My List for Classics Club Spin #28

The Classics Club has announced another spin. How do the spins work? I pick 20 books from my Classics Club list and number them. On October 17, the club picks a number, and that’s the book I will read before December 12, the deadline for this spin. So, here is my list for this spin. This time, I haven’t picked any of the difficult books on my list:

  1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  2. The Mayor’s Wife by Anna Katherine Green
  3. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp
  5. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  6. Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
  7. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant
  8. Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith
  9. Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare
  10. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
  11. Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  12. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  13. Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton
  14. The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
  15. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo
  16. Music in the Hills by D. E. Stevenson
  17. Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford
  18. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  19. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  20. The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerlof

If I Gave the Award

Having reviewed the last book from the 2020 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction shortlist, it’s now time for my feature where I decide whether the judges got it right. Frankly, 2020 was an odd year, with several books that, while interesting, really didn’t do it for me. In fact, quite a few of them cultivated distance between the reader and the work.

As I often do, I’ll start with the books I liked least. One is The Parisian by Isabella Hammad. This novel covers the beginning of the fight for Arab nationalism and the First World War, so it should have been interesting. However, Hammad writes it from the point of view of a man who distances himself from the action by the persona he invents for himself.

Another distancing book was The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey, which was the winner for 2020. It is about the relationship between the artist Edward Hopper and his wife Jo. It is slow moving and mostly a character study about a self-absorbed man who seemed to live his life in the interior of his own mind. I felt that although Jo was depicted as jealous and demanding, she was upset about something understandable—her career coming so much secondary to his and in fact his disdain of her work.

To Calais, In Ordinary Time by James Meek is a little more experimental than the other nominees. It is about a 14th century journey from the Cotswolds to Calais, and it is written only in words in use at the time. It also reflects, in tone and plot, its medieval inspirations. However, Meek doesn’t do much with his characters, so I had difficulty becoming involved in the novel.

The Redeemed by Tim Pears was the third book in his West Country Trilogy, and it is set during the last years and the aftermath of World War I about a man who has to make his own way after becoming homeless as a boy. Having spent three books with these characters, I found the conclusion of the trilogy anti-climactic. I actually thought the first book was best.

Joseph O’Connor has written a novel about 30 years in the life of Bram Stoker, with Shadowplay. I found this novel involving and interesting. It’s about Stoker’s work with the Lyceum Theatre and his relationship with two famous actors, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. It even has just a bit of a supernatural influence.

Although it took me a while to get into A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland, I found it absolutely heart-rending by the end. It is based on the life of a native Anglican missionary to South Africa, about a man whose upbringing sets him apart from his own people as well as his English white patrons. This novel is my choice for the 2020 award.

If I Gave the Award

Since I posted my review of the last book from the 2018 shortlist of the Booker Prize on Tuesday, it’s time for my feature where I decide whether the judges got it right. It’s a hard decision this time, because there are so many good books on the list. Actually, they are all good. I just connected better with some than others.

As I often do, I’ll start with the books I enjoyed least. I think I just didn’t connect with The Long Take by Robin Robertson. At least partially, that’s because it is a poem, but it is also almost plotless and very gritty. It is beautifully written, though, about homeless World War II veterans and the selling out of L. A.

Another gritty entry is The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. I found this novel more gripping, and it is about an important subject—the lack of justice in our justice system. However, it seems I am not really a Kushner fan.

To make my decision harder, I enjoyed all of the other four entries. Two of them were on my Best Books of the Year list two years ago, and another one—most likely both of the others—will be on the one for this year.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan is really an adventure story set in the 1900’s. Washington is a slave on a Barbados plantation who flees with Titch, his master’s brother, after the death of his master’s cousin. Having left everything he knows, he is then abandoned in Canada by Titch. I liked the sense of not knowing what was going to happen next.

I enjoyed Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, too. It’s a mysterious rendering of the Oedipus myth set in the fascinating world of the people who live on Britain’s canal system. I found it atmospheric and interesting.

This year, The Overstory by Richard Powers blew me away, and it will be on my best books list for the year. Taking on the metaphor of a tree for its structure, starting with the roots, it is about the importance of trees. That may not sound very interesting, but Powers starts with a group of people who are all interested in trees in some way and begins to entwine their fates as he works his way up the trunk of his story. Although the ending was a little too abstract, I was fascinated by this book.

However, I’m going to pick Milkman by Anna Burns, which was also that year’s winner. I just loved it. It is a dazzling, exuberant novel about an Irish girl in 1970’s Belfast who is being stalked by a man she calls a “renouncer-of-the-state.” Much of its charm lives in the distinctive voice of the narrator. The judges got it right with this one.

Classics Club Spin #27

I just posted a new Classics Club list last week, and coincidentally, now they have announced a spin. The way it works is, if you want to participate, you pick 20 books from your list and post that list. The spin picks a number, and that determines which book you read next. The deadline for reading the book this time is August 22.

Since I have a new list to work with, I decided to pick 20 of the books I want to read most. Here they are:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott
  3. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
  5. Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton
  6. The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons
  7. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  8. Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  9. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  10. The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart
  11. Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith
  12. Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp
  13. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant
  14. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
  15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  16. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  17. The Methods of Lady Waldenhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  18. Music in the Hills by D. E. Stevenson
  19. Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
  20. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

My Third Classics Club List

With The Sea Hawk I have finished my second Classics Club list. By some marathon reading, I finished posting my last reviews exactly a week later than my original deadline, owing to my neglect of the list for a couple of years. I was reading a lot of classics, just not the ones on my list, and I forgot to notice my deadline until six months ago.

In any case, it is time for a third list. Here it is. I am posting this list on July 7, 2021, and setting myself a deadline of July 6, 2026. As usual, I am attempting to read some classics from different centuries. I am also picking books from a few more countries than just England and the U. S. In some ways, this list seems more imposing than my previous ones.

BC

  • The Aeneid by Virgil (30 to 19 BCE)

15th Century

  • The Book of Dede Korkut by Anonymous (14th or 15th century)

16th Century

  • Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe (1598)
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare (1598)

17th Century

  • The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn (1688)
  • Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford (1633)
  • The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette (1678)

18th Century

  • Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress by Frances Burney (1782)
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)

19th Century

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)
  • The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins (1856)
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1865)
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  • Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801)
  • The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
  • The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerloft (1891)
  • The Prophet’s Mantle by E. Nesbit (1885)
  • Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant (1851)
  • A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova (1848)
  • The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott (1889)
  • The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  • Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (1867-1869)

20th Century

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
  • Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum (1929)
  • The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (1938)
  • The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1901)
  • The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos (1962)
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (1976)
  • Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton (1944)
  • The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût (1955)
  • The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1933)
  • The Moorland Cottage by Elizabeth Gaskell (1950)
  • The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons (1970)
  • The Mayor’s Wife by Anna Katherine Green (1907)
  • The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)
  • Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston (1942)
  • Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert (1938)
  • The Tavern Knight by Rafael Sabatini (1904)
  • Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp (1930)
  • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (1950)
  • The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair (1917)
  • Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith (1959)
  • Music in the Hills by D. E. Stevenson (1950)
  • The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart (1962)
  • Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo (1963)
  • Father by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1931)
  • Miss Mole by E. H. Young (1930)
  • We by Yevgeny Zemyatin (1920)

If I Gave the Award

Having just posted my review of the last book on the shortlist for the 2016 James Tait Black fiction prize, I am now posting my feature wherein I examine whether I think the judges got it right. In this case, of the four nominees, I liked two and disliked two.

I’ll start with the winner of that year’s prize, You Don’t Have to Live Like This by Benjamin Markovits. I felt that it handled its themes of racism and gentrification poorly and employed constructs of magazine writing that don’t really work in fiction. It also seemed bogged down by lots of ineffective and inconclusive conversations between characters and by an ineffectual main character.

The other book I didn’t really enjoy that much was Beatlebone by Kevin Barry, a fantasy about John Lennon visiting Western Ireland. Not much happens in this book, and what does happen, I didn’t find interesting. Although the novel is very well written, I thought it seemed like fanboy fiction.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July tickled my funny bone, with its plethora of eccentric characters. I found this novel bizarre but touching.

I would have given the prize to The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall. It’s about the isolation of an emotionally detached woman and events that allow her to open the door to the people in her life. I found it thoughtful and vital.