The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The 39 Steps

Title The Thirty-Nine Steps (#1 in the Richard Hannay Series)
Author:  John Buchan
Length:  136 pages
Genre:  Adventure/Spy, Mystery, Classics
My Rating:  3.5 Stars


About This Book

Richard Hannay has just returned to London and is bored with life. Before he knows it, an interaction with an man named Scudder propels him into the middle of an assassination plot. His life is jeopardized as he finds himself smack dab in the middle of political intrigue. This novel is listed on The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels Written in English.


My Thoughts

This is the second time I’ve read this book and I remember enjoying it the first time I read it. This time around, it didn’t feel as adventurous. And actually, I remember thinking it wasn’t as adventurous as the movie version when I read it the first time even though I did like it. The thing is, though, I saw the BBC 2008 movie adaptation of it before I actually read the book for the first time. Honestly, I think the movie is better. Still, the book is written well for what it is. I gave it 3.5 stars because I thought it *was* good both times I read it; but just not quite on the level of a 4 star book for me. I plan to read the next in the series and it will be interesting to see if my reading experience will be different since I will not have seen a movie based on the book first. 🙂

The Iliad: Thoughts So Far

The Iliad Books

I read The Iliad by Homer last year and didn’t care for it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve not been a big fan of epic poetry in general. Mainly, I think, because it can be more challenging to understand sometimes. I decided to go ahead and participate in Cleo’s read-along for The Iliad this year and read it again with hopes that I may get more out of it by reading it along with others.

In the picture above is the beautiful hardback edition of The Iliad and The Odyssey that I’ve had for several years. It is the Butler translation and is what I read last year when I read The Iliad. The other book is just The Iliad and is the Lattimore translation. I bought this translation because it is the one Cleo recommended. When I’m reading, I sit with my hardback edition open to the list of names given in the front of that book, while I read the Lattimore translation.

I also bought a small notebook which you can see sitting on the top of the book stack above. As you can see, it’s a smallish notebook which I made a basic label for and added a little bit of washi tape to dress it up just a tad bit. I decided to try to find just one statement or passage to write down in the notebook for each book of The Iliad (the poem is divided up into books).

This idea was inspired by the War and Peace Read-along, hosted by Nick at One Catholic Life. Nick suggested posting a quote from each chapter of War and Peace on Facebook or Twitter as we read. I liked the idea of recording a quote or passage with each chapter and decided to do that in the form of a notebook instead of posting on social media. I think this has added to my reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace so far; so I wanted to keep a notebook for The Iliad to see if it might add to my reading experience of it also. I also keep notes in the notebook as well. So it’s my little book of Quotes & Notes. 🙂 Here’s a close-up of the notebook:

The Iliad Notebook

So how am I doing with reading The Iliad at this point? Well….I have read the first five books so far and I can say that it is a bit easier this time around. However, I admit I still am getting confused some with all of the names and such. There’s a lot of names of people and places, along with a host of gods and goddesses.

I have to say that Cleo’s read-along and the discussion in the comments have been wonderful! These discussions have definitely already helped me have more interest in the book than I did when I read it last year. So that’s good!

First, I appreciate Cleo’s commentary in her posts. She sums up the books and I find that very helpful, especially if a book has been particularly confusing. Second, both Cleo and others participating in the discussion have brought up points that help me think on a deeper level about the story and help me see things that maybe I didn’t see as I was reading. This can go a long way in helping form more appreciation for the epic poem.

I will be honest and say that at this point, I still don’t *love* The Iliad. But even though some parts have still been tedious to read, I have found myself more interested in it because of being able to dig deeper, discuss themes and ideas, and even just the story line in general with the others in the read-along.

 

Considering My Classics To-Be-Read List – What Would You Add?

It’s that time of year where many are looking back at their reading year and evaluating what books worked for them and what books didn’t. Also, it’s a time of year where many are looking to the next year and considering what they might want to read, what reading challenges and/or read-alongs they might want to participate in, etc.

Right now, I’m thinking over my Classics TBR list and trying to decide if there are some titles I’d like to prioritize for 2020. As I consider my TBR list, I will be going through it, seeing if it needs updating, etc. I would love to hear what books on my TBR classics list you’ve read that you highly recommend and why (of course no spoilers please 🙂 ). Also, if there is a title not on my TBR list that you highly recommend, please tell me! I’m always looking for good books to read so I’d love to hear about your must-read books. I consider any book 50 years or older in the classic category.

The Novel Reader by Vincent Van Gogh 1888

“The Novel Reader” by Vincent Van Gogh (1888)

Here is my classics list as of right now. I’m pretty sure I need to update this list to add a couple more titles that I wanted to add. I’ve added some comments here and there in this list. 🙂

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – I already plan to be reading this in 2020.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – I read this in high school, but I want to read it again.
  • The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton – I also have a small collection of short stories from the Father Brown series by Chesteron.
  • Emma by Jane Austen – When I tried to tackle this one a number of years ago, I didn’t finish it. It felt so wordy at the time. I want to try to read this again at some point. Currently, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel. But I’ve only read two to date. 🙂
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Right now, this is on my priority list for 2020.
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  • Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
    • The Return of the King (This is the only one left in the series that I need to read)
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I’m currently reading this right now.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Another Austen title I need to read.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – I started this a LONG time ago and only have about 1/4 of this book left to read. It’s a priority book for me to finish in 2020.
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Our Friend Manso by Benito Pérez Galdos
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  • The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki – I will be reading this in 2020. More about that soon.
  • A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

So, what are your must-read classics? Are there any books on my list that you’ve read that you highly recommend? What about classics not listed that you highly recommend?

 

As I Contemplate Books I Want to Read…

Before long, it will be that time of year when all the reading challenges will start popping up for 2020. This year, I started out planning to continue with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge but then decided not to. I then came up with my own reading challenge. But…….I haven’t done so well with it honestly. Ha! I will post a review of that closer towards the end of the year. I’m already thinking this coming year will be NO reading challenges – not even my own. 🙂

Anyhoo….I’ve been thinking about books I might like to read once I finish Les Misérables and The House Of Mirth (more on that below) as well as potential read-alongs I might like to participate in.

Snippet of my Classics Bookshelf

A Little Glance at Part of One of My Classics Bookshelves

I’ve come to really appreciate and love the read-along format…even more than a book club. *gasp* When I say book club, I mean the format where you read the whole book yourself then meet up at the end of the month (or whatever date is set) to discuss the entire book. These are great and I do enjoy a good book club. But what I really appreciate about the read-along format is the opportunity to discuss the book *as* you are reading it. Especially a book like Les Misérables that I’m doing a read-along for right now – there is so much in this book that I can’t even fathom trying to discuss it all in one sitting after having read the whole book. Every single time I’ve sat down to write about the section I’ve read for the week, it has turned out to be a long post. I even split the first section into three posts! And there was still more that could have been talked about!

But even before my current Les Misérables read-along was Silvia’s read-along for Don Quixote Book I. That was really my first time participating in a scheduled read-along. And it was so great! (I have done a book club in the blog format but the structure was different.) I loved the insights Silvia shared and I loved sharing thoughts and comments on the book as we read along. I really believe that Silvia’s read-along helped me appreciate the novel even more. So Silvia, thank you for such a wonderful experience with my first scheduled read-along. I am looking forward to your Don Quixote Book 2 read-along!

I think the read-along format is especially helpful for the really long classics. I think about when I read War and Peace by Tolstoy and can’t help but wonder if I would have liked it better if I had read it as a read-along with others. I’d love to see some of the other longer classics done as read-alongs – like maybe East of Eden by Steinbeck or Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Or even The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck (it isn’t quite as long as some of the other really long classics).

don quixote          The House of Mirth

So in looking forward at what I might want to read and what read-alongs I might want to join in, I know there are three read-alongs right now that I want to participate in.

  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton Read-Along hosted by Cleo. This starts in November so it is taking place during my reading of Les Misérables. But I am going to do my best to read along. I even bought the book this week! So I’m all set to get started. 🙂
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Read-Along hosted by Silvia and Ruth. My local library has this on audiobook but I will probably just buy a print copy when it gets closer to the time of the read-along.
  • Silvia’s read-along for Don Quixote Book II whenever she plans to do that.

I also have my continually growing classics TBR list I will continue to work on. There are a few titles that are at the top of my list though. These are ones that I really want to prioritize right now (once I finish Les Misérables and The House of Mirth):

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien – I finished The Two Towers recently and decided to put reading The Return of the King on hold to read Les Misérables. I am really looking forward to reading this last one in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – I have slowly worked on this book for what seems like for-ev-er. I want to get this finished. I actually only have probably about 1/4 of the book left…maybe less.

And…..if I come across other read-alongs of books on my TBR list or of books that sound interesting to read, I might join in. 🙂 Maybe someone will do a read-along for Anna Karenina by Tolstoy or Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert at some point. I would love to be able to read those with a read-along! I had Madame Bovary on my TBR list at one time and have put it back on there. Silvia mentioned it as one of her favorite books which got me interested in putting it back on my TBR list.

That’s it for now. Being that I definitely have the tendency of being a mood reader and also because you never know when someone may do a read-along you would be interested in joining in on, I don’t want to make a ton of plans. Ha! My reading plans are always flexible. 😉 And when 2020 rolls around, I know more book reading plans will be made.

Great Reads for October

The last time I did a post about great reads for October was in 2017. Today, I am sharing about some of the same books but also a new title as well.


A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities is one of two historical novels that Charles Dickens wrote. The novel is set in the time of the French Revolution. France was in turmoil and there was danger all around. With this as a backdrop, Dickens crafts a story immersed in themes such as injustice, vengeance, love, sacrifice and redemption. The story centers around Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucie, and Charles Darnay; and in classic Dickens style, there’s a host of other characters that are weaved in and out of the story. This classic gothic novel is full of drama, adventure, plots, and romance….   Read the rest of my review HERE.


Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

When you hear the name “Frankenstein”, visions of a tall, green, ugly monster tend to come to mind. Maybe you picture the classic monster portrayed in the 1930’s movie starring Boris Karloft. However, the book is not just about a monster; and the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. The main character of this book is a young man called Victor Frankenstein who decides to pursue science and ends up becoming obsessed with creating life. He finds that he’s able to piece together this being and bring it to life, something that he’s spent hours upon hours trying to figure out. When he brings the creation to life, he is abhorred at it and runs from it…leaving the creation left on its own. What transpires is a story filled with chilling events, tough themes, and questions that aren’t easily answered. Themes such as secrecy, abandonment, and hopelessness pervade this novel….   Read the rest of my review HERE.  (To add to my review, this is one I would like to read again.)


Dracula

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This was one of just a handful of books I read last year that took me by surprise. All I knew going into this book was that my hubby and another friend said they were surprised how much they liked it; and my husband even described it as frighteningly good. It’s probably one of my top favorite classics I read last year. If all you’ve ever known about Dracula is from the movies, you need to read this book!

From the back cover of the Dover Thrift Edition:

“During a business visit to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a young English solicitor finds himself at the center of a series of horrifying incidents. Jonathan Harker is attacked by three phantom women, observes the Count’s transformation from human to bat form, and discovers puncture wounds on his own neck that seem to have been made by teeth. Harker returns home upon his escape from Dracula’s grim fortress, but a friend’s strange malady — involving sleepwalking, inexplicable blood loss, and mysterious throat wounds — initiates a frantic vampire hunt. The popularity of Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror romance is as deathless as any vampire.  Its supernatural appeal has spawned a host of film and stage adaptations, and more than a century after its initial publication, it continues to hold readers spellbound.”


 

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights starts with the developing relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Love grows and they feel they are soul mates. But when events separate them, revenge takes root and the effects are widespread. This is a complex and volatile story of love, betrayal, and revenge. Brontë’s exquisite writing will keep you turning the pages. Read the rest of my review HERE.


What are some of your favorite books to read for October?


**If you are wanting to join me in reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, go ahead and start reading. Right now, I’m trying to read about 20 pages a day and am about 80 pages in. You can read THIS POST where I discuss translations. I will be back in a day or two with an introductory post! 🙂 **

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Title:  Wuthering Heights
Author:  Emily Brontë
Length:  353  pages
Genre:  Classic Literature; Classic Gothic Literature


About This Book

Wuthering Heights starts with the developing relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Love grows and they feel they are soul mates. But when events separate them, revenge takes root and the effects are widespread. This is a complex and volatile story of love, betrayal, and revenge. Brontë’s exquisite writing will keep you turning the pages.


My Thoughts

Wuthering Heights is the first novel I’ve read from the writings of the Brontë sisters. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this novel before reading it. It seems that this is one that people either love or they don’t like it at all. I fall on the liked-the-book side.

This is most definitely not a happy novel; the themes and content are heavy and hard. Despite the tough content though, the writing is compelling and I didn’t want to put it down. I felt Brontë did a great job at painting a portrait of her characters and then developing them. She also gave vivid descriptions of the surroundings (such as the moors) without being overly wordy. As an aside, it is said that Emily loved the moors and that this is evident in the novel.

Revenge and cruelty are predominant themes in Wuthering Heights. Brontë not only illustrates the affects of revenge and cruelty, but also the power of kindness and how it can be transformative. As I read this novel, the themes reminded me a lot of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

I plan to read Wuthering Heights again. I think that because it is such a complex novel, this is one that could stand up to multiple readings. It is definitely well-written and I can see why it eventually became known as an English literary classic.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

Title:  Great Expectations
Author:  Charles Dickens
Length:   464 pages
Genre:  Classic Literature


About This Book

Great Expectations is a coming-of-age story of the main character, Pip. We follow his life from youth to adulthood, as the adult Pip narrates the story of his life. There’s convicts, a bitter lady bent on revenge, love and love lost, and of course an intricate weaving of various threads in the novel.


My Thoughts

If you’ve read my comments about the other Dickens’ novels I’ve read, then you’ll know that there have been times with some of his novels that I’ve felt like I’ve had to slog through some wordiness. I was pleasantly surprised with Great Expectations. I think Dickens’ writing ability shines in this novel and it is by far my favorite. Of course there’s still the classic Dickens characteristics such as intricate weaving of various threads and great character development. But what seemed different to me in this novel from the other ones I’ve read (with the exception maybe of A Christmas Carol), is that the writing felt tighter. This is one of his later novels so maybe that’s why the writing felt more precise and not as wordy. I also felt that the reader is grabbed from the very beginning with a great opening chapter. The novel opens with an introduction to Pip and his situation (which is brief and not drawn out) and then the reader finds Pip in a churchyard amongst the tombstones and a convict threatens him in order to get food and a file (tool to help him get out of his chains). From there, an intricate plot unfolds with some unexpected twists and turns. Great Expectations is a well crafted story and one I would definitely recommend!

 

 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities

Title:  A Tale of Two Cities
Author:  Charles Dickens
Length:  293 pages
Genre:  Classic Literature; Classic Gothic Literature


About This Book

A Tale of Two Cities is one of two historical novels that Charles Dickens wrote. The novel is set in the time of the French Revolution. France was in turmoil and there was danger all around. With this as a backdrop, Dickens crafts a story immersed in themes such as injustice, vengeance, love, sacrifice and redemption. The story centers around Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucie, and Charles Darnay; and in classic Dickens style, there’s a host of other characters that are weaved in and out of the story. This classic gothic novel is full of drama, adventure, plots, and romance.


My Thoughts

As I read A Tale of Two Cities, I found myself asking the same question I asked when I read David Copperfield earlier this year: Do I like Dickens’ style of writing or not? Both novels are undoubtedly good. But I have inevitably found myself at different points of each novel getting bogged down in sections that I feel are a bit wordy. Dickens wrote this novel in serial form, which means it was published in small sections at a time. It was published in weekly installments; whereas David Copperfield was published in monthly installments. If Dickens was paid by the word, that would probably explain some of the wordiness.

Despite the wordiness, though, I’ve concluded that I do think I like Dickens’ style overall. One of the things I think Dickens does so well is craft a really good story. He can take a host of seemingly unconnected characters and weave them in and out of the novel until they finally all begin to connect in some way. In addition, as I mentioned in my post about David Copperfield, Dickens truly does a superb job of developing characters.

I am understanding that I have to come to Dickens’ novels knowing a couple of things from the start. One, there will probably be some points of wordiness that I’ll need to just wade through. Two, it’s probably going to take at least a good third of the novel to get my bearings with the story, which includes being able to know and place characters. Dickens tends to introduce a lot of characters in the beginning and it can sometimes be confusing to keep all those characters straight. But if I keep reading, eventually all those characters become recognized and the confusion begins to fade.


Quotes from the Book

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” (pg. 1)

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” (pg. 293)

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Trial
Title:  The Trial
Author:  Franz Kafka
Length:  304 pages
Genre:  Classic Literature


About This Book

“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.” (The Trial by Franz Kafka)

The very first line of this novel sets the stage for the story that unfolds. It is the story of a man named Josef K. who has been arrested but he does not know why. He then sets out to defend himself and prove his innocence.


My Thoughts

I don’t really know quite what to write about this book. It’s kind of odd. Probably a little bit of background could be helpful.

“During his uneventful lifetime Kafka published a few short stories and novellas, most notably Metamorphosis. At his death he left behind three nearly finished novels, including Amerika, with strict instructions to his friend Max Brod to burn them. After much deliberation, Brod instead edited and published them.” 

~ From Invitation to the Classics Edited by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness, pg. 311

The Trial was one of these unfinished novels; therefore, I think one has to read it with that in mind. Having said that, I didn’t like or not like the book. To me, it was just so-so.

I feel like the novel is hard describe. Typical books progress from the beginning to the end. However, The Trial does not really do this. You have the definite beginning; and the first few pages did grab my attention. Unfortunately, the story really doesn’t progress to any resolution. There are things that just don’t make sense. In addition, there really isn’t much, if any, character development. The reader is left wandering through the pages, only to find that the main character doesn’t really evolve in any way.

So in the end, if I were to rate this book, I think I could only give it 3 stars.