Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016: The Classics

BEHOLD! The classic novels I'll be reading in 2016:

JANUARY: Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. "Aging writer Kilgore Trout finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth." I like to start with something on the lighter side & I actually don't think I've read any Vonnegut since high school.

FEBRUARY (Black History Month): The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. "Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture." I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to the violence in this one.

MARCH (Women's History Month): To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. "Made up of three powerfully charged visions into the life of one family living in a summer house off the rocky coast of Scotland. As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and it greatest triumph--the human capacity for change. A portrait in miniature of family life, it also has universal implications, giving language to the silent space that separates people and the space that they transgress to reach each other." Extremely vague, but I don't think I've ever read Woolf & I should probably just start somewhere.

APRIL: Ulysses, by James Joyce. "Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's epic poem Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the poem." What the heck, let's give it a shot.

MAY (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month): Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. "We enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction--at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful--and completely unforgettable." Enough people have talked up this book that I'm intrigued.

JUNE (Russian Heritage Month): Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. "Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust." Again, there's so much discussion around this one that I'm intrigued.

JULY: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. "The book is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order. The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The vignettes (which Burroughs called "routines") are drawn from Burroughs' own experience in these places, and his addiction to drugs." People seem so polarized on this book that it's been on my list as a must-read for a while now. Interested to see where I fall.

AUGUST: Middlemarch, by George Eliot. "'We believe in her as in a woman we might providentially meet some fine day when we should find ourselves doubting of the immortality of the soul' wrote Henry James of Dorothea Brooke, who shares with the young doctor Tertius Lydgate not only a central role in Middlemarch but also a fervent conviction that life should be heroic. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, Middlemarch is richer still in character, in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community, and in the great art that enlarges the reader's sympathy and imagination." Parlor book? Not a parlor book? WE SHALL SEE.

SEPTEMBER (Banned Books Week): Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. "Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love." Gotta throw something lighter in there (relatively speaking).

OCTOBER: All The King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. "More than just a classic political novel, Warren’s tale of power and corruption in the Depression-era South is a sustained meditation on the unforeseen consequences of every human act, the vexing connectedness of all people and the possibility—it’s not much of one—of goodness in a sinful world. Willie Stark, Warren’s lightly disguised version of Huey Long, the onetime Louisiana strongman/governor, begins as a genuine tribune of the people and ends as a murderous populist demagogue. Jack Burden is his press agent, who carries out the boss’s orders, first without objection, then in the face of his own increasingly troubled conscience." Seems like a good read as we approach election day.

NOVEMBER: Far From The Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy. "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." I dunno, a lot of people have recommended this and I have never read Thomas Hardy.

DECEMBER: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. "Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel 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. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence." Haven't read Steinbeck since high school, so it's only fair to give him another shot.

Thanks for all your suggestions! :)

Other Books I'm Planning to Read this Year...


  1. You have picked some doozies this year! To the Lighthouse I found to be a really difficult read. Middlemarch is one of those books I've meant to read forever - I studied British Victorian literature when I was working on my master's and managed to not read it somehow! I've heard great things about The Rest of Us Just Live Here. And Monsters of Templeton is terrific!

    Also, I saw the Eyre Affair on your last list and meant to comment - the first four books in that series are absolutely terrific (I find the second four a little problematic). Lots of literary in-jokes. Shades of Grey (by the same author) is great, too.

  2. East of Eden is Steinbeck, not Hemingway, fyi. And like classic Steinbeck, with the whole characters moving West, life of the California frontier, what is morality, etc.

    1. Eek, how did that one slip past me? Embarrassing....