I’ve long had pleasent memories associated with Valentines Day, although these are the memories of childhood rather than more mature associations. My mom would always–still does, actually–make frosted heart cookies, double stacked–yummy! My brother and I could always, growing up, count on a chocolate heart or a small bundle of wrapped chocolates from the local candy shop. And for several years, a new paperback as well. I still have my first copy of Pride and Prejudice, which arrived on Valentines of 8th grade. (Though it is considerably more visably battered now.) Before that, it was always a YA or Middle Grade book, almost always award winning. My mom has good taste.
So it shouldn’t be any surprise that on Valentines Day, my thoughts always turn to favorite books. This year I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Classic Children’s Literature Event (April! Just around the corner…), and when not panicked about getting my act together to get ready, I’ve been musing over what to suggest as a readalong title. And I must admit, nothing in particular is really calling to me this year. Sure, I have a great long list (and if pressed today, I would say the Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, which have the advantage of being available in an English translation online), but I just haven’t settled on the right book. So I’m throwing it open to suggestions: is there a children’s classic (at least 50 years old, please) that you would love to read–either for the first time, or revisiting–this year? I’ll take suggestions until the end of the month and announce the RAL title at the start of March.
William Johnston, translator
With a forward by Martin Scorsese
(Picador Modern Classics, New York, 2016)
Nearly the last book I finished in 2016, Silence was certainly among the most powerful I’ve read in the last few years. It is the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests, desperate for word of their mentor and disbelieving that he could have apostatized, who sneak into 17th century Japan only to find a world vastly different from anything they have previously experienced. Told in the form of letters, 3rd person narrative, and diary entries, Silence is a powerful and thought-provoking investigation of faith and its testing.
I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijirō was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijirō. (Ch 4)
There are no easy answers here, and while it is clear that the Portuguese are out of their depth, tossed into a culture and mindset so different than that they have previously known and a persecution they were not truly prepared for, it also allows the reader to interrogate their own response: in the position of the priest or the Japanese Christian peasant would you act the same? What does it mean to renounce a belief outwardly but inwardly keep it; is this still an apostasy? Is there a penalty for faith hidden rather than professed? Endō does not tell us; in the end we are left to decide for ourselves.
I just realized that I haven’t taken a single photo this year, excepting some really exciting work pics (of markups on drawings – see exciting). Not helpful in learning to use my camera better this year. I will have to add that to my February priorities. I made a list at the start of the month of my January priorities, and so far it’s been really helpful in keeping me focused. I also just this week finished listening to Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and that’s really the point of the book: you have to prioritize and focus your time. I wouldn’t call it life-changing for me–I already knew that was my problem–but her suggestion that we need to plan even our leisure time in advance if we’re to maximize it really hits home, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. (And no, she doesn’t mean planning out every minute, just knowing what activities you want to do so that instead of frittering away hours online or in front of the TV or what have you, you actually read that book you’ve been meaning to get to.) I’ve categorized every weekend so far this month: one for DVR catch-up/knitting, one for reading, one for misc. to do’s (this weekend!), and it’s left me feeling a lot more productive. Even if I feel like I haven’t actually managed to read all that much this month so far.
Part of that is the season: winter is for knitting and I don’t knit and read at the same time. I do knit and TV watch at the same time. I suppose I could knit and audiobook… Part of it is the general sleepiness winter seems to bring. Part of it is the Deal Me In Challenge. So I’m reading, but short things, and it doesn’t feel as much of an accomplishment. But I’ve been keeping up so far!
Week 1: Q of Clubs – Fray Luis de León, “Oda III”
Week 2: 8 of Clubs – Francisco de la Torre, “Soneto V,” “Soneto XX,” and “Soneto XXIII”
Week 3: A of Diamonds – Ben Jonson, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master, William Shakespeare”
The first two weeks were challenging as both were from Clubs, which are all Spanish poems. I have a copy of Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain (ed. Elias L. Rivers) which I’m reading from and it does have prose translations, but those are…okay. So I’ve been challenging myself to really read the Spanish closely, which takes a good chunk of time. “Oda III” was the easiest, a poem in praise of Francisco Salinas, a music professor at the University of Salamanca. The Sonnets by de la Torre were more challenging, especially as their language included words (or spellings?) that the online translation dictionary couldn’t always find, I assume obsolete or archaic. I also have never done as well with Sonnets as with other poem types. “To the Memory of My Beloved Master, William Shakespeare” I read with much greater pleasure. Both as it was far less work and as I was familiar with the subject. I was amused to find that Jonson predicted that Shakespeare would continue to be performed/read for centuries to come – how prescient! It also seems that Jonson’s words could be used in the who wrote Shakespeare battle as pro-William Shakespeare, as Jonson both praised Shakespeare’s words (over contemporaries) and clearly refers to him as the “Swan of Avon,” though also, famously, reminding us that Shakespeare “small Latin and less Greek.” I have yet to read this week’s selection (a short story – finally!).
I’m also in the middle of two longer reads, a reread of Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Maggie Stiefvater) and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Which brings me to the next topic. I’m fast coming up on the deadline for my original Classics Club list, in March. Five years! Already! And…well, it hasn’t gone so well. Of the 125 items on the list, I’ve only completed 14 (nearly 15). I’ve read 26 individual books/plays, but a number were combined into one list item. (Or 28 books if one counts the volumes of The Lord of the Rings separately.) At the same time, I’ve been itching to update/revise the list. I’ve read some books for my Ohio project that could have counted on a Classics Club list, but I hadn’t included them. And there are others I still want to read. I also have a Great Courses series, “The Western Literary Canon in Context,” which has added other (admittedly white male) titles to my TBR list. Then I also seem to keep dipping back to rereads that weren’t on my original list. Not to mention quite a few other books lining my shelves that never made it to/were purchased after the original list was made.
So, in the spirit of the New Year (it’s still early enough to say that, right?), and in the excitement that list making always brings me, I announce The Classics Club v.2, my ten year reading list. It’s long, at 150 items, so I’ll spare you scrolling through. But if you really want to read it, it’s HERE. I had some trouble cutting down (ha!), and it’s longer than the original list. Even assuming that the revisions/additions help me stay more focused, I’m still never–based on current reading rate–going to get through this list in only five years. So I’m blithely disregarding the 5-year guideline.
Some notes regarding the list:
Most unread titles from the original list are still here. I swapped out some of the Greek plays (largely based on the Great Courses series reading list) and dropped a couple other titles that aren’t actually on my shelves, but I tried to keep the variety of genre/country I had on the original.
I’ve added a number of rereads. Mostly Austen. I can’t help it.
The only book that I read on the original list that makes a reappearance is Beowulf, which I want to reread in another translation.
I’ve added some Ohio reads.
Most of the additions are ancient/medieval lit. I’m a little scared of some of those actually…
I also added three Faulkner which I’m really looking forward to. I only had one title on my original list because I wasn’t sure if I’d like him. It was a mistake.
I’d ask you what to read first, but current read The Epic of Gilgamesh is item #1. When I’m not mired down in Spanish poets…
My most recent reread of Pride and Prejudice (I believe this was my third time through Austen’s most famous novel) was over my September vacation, and I confess I wasn’t really reading it for anything other than pure enjoyment of the story. And it was a pure joy. I had forgotten quite how much I enjoy Austen’s writing and her tales; although I reread Northanger Abbey about a year previous, it was one of Austen’s earlier works and its charms are different than those of Pride and Prejudice.
(And from here, I assume you’ve read this or otherwise know the plot and don’t care about “spoilers.”)
But as I thought about it afterwards, I recognized that while on the surface–and this is perhaps the Austen we most commonly see in pop culture–Pride and Prejudice seems in many ways a fairy tale: poor(ish) girl + rich boy = happily ever after (in the case of P&P x 2), this is only the surface, and only the central characters. Elizabeth and Jane Bennett’s marriages to the wealthy Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, respectively, may have all the elements of happily-ever-after, but even if we don’t question that supposition, there are two other weddings that happen in the course of the novel. To imagine that Lydia and Mr. Wickham will ever end happily…well. I can think of any number of outcomes, one of which Austen actually illustrates in Mr. and Mrs. Price in Mansfield Park – and that’s the best alternative. Let’s just say I imagine that Lydia will hardly be Mr. Wickham’s last conquest.
Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Ch. XXII)
And then there’s Charlotte Lucas and the ridiculous Mr. Collins – a marriage of pure practicality. And her reasonableness in entering into a wedded state with such an unreasonably silly man serves to illustrate to readers even centuries later just what the situation was for a woman of Austen’s era. No, the fairy tale may be the surface that pulls us in, but the reality that lies beneath is the reminder of just how fortunate the eldest sisters–and we today–really are.
In some–no, many–ways I feel very fortunate. One example: Although I am from a small (and shrinking) city in the Midwest and although I’ve lived in said city my whole life, excepting my time at college–which was only 25 miles up the road–, and a semester in Italy, I have had the good fortune to both meet people from all over the world and people who have traveled the world. Some, like me, have family that has been here for several generations, but unlike me, still have strong ties to their ancestors’ cultures, often throught their churches. Some I’ve met have been immigrants, firmly settled here, or students, just passing through. And some I know–including some family members–have lived oversees, fully experiencing another culture and country. Regardless, I have found that there is no better way to reinforce that people everywhere, despite our cultural differences, are much the same at the core, than to engage with people–sometimes even at the most minimal level–who have experienced another culture. My initial opinions on the U.S.’s 2003 invasion of Iraq were complicated by my acquaintances with an Iraqi-American who had fled Hussein’s government and a Bosnian who had survived the siege of Sarajevo. My awareness of the history of Crimea was not from the evening news, but a former roommate from the region. My concern over Syria increases from the many Syrian Christians in my hometown.
But we are not always so fortunate to meet people from elsewhere. Or even when we do, it may only be in passing and we never know their story. Even 14 years ago, when I was in Italy, there were many African migrants who I would pass on the streets, or sit across the aisle from at the Episcopal Church on Sundays. But I never actually met any, knew their names, knew their stories. Only that they were. On the other hand, books can bring us there. I’ve never been to Chile, but The House of the Spirits taught me much about Chilean history and about Chileans impacted by forces larger than themselves. Add to that the many wonderful books I’ve read from other countries, and I’ve long been wanting to expand my reading beyond my typical U.S.-Britain, occasional Spanish-language material.
So I knew I wanted to jump on board when I saw that Jean of Howling Frog Books was hosting a Reading all around the World–well, not challenge, but adventure, I knew I wanted to join in.
But I’m adding my own personal twist. See, when I was first thinking about my own project for this–long before Jean announced the Club–I thought I would pick books out for an international reading project based on people I’ve met. Perhaps a little more limiting that the entire world, but with roughly 200 countries to choose from, it seemed a good way to narrow down my options. And wouldn’t you know it–when I started to list them out, I had no trouble reaching 50 (albeit, some of the connections are a bit tenuous).
There are few rules–a minimum of 50 countries (reader-defined) either fiction (author must be from/live in said country) or nonfiction about a country, no time limit, no pressure (see Jean’s post for details). I highly encourage anyone interested in expanding their reading past their comfort zone-countries to join in!
I’m tentatively aiming for five years, knowing the reality is more like ten (ambition never hurts!). My current list, subject to change, in alphabetical order:
This should be fun! Now, which country to choose first…?
I know many people are happy to see 2016 gone. It wasn’t kind to many of us–well to be honest, I knew in Dec. of 2015 that 2016 would never be a great year. Personally, however, I don’t believe it was quite the worst year I’ve had, as despite the negatives–and there were plenty–there were plenty of positives as well. And while there may be reasons to be concerned about what 2017 may bring, I find that I’m an optimist at heart, and have observed that although at times life may seem bleak, if we look hard enough we may find something to hearten us. While I don’t believe that it is wise to hide ourselves away from negative news, nor do I think it is healthy to focus solely on what distresses us, but better to look for the good as well and for what we may do, no matter how small. At unexpected times, I was reminded last year of how something as simple as a smile or holding out a hand to another can uplift someone when they are feeling down. And while I will lay out plans and goals for the coming year below, if I can just remember this, if I can endeavor to be always kind, even to those I dislike or cannot trust, then I will have accomplished something more meaningful than plowing through a list of books.
But, much the same as opening a new package of notebook paper has long inspired me, turning of a calendar page and dropping of a ball inspires in me an excitement for what this coming year holds. I was determined to end 2016 neatly–cleaning, organizing, finishing. Well not everything. I wasn’t going to make myself crazy/stay up all night just to finish a recently restarted knitting project. But I finished the two books I most wanted to finish to end the year, I finally put away papers that have been piling up since last January! and recycled/shredded others, I finished off reading the last week’s worth of local papers. (Wow–there are so many great things happening locally, including some wonderful building revitalization projects.) And so, despite lacking a fresh coat of snow to give the world a “new” feel (rather, it’s all melted at the colors are muted browns and greys, warmed by winter sun), everything feels fresh and new. I pulled out a couple books this morning, eager to make a start on my upcoming projects and goals.
But first, I really should remember last year–I had quite a few goals and challenges, but how did I do?
Read at least 25 books this year – Met! (Just how many books I read depends on how you count; I only counted books I both started and finished in 2016, and grouped all of the Beatrix Potter 23 Tales into one for the count.)
Focus more on my Classics Club list – Met! (I read eight titles off the list. Sure, there are still plenty to go, but…)
Start adding in some contemporary translated fiction. Oops. I didn’t read any translations more recent than the 1960s, while I wanted to read at least one that was no older than 2000.
Plenty of Children’s Classics! – Met! (I hosted the Classic Children’s Literature Event in April, for which I read Emil and the Detectives, The Jungle Book, and a number of Beatrix Potter tales. Later in the year, I finished off the Potter tales and added in some Susan Cooper and Tuck Everlasting. By my count, a total of 28 different titles.)
o’s Reading England 2016. Goal: level 1 (1-3 counties). – Met! I didn’t write posts for these books (yet…), but I did read two books.
The Classics Club’s Women’s Classic Literature Event. Goal: min. 4 classics by a woman author (not counting contemporary). – Met! (Counting the Beatrix Potter’s as one title.)
Karen at Books and Chocolate’s Back to the Classics Challenge. (All books must be at least 50 years old.) Goal: hit all 12 categories. – Fail! Well, I did read books that would fall into six of the categories, but I only wrote posts for five. And I hadn’t thought to ask, but someone did for this year’s edition, and a poetry collection wouldn’t actually count, so…five books, with four posts. It was a fun challenge, regardless. (Actually, I may have read an acceptable 20th century classic–Silence–, but that depends on whether the cut off is any book written before 1966 or including 1966. Whichever interpretation, again, no post.)
So not too badly, I don’t think. (If you really want to know which titles I read for each goal/challenge, the complete list is here.)
As far as the reading itself, I really felt 2016 was excellent. Just a few months ago, I wasn’t so sure, but as I read more to finish off the year/recalled what I had read earlier, I’m really happy with the titles I finished.
I read quite a wide variety this year, pushing my boundaries a bit: 5 plays, 1 poetry collection, 2 non-fiction titles, 4 translated titles, 3 short story collections, 3 works by African-American writers, and my first ever Japanese novel. Most were good or better; the only title I really was disappointed in was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which did feel a bit more like fan fiction, but I will acknowledge that it might give a different impression when watching it staged, as it was written for. Although there are 13 different male authors compared to 9 different female authors I read this year (I think I counted correctly), part of the reason for the gap is that one book (Above the Shots) was co-written/edited by two men and Harry Potter was a joint effort between J.K. Rowling and two male collaborators. So much for stats.
My Top Books of 2016
The two books I read this year that I believe will stick with me longest are both translated works. I still can’t believe how well I remember Miguel Ángel Asturias’ The President [El Señor Presidente], the story of a small group of people just trying to live their lives under a tyrant. Highly recommended. And I only just recently finished Shūsaku Endō’s Silence, a novel investigating faith and belief in the most difficult of circumstances. It has already proven a most thought-provoking read and I imagine I will be still thinking of it months from now.
Less thought-provoking, but wonderful to read as well wasA Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I found absolutely delightful. I am keeping my eye for any local productions of this play, which is now one of my favorite Shakespearean plays (along with Much Ado About Nothing). Also delightful was my reread of Pride and Prejudice–I really had forgotten how much I simply enjoy reading Austen.
I had not expected to read any nonfiction in 2016, but I am really happy with the two titles I did read. But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman was a bit of a mind-bender and Above the Shots: An Oral History of the Kent State Shootings by Craig S. Simpson and Gregory S. Wilson I found excellent as my first experience reading oral history. By comparing and contrasting the points of view of so many people who were in or around Kent in May 1970 (as well as official records), I came to a better understanding of how any story can be a matter of perspective, and how even those who witness an event my find their own understanding changing over time. This was actually a topic touched on But What If We’re Wrong? as well, so they proved excellent companion reads.
I’ve already posted about the two year-long challenges I’m planning on participating in for 2017: Deal Me In and Back to the Classics. I didn’t really see too many challenges I was interested in this year–thankfully! I have some areas I want to focus on as well. After a decent Reading Ohio year, that project will likely be on the back burner as I try to get to some more of my Classics Club titles and (really, this year, I mean it) some contemporary translated fiction.
Since I made my goal of 25 books last year–and it feels like a reasonable number for me–I’d like to hit 26 this year. One every two weeks should be doable.
I’d like to match my 2016 total of at least 8 titles from my Classics Club list.
To define “some” – let’s make it 2 works in translation (written in +/- the last 25 years).
Plenty of Children’s Classics! – so YES, I do plan on another edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event, likely again in April.
Actually blog about most of those titles in a timely manner.
I also have some non-bookish goals that I’d like to work on this year:
Learn how to properly use my camera. I bought a DSLR last May, and while I have the automatic settings down pretty well, I’m still in the dark on anything else. Fortunately, I have a DVD series to go through to help.
Finish 3 decent-sized knitting projects. I’m thinking a sweater and two shawls.
Resume trying to regain my lost high school Spanish. I started using the Duolingo app; I’d like to make it through all the Spanish lessons this year.
Properly go through all my files/folders/papers. For example, I still have school notes that I, reasonably, saved to study for the Architectural Registration Exam, but then just stuffed them in the closet when the studying was done. It’s been years; I’m not likely to need them again–time to purge.
Here, with the optimism of the first of January, it all seems reasonable. Right?
Okay, so I didn’t exactly complete the 2016 Back to the Classics challenge (mostly for not blogging about–more details in my year-end-wrap up post this weekend). But it was fun anyway, and I like the categories this year, so I’ve decided that this would be my second and likely final year-long challenge for 2017 (not counting my own plans).
The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this
Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:
1. A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.
2. A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.
3. A classic by a woman author.
4. A classic in translation. Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).
5. A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.
6. An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot. 7. A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads. 8. A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.
9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title. It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.
10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.
11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.
12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author.
(More details/rules at Karen’s original post.)
This should be fun! I can actually think of a book for just about every category–now as to whether I’ll get to them all or not… I’d certainly love to! I really want to read some Greek classics this year (finally), which would hit #4 and 5; there’s a likely Austen reread in my future (3 or 6) and it’s been a while since I read a Gothic classic (7), but I have a list.
Thanks again to Karen for hosting. Now what to read first…?