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Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Classics Club Spin #29

(#9 for me)

Gosh these spins seem to come around quickly, but I always enjoy them. Since the last spin I have read two more from my Classics Club list, but never seem to get around to blogging about them. Anyway, for this spin I have chosen 20 books from my list, and when the random number spin happens on Sunday 20 March (tomorrow), I find that number on my list and will need to read that book by April 30. There are some very long ones on this list, so I post it with some trepidation! Here is my list:

1Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
2Bronte, AnneThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall
3Burns, RobertThe Poetical Works of Robert Burns
4Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
5Cooper, FenimoreThe Last of the Mohicans
6Di Lampedusa, TomasiThe Leopard
7Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
8Dumas, AlexandreThe Three Musketeers
9Eliot, GeorgeAdam Bede
10Fortescue, WinifredMountain Madness
11Gaskell, ElizabethNorth and South
12Graves, RobertI, Claudius
13Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
14Langley, EveThe Pea-Pickers
15Lawrence, TESeven Pillars of Wisdom
16Prichard, Katharine SusannahIntimate Strangers
17Prichard, Katharine SusannahCoonardoo
18Trollope, AnthonyThe Warden
19Trollope, AnthonyMiss Mackenzie
20Wyss, Johann DavidThe Swiss Family Robinson

The Trumpet-Major

by Thomas Hardy

This was the book chosen for me to read for the Classics Club Spin #28, and I really enjoyed it. I read all the best-known Thomas Hardy books in my teens, and it is many years since I have reread any, so I was delighted to find this one at a charity shop, and to add it to my Classics Club list. I have managed to read quite a few from my list this year, and this book represents #32 of the 50 I have pledged to read before August 2024, so I am well on track!

The Trumpet-Major is one of several main characters in this novel, set during the Napoleonic period, when the locals of a small coastal village are worried about invasion. The story revolves around a young woman who is the love interest of 3 young men, only one of whom actually deserves her, but of course she falls for the charmer. One of the men is completely odious, but the girl’s mother prefers him because he is likely to come into money, whereas the other two (brothers) are poor miller’s sons. As always with classics, it is interesting (though depressing) to read about social behaviour that was apparently acceptable at that time – in this case stalking and assault that the man apparently thought would win him the love of a girl who was clearly unwilling.

The thing that I really enjoyed about this book was the humour – Hardy is such a clever writer and his descriptions of the characters and their behaviours were so relatable to people we might know today, despite the very different social climate, and I often found myself smiling. Hardy is not known for his humour – in fact I think of his books as generally depressing – so I am keen to reread some as I am sure I was not as aware of the quality of his writing when I read the books many years ago. This was a good find.

Classics Club Spin #28

This will be my 8th Classics Club Spin, and I have been successful with all except the very first. It is a great way to motivate yourself to read some of those classics that have sat on the shelf for far too long.

The idea is to list 20 classics still on the TBR, and then wait – on On Sunday 17th, October, a number from 1 through 20 will be posted, and the challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by the 12th December, 2021. That’s an eight week reading window for this spin. A couple of times I have had to read the very longest book on my list (War & Peace and Tom Jones), so I am leaving the really long ones off this list as I know I will be very busy over the lead-up to the end of the year. Here is my list…

1AnonymousBeowulf
2Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
3Buchan, JohnThe Thirty-Nine Steps
4Burns, RobertThe Poetical Works of Robert Burns
5Di Lampedusa, TomasiThe Leopard
6Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
7Dumas, AlexandreThe Three Musketeers
8Eliot, GeorgeAdam Bede
9Forster, EMA Passage to India
10Gaskell, ElizabethNorth and South
11Graves, RobertI, Claudius
12Hardy, ThomasThe Trumpet-Major
13Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
14Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
15Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
16Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
17Sun TzuThe Art of War
18Trollope, AnthonyThe Warden
19Trollope, AnthonyMiss Mackenzie
20Wyss, Johann DavidThe Swiss Family Robinson

Robinson Crusoe

by Daniel Defoe

This was the book I was challenged to read as a result of the Classics Club Spin #27. I was slightly nervous about it as there are so many bad reviews on Goodreads, and several ‘ho-hum’ reviews in the Classics Club archives. Some complaints are about the archaic language, but as I read lots of classics I quite enjoyed this aspect, and it was originally published in 1719 after all – more than 300 years ago! Though quite slow to start, I did enjoy the book overall. Once Robinson is shipwrecked on the island (which takes quite a while to happen), it is absorbing to read of his inventive and dogged attempts to make a safe home and devise sustainable sources of food, which followed very quickly from his initial despair and hopelessness. I was surprised at the many, many years he stayed alone on the island, and I felt that his paranoia about the possibility of encountering other people was interesting, as most stories about shipwrecked people show them as desperate to attract attention. It was many years before he saw anyone at all, and I did enjoy the section after he first sees a footprint, leading him to further anxiety and manic building of further defences. Once Man Friday becomes part of his life, things move fairly quickly and he moves from being terrified and defensive, to becoming a strong and confident leader. One of the best aspects of the book is Defoe’s ability to demonstrate Crusoe’s character, though this book really only has one character – all the others are very incidental and not really developed at all. As many have mentioned, the end is rather an anticlimax, but overall I enjoyed the book and am glad to have read it.

CC Spin #27

Well, I have been rather slow lately – I did complete the last spin, but a couple of weeks after I was supposed to, and am still to write my review. The book assigned was the longest on my list: The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling – 877 pages long. It was an effort but I did enjoy it. Now to the next spin, which will be posted on Sunday 18 July, and the book selected will need to be read by August 22.

Here is my list:

1AnonymousBeowulf
2Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
3Buchan, JohnThe Thirty-Nine Steps
4Cather, WillaO Pioneers
5Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
6Defoe, DanielRobinson Crusoe
7Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
8Dumas, AlexandreThe Three Musketeers
9Eliot, GeorgeAdam Bede
10Forster, EMA Passage to India
11Gaskell, ElizabethNorth and South
12Graves, RobertI, Claudius
13Hardy, ThomasThe Trumpet-Major
14Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
15Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
16Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
17Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
18Trollope, AnthonyThe Warden
19Trollope, AnthonyMiss Mackenzie
20Wyss, Johann DavidThe Swiss Family Robinson

CC Spin #26

Classic Club spins are a great incentive to continue reading the classics, especially the ones that are rather long and/or intimidating. I made my first list of 50 books back in August 2019, with a commitment to read them all within 5 years, however I have kept adding to my list as I collect more and more classics from my charity shop habit. Here is my list of 20 books for this spin – whichever number comes up from the spin on Sunday will be the book I read.

1AnonymousBeowulf
2Bird, IsabellaThe Englishwoman in America
3Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
4Buchan, JohnThe Thirty-Nine Steps
5Cather, WillaO Pioneers
6Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
7Defoe, DanielRobinson Crusoe
8Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
9Dumas, AlexandreThe Three Musketeers
10Eliot, GeorgeAdam Bede
11Fielding, HenryThe History of Tom Jones: A Foundling
12Gaskell, ElizabethNorth and South
13Graves, RobertI, Claudius
14Hardy, ThomasThe Trumpet-Major
15Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
16Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
17Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
18Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
19Trollope, AnthonyThe Warden
20Wyss, Johann DavidThe Swiss Family Robinson

The Yellow Joss and Other Tales

by Ion L Idriess

This collection of stories with a rather off-putting cover was my chosen classic for Classic Club Spin #25. Ion L. Idriess was purportedly Australia’s most popular author at the time this book was published in 1934. My 6th edition (with the pictured cover) was published in 1944. He was certainly prolific, with more than 50 books published between 1927 and 1969. His travelling life was the basis of all of his books, and the back of the dust cover gives the following description: (He) “obtained honours in chemistry and a certificate in assaying at the Broken Hill School of Mines. He has worked in the Assay Office of the Broken Hill Pty Mine; has been an adventurer, seaman, station hand, drover, track finder, wharf labourer, opal miner, and has served in the Great War (Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine) with the 5th Australian Light Horse. Has wandered in Northern Queensland, Western Austalia, North Australia, the Gulf Country and the Centre, the Torres Strait islands, the Kimberleys, and Papua. Has cruised the Barrier Reef seeking trochus shell, and with a mate was abandoned for seven months on barren Howick Island. Has wandered with native tribes in Cape York Peninsula studying the people, prospecting for gold, tin, and wolfram, seeking sandalwood and collecting material for books.”

In his Author’s Note to this book, Idriess tells us that “The stories in this volume record happenings or incidents in men’s lives which interested me during years of wandering among the bushmen and natives of Cape York Peninsula; the pearlers, trochus and beche-de-mer getters of the Coral Sea; the native islanders of Torres Strait; the ‘beachcombers’ of the Great Barrier Reef; and along the Arafura Sea towards the west. With two exceptions, all are transcripts of fact or largely based on fact, unusual though an occasional one may seem”.

This is useful information, because most of the 28 stories read as fictional short stories and are hardly believable. They give a fascinating insight into life (and death) in remote places in tropical northern Australia around 100 years ago. Idriess is a great writer, using vivid description and humour to reflect an experience of the brutality, tragedy, hilarity and general adventurousness of life off the beaten track. The language/vocabulary used to describe indigenous people in Australia, the Torres Strait Islands and New Guinea would not be acceptable today, but it is clear that Idriess respected and enjoyed his interactions with these characters, so although reading these descriptions is very off-putting, they need to be considered as acceptable for that time.

Overall, this is a highly entertaining and fascinating collection of stories.

Classics Club Spin #25

Time for the Spin again – last time I got the longest book on my list – War and Peace (and I did finish it!) – so although I have several very long books on this current list, I hope to jag a shorter one this time. The luck is in the spin! The idea is to make a list of 20 books from my Classics TBR by this Sunday 22 November, after which a number will be announced, and I need to read the book next to that number by 30 January 2021.

My list for this spin is:

1AnonymousBeowulf
2Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
3Burns, RobertThe Poetical Works of Robert Burns
4Cather, WillaO Pioneers
5Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
6Cooper, FenimoreThe Last of the Mohicans
7Defoe, DanielRobinson Crusoe
8Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
9Eliot, GeorgeAdam Bede
10Fielding, HenryThe History of Tom Jones: A Foundling
11Graves, RobertI, Claudius
12Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
13Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
14Idriess, Ion   LThe Yellow Joss and Other Tales
15James, HenryThe Portrait of a Lady
16Lawrence, TESeven Pillars of Wisdom
17Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
18Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
19Stow, RandolphThe Merry-Go-Round in the Sea
20Wyss, Johann DavidThe Swiss Family Robinson

War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

I finished reading this 1350 page tome for my Classics Club Spin. I had begun it on January 1 and was attempting to read one chapter a day with an online group, but although I was mostly keeping up, it was driving me crazy. When the spin challenge came up I decided to add this book in the hope it would give me the excuse to just keep reading and finish it, and it came up! At the time I was also half-way through Dr Zhivago, so I have had a really good dose of Russian history over the past few weeks!

I know lots of people have struggled with the names in this novel, but one thing that really helped me get to know the characters was watching the sumptuous BBC series – 6 hour-long episodes. (I waited until after finishing the book before watching the final episode!) The visual characteristics and mannerisms of the major players helped enormously, and I especially loved Pierre – so apparently hopeless and ineffectual and yet so fundamentally caring and good. The actor was perfect for this demanding role, as were all of the others!

There are so many themes in this novel – the futility of war, parental neglect, sibling love, romantic love. Then there is the history of the war with Napoleon, and lots of philosophising about all sorts of things. I read every word, including all the descriptions of battle, but gave up during the final epilogue where Tolstoy is lecturing us about his beliefs. This novel really could have been at least three separate books – a history, an essay (or several), and then the narrative about Andrei, Nikolai, Natasha, Marya, Pierre and the rest. I do love Tolstoy’s writing, with his keen insights into human behaviour of all kinds, but I did wish he would be a bit more concise sometimes. The chapters are generally very short (most between 2 and 5 pages) so that also helps when reading such a long and dense novel.

My version of the book had a list of characters at the front, with all of their various nicknames, as well as translations of the French as footnotes – both of these things helped enormously. I chose this version after reading reviews of the various translations, and was very pleased with it.

Highly recommended, but do also watch the BBC series.

Classics Club Spin #24

(#4 for me!)

I failed with my first Classics Club Spin, but have been successful with the three since then, so here’s hoping I can succeed again. The task is to choose 20 books from my list of classics still to be read, and then wait for next Sunday when a number will be spun – I will need to read the book corresponding to that number by 30 September. This will help with my overall classics goal, to read 50 within 5 years. I read 11 in my first year (joined exactly 1 year ago today!), so am well on track at this stage. Those I have chosen for this spin are all books I already own but have never read.

Here is my list:

1Bird, IsabellaThe Englishwoman in America
2Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
3Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
4Defoe, DanielRobinson Crusoe
5Dickens, CharlesBarnaby Rudge
6Fielding, HenryThe History of Tom Jones: A Foundling
7Graves, RobertI, Claudius
8Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
9Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
10Idriess, Ion   LThe Yellow Joss and Other Tales
11James, HenryThe Portrait of a Lady
12Lawrence, TESeven Pillars of Wisdom
13Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
14Pasternak, BorisDr Zhivago
15Pym, BarbaraJane and Prudence
16Scott, WalterOld Mortality
17Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
18Tolstoy, LeoWar and Peace
19Tolstoy, LeoThe Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
20Turgenev, IvanFathers and Sons