The Classics Club Spin #24

Rien ne va plus…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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… 😉

* * * * *

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!

* * * * *

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

HAVE A CLASSIC DAY! 😀

Talking Classics…

The Classics Club Meme – May 2018

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

What is your favourite classic book? Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

The winner is…

THE GOWK STORM

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

So… what do you think of my choices?

The Classics Club Spin #17

The lap of the gods…

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The Classics Club is holding its 17th Spin, and my fourth. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before Friday, 9th March. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 30th, 2018. I have no idea how I’m going to fit that in, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

So here’s my list. This time I’ve selected it on a random basis of books that haven’t appeared on a spin before plus books that 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 for a shortish one, so NOT Gone with the Wind. Did you hear me, Classics Club Gods? I said – NOT GONE WITH THE WIND!!!

1) The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

2) Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

3) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

4) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

5) For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

6) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

7) Nada the Lily by H Rider Haggard

8) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

9) The Go-Between by LP Hartley

10) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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

12) Flemington by Violet Jacob

13) Imagined Corners by Willa Muir

14) Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

15) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

16) The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

17) The 39 Steps by John Buchan

18) I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

19) Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

20) Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

* * * * * * *

If I had to choose, I’d like to see For Whom the Bell Tolls come up, or Nada the Lily, or any of the Scottish books. But it’s out of my hands now…

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #16 Result aka How Could You Do This to Me????

“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”

What did I say, huh? Did I fail to make myself clear or what??? I quote myself:

“…not Sons and Lovers. Or The Catcher in the Rye. (What was I thinking when I put them on my list? Why didn’t you stop me???)”

Seems clear enough to me! So why, then… WHY, THEN… did The Classics Club pick no. 4????

The Blurb says: The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.

FictionFan says: Pah!!!

🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷

* * * * * * *

Hope you had a good spin! 😀

The Classics Club Spin #16

Place your bets…

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The Classics Club is holding its 16th Spin, and my third. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before Friday, 17th November. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by December 31, 2017. I may have to eat several extra cakes to turbo-charge my reading speed so’s I can fit another book in, but that’s a sacrifice I’ll just have to make…

So here’s my list. This time I’ve selected it on the basis mainly of the books on my list that I don’t own yet (topped up by a couple that I do), 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. Mostly I’m hoping for a short one. And not Sons and Lovers. Or The Catcher in the Rye. (What was I thinking when I put them on my list? Why didn’t you stop me???) Anyway, here’s hoping for a good spin…

(Clicking on the title will take you to the book description on Goodreads.)

1) Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

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

3) The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

4) The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

5) In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

6) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

7) Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

8) The African Queen by CS Forester

9) The Go-Between by LP Hartley

10) Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

11) Annals of the Parish by John Galt

12) Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill

13) No Mean City by A McArthur and H Kingsley Long

14) The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

15) Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie

16) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

17) Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

18) The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

19) On the Beach by Nevil Shute

20) The Drowned World by JG Ballard

* * * * * * *

If I had to choose, I’d like to see The Bull Calves come up, or The Postman Always Rings Twice. But it’s in the lap of the gods – my bets have all been placed and the wheel is spinning…

Which one would you like to see win?

The Classics Club Spin #15

Rien ne va plus…

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The Classics Club is holding its 15th Spin, and my second. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before this Friday, 10th March. On Friday, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by May 1, 2017. Frankly I have no idea how I’m going to fit another book into my over-stuffed schedule over that period, but I’m sure it will all work out somehow! I shall stock up on medicinal chocolate (for energy, you know) and warn my therapist to be on stand-by…

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 in the mood for some of these more than others, in truth, so here’s hoping for a good spin…

1) The American by Henry James

2) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

3) The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett

4) The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

5) The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

6) My Antonia by Willa Cather

7) No Name by William Wilkie Collins

8) The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott

9) The 39 Steps by John Buchan

10) Earth Abides by George R Stewart

11) Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

12) Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore

13) The New Road by Neil Munro

14) The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

15) The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

16) Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr

17) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

18) Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

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

20) Way Station by Clifford D Simak

* * * * * * *

If I had to choose, I’d like to see The Tiger in the Smoke come up, or The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. There are some I’d love to read but are quite long so will be tough to fit in, but the wheel is already spinning and my bets have all been placed…

Which one would you like to see win?

Passing by Nella Larsen

Colour me white…

😀 😀 😀 😀

passingWhen Irene accidentally meets her childhood friend Clare in a tea-house in Chicago, she’s not altogether surprised to discover that Clare is ‘passing’ as white. Clare had always wanted the good things in life and, when she disappeared from home as a teenager, her friends suspected she’d found a way to make use of her beauty. Now Clare is married to a rich white man, John Bellew, with whom she has a child. But John hates ‘niggers’ and Clare knows her marriage would be over if he ever found out about her mixed heritage. Irene rather despises Clare for, as she sees it, a kind of betrayal of her race, but nevertheless can’t resist the appeal of her charm. And so, their friendship is resumed – dangerous to Clare’s marriage, but as it turns out, dangerous to Irene too…

Despite the title and basic premise of the book, this is as much about marriage and status as it is about race. Irene is respected in her society in Harlem. Her husband Brian is a doctor and they have a relatively wealthy life. But we soon learn that Brian is discontented – he hates living in a country where he is treated as inferior because of his race. Irene on the other hand loves her life and wants nothing more than she has. Clare is the catalyst who brings this division into sharp focus, forcing Irene to question what’s important to her and to wonder if her marriage is as solid as she had always thought.

I appreciated that the book doesn’t focus exclusively on the race issues. Sometimes books become so polemical it feels as if the people are tokens rather than rounded characters in their own right – I’m thinking of Americanah, for example. In this one, 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. Written in 1921 long before the civil rights movement really got underway, we see how white people felt it was totally acceptable to publicly and casually express views that many of us would now find repugnant (pre-Trump – sadly, it now appears to be the new normal again), and how black people, even wealthy ones, had no real recourse other than to accept it and try not to let it define their entire lives. Brian and Irene’s ongoing difference about how to bring up their sons encapsulates a debate that I’m sure must have been going on endlessly in the black community of the time – Irene wanting to shield them for as long as possible from the knowledge of how racist their society is, while Brian feels they should be taught early what to expect and taught to resent it.

Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen

The deeper question than simply colour is perhaps about the sense of belonging. Despite having wealth and a husband who loves her, Clare the risk-taker longs for the people and places of her childhood and is willing to gamble recklessly with everything she has for the fleeting pleasure of spending time back in that society. Irene on the other hand sees that same society as a place of security and contentment, and her sole desire is not to have her life disrupted. Both the women can tolerate the racism of their world so long as it doesn’t directly impinge on them. Brian, however, resents racism as a political thing, not just personal – a thing that makes him hate his nation and rather despise his peers for their acceptance of it. In him, we see the anger and discontent that would eventually lead to the rise of the civil rights movement.

The characterisation of Irene is the book’s major strength. It is from her perspective that the book is told, although in the third person. She operates within the conventions of her time, deferring outwardly to her husband, playing the little wife who’s always endearingly late for things and just a bit scatterbrained. But inwardly she has a core of steel – she has achieved exactly the life she wants and will defend it in any way she can. If that means she has to manipulate her husband to give up his dreams in favour of hers, so be it – she has the intelligence and fierce drive to do it, and the self-awareness to know that that’s exactly what she’s doing. But her slightly repelled fascination for her old friend allows Clare to sneak through her defences, and suddenly Irene finds she’s losing control of the situation – something she’s not used to and that frightens her.

I regret to admit that I think the ending is almost laughably silly, which is a major pity since I was loving it up to that point. I wonder if Larsen maybe just couldn’t think how to get her characters out of the situation she had so carefully and brilliantly crafted for them. Personally (and you don’t often hear me say this) I wished the book was a few chapters longer with a more complex and psychologically satisfying dénouement. But despite that disappointment, I still think this is an excellent book that gives real insight into this small section of black society at a moment in time, and would highly recommend it.

I was tempted towards the book by this excellent review from TJ at My Book Strings – only took me two years to get around to reading it!

Book 2 of 90
Book 2 of 90

This is the book chosen for me by the Classics Club’s #14 spin.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The Classics Club Spin #14

The fickle finger of fate…

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The Classics Club is holding its 14th Spin, but it’s my first. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Monday 3rd October. On Monday, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by December 1, 2016. It will certainly be a challenge to squeeze another book into my already overstuffed pile of review books and GAN books that I’ve scheduled for autumn, but hey! Who needs sleep anyway? If the worst comes to the worst, I can always bump Moby-Dick off the schedule… 😉

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’ve also tried to avoid some of the lengthier ones on my list…

1) Passing by Nella Larsen

2) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

3) The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

4) Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

5) Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

6) Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West

7) Nada The Lily by H Rider Haggard

8) The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

9) She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac

10) Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

11) Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

12) The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse

13) The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

14) The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

15) The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

16) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

17) Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

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

19) Cop Hater by Ed McBain

20) Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke

* * * * * * *

Most of these I’d be delighted to read. If I had to choose, I’d like to see Strangers on a Train come up, or Nada the Lily. There are only a couple I feel more ambivalent about, but I’m naming no names on the basis of tempting fate!

Which one would you like to see win?

Intimidating books?

The Classics Club – August Meme #ccmeme

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The Classics Club meme for this month is asking a question that I find rather strange…

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)

I don’t understand the concept of being intimidated by a book. For me, books I’ve read fall into two categories – ones I’ve enjoyed and ones I haven’t. Sure, there are sub-categories in there – it’s a spectrum that runs all the way from Wow! to Ugh! Occasionally, there’s even a book that I think is objectively bad, rather than that I just subjectively didn’t like it, but that’s rare.

That’s why I’ve always been happy to stick with the Amazon rating system that I initially used because that’s where I first posted reviews. It’s a beautifully simple system – 5 stars = I love it, 4 = I like it, 3 = It’s OK, 2 = I don’t like it, and 1 = I hate it. Totally subjective, not a hint of quality assessment in there. Of course, in my reviews I might rave about something that I feel makes a book intrinsically “good” – that it says something profound about the human condition, that it’s beautifully written, that it’s sparklingly entertaining. Or I may rant about something that makes it inherently “bad” – that the writing is sub-standard, that it peddles unacceptable ideas about race, gender etc.

But mostly, even when I’m praising a book to the skies or kicking it into the gutter, I know my opinion is purely subjective and that another reader is likely to feel very differently about it. That’s the joy of reading. I look on it as a collaboration between the author and the reader. Each reader will bring something different to the book and so will find something different between the lines. That amazingly original story I just read may seem like a derivative snorefest to someone who’s read more widely in a particular genre. Or that serial killer book that I find tiresomely stale may feel fresh and exciting to someone who hasn’t read as many of them. I can even accept (though it’s hard) that some weird people might like first person present tense misery-fest narratives! So long as you can accept that I rather like books about Martians…

So all of that is a long preamble to say that no book intimidates me! All of the books I haven’t read fall into two categories too – ones I think I’ll enjoy and ones I think I won’t. And I have no driven need to read any from the second category. Perhaps I’d have to if I was studying literature, but I’m not. I’m simply reading for pleasure and, since I’m unlikely to run out of books I think I’ll enjoy any time soon, I can quietly ignore the ones I expect to hate. No Finnegan’s Wake for me! I’m sorry, Mr Solzhenitsyn – my TBR will be untroubled by your books. Mr Eco, you had your chance and blew it. Mr McEwan, it’s not me, it’s you! Ms Woolf, stream your consciousness in someone else’s direction. Ah, Darcy, what a pleasure to see you! Come in, sit down and make yourself at home…

darcy sitting

Occasionally, I might read a book I suspect I’ll hate – Moby-Dick springs to mind – but even then I don’t feel in the slightest bit intimidated by it. Only three things can happen – I’ll be pleasantly surprised by it; I’ll hate it and quickly abandon it, thus removing it from my TBR for ever; or I’ll hate it so much I’ll have huge fun ripping it metaphorically to shreds! Win-win-win! In fact, now I think about it, Melville should really be the one feeling intimidated right now – he’s the one with something to prove… 😉

Be afraid, Mr Melville...be very afraid!
Be afraid, Mr Melville…be very afraid!

My Classics Club list has 90 books on it, each of which I’m looking forward to. I may not love them all – I may even hate some of them. But none of them will ever have the power to make me hide quivering behind the sofa. I am steely-eyed and unafraid – a book-warrior! Go ahead, books, make my day…

Disney preferred the peerless Princess Dejah Thoris clothed too, thankfully..

What about you? Do you find any books intimidating?

Modern classics…

The Classics Club – July Meme #ccmeme

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The Classics Club meme for this month is looking at recent books rather than old ones…

What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future.

Hmm… the first thing, I suppose, is to define “classic”. When I drew up my own list of classics, I decided that it pretty much meant any book over 50 years old that is still in print and read today. By “in print” I mean in a priced version by a publisher, rather than a scanned Kindle freebie or only available on Project Gutenberg and the like. I did include a couple of out of print books in my Scottish section, but in general I still hold that if a book is out of print it hasn’t really survived the test of time.

So, restricting it, not surprisingly, to books I’ve read (and reviewed, ‘cos they’re the only ones I ever remember!) I came up with several that I expect will still be in print and being read in fifty years’ time. The majority are pretty safe bets, since they come from authors with such an established and respected body of work that their stuff is bound to survive. Most of these authors have won or at least been shortlisted for the major literary prizes, though not necessarily for these books. Here they are…

Harvest by Jim Crace

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

(*The inclusion of The Goldfinch will alert regular readers to the fact that I’m only suggesting these books will become classics, but not necessarily saying I think they’re good…)

* * * * * * *

It’s more difficult to guess which newer, less established authors will survive. It’s rare indeed for an author to write only one book that becomes a classic, however great it may be. To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind, but not much else. However, in general, the bulk of an author’s work survives or it all disappears, even if it’s generally accepted that one or two of their books are outstanding and the rest not quite at the same level. The Great Gatsby is read by millions of people who never read anything else by Fitzgerald, for example, but all his major work remains consistently in print.

So here are four authors that I think may survive. In each case, the book I’ve listed has had some success but not the recognition I felt it deserved.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Burial Rites was a bestseller but was unforgivably not longlisted for the Booker. However, it’s Hannah Kent’s only book to date, and by itself I don’t know if it would survive. But if, as I expect, she goes on to write a whole lifetime’s worth of good stuff, and wins major prizes one day, then I think her books will become classics for sure. Similarly, Yann Martel might be a fairly safe bet because of the major success of The Life of Pi, but I feel he still needs a bigger body of work before his place as a great is assured.

Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery

The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer

Patrick Flanery and Aatish Taseer both received a good deal of critical praise for these books, but neither really took the reading world by storm as much as I’d have expected (though Taseer may have done in India and Pakistan – I don’t know). Again, neither was longlisted for the Booker, not that that’s much of a guide to longevity, anyway – the books on the longlist will mostly be forgotten by this time next year, if they ever get read at all by anyone except those who like to read the longlisted books each year. (My evidence? Pick a year and look at the longlisted, but not shortlisted, books on Amazon and see how few reviews most of them will have; and most of those will appear at around the time of the longlisting announcement. You might, or might not, also be surprised at how low even those dedicated Booker readers tend to rate these ‘best’ books of the year… but be careful, or you might become as cynical as me…)

Aatish Taseer
Aatish Taseer

Both at the beginning of their writing careers, I’m betting both Flanery and Taseer will break through properly at some point, and join the likes of Rushdie, Tóibín, McCarthy, as writers with a solid body of work, some great, some good, but almost always worth reading. And I’ll stick my neck out and say they’ll both win the Booker one day. And, of these two books, the one which seems to me more likely to have a long life is Patrick Flanery’s.

I reckon Fallen Land was written too soon after 9/11 and the global crash for the American public to accept how fundamentally these things had affected every aspect of society. The book, in my opinion, shows the widening gulf that is becoming ever more clear now between the progressives and the conservatives, how that arises out of the constitution and history of the US; and that the gap between them leaves a dangerous vacuum waiting to be filled. With its references to the founders, to slavery, to the importance of land ownership, to the attitude of suspicion towards ‘foreigners’, to surveillance, to the disconnect between people and the government, to the part of the American psyche that turns people into assault-rifle-wielding survivalists, I’m betting it’s a book that will be appreciated more in retrospect for what it says about today’s America than America is willing to admit even now. So it’s the one I think most likely to be a future classic. But only if Flanery does achieve that major breakthrough…

Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery

Over to you…what modern book do you think will become a classic?

(PS – On reading this over, it seems awfully opinionated and a bit grumpy… but it’s late and I’m tired and I can’t bring myself to redo it, so please don’t hold it against me… 😉 )

Transwarp Tuesday! Favourites…

The Classic Club – June Meme #ccmeme

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One of the reasons I was keen to join The Classics Club is that every now and again they come up with a ‘meme’ where everyone can look back over their reading and share their answers to a given question. This month’s question is:

“What is your favorite mystery or science fiction classic? Why do you think it is a classic? Why do you like it?”

Favo(u)rites are always hard – it’s like choosing between your children, or worse, your cats! And science fiction favourites are particularly hard since it’s sometimes hard to decide what falls into that elusive genre. So I couldn’t limit it to just one…

The Caves of Steel
The Caves of Steel

I love the Asimov robot stories, but the book of his I return to most often is The Gods Themselves. Brilliantly imaginative (though I have heard scientists sneer a little at the science), the book seems even more relevant now than it did when it was written, with its story of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned science leading to the possible environmental destruction, not just of Earth, but of whole universes! But the reason I love it is for the aliens he has created, with their three-person relationships. I shall merely say that the book contains some of the most tasteful yet erotic alien sex scenes ever, and I’ve always rather felt that our messy human version just can’t match up…

the gods themselves

But then, there are the Gateway books by Frederick Pohl. Not quite as well written, in my opinion, but back in the day the premise seemed hugely imaginative to me, though now it appears to be becoming chillingly possible. The basic idea is that, by using technology left behind by a now extinct race of aliens, the Heechee, man has discovered a way to download his thoughts, memories and personality into computers, to achieve a kind of immortality. But it’s a process only the rich can afford. So our intrepid hero must first seek his fortune by setting off on the incredibly dangerous task of mining the Oort. I loved these books in my teens and 20s and always mean to re-read them someday.

Gateway
Gateway

John Wyndham stands up much better to time, I think, and has written too many greats for me to pick one – The Chrysalids, The Kraken Wakes, The Day of the Triffids, his short story collection, The Seeds of Time, etc. But if I was forced I’d have to say Chocky is my favourite – I loved this alien entity too and how Wyndham used her (or him) to focus a light back on his own ’60s British culture. Wyndham is undoubtedly a favourite author.

the seeds of time

Then there’s Dune. Admittedly the series went a bit crazy by about book 3 and those who struggled on past that suggest it went totally doolally later. But for the brilliant world-building and the giant sandworms, the first book has to stay on my favourites list.

Dune
Dune

Are Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom books sci-fi? They’re certainly fi and highly imaginative fi at that, with some fabulous creatures, including my Woola, the cutest ten-limbed frog-headed dog-like alien you’re ever likely to meet. But ‘sci’? Well, perhaps solar panels could be seen as a form of ‘harvesting the ninth ray of the sun’ but I felt he was conveniently vague on the whole mechanics of how a sleeping, clothed John Carter ended up on Mars, naked! But for the sheer fun of the books, they earn a place. too.

My lovely Woola...
My lovely Woola…

The top spot, though, has to be given to a book that I only found recently – one of those that I don’t know how I missed till now. Again, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, is a little light on the science at times, but the quality of the writing easily qualifies as ‘literary’ and the imagination he shows time and time again in this collection of loosely linked stories is second to none – thought provoking and very insightful about his own contemporary society, looking at questions such as racism, the decimation of native cultures and the ever-present threat of nuclear holocaust. Some of them will stay with me forever and this is a book I will dip into again and again, probably for the rest of my life. Which surely must be the definition of ‘favourite classic’, I would say…

The Martians Chronicles illustrations © Les Edwards 2009.

What about you? Do you have a favourite sci-fi novel you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Special treat for reading to the end…

John Carter... not naked, thankfully! Ahhh...
John Carter… not naked, thankfully! Ahhh…