Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018: The Classics

Because we need to have other goals in life besides running ever faster and longer and more batshit crazy pants races, I started reading (or listening to) one classic novel per month back in 2014. Originally it was just a one-year resolution, but I enjoyed it enough that I decided to just keep doing it until I got bored or it started to feel like a chore.

The Classics: 2014

The Classics: 2015

The Classics: 2016

The Classics: 2017

(I'm a lot smarter now than I used to be.)

So, BEHOLD! The classic novels I'll be reading in 2018:

JANUARY: Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler (1980). "Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals." I typically start the year with a sci fi classic, but I've kind of had my fill of classic sci fi written by white dudes, so how about some classic Butler.

FEBRUARY (Black History Month): The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin (1963). “At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two 'letters,' written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.” This one has been on my list for a while.

MARCH (Women's History Month): The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (1963). "Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic." Skimming lists of classics by women, I ran across The Bell Jar & went, "How have I not read this yet??"

APRIL: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (1958). "Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society. The second story concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries....The most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within." I anticipate having less time than usual for reading in April; this one is short & I've been meaning to read it for ages.

MAY (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month): No-No Boy, by John Okada (1956). "In this work, Okada gives the perspective of a no-no boy, a Japanese-American man who would neither denounce his Japanese heritage nor fight for the U.S. Army during WWII. This novel takes place after the main character spent two years in a Japanese internment camp, and two years in prison after saying no when asked to join the U.S. Army. Okada's novel No-No Boy shows the internal and external struggles fought by Japanese-Americans in that time period, be they no-no boys or not." Thanks to my friend T for suggesting this one when I was a little stuck with APAH month (and also everyone else who made other suggestions). Funny that I was just listening to a podcast telling John Okada's story a few weeks before & when I read the description of this book went, "Ohhhhh! THAT guy!"

JUNE (Russian Heritage Month): War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (1868). "War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men. As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature." Eh, we'll see if I get farther with this than I did with The Brothers Karamazov.

JULY: Tess of the D'Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy (1891). "When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future." I started this a couple years ago but never finished it, so why not just knock it out.

AUGUST: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas (1844). "Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dant├Ęs is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration." Not short, but supposedly a fun read.

SEPTEMBER (Banned Books Week): Sophie's Choice, by William Styron (1979). "Three stories are told: a young Southerner wants to become a writer; a turbulent love-hate affair between a brilliant Jew and a beautiful Polish woman; and of an awful wound in that woman's past--one that impels both Sophie and Nathan toward destruction." It turns out that in the last few years I've actually knocked out most of the books that show up on various lists of banned & challenged books, so this was another one that when I saw it, I went, "Wait, I haven't read that yet??"

OCTOBER: The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (1859). "'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white' The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his 'charming' friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism." Sounds sort of spookie, so why not for October? Also when I've asked for suggestions for classics to read, this always seems to be one of people's favorites, so.

NOVEMBER: My Antonia, by Willa Cather. "Through Jim Burden's endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature's most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia's desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia." I'd actually never heard of this book, but once I spotted it on someone's list, suddenly I noticed it everywhere.

DECEMBER: If on a Winter's Night A Traveler, by Italo Calvino (1979). "A marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration--"when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded." In one sense a comedy in which the two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader, ultimately end up married, having almost finished If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. In another, it is a tragedy, a reflection on the difficulties of writing and the solitary nature of reading. The Reader buys a fashionable new book, which opens with an exhortation: "Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." Alas, after 30 or so pages, he discovers that his copy is corrupted, and consists of nothing but the first section, over and over. Returning to the bookshop, he discovers the volume, which he thought was by Calvino, is actually by the Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two, he goes for the Pole, as does the Other Reader, Ludmilla. But this copy turns out to be by yet another writer, as does the next, and the next." Innnnnteresting.....

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

Read anything else lately that you love? Taking suggestions as always! :D


  1. I've been wanting to tackle "Gravity's Rainbow" for awhile. (I tried once in grad school but didn't get very far.) Maybe we read it together? It would be nice to have some accountability and also someone to discuss it with!

    1. Oooh, I would be super into that. It's been on the "to-read" list for like 5 years but I have always been too chicken.

    2. Ditto here on joining the accountability thread for Gravity's Rainbow if you're looking for more takers...It's been on my bookshelf for years, taunting me.

  2. The absolute best thing for my reading in recent years has been my discovery of the overdrive app and my library's considerable collection of e-books! No need to worry about returns...

    If you like If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, you might like Possession by A. S. Byatt. :)

    I really liked Things Fall Apart. (Also I especially enjoyed it as a citizen of a recent former British colony.) One of the things to remember while reading it is that Achebe wrote it (in English!) right around the time that Nigeria gained independence, along with lots of other former colonies...

    And if you want a little bonus cheat "classic", I just finished the hilarious Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice.