Remember back in March when I posted a passionate pledge to read more novels by American women? At the time, I was very determined to commit the rest of 2012 to exploring and reading American writing. Well, just two short months later I feel that I am completely off-course and am struggling to find any interest in American novels. The only ones I’ve read since I made my pledge are Olive Kitteridge, The Blank Wall and The Song of the Lark , all of which I enjoyed, but mostly I only want to read British novels. I have to admit that in my heart of hearts I am an Anglophile. I like to believe that my heritage accounts for that – my paternal ancestors lived in Headcorn, Kent – but I really think it is my early indoctrination via British tv series. I started watching Masterpiece Theater when I was pretty young, 12 or 13, and that led me to watch the Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes series (the Jeremy Brett one) on Masterpiece Mystery and I was hooked from then on. Twenty years later I still have a major predilection for British films, tv shows, and novels and so I find myself failing at the challenge I set for myself because I can’t let go of my taste for British culture.
I have tried to read several American novels in the past month and I just find them so depressing. It strikes me that a lot of them are about ‘issues’ and I really don’t like being preached at. I suppose I prefer novels that are more drawing room-centered, more relationship-based than those that are trying to make a statement about social concerns. Maybe it really isn’t an American thing, maybe I just like reading more domestic-type novels (yes, I do) and I haven’t found the right American authors to read that are suited to my reading preferences.
I’m not going to abandon my plan, but I can’t abandon my fondness for British authors either. The above picture shows a few novels I want to read in the next few months and I am greatly looking forward to them. Perhaps I’ll slip in a couple of American-written novels in between these as a way to have the best of both worlds. I’m sorry not to have devoted myself to the works of my countrywomen the way I had planned to, but I hope that you (and they) will understand.
Do you judge a book by its cover? Me too! I love cover art and am convinced that my reading experience is more pleasurable and rewarding when the book I am reading has a beautiful cover. This month’s Classics Challenge prompt has us looking at the cover design of our current classic. Friends, I am still reading Anna Karenina for this challenge so I’m sorry to talk about this novel for the second month in a row. It is a great novel and I am really enjoying it, but it is so heavy that I tend to only read a couple of chapters before bed each night. I know I need to speed it up, though, or I might not finish until December! I think AK must inspire great cover design because I found a lot of gorgeous covers for this book. Here are just a few of my favorite covers for Anna Karenina:
The version I am reading is the top left cover and I think it is very well designed, but I also love the one next to it and also the Vintage edition on the bottom…really, I like all of them and think they all have a certain appeal and attractiveness about them. I do love the covers that have women on them because Anna is the central and most important figure in the novel, but I like the bottom two because they are different and colorful.
I don’t want to be left out! So I’m joining the club – the Classics Club. Jillian at A Room of One’s Own is our president. You can see the ‘rules’ of the club here. I’m really very happy to join because I have discovered over the past few months that I do much better with my reading when I have a bit of structure to it. Having a list helps me to know where I’m headed with my reading and what books I have to look forward to. It makes me feel prepared.
I decided this is a great chance to read a lot of books that are sitting on my shelves (or on my Kindle) lonely and neglected. About 95% of these are titles I already own and the other 5% are ones I really want to read and know I can get from the library. I’m trying to cut down on my Amazon purchases (have you ever added up all the money you spend on online book purchases? I just did tonight and it wasn’t pretty). The following 53 titles have officially been chosen for my list (which is subject to change, because I’m fickle).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather
The Angelic Avengers by Isak Dinesen
Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
The Californians by Gertrude Atherton
Cheri by Colette
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
East Angels by Constance Fenimore Woolson
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Fanny Herself by Edna Ferber
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Fidelity by Susan Glaspell
The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes
The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis
Macaria by Augusta Jane Evans Wilson
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
The Story of Avis by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Tracks by Louise Erdrich
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
What do you think of the list? Anything I should read first? Are there any titles you loathe and want immediately banished?
I couldn’t wait for this month’s Classics Challenge prompt because I want to talk with you about my current classic and how much I am loving it. I never expected to like Anna Karenina, yet it turns out that I adore it. It is easy to read, full of realistic insights into human emotions, provides a dazzling look into high society in Moscow and Petersburg in the 1870’s and is packed with irresistible melodrama.
This month Katherine’s prompt is all about setting. So let’s talk about where Anna Karenina takes place. I am about 150 pages into the novel and, so far, most of the action has happened in the homes of the main characters and in the homes of their friends and family members. Tolstoy does not use a lot of description so the reader is left to imagine what these homes look like and how they are arranged. This is a very Victorian novel so my imagination directs me to envisage extravagant Victorian interiors with a French influence as high society in Russia seems to be heavily influenced by the French at this time. I imagine something like this (minus the telephone):
Other than this narrow indoor setting, I’ve just started reading about Levin’s farm. Tolstoy takes a bit more care in describing the farm, the crops Levin grows, the pastures where the cattle graze, the barn, the forest. It is much easier to see Tolstoy’s vision of the farm than that of his idea of the rooms where Anna and Vronsky seal their relationship.
I surmise from this lack of detail that Tolstoy is much more interested in the characters, how they act and the choices they make and how these choices affect their families and society at large than the color of the furniture in their drawing rooms.
Do you like lots of detail about setting when you read a novel? Or does it not matter to you?
Since it is already mid-February (how did that happen?) I thought it would be a good time to take stock of my progress in the challenges I signed up for at the beginning of the year.
For the Classics Challenge, I’ve already finished one book, Great Expectations, and am a couple of chapters into my next novel, Anna Karenina. I expect Anna K will take me through April to finish and then next up is Howard’s End. Reading Forster in May sounds like a delightful proposition.
The Victorian Challenge has not gone as well. I’d originally planned to read Jane Eyre for my first book, but I think I am Jane Eyred out. I’ve read the novel a couple of times and have seen every single movie adaptation that’s come along and I don’t think I can muster the enthusiasm to jump into the familiar story right now. So, with Lisa’s encouragement, I have substituted The Warden by Anthony Trollope and expect to complete it by April. Then I will dive into Vanity Fair.
Also in April I want to participate in the Muriel Spark Reading Week, co-hosted by Simon and Harriet. I have only read one of Spark’s novels, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and am excited at the prospect of reading another of her novels. The only ones my library carries are The Mandelbaum Gate, Aiding and Abetting, and The Finishing School. Has anyone read any of these? Which would you recommend?
And finally…the Month of Letters Challenge. Well, it has been an UtTeR failure! I have only written two letters and am having a hard time making myself write more. Don’t fear if you’ve sent me your address, though – I plan to catch up this weekend so keep on the lookout for a letter from me soon!
How about you?Are you participating in any challenges? How are you doing with them?
The prompt for this month’s A Classics Challenge concerns character. I have the easiest book in the world to choose a character from – Great Expectations. No, I still haven’t finished it! I am almost there, though, and am really enjoying it and the extremely memorable characters Dickens uses to populate his story. Pip, Magwitch, Mr. Jaggers, Herbert, Estella and Miss Havisham – who could forget them? I could easily write about any of these characters, but instead I’d like to focus on a character who seems to be tragically overlooked. First, here is the prompt for February:
Level 2 How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them?
Mrs. Joe is Pip’s sister who ‘raised him up by hand’. She is assertive, shrewish, abusive and terrifying when she’s in a snit. She hen-pecks her husband, Joe Gargery, who still thinks she is ‘a fine-figure-of-a-woman’. Pip has no feeling for her and keeps out of her way as much as possible.
Mrs. Joe slightly reminded me of certain women in my family. My mom’s side of the family are known for being a bit ornery so she was familiar to me and I thought she was a very vibrant, energetic character in the early part of the novel. When she suffered the horrible act of violence that changes her forever, I was stunned. It was almost shocking the way she is silenced and completely shut out from the remainder of the plot. I do believe Pip’s story would have been different if he’d had his sister around to oversee his journey.
Was Dickens making a point about loud, outrageous women?
What character do you remember most from Great Expectations?
A hastily read tweet from a few days ago has inspired in me a determination to write small notes of regard and love to friends, family and acquaintances through the month of February. From Twitter I learned that author Mary Robinette Kowal has issued a Month of Letters Challenge that urges participants to send a letter a day every day in February. That amounts to 24 letters for those of us in the US as we have 4 Sundays and a holiday where mail will not be circulated. Here are the rules from Kowal’s website:
I have a simple challenge for you.
In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
I am always thrilled to receive personal mail these days, even if it’s just a birthday party, baby shower or wedding invitation. It’s so rare to see a handwritten note and to be able to connect with people through their own style of writing. A typewritten letter is also exciting, but just doesn’t have the same intimate feeling as one written by hand.
During this month I’d love to send postcards to my blogging friends! If you are interested in receiving a note from me in February click on the email button in my sidebar and send me your address. You can also message me in Facebook or send me a Twitter DM. I have some pretty special literary postcards that I am just dying to send to someone – let me know if you’d like a handwritten card from me and I will send one out to you during the next month!
**Overseas friends included!**
Will you join the Month of Letters Challenge?
“More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” – John Donne
It’s the fourth of the month and time to post on my current classic for A Classics Challenge! This month’s prompt asks participants to post about their views on the author of the classic they are reading. My current book is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. From my days of having to read A Tale of Two Cities in middle school I have abhorred Dickens. I very vehemently avoided reading anything by him all during my teen years, but I couldn’t escape him in college. Little Dorrit was assigned in my Victorian Lit class and I reluctantly skimmed the book – just enough to be able to participate in discussions and act like I knew what the professor was talking about. I left the class and never looked back on Mr. Dickens. I had no intention of ever reading any of his novels again until my thoughts started to change after watching the wonderful Bleak House tv series that aired a few years ago. I started to think that maybe his stories weren’t as boring and convoluted as I feared.
Now with 2012 upon us and Dickens making a splash (due to his Bicentenary) I decided the time is right to read one of his novels. I started Great Expectations a few weeks ago and have been really enjoying it. I didn’t anticipate the humor of it, the very funny scenes and amusing characters. I am about 1/4 of the way through and appreciate Dickens’s keen sense of human weakness, his marvelous talent for description and his powerful way of conveying the motivations of his characters and the conflicts Pip is tortured with.
I am enchanted with this book and so pleased that I chose to read it as part of the Classics Challenge. I can’t wait to see where Pip’s adventures take him.
Do you like Dickens? What is your favorite Dickens novel?
I’ve decided to jump on the Classics Challenge bandwagon, this one hosted by Katherine at November’s Autumn. This is a different type of challenge – the guidelines are here – but basically you post on the 4th of every month about the current classic you’re reading or that you’ve recently finished. My goal is to read classics that I’ve downloaded to my Kindle and that have been sitting, taking up precious storage space, since I transferred them. They were all free, but I still feel guilty for not having read them for so long. The following are some of the classics I’ve had on my Kindle for the longest. Has anyone read any of these? Love them? Hate them?