Friday, September 30, 2016

Classics Spin #14 -- and is it too late to change my Classics Club list?

Now that I'm back to blogging again, I definitely wanted to sign up for the latest Classics Club Spin! Basically, next Monday, someone from the Classics Club will post a random number between one and twenty; the corresponding book from the numbered list below is my next read.  (It's all explained in great detail here.) I'm down to the final seven books on my list -- my target finish date is March 24, 2017, just under six months away, so the next Spin pick should help me finish on time. 

These were the final seven books from my list:

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason
  • A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
  • Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.
However, as I'm getting close to the end, there are several books I've been dreading, mostly because of their length. I have tried a couple of times to read  Lark Rise to Candleford and it seems excruciatingly slow, but I watched a couple of episodes of the TV adaptation and liked it, so I haven't given up yet.

The other books I'm really dreading are the two French novels -- I've tried a couple of times to read Hunchback, but I just couldn't get into it. I even downloaded an audio version this summer and tried to listen to it as I was out walking the dog, and it was just glacial. I'm going to give it one more shot in print, and if I still can't get through fifty pages, I'm going to drop it from the list and add something else. This is my list, and even though I'm close to the end, I'm just not going to torture myself reading something I hate, just for the sake of reading it. I might try Les Miserables instead, or a different French writer -- I really liked Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant, so I might try Pierre and Jean. Or I could substitute something by Emile Zola, I still have several of his books instead. 

Back view of Notre Dame cathedral from my visit to Paris in July.
I didn't go inside this time but did get some nice photos , especially of the garden in the back.
I've also decided to switch The Man in the Iron Mask for The Black Tulip -- when I made up the list almost five years ago, I didn't realize The Man in the Iron Mask is the fifth books of the D'Artagnan series. I'm kind of a stickler about reading series books in order, and though I've read The Three Musketeers but I don't think there's any way I could get through the other three books in time with all my other reading. Besides, I'm kind of interested in the history of Holland and the tulip mania of the 17th century (there's a movie coming out next year called Tulip Fever and I'm really looking forward to it. 

So, here's my spin list which I'm just choosing at random, including repeats so I have an even 20:
  1. A Dance to the Music of Time
  2. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  3. The Portrait of a Lady
  4. The Four Feathers
  5. The Black Tulip
  6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  7. Lark Rise to Candleford
  8. The Four Feathers
  9. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  10. The Black Tulip
  11. Lark Rise to Candleford
  12. A Dance to the Music of Time
  13. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  14. The Portrait of a Lady
  15. The Four Feathers
  16. The Black Tulip
  17. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  18. A Dance to the Music of Time
  19. The Portrait of a Lady
  20. Lark Rise to Candleford
I think my top picks would be The Black Tulip, Edwin Drood, or A Dance to the Music of Time. The books I'm dreading most are Hunchback and Lark Rise, and I'm nervous about Portrait of a Lady. I'm fairly neutral about The Four Feathers because I don't know much about it, but if nothing else, it's pretty short.

Anyone read any of these books? Which ones should I be hoping for? And has anyone else abandoned books on their Classics Club list? Which books are you hoping to read? I'd love to hear your comments!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

I'm finally down to the single digits in my Classics Club list, but I realized that I have less than six months to go before my deadline! The other day I was at the library and just for fun, I looked to see if they had any of the books on the list on the shelves. Lo and behold there was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I'd tried to read it about a year ago but just couldn't get into it, mostly because I was listening on audiobook and couldn't stand the narrator, who sounded like she was reading to small children. Anyway, I gave it another shot and it was so worth it, because this book is brilliant.

Main Street is a satire of small-town life in the Midwest about 100 years ago. Carol, a bright young librarian living in St. Paul, meets a doctor at a party. He's about 12 years older and from a small town called Gopher Prairie. After a bit of a whirlwind courtship, they marry and return to Gopher Prairie, population 6,000. Carol has many good intentions and is convinced she can make the town into a place of beauty and culture, but she is foiled at every turn, by nosy neighbors, gossips, and people who think life is just fine as it is. Over a period of years, she tries to improve by volunteering on the library board, joining literary societies, and even directing an amateur theatrical. 

She is also the subject of much gossip, about her clothing, her interior decorating, and her choice of friends, whether they be working-class servants, socialists, or well-dressed arty types. World War I erupts, and there are some painful reminders of racism and political backlash that are incredibly timely. There's also a character who is mocked for being effeminate which made me really uncomfortable and a terrible incident about a woman who is basically run out of town after a boorish young man ruins her reputation with gossip. It made me furious but incidents like this still happen today. 

I thought Sinclair Lewis drew a brilliant portrait of small towns -- his characters are really well developed and the descriptions of scenery are wonderful. It reminded me a little of the winters in Little House in the Prairie. There's also lots of snappy dialogue and great quotes. I don't usually include this many quotes in a review but these three were so great I had to include them. This one is my favorite and I forced it upon my family with great delight: 

Carol drove through an astonishing number of books from the public library and from city shops. Kennicott was at first uncomfortable over her disconcerting habit of buying them. A book was a book, and if you had several thousand of them right here in the library, free, why the dickens should you spend your good money? After worrying about it for two or three years, he decided that this was one of the Funny Ideas which she had caught as a librarian and from which she would never entirely recover.

I imagine many book bloggers can relate to this as well!

Here is another of my favorite quotes that made me laugh out loud. Carol is at Sunday dinner with some annoying relatives: 

Carol reflected that the carving-knife would make an excellent dagger with which to kill Uncle Whittier. It would slide in easily. The headlines would be terrible.

Lewis had his snarky moments, but he's also incredibly insightful:

There are two insults which no human being will endure: the assertion that he hasn't a sense of humor, and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble.

I raced through this book in less than a week and highly recommend it if you're looking for a well-written, insightful American classic. I'm sure it will be one of my top reads of the year, and now I have only seven books left on my Classics Club list!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back From a Blogging Break and Literary London

View of the Rhine valley and Bacharach from Stahleck Castle.

It's been several months since my last post.  We did move to Germany, near Kaiserslautern, which is in the Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwest part of the country. The transition has been more complicated than I expected, especially since we didn't have internet in our new house for two months. The one upside was that I had lots of time for reading; hopefully now I'll get caught up with my book blogging.

Before I start posting reviews again, I thought I'd share a few photos. I haven't done too much traveling around Germany yet, but we did make a quick trip to beautiful Bacharach, along the Rhine.

I also had two amazing trips with my girls, one to Paris (just over 2 hours by express train from Kaiserslautern!) and London. I thought I'd include some photos of literary landmarks. 

One of our first stops was the V&A and we thought we'd stop by Harrod's. Walking along Cromwell road I realized I was passing Brompton Square, where Lucia lives in E. F. Benson's Lucia in London, which I'd finished just a few weeks before. I googled the address and lo and behold, there it was with a blue historical marker:

Closer inspection revealed this was Benson's own house!

We also saw THREE West End plays while we were in London, two of them classics:

I loved all the plays, each was completely different. I had to include The Mousetrap which I saw as a child while visiting Toronto. I was delighted to find this marker honoring Agatha Christie in the theater district:

The Mousetrap played for years at the Toronto Truck Theater, a converted church. It's no longer running in Toronto but it's still going strong in London. This counter in the lobby shows exactly how many performances:

Of course I knew the ending but it was still a great show and my girls loved it. 

Naturally, we visited multiple bookshops. We went to Waterston's at Trafalgar Square and in Piccadilly Circus; Daunt Books in Marylebone, and Foyle's near Charing Cross. I can't remember exactly how many books I bought but I wanted ALL OF THESE classic mysteries:

And I couldn't have missed a pilgrimage to Bloomsbury where I finally got to visit the Persephone Book shop. It's covered in scaffolding but still open. 

I arrived on a Saturday morning and my heart dropped when I saw the shop was closed! However, we double-checked the hours and it didn't open until noon that day, so I wasn't disappointed. I bought three more books, some bookmarks and a lovely Persephone tote bag. 

And no literary trip to London would be complete with out a trip to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross!!

People line up to have their photos taken and sometimes it's quite a long wait. We went the first day of our trip and the lines were long, so we tried again the last morning of our trip and were pleasantly surprised by how quickly it moved. The employees were delightfully enthusiastic and of course there's a Harry Potter shop full of all sorts of souvenirs. (Also a great restaurant close by with a delicious Full English Breakfast.) I adored London and there's so much I didn't see, so I hope to go back soon. 

I hope to post more photos soon and actual reviews of books I've been reading this summer!