Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014: Year of the Classics

The Mission: One classic novel per month in 2014. Which means, like, actually making choices. There are a lot of classic reads I have to admit I just don't have any interest in (War & Peace, Moby-Dick, Infinite Jest, Crime & Punishment, etc)*; also anything with more than three parlor scenes is automatically eliminated via the Austen / Brontë Clause.


Get me out of this parlor forthwith, Darcy, or
I shall straight-up cut a bitch. Looking at you, Elinor.

(While we're at it, let's just all agree that Mr. Darcy is a creepy, creepy man who remains, to quote CaptainAwkward, "the supposedly totally dreamy main character of what became the boilerplate for every romantic comedy ever." Pretty much sums up Pride & Prejudice, eh?)


The Fitzwilliam Darcy School of Victorian Pickup Artistry: "If seducing
her via telepathy / brooding looks fails, just vomit your feelings at her."TM

So I spent the last few days combing through my Goodreads "To Read" list & trying to pick out some classics that sounded interesting & like they wouldn't make me want to shoot myself in the face after. (Under The Volcano, anyone?) I totally reserve the right to change my mind later, but here are the twelve I chose, and a few pinch hitters in case I finish them before the year is over or abandon something.

Update: Okay fine, it's fourteen now, since two of my original selections are less than 100 pages & it kind of doesn't seem like they should count as part of the one-per-month deal. Still. Books I plan to read this year:

JANUARY: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller. "In a nightmarish, ruined world, slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infantile rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From there, the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes." Wicked.

FEBRUARY: Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. "Eliza Harris, a slave whose child is to be sold, escapes her beloved home on the Shelby plantation in Kentucky and heads North, eluding the hired slave catchers. As the Harrises flee to freedom, another slave, Uncle Tom, is sent "down the river" for sale. Befriending a white child, Evangeline St. Clare, Tom is purchased by her father and taken to their home in New Orleans." This is my Black History Month selection.

MARCH: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. "Anna Karenina seems to have everything - beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son. But she feels that her life is empty until the moment she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky." I am terrified of Tolstoy so this will be my attempt at getting un-terrified.

APRIL: A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster. "A chance encounter… a murder in the Piazza Signoria … an impulsive kiss…and Lucy Honeychurch’s world is forever changed. Torn between settling for a life of acceptable convention or the calling of her true passion, Lucy epitomizes the struggle for individuality and the power and passion of love." Since we are going to Italy in April/May, some Italian literature seems in order.

MAY: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Set in the closing months of World War II in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy, a bombardier named Yossarian is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever, even if he has to die in the attempt.) I've heard this book repeatedly compared to "The Daily Show" in terms of tone & political poignancy, which is probably mainly what sold me on it. A classic that's actually funny? Sold. Not Italian, but set there, so good enough.

JUNE: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. "Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku: the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim." Comes highly recommended from several nerdy book friends.

JULY: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. "Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up." Awwww, this one's going to break me, isn't it?

AUGUST: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. "Set amid the stifling atmosphere of 19th-century bourgeois France, Madame Bovary is at once an unsparing depiction of a woman’s gradual corruption and a savagely ironic study of human shallowness and stupidity. Neither Emma, nor her lovers, nor Homais, the man of science, escapes the author’s searing castigation, and it is the book’s final profound irony that only Charles, Emma’s oxlike, eternally deceived husband, emerges with a measure of human grace through his stubborn and selfless love." Sounds suspiciously like a parlor book, but how can you pass on something hailed as "possibly the most beautifully written book ever composed"? I wanted to read this one for Banned Books Week, but it overlaps with Hispanic Heritage Month in September, so August it is.

SEPTEMBER: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez. "The story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Rich and brilliant, it is a chronicle of life, death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the beautiful, ridiculous, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America." This is my Hispanic Heritage Month selection.

OCTOBER: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. "When a brute of a man tramples an innocent girl, apparently out of spite, two bystanders catch the fellow and force him to pay reparations to the girl's family. The brute's name is Edward Hyde. A respected lawyer, Utterson, hears this story and begins to unravel the seemingly manic behavior of his best friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and his connection with Hyde. Several months earlier, Utterson had drawn up an inexplicable will for the doctor, naming Hyde as his heir in the event that he disappears. Fearing his friend has been blackmailed into this arrangement, Utterson probes deeper into both Jekyll and his unlikely protégé. He is increasingly unnerved at each new revelation." Jekyll & Hyde is my Spoooooktacular Halloween selection.

NOVEMBER: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne. "Noted geologist Professor Liedenbrock discovers a cryptic message hidden in the pages of an ancient volume purporting to show the way into the center of the earth. Liedenbrock determines to make this fantastic journey, insisting his 16-year-old nephew, Henry, accompany him." Something on the lighter side for Sci-Fi Month.

**NOVEMBER BONUS READ**: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. "The story of a young traveling salesman who, transformed overnight into a giant, beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. Rather than being surprised at the transformation, the members of his family despise it as an impending burden upon themselves." November is also German Literature Month, & since this book is like 60 pages & I have been meaning to read it since college, I really don't have any excuses.

DECEMBER: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. "A pilot stranded in the desert awakes one morning to see, standing before him, the most extraordinary little fellow. "Please," asks the stranger, "draw me a sheep." And the pilot realizes that when life's events are too difficult to understand, there is no choice but to succumb to their mysteries." Seriously, how have I not read this yet?

**DECEMBER BONUS READ**: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Because seriously, it's like 80 pages and how have I never read it??

The Pinch Hitters:

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. "In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying."

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. "This sprawling and often brutal novel, set in the rich farmlands of California's Salinas Valley, follows the intertwined destinies of two families - the Trasks and the Hamiltons - whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel." I have a hit-or-miss history with Steinbeck, but got a lot of recommendations for this one.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. "Tells the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the story through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them all imprisoned."

Middlemarch, by George Eliot. "Dorothea Brooke is an ardent idealist who represses her vivacity and intelligence for the cold, theological pedant Casaubon. One man understands her true nature: the artist Will Ladislaw. But how can love triumph against her sense of duty and Casaubon’s mean spirit? Meanwhile, in the little world of Middlemarch, the broader world is mirrored: the world of politics, social change, and reforms, as well as betrayal, greed, blackmail, ambition, and disappointment." Better not be too many parlor scenes.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. An Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

Any other classics I should add to my list of pinch-hitters???

*If anyone can give me a really convincing reason to take on any of the books I've already ruled out, I will totally give them a shot. But it's got to be reeeaallly convincing.

20 comments:

  1. So much here! I will admit to being a HUGE P&P/S&S fan, but it did take me over a year to finish Emma, so I can definitely understand where you are coming from. I've been trying to get through Middlemarch since June, and I'm sorry to say there are plenty of parlor scenes. There is an imminent adultery scandal, so I'm hoping for things to get more interesting! In general, I notice I tend to gravitate toward well-to-do British family scandals.

    I have a personal annoyance with any book written as a cautionary tale for women to stay on the straight and narrow, so I didn't love Madam Bovary (haven't attempted Anna K., because, so many pages). One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is actually one of my favorites as is To Kill a Mockingbird. And if you haven't already, I would consider Heart of Darkness, Catcher in the Rye, and The Prince (which is much different than the very charming Little Prince).

    Good luck! You have a lot on your list that are still on mine as well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heart of Darkness is one of my favorites ever ever ever! Alas, I think I read Catcher in the Rye a bit too late for to really speak to me. (Kind of surprised they didn't make us read it in high school, actually.) The Prince is also on my list!

      Delete
  2. It's such a cliche but you have to read Room with a View if you're going to Florence in particular. The writing is really exquisite - the kind of writing that makes you put a book down, find a notebook and pen, and write a phrase down! It also made me take Italian at uni! Other good Italian authors you might like would be Italo Calvino (If on a winter's night a traveller), or Dacia Maraini.

    I loved Mme Bovary as a French-studying yoof but now I think I'd find Emma annoying. However it's a great commentary on materialism. And Anna Karenina made me REALLY frustrated. If you add one more classic, I'd suggest Tess of the d'Urbervilles which is heartbreaking, beautiful and set where I'm from. (Thomas Hardy). GREAT list though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay, I am so glad RWAV gets your endorsement! I will definitely check out Calvino & Maraini. I had totally forgotten all about Tess of the d'Ubervilles, which is also on my list -- if I don't make it through on Bovary or Anna, maybe that'll be my alternate.

      Delete
  3. Great list - I've read Uncle Toms Cabin, To Kill and Mockingbird and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest before. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book. I've heard The Alchemist is a great book, I still have to read it. Have you already read Grapes of Wrath, The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies before?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've read them, but it was waaaay back in high school -- part of me kind of feels like there must be a period of time after which it doesn't really count as having read them anymore! I remember being meh on Grapes of Wrath, but really enjoying Scarlet Letter (though I could only tell you the broad points now). Have to say I don't remember must about Lord of the Flies, but hey, I was 14. :)

      Delete
  4. Pro-tip: If you are put off by Pride and Prejudice, you really ought to try Pride and Prejudice And Zombies, first. Much funnier. It totally counts as a classic.

    You've inspired me to keep a spreadsheet (though I am not Amy Webb) of all the books I've read this year - including the junk and the classics. And pretty soon it'll be time for my annual rereading of Annie Dillard's 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol @ Pride and Prejudice And Zombies. Enough people have recommended it at this point that I should probably just read it.

      Delete
  5. THANK YOU!!!! I'm glad to know there is someone else out there who is not gaga over Darcy! Colonel Brandon is my Austen man.
    I've read quite a few of these books, but I'm ashamed to admit that I obtained an English degree without ever reading Mockingbird. I picked it up about a year ago, and it's truly a wonderful piece of literature. Frankenstein is one of my favorites, as is The Great Gatsby. If you haven't read 1984, give that one a go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sooooo much eye roll at Darcy. What a tool. Frankenstein, Gatsby, & 1984 are among my all-time favorites!

      Delete
  6. Aw, give Crime and Punishment a chance. It's really good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For you, I will keep it in mind. :)

      Delete
  7. Great list! I look forward to reading your comments & reviews.

    On the negative side, I'll weigh in with the fact that this month's book club book was The Age of Innocence (Wharton) and it was not very well enjoyed by most of us. House of Mirth, on the other hand, is a fabulous book....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh, yeah, that's what I've mostly heard about Age of Innocence. I will put House of Mirth on my list, though!

      Delete
  8. From the above list and the comments, it seems like you and I have an interesting ven diagram going on as far as books. I had to read P & P twice for school, and always hated the 1st half and loved the 2nd. I've also had to read Heart of Darkness twice and hated it both times. (Sorry) Same with the Great Gatsby. From your list, I've read Catch-22 (loved it), To Kill A Mockingbird (thumbs up), 100 Years of Solitude (a let down, perhaps due to unfair expectations), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (liked it). I haven't read A Room With A View, but I did read Passage to India and became an E. M. Forster fan after that. FWIW, I've never been a fan of John Irving.

    Other suggestions: Beloved, Invisible Man, The Jungle, and The Bell Jar (warning: very depressing). Oh, and the first assigned book that I ever read and liked was Count of Monte Cristo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh -- I totally wrote off The Bell Jar in college, but since then a bunch of grown-up non-emo adults have told me it's worth reading, so I may have to rethink that one. Maybe Monte Cristo as well! Loved Beloved (just recently finished it) & Invisible Man.

      Delete
    2. I actually don't know if I recommend The Bell Jar, having not read it in over a decade... I just figure it's one of those seminal books that every fan of women's lit needs to read. I still have my copy, collecting dust on my bookshelf. Let me know if you decide to read it and maybe we can have a book club. :)

      Delete
  9. Oooooo you've got a few of these that I read last year when I did a classic a month, some were absolutely fabulous (To Kill a Mockingbird, A prayer for Owen Meany) and some I hated (Madame Bovary. HATED.) I have Journey to the Center of the Earth, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Catch-22, and Anna Karenina on my list for this year's attempt. I think the hardest thing for me with this challenge last year was that some of the classics are just horrid. Good luck and enjoy!!!! (Thanks for posting your intended reads, will have to add them to my "to read" list on Goodreads as well!)

    ReplyDelete
  10. "The Little Prince" is my favorite book in the whole entire world! I read it every time I feel sad. I recently picked up "The Tale of the Rose: The Love Story Behind the Little Prince," which was written by Saint-Exupery's wife. I'd heard good things, but still slowly easing into it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. by now you've read through Canticle, which I enjoyed. I definitely recomend Catch-22 on your list if nothing other than knowing just where that phrase came from. Frankenstein is also another recomended above that I endorse. I agree w. Redhead that some classics are just paced horribly. I've tried LesMis several times to no avail. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo is super depressing, if you're into that. The Sheep Look Up is another pulpy sci-fi like Cantacle that I borrowed from my father-in-law's basement 'library' :) that was a good read. And Dune is always good.

    ReplyDelete