Classic Children's Literature · RAL · Reading · The Classics Club

Coming Soon: Classic Children’s Lit Event, 5

2017-ral-original

I’ve been more absent from here lately than I’d like–it seems like February is just a month that I don’t get along with. But now it’s March, the sun is shinning (and it’s supposed to be half-way warm this week!), and that means the 5th edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event is just around the corner: April–less than a month away! I can’t believe this is the 5th year.

alice-original

As in years past, I will be reading an optional readalong title. I really waffled over what to pick this year, but finally opted for one of the runners up from last year’s poll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s been many, many years since I last/first read this–I believe in fourth grade, so I don’t remember it all that well other than that’s is odd, something that must surely appeal to many, as evidenced by the recent movie adaptations (confession: I haven’t actually seen them). Although I have an illustrated version that also contains Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I decided to pick up The Annotated Alice from the library. Still a coin toss as to which book I’ll read from.

Event Basics

  • During the month of April, read as many Children’s Classics as you wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the event page on this blog. I will have a link page starting the first of April to gather posts so that we may share as we go.
  • The optional RAL title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Optional: also read Through the Looking-Glass. I’m guessing I won’t get through both.) I plan on discussion the weekend of April 21-23.
  • I’m not going to be the “children’s classics” police. Use your own judgement for what fits the category but if you want some guidelines, these are what I’m going by:
    • I think many of us have read more recent children’s books that we may already deem “classics” (for example, many people feel that way about the Harry Potter books), but for this event, I’d prefer if we read books that were written prior to 1967. This will still allow a lot of options, and will hopefully avoid the “but what is a classic” dilemma! (And yes, 1967 is rather arbitrary. Rebel if you wish, but 50 years old seems a good age.)
    • Defining “children’s,” especially prior to 1900 or so can be a challenge as some books we think of as “children’s” today may not have been intended that way at the time. Personally, I’d say books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged child or preteen (to read or to have read to them) should be fine. I’d personally also count the various fairy tales, even though some of the earliest versions were not exactly family friendly.
    • Feel free to include books from any country, in translation or not. I have limited exposure to non-American children’s lit, so I’d love to learn about books from other countries myself.
    • Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.
  • And if you need ideas I posted
  • There is no deadline for joining or participating (other than, of course, the end of April).

Most important: Have fun!

Please let me–and other participants–know in the comments of this post if you are interested in participating, and let me know if you have any questions. Also, please feel free to use any of the event/RAL images on your own blogs.

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 300px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 250px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 200px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 300px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 250px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 200px

Happy reading!

Participants:

Image sources: The event logo illustration is “Merry Christmas” from The Way to Wonderland (1917, Mary Stewart), illustrated  by Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935). The RAL logo illustration is from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865, Lewis Carroll), 1907 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

The Classics Club

Classics Spin 15

Question Mark - cover place holderHuh. It’s been a long time since I participated in a Classics Club Spin – apparently they’re on #15, and I last “spun” for number 9! So it’s about time. Especially since I have a new list from which I’ve only read one book so far. Of course, I have an abysmal record at finishing either book and/or post by the deadline, and I don’t exactly have an abundance of reading time at the moment, but ever-optimistic, I’ll try again. Per the suggestions, I selected a mix of books I’m really looking forward to/neutral about/on the slightly dreading side of neutral (I’m only truly dreading the really long books, but if I’m to be at all practical, I’d better steer clear of those at present). I’ve rounded out the list with the 5 Shakepeare titles currently on my CC list.

Without further ado:

  1. Jane Austen – Lady Susan
  2. Louis Bromfield – The Farm
  3. Homer – The Iliad
  4. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
  5. William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury
  6. Anthony Trollope – The Warden
  7. Jonathon Swift – Gulliver’s Travels
  8. William Shakespeare – Hamlet
  9. Elizabeth Gaskell – Cranford
  10. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
  11. William Faulkner – The Reivers
  12. William Shakespeare – Othello
  13. Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm
  14. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
  15. William Dean Howells – The Rise of Silas Lapham
  16. William Shakespeare – King Lear
  17. Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
  18. Ann Radcliffe – The Italian
  19. Joseph Conrad – The Heart of Darkness
  20. William Shakespeare – The Tempest

Good luck to those also participating and Happy Reading!

The Classics Club · WeeksEnd Notes

Week’s End Notes (31) & Classics Club v2

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…

Happy Reading!

 

 

Reading · The Classics Club

Completed: Pride and Prejudice

Cover: Pride and Prejudice (Dover Thrift Edition)Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
England, 1813

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.

Personal Great Books · Spanish Language Lit Month · The Classics Club

Completed: The President [El Señor Presidente]

Cover: The President by Miguel Angel AsturiasThe President [El Señor Presidente]
Miguel Ángel Asturias
(Guatemala, 1946)
Frances Partridge, translator

It’s been months since I read The President and yet I find it still lingers. Parts may be fuzzy and vague, but details still stay sharp—elements of the plot, of the natures of the characters. Even scenes that seemed but loosely tied to the main line of the story still clank around my head. It is a powerful novel.

Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! The women felt the divine power of their Beloved Deity. The more important priests paid him homage. The lawyers imagined they were attending one of Alfonso el Sabio’s tournaments. The diplomats, excellencies from Tiflis perhaps, put on grand airs as if they were at the court of the Sun King at Versailles. Native and foreign journalists congratulated themselves on being in the presence of a second Pericles. Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! The poets felt they were in Athens, so they announced to the world at large. A sculptor of saintly figures imagined he was Phidias, smiled, rubbed his hands and turned his eyes to heaven when he heard the cheering in the streets in honour of their eminent ruler. Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! A composer of funeral marches, a devotee of Bacchus and also of religion, craned his tomato-coloured face from a window to see what was happening in the street. (Chapter XIV, “Let the Whole World Sing!”)

The titular President shows up but little directly—just a scene here or there—but his presence haunts every moment, every interaction. He is authoritarian, a tyrant, and the poisonous atmosphere his government engenders enables those beneath him to be just as cruel and petty and vindictive. It is such cruelty that sets the plot in motion, as a group of homeless taunt one of their own. His instability will lead to an unexpected murder, which event enables others of more power and position—seeking to consolidate wealth or favor or power—to go after personal enemies, dragging along many innocent citizens in their wake. But there is one ray of hope in the story, in an unexpected romance between a favorite advisor of The President and the daughter of one of The President’s political enemies. Indeed, while The President is an illustration of how fear and lust for power or influence makes monsters of men, it also offers us the redeeming power of love.

The President is a novel set in a county never named, but imagined by many to be author Miguel Ángel Asturias’ native Guatemala. Perhaps Asturias left his setting unnamed to keep distance between himself and the politics at home, but leaving the country anonymous allows the reader to imagine any number of possibilities. This tyranny by man is non-specific, it is possible anywhere, everywhere, in anyone.

Originally intended as a Spanish Lit Month/August Classics Club Spin read, The President counts for the Back the to Classics Challenge as a title which has “been banned or censored”—although written in the 1920s and 30s it was delayed from publication until 1946 by the censorship of the Guatemalan government. It is also on my Classics Club and Libros Españoles project lists.

Once Upon a Time · Personal Great Books · Reading · The Classics Club

Completed: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Cover: A Midsummer Night's Dream A Midsummer Night’s Dream
William Shakespeare
(c. 1594-1595, England)
Bantam Books, 1988
David Bevington, Ed.

Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Puck, 3.2.114-115

My overwhelming impression of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having finished it just in time for the start of summer (it’s taken me a bit extra time to write about), was that it is absolutely delightful! I don’t think I’ve ever thought that word, “delightful,” in connection with the works of Shakespeare before–there are plays I’ve enjoyed, adaptations I’ve revisited many times, but none I’ve experienced before this have provided for me quite the wonderful impression of magic and fairy tale that this one brings.

No doubt this is largely due to the plot thread involving Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies. They are feuding, and in spite, Oberon decides to use a potion to cause Titania to fall in love with the first creature she sees–no matter what it may be. But he also decides to play Cupid for two pairs of young Athenians–Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius–that their loves woes  may be solved (at play’s start, both young men are in love with Hermia, though she loves Lysander and Helena loves Demetrius). Of course it doesn’t quite go to plan when his mischievous accomplice, Puck, applies the potion to the wrong young man. On the other hand, Oberon couldn’t be happier with the results with Titania–the first creature she should see on waking may be a man, but a fool of a man, Nick Bottom, whom Puck has only too appropriately just provided with an ass’s head.

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.

[Helena, 1.1.232-239]

Interwoven with all this are the threads of the marriage of King Theseus of Athens with Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the theatrical production that a small group of local laborers–Bottom among them–wishes to put on as part of the wedding celebrations. The wedding story serves primarily as a framing device for the rest of the action–it is with this background that the young Athenians flee (or chase) into the forest, and it is later at the wedding celebrations that the “tedious brief scene of young Pyramus/And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth” (5.1.56-57) is performed by our hapless players. I do feel in part that these last scenes, all of Act 5, feel out of place compared to the magic of the middle section. But on the other hand, as I watched the 1999 adaptation some days later (Michael Hoffman, dir.), this was the portion of the play that was most laugh out loud funny; the full effect of the haplessness of the amateur players is best seen rather than read. That does seem to be often the case with Shakespeare – I read the play, understand it, but finish feeling I still want more. At least with A Midsummer Night’s Dream it was not just a production that I wanted to see–but to experience more of the magic and delight that the forest provided. Thank goodness, there are always plenty of bookish solutions to that problem!

I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one of my Classics Club titles and for Shakespeare 400.

Reading · The Classics Club

Completed: Titus Andronicus

Titus AndronicusTitus Andronicus
William Shakespeare
(c. 1590-1593, England)
The Pelican Shakespeare, 2000
Russ McDonald, Ed.

I began my reading of Titus Andronicus knowing little about the play or its plot, not even whether it was based on a true story from Roman history or a purely fictional invention (answer: fictional). The only thing I knew was that it has a reputation for violence and gore and even a bit of cannibalism–all of which is true enough, and let’s not forget adultery, rape, and racism. That these are the takeaways from Titus Andronicus –in contrast say to fellow revenge play Hamlet or tragedy King Lear–suggests what is indeed true: Titus is one of the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps his earliest tragedy, and he is still feeling his way. There are no grand philosophical monologues and what humor that is here to temper the horror is of such a nature that you are almost afraid to take it as such. That is, other than some clearly humorous lines from the Clown, one cannot be sure if the seemingly purely evil Moor, Aaron, is making twisted jokes and if we should even laugh at them. (For that matter, I am not even sure if the racism is Elizabethan, Roman, both, or somewhere in between.) Although I often find on finishing a play that I want to see a production, here I find that the stark violence of the imagery–even though the worst is off-stage–causes me to hesitate at seeking any version out. It is perhaps too easy to understand why the play fell out of favor, especially with the Victorians.

On the other hand, acknowledging the horrors of our nightly news–beheadings and revenge and mass slaughter did not depart our world simply because we for a time removed them from stage–perhaps there is something to be learned from the play. The entire cycle of violence is put into motion, when at the end of a successful military campaign, the protagonist, Titus, brutally murders the son of Tamora, the conquered queen of the Goths, both his prisoners of war. This war crime–as we would now style it–sets into motion a series of ever increasing horrors, until the reader or audience begins to wonder if anyone will be spared. Revenge begets revenge. Yet, in the same tradition as contemporary horror cinema, you cannot look away, even if watching between your fingers. The cycle of violence is not the only motivation explored, either. Lust–for both power and flesh–is evidenced in several characters, and in the end leads to the the same terrible consequences as the mad revenges of Titus and Tamora.

But perhaps what is most important to take away from Titus Andronicus is this: in the end, the person our hatreds and revenges will ultimately destroy is ourself, leaving our battered loved ones to pick up the pieces.

I read Titus Andronicus as one of my Classics Club titles and for Shakespeare 400.