu people. What I found so surprising about it is that Haggard offers the story to his British readers non-judgementally – he presents this society as it is (in his mind, at least – I have no way to gauge its accuracy) and the characters judge each other by their own standards, not by ours.”

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – “Conrad shows the devastating impact the white man had on both the society and the land of Africa, but he also shows that this devastation turns back on the coloniser, corrupting him physically and psychologically, and by extension, corrupting the societies from which he comes.”

Rebecca  by Daphne du Maurier – “The book is famously compared to Jane Eyre, but the dead Rebecca is much more vividly alive in Manderley than the madwoman in Mr Rochester’s attic ever is. She infuses every room with the strength of her personality, as our narrator flits through the house like a ghost, or like the lowliest little maid, afraid to touch anything.”

The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse – “Madeline is as soupy as ever, still thinking that each time a bunny rabbit sneezes a wee star is born. One can quite understand Bertie’s reluctance to enter into the blessed state of matrimony with her.”

The Go-Between by LP Hartley – “There is an air of nostalgia for a golden age, but below the surface brilliance the reader is aware of the rot of a rigid social code that restricts most the very people who superficially seem most privileged.”

THE BEST ONE

(Obviously it was always going to be a Dickens! If I’d excluded Dickens, either Tess or The Go-Between would have been my choice. Or Frankenstein…)

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens – “Nicholas is also more complex than most of Dickens’ young heroes. At heart he is naturally good, but he’s hot-tempered, can have a wicked sense of humour at times, is not above poking fun at the dreadful Miss Fanny Squeers, and even flirts outrageously with Miss Snevellicci. He’s tougher too – although he gets help along the way, one feels Nicholas would have been perfectly capable of making his own way in life if he had to. And he’s kind and fiercely loyal – his friendship with Smike, one of the boys from Dotheboys, is beautifully portrayed, and always has me sobbing buckets. If I was forced to fall in love with a Dickens hero, Nicholas would be the one…”

(Nicholas gets a little hot-tempered…)

* * * * *

So a wonderful section – any nation that can produce such great literature can’t be all bad! 😉

Thanks for your company on my journey!

Classics Club Round-Up 3 – American

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the third…

THE AMERICAN SECTION

Oh, how I struggled with the Americans! When they’re good they’re very, very good, but when they’re bad, they’re horrid! Misogyny, racism, narcissism, sex-obsession, introspection taken to tedious extremes, dreadful writing and way too much religion! Also, brilliant examinations of war, masculinity, politics and corruption, with sublime writing, intellectual depth and emotional truth. I abandoned, replaced, hated, derided, loved and lavished praise on them. In the end, the excellent ones have become some of my favourite books, and some of the dire ones gave me so much fun mocking them that I grew quite fond of them after all!

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then – the quotes are from my reviews or notes:

ABANDONED AND REPLACED

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West – It’s so long since I abandoned this I can’t remember why, and my note on it is somewhat succinct – “Dire!”

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – “Plotless, pointless, endless description and shallow unrealistic characterisation with more than a whiff of misogyny.”

Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper – “Ugh, this is awful! It should be subtitled ‘The Joys of Killing’.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Removed from list due to me developing “issues” with how early Americans treat their black characters – see below!

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – Removed because on reflection I thought it sounded horrid.

THE HORRID ONES

Horrid is, of course, a subjective term. (Except in the case of Last Exit to Brooklyn, which is both subjectively and objectively horrid…)

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald – “Fitzgerald’s self-obsessed narcissism is only part of the problem. The other part is his opinion of women…”

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – “… slaves and their descendants being depicted as devoted domestic pets seems to be a theme that runs through a great deal of American fiction…”

(Am I alone in wishing Mammy had kept tightening till Scarlett croaked?)

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin – “If I wanted to be preached at I’d go to church, but not one full of religious maniacs at the extreme end of the spectrum . . .”

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. – “. . . why would I want to spend time with moronic, foul-mouthed losers? Who cares if they all kill each other? Not me.”

Rabbit, Run by John Updike – “. . . an early example of the whiny, me-me-me, self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, narcissistic bilge that too often passes for literature in these end times for Western culture. With added misogyny…”

THE BAD ONES

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain – “I’d have thought quality writing would have been an essential criterion for a book to acquire [classic] status. But apparently not.”

East of Eden by John Steinbeck – “The spell-it-out-in-case-you-miss-it religious symbolism laid on with a trowel. The women who are all victims or whores or both. The casual racism. And the misery. The misery. Oh, woe is me, the misery!”

Moby-Dick: Or the White Whale by Herman Melville – “. . . Melville clearly couldn’t decide whether he was trying to write a novel or an encyclopedia of whales. I would suggest that the bullet point list really plays no part in fiction . . .” [I did have fun pastiching poor Moby, though…]

(The film, on the other hand, is wonderful.)

THE MIDDLING ONES

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – “It made me laugh – well, sorta smile, at least – several times and even made a tear spring to my eye… once. But mostly it bored me.”

THE GOOD ONES

The American by Henry James – “This was more enjoyable than I expected a James novel to be, concentrating on the contrast between the brash money-driven society of the New World and the snobbish exclusivity of the Old, with neither showing in a particularly good light.”

My Ántonia by Willa Cather – “The vastness of the landscape, the strength and courage of the pioneers, the rapid development of towns and social order are all portrayed brilliantly, leaving a lasting impression on the reader’s mind . . .”

Passing by Nella Larsen – “none of the characters is defined entirely by race – the questions that absorb them most have little overtly to do with colour. In a way, that makes the incidents of racism feel all the more brutal and shocking when they do happen.”

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – “. . . it is beautifully written and intensely readable, and while it may not have factual truth, it feels as if, with regards to the personalities of the murderers, it may have achieved some kind of emotional truth . . .”

THE GREAT ONES

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – “. . . a profound and moving study of the ultimate aloneness and loneliness of people in a crowd, and of the universal human desire to find connection with another.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – “It is of course a sympathetic depiction of the black characters, but one that jars a little now. There is no challenging of the innate superiority of whiteness here – merely an encouragement to treat ‘good’ black people better.”

(And another wonderful film…)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – “The writing is wonderfully versatile, ranging from the profanity and sexual crudeness and humour of the men’s language, to profound insights into this small microcosm of the insane world we all live in . . .”

In the Heat of the Night by John Ball – “. . . it paints an entirely believable picture of being a black man in a town that’s run by the whites for the whites at a time when segregation and racism were still entirely acceptable.”

(Poitier, Steiger, and a wonderful bluesy score by Quincy Jones – fabulous film!)

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw – “. . . the thing I will remember most from the book is Shaw’s depiction of anti-Semitism, horrible enough when it’s coming from the Nazis, but so much worse when it’s perpetrated by the very people who are supposed to be on the right side.”

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – “It’s a marvellously American story . . . But of course the themes resonate for those of us who live in other democracies, since all share the same fundamental weakness – that those who stand for office are as fallible and flawed as everyone else.”

THE BEST ONE

(This was an almost impossible and ultimately somewhat arbitrary choice – either The Young Lions or All the King’s Men could stand just as proudly on the winner’s podium.)

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – “One of the things I most appreciated about the book was Hemingway’s refusal to make one side all bad and the other all good. Here motives and affiliations are murky and, as in most forms of guerrilla warfare, somewhat tribal in that most participants are following strong local leaders rather than fighting for deeply held convictions of their own.”

(Haven’t watched the film – I really must!)

Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.

* * * * *

So I may have been waging a love/hate battle with American fiction over the last six years, but I enjoyed the fight and both America and I emerged victorious! A country that has produced the sublime writing of a Hemingway can surely be forgiven for Moby-Dick. 😉

Thanks for your company on my journey!

The Classics Club Spin #29

Rien ne va plus…

The Classics Club is holding its 29th Spin, and my 12th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 20th March. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th April, 2022.

I’ve finally finished reading all the books on my first CC list though I still have a couple to review. So this is the first spin using my new list and all these books look shiny and exciting – no dust or cobwebs draped over them yet! However I’m also reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame for our Review-Along in April, so I’ve picked 20 of the shortest books on my list. I’m seriously hoping one of the light genre books comes up, so no doubt those mocking CC Gods will find a heavyweight, misery-laden tome lurking somewhere on my list…

* * * * *

The Scottish Section

1)   John Macnab by John Buchan

2)   The Shipbuilders by George Blake

3)   Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi

4)   Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway

5)   A Song of Sixpence by AJ Cronin

The English Section

6)   She by H Rider Haggard

7)   The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

8)   Howard’s End by EM Forster

9)   Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

10) The Third Man by Graham Greene

The Foreign Section

11) Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

12) Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

13) A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

14) The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

15) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Genre Section

16) Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

17) The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

18) Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

19) Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson

20) In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

Classics Club Round-Up 2 – Crime

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the second…

THE CRIME SECTION

Despite my fairly eclectic reading tastes and my disgruntlement about the state of contemporary crime fiction, crime is still where my heart lies and is the genre I know best. So most of my choices were either books I’d long wanted to read, books from authors I’d enjoyed previously, books of films I love, or occasionally re-reads. The result? I thoroughly enjoyed most of the books in this section! They provided welcome breaks between the more heavyweight novels on my list.

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then:

REPLACED

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Trevor

No abandonments at all in this section, and this replacement wasn’t because I had gone off the idea of this book but because I received a review copy of another one that seemed too perfect for the challenge to overlook – The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher. I still intend to read Anatomy of a Murder at some point.

THE BAD ONES

Bad is, of course, a subjective term. The quotes are from my reviews.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler – “The biggest problem, though, is that the book is bloated to a degree where the actual story gets almost completely overwhelmed by the rather pointless padding, repetitive dialogue and occasional mini-essays on what Chandler feels is wrong with the world.”

THE MIDDLING ONES

The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr – “I certainly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys the impossible crime style of mystery, but less so to people who prefer the traditional whodunit.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan – “…there’s an awful lot of coincidence and near-miraculous luck, and it’s one of those ones where the hero just always happens to have the knowledge he needs: how to break codes, for example, or how to use explosives. But when it reaches its climax . . . I found myself nicely caught up in it.”

Hitchcock’s version of The 39 Steps, complete with added blonde! The film is better than the book…

The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett – “Oddly, despite the fact that the plot is nonsensical, episodic, and barely hangs together, I still found the book entertaining. This is largely due to the snappy, hardboiled style of the writing and the relentless pace, which doesn’t give the reader much time to ponder the basic absurdity of the storyline.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain – “Reading it is a little like being held up on the motorway because there’s been a crash just ahead – you know you shouldn’t stare but you can’t help yourself. As a study of two amoral, self-obsessed monsters drawn to each other through lust, it’s brilliantly done. But, like Damien Hirst’s dead cow, can it really be considered art?”

I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane – “Sexism, racism, sexism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny and did I mention sexism? Then there’s the violence, the sex, and the guns – good grief, so many guns! The odd thing is: I quite enjoyed it!”

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – “Guy’s inability to deal with the moral dilemma and subsequent descent into a state of extreme anxiety is done brilliantly, and the psychology underpinning Bruno’s craziness is well and credibly developed. However, the unlikeability of both characters made it hard for me to get up any kind of emotional investment in the outcome.”

Hitchcock again, and the film is brilliant! Definitely better than the book! Sadly I never got around to reviewing the film.

THE GOOD ONES

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – “. . . Germany was growing and becoming more powerful at this time, and while Carruthers and Davies feel goodwill towards it and admire all the Kaiser is doing to advance his country, they also see it as a potential opponent in the future. There’s an odd sporting edge to this – they rather look forward to meeting Germany in war one day, as if it were some form of jousting contest fought for honour and glory. (One can’t help but hope neither of them were in Passchendaele or the Somme twelve or thirteen years later.)”

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White – “This is the book that has been made into more than one version of a film under the title of The Lady Vanishes. The basic plot is very similar – Iris is struggling to get anyone to believe her story, partly because she has made herself unpopular with her fellow travellers, and partly because each of those travellers have their own reasons for not wanting to get involved in anything that might delay the journey.”

Yep, more Hitchcock! And again, the film has the edge over the book. Have you guessed yet that I love Hitchcock?

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham – “. . . we mostly follow Geoff as he gets himself into deep peril, and Inspector Luke as he and his men try to catch up with Havoc. The tension wafts from the page in these scenes, and they are undoubtedly as thrilling as anything I’ve come across in crime fiction, old or new.”

She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac – “They are the authors who wrote Vertigo on which the Hitchcock film is based, and there are some similarities between the books. Both blur the line between villain and victim, concentrating on the effects on the central character’s mind as he is drawn into a plot that spirals out of his control, and both veer close to mild horror novel territory as he gradually loses his grip on reality. And both are dark, indeed.”

The brilliant film version of She Who Was No More which sadly I never got around to reviewing.

Cop Hater by Ed McBain – “When he writes about the city – the soaring skylines, the dazzling lights, the display of wealth and glamour barely hiding the crime, corruption and violence down on the streets – it reads like pure noir; and in this one there’s a femme fatale who equals any of the greats, oozing sexuality and confidence in her power over men.”

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie – “. . . one of the major joys of Christie’s books is that they manage the difficult feat of being full of corpses and yet free of angst – a trick the Golden Age authors excelled in and modern authors seem to have forgotten. She ensures that the soon-to-be victims deserve all they get, being either wicked, nasty or occasionally just tiresome.”

The wonderful Margaret Rutherford plays an unusual version of Miss Marple in Murder, She Said – loosely(!) based on 4.50 from Paddington

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré – “There’s an almost noir feeling to it, certainly dark grey anyway, and a kind of despairing cynicism of tone, but there are also small shafts of light and the occasional unexpected humanity that remind us that these people do what they do so that we can live as we choose to live. But at what cost to themselves and, ultimately, to us?”

THE BEST ONE

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher – “Amid the mystery and the lighthearted elements of comedy, a surprisingly clear picture emerges of this black culture within a culture, where poverty and racism are so normal they are barely remarked upon, and where old superstitious practices sit comfortably alongside traditional religion. Life is hard in Harlem, for sure, but there’s an exuberance about the characters – a kind of live for the moment feeling – that makes them a joy to spend time with.”

….In the narrow strip of interspace, a tall brown girl was doing a song and dance to the absorbed delight of the patrons seated nearest her. Her flame chiffon dress, normally long and flowing, had been caught up bit by bit in her palms, which rested nonchalantly on her hips, until now it was not so much a dress as a sash, gathered about her waist. The long shapely smooth brown limbs below were bare from trim slippers to sash, and only a bit of silken underthing stood between her modesty and surrounding admiration.
….With extraordinary ease and grace, this young lady was proving beyond question the error of reserving legs for mere locomotion, and no one who believed that the chief function of the hips was to support the torso could long have maintained so ridiculous a notion against the argument of her eloquent gestures.
….Bubber caught sight of this vision and halted in his tracks. His abetting of justice, his stern immediate duty as a deputy of the law, faded.
….“Boy!” he said softly. “What a pair of eyes!”

* * * * *

A great section – not only did I enjoy so many of these books but they led me to spiral off into other books and authors, and over the course of the six years of the challenge classic and vintage crime has become my safe space to escape from the horrors of real life! Plus I loved watching lots of the films that have been made of some of these books. [Note to self: really must get back to doing “film of the book” comparisons.] Thanks for your company on my journey!

Classics Club Round-Up 1 – Science Fiction

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. That has stretched out a bit to nearly six years, but I’m now reading the very last books. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the first…

THE SCI-FI SECTION

This turned into a bit of a roller-coaster ride. I knew in advance that I’ve never been a huge fan of science fiction, especially modern SF, but I hoped that by reading some of the recognised greats I’d learn to love it. Hmm. The best-laid plans and all that! I discovered that I love Wyndham and Wells, that Verne is my type of guy, and that Nevil Shute’s venture into speculative fiction is excellent. Asimov is feeling a little dated but is still interesting. Tarzan is fun, feminist literature bores me to tears, and Clifford D Simak deserves further investigation. I also learned that, with very few exceptions, I don’t like modern SF at all! (Modern in the sense of 1950s and ’60s, that is.) It’s occasionally crass, sometimes misogynistic and often badly written. And fantasy is not and never will be my thing. So, in fact, mostly I confirmed what I already knew…

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then:

ABANDONED

Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

The Drowned World by JG Ballard

Five abandoned or decided against out of the fifteen original selections will give some indication of how I struggled with this section. My own rule was that if I abandoned a book too early to review I’d replace it with an alternative. How tired I became of searching for SF books that tempted me without simply sticking to the two or three authors I already knew I enjoyed! These were nearly all abandoned for the crime of being dull, except Naked Lunch which I realised from the blurb and reviews I really didn’t want to even start. I did manage to finish some books that I hated even more…

THE BAD ONES

Bad is, of course, a subjective term. The quotes are from my reviews.

Earth Abides by George R Stewart – “As post-apocalyptic books go, this is the dullest I’ve ever tried to read. In a world full of interesting people, what a pity that tedious Ish is the one who survived…”

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester – “If you want to read about a vile man doing vile things in a vile society, highly recommended!”

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – “Interesting, if you want to have nightmares about a world with no quarrelling, no disputes, no politics, no ambition beyond motherhood and child-rearing; and worse – no Anne and Gilbert, no Jane and Mr Rochester, no Cathy and Heathcliff, no flirting, no sex, no dancing, and no Darcy! Me, I’ll stay in this world and just keep striving for equality, thanks very much.”

THE MIDDLING ONES

Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke – “Overall, then, it didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped, but I’m still glad to have read it, partly because it’s considered a classic in its own right, and partly because I was intrigued to read the book that inspired Kubrick [to make 2001: A Space Odyssey].”

Foundation by Isaac Asimov – “Sad news, sisters – apparently even in the distant future all scientists, politicians and even criminals will be men. Still, at least we’ll have automatic washing machines…”

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – “This book, written in post-revolutionary Russia in 1920, has an eerie familiarity about it. This is because it has basically the same story as both Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, both of which have borrowed so heavily from it it feels close to theft.”

Wild Harbour by Ian MacPherson – “The book is a bleak account of this survivalist life – there’s no attempt to present some kind of false idyll. And as the distant war rumbles closer, the story turns bleaker yet, with the tone becoming almost dystopian towards the end.”

The Society of Time by John Brunner – “It’s very well done, although I admit that sometimes the complex paradoxes left my poor muddled brain reeling – this is my normal reaction to time paradoxes though!”

Hari Seldon from Foundation, long after he’s dead…

THE GOOD ONES

Way Station by Clifford D Simak – “The concept of the way station allows for all kinds of imaginative aliens to visit, and Simak makes full use of the opportunity, plus the actual method of intergalactic travel is both fascinating and disturbing – personally I’ll wait till they get Star Trek-style matter transference working, I think!”

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne – “And what adventures! They will visit coral reefs and underwater passages between seas; they will slaughter all kinds of things for food or fun; they will visit islands inhabited only by savage tribes and find themselves in danger of being slaughtered themselves for food or fun, which seems like poetic justice to me!”

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells – “Read purely as an adventure, this is a dark and terrifying story indeed, from the first pages when Prendick and his fellow survivors are afloat on an open sea with no food and running out of fresh water, to the scenes on the island when Dr Moreau’s experiments go horrifically wrong.”

The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells – “[Cavor]’s one of these scientists who is so obsessed with his own theories and experiments, he doesn’t much care what impact they might have on other people – even the possibility that he might accidentally destroy the world seems like an acceptable risk to him. He simply won’t tell the world it’s in danger, so nobody has to worry about it.”

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – “It’s a sort of innocent charm – I feel sure he’d be amazed and appalled if he thought he’d offended anyone. He so truly believes that white Anglo-Saxons are the pinnacle of evolution and that women will forgive any little character flaws (like cannibalism, for example) so long as a man has rippling biceps and the ability to fight apes single-handed.”

On the Beach by Nevil Shute – “We are uniquely creative in finding ways to bring our species to the brink of extinction, so the question of whether we will face our communal death with dignity is ever present. Shute chooses to suggest that we will. I’m not so sure.”

Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan…

THE BEST ONE

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – “Josella has as strong a survival instinct as any of the men and an equal ability to adapt to new ways of living. She’s witty and amusing and occasionally a little wicked. She’s a true partner for Bill, rather than a pathetic encumbrance that he has to protect. She is, without exception, the best female character I can think of in science fiction of this era and indeed for decades to come.”

* * * * *

So it may have been a struggle at points, but I found enough good and great books to make it all worthwhile. Thanks for your company on my journey!

TBR Thursday 300 – Joining the Classics Club 2.0

The Second List

Now that I’m very close to completing my first Classics Club list, I’ve hit a little problem in that I’ve used up all my Dickenses and, as regular blog buddies will know, I like to read a Dickens novel over the Christmas period each year. So I’ve decided to post my second list early, although other than a Dickens I won’t be reading any of these till my first list is done – probably around February or March next year.

Plus, adding a zillion extra books to my TBR/wishlist seems like a suitably dramatic way to mark the fact that this is my 300th TBR Thursday post! 😱

For people who aren’t familiar with the idea of the Classics Club, the rules are simple. Basically, a list of at least 50 books is required, along with a commitment to read and post about them within 5 years. The Club leaves it up to each member to come up with their own definition of “Classic”. I’m sticking with the same definition as I used first time round, namely, that any book first published more than 50 years ago counts, so my cut-off this time is 1971. Happily the Classics Club Gods don’t punish us if we run over time or swap books as we go along. As far as I know…

Because I generally read and re-read a lot of classics, I’ve decided this time to list 80, divided into four categories. Here goes…

The Scottish Section

The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett (1748)
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides/A Journey to the Western Isles by James
….Boswell/Samuel Johnson (1785)
Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott (1815)
The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
Old Mortality by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott (1818)
The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott (1819)
Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1883)
The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
Doom Castle by Neil Munro (1901)
Gillespie by John MacDougall Hay (1914)
Open the Door! By Catherine Carswell (1920)
John Macnab by John Buchan (1925)
The Quarry Wood by Nan Shepherd (1928)
The Shipbuilders by George Blake (1935)
The Land of the Leal by James Barke (1939)
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi (1954)
Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway (1956)
A Song of Sixpence by AJ Cronin (1964)
Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith (1968)

The Bride of Lammermoor
Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852–1913)
The New Art Gallery Walsall

The English Section

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (1766)
Evelina by Frances Burney (1778)
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1848)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854)
Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens (1870)
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1874)
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
She by Henry Rider Haggard (1886)
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett (1908)
The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (1936)
The Third Man by Graham Greene (1949)
The Day of the Scorpion by Paul Scott (1968)
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

The Foreign Section

Written in English

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander (1920)
The Walls of Jericho by Rudolph Fisher (1928)
A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway (1929)
Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1948)
Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (1956)
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)
A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1967)
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)

In Translation

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1810)
Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (1831)
Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac (1835)
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni (1840)
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (1850)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
Germinal by Émile Zola (1885)
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1947)
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse (1949)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)

The Genre Section

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888)
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
The Land That Time Forgot Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1918)
Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth (1928)
The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett (1931)
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (1940)
Laura by Vera Caspary (1942)
Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson (1943)
Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie (1944)
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes (1947)
Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar (1952)
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (1953)
Gideon’s Day by JJ Marric (1955)
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
The Guns of Navarone by Alastair MacLean (1957)
The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959)
The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1963)
The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout (1965)

* * * * * * * * *

Thanks to all the many bloggers and commenters who have inspired me to add one or more of these books to my new list. The list will undoubtedly change over time but, meantime, what do you think? Any on there that you love? Or that you think doesn’t deserve a place?

Thanks for joining me on my reading travels!

The Classics Club Spin #28

Rien ne va plus…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 28th Spin, and my 11th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 17th October. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 12th December, 2021.

I missed the last few spins partly because of my general slumpiness over the last year and partly because recently they’ve seemed more like speed-reading events with very short deadlines, which is not how I like to read classics. Happily this one gives a full two-month timescale which is much more to my preference. I only have ten books left on my first list now and am hoping to read at least five of them before the year ends so I should theoretically be able to fit in whichever the spin picks quite easily – unless it lands on the lurking monster I’ve been evading for the last five years! So no doubt that’ll be the one… 😉

* * * * *

1) and 11) Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

2) and 12) The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

3) and 13) Rabbit, Run by John Updike

4) and 14) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

5) and 15) Children of the Dead End by Patrick McGill

6) and 16) No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long

7) and 17) The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

8) and 18) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

9) and 19) The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

10) and 20) The Drowned World by JG Ballard

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

GAN Quest: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

The paradox of democracy…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Jack Burden, our narrator, tells the story of Willie Stark, an ambitious, high-flying politician in the Depression-era South. Along the way we learn about Jack’s life too, and how he came to be Stark’s most loyal lieutenant. And we see played out in detail the corruption at the heart of politics – how a man who starts out full of good intention and moral purpose cuts a little corner here, exerts a little pressure there, sucks up to the rich, all initially to achieve his pet projects for the benefit of his constituents; until suddenly he finds he has become the kind of crooked, manipulative, self-justifying politician he once despised and intended to destroy. It’s a marvellously American story, especially when read at a time when all the worst of American politics is out there unashamedly displaying its stinking underbelly of moral corruption to the world. But of course the themes resonate for those of us who live in other democracies, since all share the same fundamental weakness – that those who stand for office are as fallible and flawed as everyone else.

Jack starts his story by taking us back in time to three years’ earlier, in 1936, to a day when Willie and his entourage visit his father in the house where Willie grew up. The main purpose of the visit is a photo op, to show how Willie is still rooted in the community from which he sprang years before. It’s a wonderful portrait of political hypocrisy. Stark is a hard man, but a politician to his toes, able to turn on his man of the people act at will. The old house, fully modernised on the inside, has been left carefully untouched on the outside so folks wouldn’t think Willie was putting on airs. We begin to see Jack as a thinking man, philosophical, cynical and rather defeated – why has he ended up as Stark’s minion? It is on this trip that Willie tells Jack to dig up dirt on Judge Irwin, a man who stands between Stark and his desire to become Senator for the state. Judge Irwin is inflexibly moral, crossing the line towards moral righteousness. But in this noir view of American politics, if you dig hard enough into anyone’s past, there’s almost certain to be something to find…

Then I was traveling through New Mexico, which is a land of total and magnificent emptiness with a little white filling station flung down on the sand like a sun-bleached cow skull by the trail, with far to the north a valiant remnant of the heroes of the Battle of Montmartre in a last bivouac wearing huaraches and hammered silver and trying to strike up conversations with Hopis on street corners. Then Arizona, which is grandeur and the slow incredulous stare of sheep, until you hit the Mojave. You cross the Mojave at night and even at night your breath rasps your gullet as though you were a sword swallower who had got hold of a hack-saw blade by mistake, and in the darkness the hunched rock and towering cactus loom at you with the shapes of a visceral, Freudian nightmare.

Then California.

The writing is excellent, stylised, intensely American, almost stream of consciousness at some points, and full of long, unique descriptions and metaphors. The chapters are long, almost novella-length, and to a degree contain separate stories within the main story. So, for example, we will go back in time to learn about how Jack and Willie met, when Jack was a young journalist covering Willie’s first failed run for Governor. We’ll see how the already cynical Jack found himself fascinated by the naive idealism of Willie, and that allows us to understand how, through all the years and despite all the corruption, Jack still sees Willie as a man who genuinely wants to improve the lives of his people. Or we’ll learn about Jack’s relationship with his four-times-married mother, still beautiful and rich, and Jack’s love for her, mingled with his resentment at all she stands for. Or we’ll go back to the time when Jack was in love with Anne Stanton, and learn how that has affected him throughout his life.

Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark in the 1949 movie

There are really no weak points to the book as far as I’m concerned, but the chapter that tells the story of Jack’s great-uncle Cass Mastern stands out as a particularly brilliant piece of writing, worthy on its own of the Pulitzer the novel won. Cass and his brother were on the side of the Confederacy in the civil war, but where Gilbert, the elder brother, is a conscienceless slave-owner, driven by his desire for wealth and power, Cass is a man who may be flawed in more ways than one, but has a strong moral compass. Jack researched their stories for his college dissertation and it was as he came to understand them that he began to wonder who he himself is, and the fear that he is more like Gilbert than Cass haunts him. In a way, the chapter is a diversion from the main story, but in another way, it’s the heart of the book, allowing us to understand Jack’s introspectiveness and self-doubt, and why he finds Willie, a man of supreme self-belief, strangely appealing.

After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity . . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn’t the game that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than nine innings. When the game stops it will be called on account of darkness. But it is a long day.

Book 72 of 90

And Willie is an oddly sympathetic character to the reader too, despite his brutality, his womanising, his corruption. Like Jack, we see a man who might line his own pockets, who might give and take bribes, who might blackmail and threaten opponents, but we also see that he genuinely wants to improve life for those at the bottom – give them the hospital and schools they deserve. Perhaps he’s motivated by the narcissistic desire to be the great working-class hero, adored and revered, but at least he started out meaning to do good. But somewhere along the way he forgot the need to cajole and explain and persuade, as his growing power enabled him to achieve his ends quicker through bullying and force. And once you’ve used and abused everyone, including your family, who is there left that you can trust?

Robert Penn Warren

Truly a brilliant book which, although it has a lot to say about the political system, isn’t fundamentally about politics. It’s about how we are made and re-made throughout our lives, changed by our own choices and by the events that happen around us. Jack’s view of life is dark, almost nihilistic, in that ultimately all effort is meaningless – men may have free will, but their choices will always lead them into a downward spiral towards defeat. As a reader, a step removed from Jack’s involvement, it is yet another reminder of the truth that power corrupts, and that those who seek to rule us are usually the least fit to do so because of the very hubris that makes them want to. The paradox of democracy. This one gets my highest recommendation.

* * * * * * *

So…how does it fare in The Great American Novel Quest? To win that title it needs to achieve all five of the criteria in my original post…

Must be written by an American author or an author who has lived long enough in the US to assimilate the culture.

us flagAchieved.

The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing.

us flag

Yes, the corruption which has always mired American democracy is brilliantly dissected, and the theme is as relevant today as it was at the time of writing. So – achieved.

It must be innovative and original in theme.

us flag

Hmm, the question of power corrupting is age-old, but the noir approach to the story, with no heroes to put in opposition to Stark’s growing villainy, makes it feel fresh and original. Plus, I really want it to win, so…achieved.

Must be superbly written.

us flag

Superb to the point where at some points it left me breathless, full of power and imagery, and deep insight into the motivations and humanity of the minor as well as the major characters. Achieved.

Must capture the entire ‘American experience’.

us flag

Geographically and in terms of the subject matter the answer might seem to be no, but the theme of corruption has always run deep through the American political system and forms a fundamental part of what makes America uniquely American – a society which values democracy and yet is utterly tribal in its loyalties even when its leaders flaunt their flaws in its face; a society whose American Dream too often veers towards nightmare. So I’m going to say yes, achieved.

* * * * * * * * *

So, for achieving 5 stars and 5 GAN flags, I hereby declare this book not just to be a great novel and A Great American Novel, but to be my third…

* * * * * * * * *

NB The previous winners were American Pastoral and Beloved.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

PS Apologies for disappearing so abruptly – my reading and writing slump have now reached epic proportions so I suspect I’ll be an irregular blogger for the foreseeable future. Hope you’re all staying well!

The Classics Club Spin #24

Rien ne va plus…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 24th Spin, and my 10th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 9th August. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020.

I missed the last spin because it all happened very quickly so I’m delighted we have more time both for posting our lists and planning our reading this time! I’m getting close to the last twenty on my list now, so my spin choices are more or less determined by what’s left. I already have several of the chunkier ones on my reading list for the next few months and can easily swap the order around, so for once I’m not too bothered about hoping for a short one!

* * * * *

1) Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

2) The American by Henry James

3) My Antonia by Willa Cather

4) Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

5) The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

6) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

7) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

8) Children of the Dead End by Patrick McGill

9) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

10) No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long

11) Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie

12) The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson

13) The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

14) The Drowned World by JG Ballard

15) Way Station by Clifford D Simak

16) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

17) I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

18) The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

19) The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

20) Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

Mind the Gap!

The Classics Club Meme July 2020

Since this month’s question for the Classics Club Meme, was proposed by me, I feel I should really answer it! Here it is:

Which classic author have you read more than one, but not all, of their books and which of their other books would you want to read in the future?

The author I had in mind when I suggested the question was Thomas Hardy. I love his writing and yet I’ve read only a couple of his books. This is because when I think Hardy, I think Tess of the D’Urbervilles and a re-read is sure to follow! I’ve read it at least three or four times over the years while so many of his other books have never had their chance to make me love them.

As a school pupil, I read Far from the Madding Crowd but, although I enjoyed it, as so often I feel I was far too young to really appreciate it in any but the most superficial way. It’s a tricky question, introducing school-children to the classics. On the one hand, for lucky early-developers it can engender a life-enhancing life-long love. But on the other hand I’m sure it puts just as many later-developing children off reading heavyweight fiction for life. Maybe that’s a question for another day – what classics are suitable “starters” for kids in their early- to mid-teens?

I’m currently slowly listening to The Mayor of Casterbridge on audiobook and loving it. This is one I thought I had read before but now realise I hadn’t – this happens often when a book has been adapted for TV several times, or has simply become such a standard that everyone kinda knows the basic plot. Jude the Obscure is another one I haven’t read but feel almost as if I had.

Now that I am in the last year of my first Classics Club challenge, I’ve begun in idle moments to mull over what my next list might look like if I decide to do it again. Rather than going for lots of new-to-me authors as I did this time round, and restricting myself to only one book from each of them, this time I’m considering picking some authors I’ve enjoyed in the past and filling in some of the gaps in my reading of their work. Sir Walter Scott, Graham Greene, HP Lovecraft, the Brontës as a group, my beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Neil Munro, H Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson – all authors I’d like to read more of. Mrs Gaskell too, although she’s in a slightly different category in that I haven’t read any of her novels – just a few short stories.

So then comes the matter of choosing the books. With Hardy, because I’ve read so little of him there’s a wide choice and my list will be startlingly unoriginal, since it seems to make sense to start with the best-known, and therefore probably best, ones. Here’s my Hardy wishlist – restricted to five…

Far From the Madding Crowd

Definitely time for a re-read of this one, I feel! Once every fifty years or so seems about right. 😉

The Blurb says: Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. 

Under the Greenwood Tree

The Blurb says: Under the Greenwood Tree is the story of the romantic entanglement between church musician, Dick Dewey, and the attractive new school mistress, Fancy Day. A pleasant romantic tale set in the Victorian era, Under the Greenwood Tree is one of Thomas Hardy’s most gentle and pastoral novels.

The Return of the Native

The Blurb says: Tempestuous Eustacia Vye passes her days dreaming of passionate love and the escape it may bring from the small community of Egdon Heath. Hearing that Clym Yeobright is to return from Paris, she sets her heart on marrying him, believing that through him she can leave rural life and find fulfilment elsewhere. But she is to be disappointed, for Clym has dreams of his own, and they have little in common with Eustacia’s.  

The Woodlanders

The Blurb says: In this classically simple tale of the disastrous impact of outside life on a secluded community in Dorset, Hardy narrates the rivalry for the hand of Grace Melbury between a simple and loyal woodlander and an exotic and sophisticated outsider. Betrayal, adultery, disillusion, and moral compromise are all worked out in a setting evoked as both beautiful and treacherous.

Jude the Obscure

The Blurb says: Jude Fawley’s hopes of a university education are lost when he is trapped into marrying the earthy Arabella, who later abandons him. Moving to the town of Christminster where he finds work as a stonemason, Jude meets and falls in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a sensitive, freethinking “New Woman.” Refusing to marry merely for the sake of religious convention, Jude and Sue decide instead to live together, but they are shunned by society and poverty soon threatens to ruin them.

(These stills from the various adaptations tell their own Hardy story, don’t they? The meeting, the spark of romance, the love, the passion…. the woman left in misery holding the baby… 😂)

Shocking that I haven’t read these ones! I’m duly ashamed and shall stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on till I do. But in the meantime, are there any others you feel deserve one of these coveted spaces more, and if so, which of these would you bump off the list to make room for it? And in answer to the original question, who would be your chosen author and which books of his or hers would you put on your list?

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

A feline favourite…

The Classics Club Meme

The Classics Club is reviving the idea of the Classics Club Meme, and going back to basics with the first question…

What is your favourite classic? And why?

The thing is, I’ve talked about my favourite classic, Bleak House, about a million times on the blog already and I’m frightened you might all throw rotten tomatoes at me if I do it again!

So first I thought I’d change the question – maybe to “What’s your favourite 20th century classic?” Or “What’s your favourite classic in translation?” But I quickly realised I’d feel pretty foolish if whatever I pick ends up being the question in a future meme.

Then I had a rare moment of inspiration! I’ll ask Tuppence to do the post! (Tommy isn’t much of a reader.) And she very graciously consented to oblige, so here she is…

(Scary, isn’t she?)

Hello, humans! I’m going to make this brief because I’m missing out on valuable napping time here, so sit up straight and pay attention. There is obviously only one book that could qualify for the designation of Classic and therefore it must be my favourite, as my servant could have easily worked out for herself if she wasn’t so – no offence – thick. Frankly if it wasn’t for the fact that she knows where the cat treats are hidden, we wouldn’t keep her around – she’s not much good for anything else. Except cleaning the litter trays. But I digress! Excuse me one moment while I groom my tail. Ah, that’s better!

As I was saying, the only Classic is…

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Well, I’m off to catch up on my beauty sleep now, not that I need it. What? Good grief, now my servant is insisting that I explain why! I’d have thought that would be obvious to one of the meanest intelligence, but she is and apparently it isn’t. Oh well, I suppose we occasionally have to make an effort to boost staff morale around here. But I’m awfully tired and frankly a bit bored, so instead of explaining, why don’t I just let you read the passage that lifts this book so high above all others?

Ah, here it is…

I do not blame Montmorency for his tendency to row with cats; but he wished he had not given way to it that morning.

We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High Street a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began to trot across the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy – the cry of a stern warrior who sees his enemy given over to his hands – the sort of cry Cromwell might have uttered when the Scots came down the hill – and flew after his prey.

His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more disreputable-looking cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears, and a fairly appreciable proportion of its nose. It was a long, sinewy- looking animal. It had a calm, contented air about it.

Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour; but the cat did not hurry up – did not seem to have grasped the idea that its life was in danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be assassin was within a yard of it, and then it turned round and sat down in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency with a gentle, inquiring expression, that said:

“Yes! You want me?”

Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look of that cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He stopped abruptly, and looked back at Tom.

Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as follows:-

THE CAT: “Can I do anything for you?”

MONTMORENCY: “No – no, thanks.”

THE CAT: “Don’t you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you know.”

MONTMORENCY (BACKING DOWN THE HIGH STREET): “Oh, no – not at all – certainly – don’t you trouble. I – I am afraid I’ve made a mistake. I thought I knew you. Sorry I disturbed you.”

THE CAT: “Not at all – quite a pleasure. Sure you don’t want anything, now?”

MONTMORENCY (STILL BACKING): “Not at all, thanks – not at all – very kind of you. Good morning.”

THE CAT: “Good-morning.”

Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what he calls his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up an unimportant position in the rear.

To this day, if you say the word “Cats!” to Montmorency, he will visibly shrink and look up piteously at you, as if to say:

“Please don’t.”

Ah, yes! Sheer poetry! The plot, the characterisation, the triumph of good over evil – it has everything! Plus there’s no pleasure greater than laughing at a dog.

Now, if you’ll excuse me – well, frankly, even if you won’t – I’m done here. Please don’t disturb me for a good eighteen hours.

* * * * *

Thank you, Tuppence. I’m overwhelmed by your kindness and condescension! I’m so lucky to have you as my boss! Have a lovely nap and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you…

Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you…

* * * * *

What do you think of Tuppence’s choice? Is there another classic that you feel deserves her consideration?

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

The Classics Club Spin #22

Place your bets…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 22nd Spin, and my 9th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 22nd December. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 31st January, 2020.

There’s almost zero chance of me being able to fit one by the end of January since I’m just about to embark on my Christmas Dickens read, Barnaby Rudge. But when did the prospect of certain failure ever stop me from making a list? Of course, if the spin comes up with Barnaby Rudge, I’ll be feeling pretty smug! Or if it comes up with a very short one that I can squeeze in. But an awful lot of these are monsters…

* * * * *

1) Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

2) The American by Henry James

3) Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

4) All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

5) The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

6) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

7) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

8) The African Queen by CS Forester

9) Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

10) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

11) Children of the Dead End by Patrick McGill

12) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

13) Grey Granite by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

14) Flemington by Violet Jacob

15) No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long

16) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

17) I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

18) The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

19) Way Station by Clifford D Simak

20) Earth Abides by George R Stewart

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #21

The fickle finger of fate…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 21st Spin, and my 8th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Monday, 23rd September. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 31st October, 2019.

I’ll be amazed if I can meet that deadline, given my usual state of being buried under an avalanche of review copies, but I’ve included a few classics I’ve already scheduled for the next couple of months, so if one of them comes up it might be possible. (Is it me, or are these deadlines getting shorter and shorter? Anyway, even if I can’t meet the deadlines, I enjoy making the lists!) So now it all depends on the fickle finger of fate…

* * * * *

1) My Antonia by Willa Cather

2) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

3) For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

4) East of Eden by John Steinbeck

5) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

6) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

7) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

8) The African Queen by CS Forester

9) The Go-Between by LP Hartley

10) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

11) The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown

12) The New Road by Neil Munro

13) Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

14) Flemington by Violet Jacob

15) No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long

16) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

17) I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

18) The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

19) Way Station by Clifford D Simak

20) Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #20

The luck of the draw…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 20th Spin, and my 7th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Monday, 22nd April. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st May, 2019.

Because I have a little batch of chunky classics for review from the lovely people at OWC which I must read over the next couple of months, I won’t be able to meet that deadline. But I’ve decided to join in anyway, with a view to reading my spin winner in July. At the moment my July schedule is empty-ish, so I’ve included lots of the longer books on my list this time. Now it’s all up to the luck of the draw…

* * * * *

1) The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

2) Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

3) For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

4) All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

5) The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

6) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

7) Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

8) Nada the Lily by H Rider Haggard

9) The African Queen by CS Forester

10) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

11) The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown

12) The New Road by Neil Munro

13) Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

14) The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

15) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

16) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allinghaml

17) The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré

18) Earth Abides by George R Stewart

19) On the Beach by Neville Shute

20) Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

* * * * * * *

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #19

In the lap of the gods…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 19th Spin, and my 6th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Tuesday, 27th November. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st January, 2019. This seems like a super generous amount of time, so the Club is recommending we set ourselves the challenge to read one of the chunkier books on our lists, and as we all know some of those pesky classics can be very chunky indeed!

All very well and I’m always up for a challenge! But… I’ve already scheduled my annual Dickens monster, Little Dorrit this year, for the festive season and also committed to reading all five of his Christmas books! So I’ve put some biggies on my list but I’ve also snuck some shorter ones in there in the hopes that fate will be kind to me *laughs hollowly*. It’s all in the lap of the gods…

* * * * *

1) The American by Henry James

2) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

3) Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

4) The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

5) Earth Abides by George R Stewart

6) Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

7) Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

8) The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

9) I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

10) The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

11) Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

12) The African Queen by CS Forester

13) Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie

14) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

15) Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

16) In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

17) The Go-Between by LP Hartley

18) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

19) Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

20) The Drowned World by JG Ballard

* * * * * * *

I’d be delighted to read most of these. Remember, Classics Club Gods, short! Short! In the Heat of the Night. The African Queen. I, The Jury. But if you must go long, then Mansfield Park would be nice, or The Bull Calves, or The Game of Kings…

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #18

The fickle finger of fate…

classics club logo 2

The Classics Club is holding its 18th Spin, and my 5th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Wednesday, 1st August. On Wednesday, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by August 31st. A tight timetable and it will be difficult to squeeze another book into a month already filled to overflowing with review books but I’ll have a bash. I hope the punishment for failure isn’t too severe!

So here’s my list. I’ve selected it on the basis of mostly including books I already own, and have included some from all five of the categories in my CC list – American fiction, English fiction, Scottish fiction, crime fiction and science fiction. I’m kinda hoping number 20 comes up, since that means Laila will be reading The Gowk Storm, Margaret will be reading Three Men in a Boat and Chronolit will be reviewing the Kama Sutra, so I’ve juggled mine to put a goodie in that slot just in case…

1) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

2) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

3) The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett

4) The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

5) Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

6) My Antonia by Willa Cather

7) Nada The Lily by H Rider Haggard

8) The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott

9) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

10) Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke

11) Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

12) The African Queen by CS Forester

13) The New Road by Neil Munro

14) The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

15) On the Beach by Nevil Shute

16) Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr

17) Way Station by Clifford D Simak

18) No Mean City by Alexander MacArthur and H Kingsley Long

19) The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré

20) Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

* * * * * * *

I’d be delighted to read most of these. The Fair Maid of Perth might be a bit long to fit in, and The Jungle might be a bit depressing… so with my track record in these spins, I’ve no doubt one of them will come up! Wish for a short, cheerful one for me – Bath Tangle or Nada the Lily!

Which one would you like to see win?

Classics Club Meet and Greet…

The Classics Club Meme – June 2018

The Classics Club meme for June encourages us all to get to know each other better. Here’s the task…

We want you to mingle. Go to our member list and select a fellow classics clubber you’d like to feature on your blog. This can be someone who is active within the Classics Club, someone quiet who inspires with his/her posts, someone new to the club or scarce whom you’d like the club to meet. S/he can be a friend of yours, or someone you’ve never met. Tell readers why you value this club member. Highlight at least one post from his/her blog.

I must say firstly, I think this is a great idea and secondly, it made me feel quite guilty for not making more effort to seek out new CC members and introduce myself. In my defence, I’m not sure what the best way to find new members is – not everyone uses the introduction page. If any other members have found a good way of spotting new members, please let me know.

For the purposes of this month’s meme, I decided to highlight a couple of my existing blog buddies who’ve joined up recently, and then I also followed the suggestion and visited the member list, where I looked for people who have joined recently and whom I haven’t “met” before. Not only was this fun to do, but I’m hoping I’ve made at least one new blog buddy!

So here they are. Please meet, greet and visit…

Cleopatra Loves Books

I’m pretty certain nearly all of you will already know the lovely Cleo and her great, enthusiastic reviews, but I wanted to include her because I was so pleased she decided to join the Classics Club, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying her classics reviews to date. I’m also delighted that her list includes some classic crime along with the more traditional classics, and that she’s included some of the books I’ve reviewed (or nagged her about 😉 ), including The Gowk Storm (a book everyone should read) and an actual science fiction classic, Chocky by John Wyndham – I’ve been trying to get her to read a sci-fi book for about five years now, so I can’t wait for her review of that one!

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews I particularly enjoyed…

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

…mainly because this book is also on my TBR so I was delighted that it got the Cleo five-star seal of approval.

* * * * *

Big Reading Life

Laila is also an existing blog buddy of mine whom I’m sure lots of you already know and follow. She joined the club in February and I’ve been enjoying her reviews and also enjoying her throwing herself into the club by participating in the spins, etc. Laila’s list has lots of my favourite authors and books on it (Dickens, Conan Doyle, HG Wells, etc), so I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of them. And I’m still on my little ego-trip, because Laila has also included The Gowk Storm on my recommendation. Hurrah! (Did I mention it’s a book everyone should read?)

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews I particularly enjoyed…

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

…even though she admitted to not enjoying the film of the book, which I adore. Still, it just means I’ll have to pester her until she re-watches it often enough to learn to love it… 😉

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Books by the Cup

I’m excited to introduce Books by the Cup to you, since I’ve only just met her myself! She joined the Classics Club in March this year, just one month after she began blogging! Her list has lots of Austen and lots of Dickens so I know we’re going to get along. And it’s got Moby Dick on it! My regulars will all know exactly how I feel about that particular “classic”! Rumour has it that she’ll be reviewing it soon – can’t wait to compare notes. She doesn’t have The Gowk Storm on her list, but she probably just doesn’t know yet that it’s a book everyone should read… 😉

Welcome to the club, Books by the Cup!

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews that I particularly enjoyed…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

…mainly because it’s a great review of the Austen novel which I think is the best (although I enjoy P&P most). Books by the Cup says “Is this my favorite Austen? No. Did I like it? Yes. Did I laugh and hold my breath in anticipation of what was to come? Yes. However, as was the case with Pride and Prejudice, I might appreciate it better the second time around…” and anybody who wants to re-read Austen is clearly a kindred spirit!

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If you don’t already know any of these excellent bloggers, I’m delighted to recommend them to you.

HAVE A CLASSIC DAY! 😀