One girl's journey to read the top 100 literature classics of all time in the space of 365 days, a quest for only the most foolhardy and brave

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Home james….

Oh henry james, I just want to go home.. The Wings of The Dove is tortuous.. I’m still going but came across some really well put literature quotes I thought I’d share.

“Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.”
Jane Yolen, Touch Magic
“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”
Charles Dickens
“The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who can not read them.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer.
“Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
– Barbara W. Tuchman
oh and how I can relate to this one. Hemingway I’ll always be your groupie.
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”
Ernest Hemingway (1898-1961) American Writer.

a literary lol

A friend of mine, knowing my literature quest sent me some of these and I thought I’d share. Gave me a giggle amid all the seriousness that comes with the being nose deep in the classics.

Who’s afraid of virginia woolfe?

To be honest, I am.

I’m trying to appreciate, understand and read To The Lighthouse and instead I find myself getting so annoyed by her. I find myself intimidated by her style. Her prose. Her tendency to jump from one topic to another.

I’m dazed and confused.

I’m not quite ready to concede defeat but fear it may be around the corner. So in a bid to improve my enthusiasm I’ve added some of her quotes that I have always liked. I so would like to come across them soon buried in her prose to inspire me to keep on reading..

The first below is one of my absolute favourites – namely because it is so very true. So much of me and what I’ve seen, felt and known are in my work:

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman. “
Sigh…Such great lines from such a great woman, now if only I can learn to love her book..


the view from within..

It’s been far too long between posts and I hang my head in shame. However, excuses aside,I have still been working my way through the classics.

The latest to come my way is E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, the tale of  Lucy Honeychurch, a young english woman’s travels through Italy. It marks her  passage from an awkward girl, to a woman with a mind of her own.

 But even in her most expressive thoughts and words as she meets two men who represent two very different things to her, there is an overwhelming feeling of repression throughout the book. Restraint of heart, restraint of sentiment and above all repressed sexuality. There is so little done between Lucy and these men that it almost drives you mad. It is about all that is unsaid and left hanging in the air.

Her Italian trip is was meant to be about her coming of age, but instead she is whisked to and fro by her chaperone and barely able to consider her own mind, leading her to an engagement with an insufferable man.

It took me a long time to finish this book, mainly because it makes you feel so very sad. Sad that this girl’s escape and growth, must only be achieved through engagement and marriage. Not through her own personal journey.

It is Edwardian england after all, but a modern girl can still hope that even a character in that time would have the gumption to stay true to her own happiness instead of what she envisions is expected of her.

The book finally blossoms when she returns home and is sent a curve ball by fate. It rewards the reader with why such a book is on the top 100 list. Lucy’s decisions, dreams and thoughts are all turned on its head as she considers her future with a man she once thought would be ideal.

Her alternative paramour, George Emerson puts it perfectly when he declares this about her fiance:

“He’s the sort who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman. He doesn’t know what a woman is. He wants you for a possession, something to look at, like a painting or an ivory box. Something to own and to display. He doesn’t want you to be real, and to think and to live. He doesn’t love you. But I love you. I want you to have your own thoughts and ideas and feelings, even when I hold you in my arms. “

George’s declaration in A Room With a View is enough to make any girl blush and weak at the knees in fact, he makes Darcy from Pride and Prejudice look like a bit of a buffoon.

I swooned and was swept up by the novel as it galloped to its climax which even to the very last pages leaves you unsure as to  how this girl will ever get her happiness or her man for that fact.

I was glad I preserved with it, as some of the prose was among the most romantic and poetic I have read in a long time. The yearning and repression such added fuel to the fire and is enough to catch any reader’s imagination.

With a title like ‘A Room With a View’ most can be forgiven for thinking it’s all about the outside and how it counts. But really it’s about the view from within.

As George says so eloquently:

 “I don’t care what I see outside. My vision is within! Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!”

There’s a classic app for that..

I’m one of the few people who is yet to enter the world of the kindle or e-reader or online book world.

I prefer pages. Books with covers and the more stained and creased the pages are, the better. It shows character. A well read book is a well-loved one.

So it’s with mixed emotions that I heard that a new app has re-worked Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein.

Anything which keeps the classics alive and well in the minds of others is always a good thing, but it does make you wonder about the future of literature. And the printed book in particular.

The new Frankenstein book changes the setting, adds additional anatomical images and has been developed to try to get classic lit more into the main stream.

But it makes you wonder, hasn’t classic literature books always been in the mainstream? It’s the foundation from which books such as Harry Potter, The Help and The Hunger Games all came from. Are we really at risk of forgetting them  altogether if they don’t go online?

It seems so.


I’m sure many literature purists back in the day revolted against the first film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and other classics. Introducing a classic into a new medium is always fraught much emotion.

Somehow though, this time it feels different. It feels like some mediums are consuming others. The digital age appears each day to be swallowing up the much-loved printed word era, crumb by crumb. The thought of one day never having a personal library is enough to make a book nerd like myself break out into a cold sweat.

So while I’m all for the classics and making them groovy again, I think I’ll skip on that App all the same. After all, nothing feels as good as cradling a coffee and thumbing your way through the pages of a good book and I plan on holding on to this feeling for as long as possible



Dear Henry

I thought reading Lolita was tortuous. There are worse things. To read ‘portrait of a lady’ by Henry James..

Most of my friends would probably laugh at this, I’m the last one to lay claim to being a lady so a book dedicated to being one was always going to be a stretch.

The thing was the blurb started out so promising. I would love to have a stern word with the blurb writers at penguin.

Which described it as ‘ a tale of an independent woman whose main ambition in life is to preserve her independence and embarks on travels to broaden her mind and views. She fails to be ensnared by the trappings of marriage until she meets an American in Italy who catches her attention.’

And it stops there. What it should really say is:
” naively innocent young woman travels to England and finds herself made wealthy by a family member. Spends far too long introvertly analysing her behaviour, morals and the people around her. She is obsessed with doing the right thing, even to the sacrifice of her own happiness. She turns down proposals from two good men who love, admire and appreciate her independence and don’t care a bit about her wealth. She instead finds herself married to a man who traps her like a bird in a cage. Like an artifact he has collected, and if that’s not bad enough, he appears to have married her for her money and convenience while being involved with one of the very friends who introduced them.”

Basically a case of a nice girl going for the wrong guy, the bad guy instead of the ‘nice guy.’

It sounds gripping, a bit like melrose place in morning suits type of book but actually it’s just plain depressing. She lives her life-like a character in a book, not fully embracing it and the fact she just throws her independence away so early in the book just baffles the mind.

And when old suitors come back to woo her and also woo her step daughter, it’s even more disorienting.

Henry has the ability to over analyse and completely deconstruct a scene, until it’s no longer enjoyable. He directly addresses the reader throughout which makes it plain uncomfortable and I suffered throughout trying to finish it.

Thank god it wasn’t the done thing to describe sex scenes back in day. I can only imagine how he would labour over of every lump, bump and hair. It would be enough to put anyone of their breakfast or the act for a long time.

Or at least until dinner time anyways. So it’s with this in mind I’d like to send a note to mr James.

Dear Henry

We are over. I don’t want to read another word from you again. I now know that anyone who praises your work must be a prat, a twat or at the very least boring from the inside out.

Just because you are on the top 100 classic list does not mean you are a good read.

Yours unfaithfully

G is for Gatsby

Most people have read Fitzgerald. By that I mean F. Scott Fitzgerald, and in saying that, most know of or have read ‘The Great Gatsby’.

I had not. I had gleaned of what it was roughly about in highschool once, but it never was a book we studied or read.

Or most importantly one I sought out. It was however the first one I was drawn to when consulting my 100 list courtesy of The Modern Library.

I skipped the introduction and forward and jumped right in. With news that Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star as the mysterious Jay Gatsby himself and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in a film adaptation of the book later this year I couldn’t help but picture their faces when following the story.

It’s an understatement to say I adored it. While focusing on troublesome times of an altogether different era, it holds its own even today.

Perhaps I’m in the throes of classic madness but I do see elements of Gatsby and Nick Carraway in everyone.

I’ve met many a Gatsby who has constructed a life around them that they think they want, that shows them in the best light, that allows them to forget and scrub away the stains of times past and begin a new.

Those who find themselves trapped in their own lies, lonely even in their own company and who seek untenable dreams that sometimes are best left as pleasant day dreams.

This is the plague of Gatsby and I doubt there is a single person who reads it who doesn’t identify with him to some extent or recognise their partners or friends or colleagues in him.

He’s surrounded by many but always alone and never, ever openly lets himself out.

What could possibly be worse? Well to be Nick Carraway of course. The perennial observer, an outsider always analysing and judging the lives of others including his own. A person who never really plays his part or lives his own life. He more or less watches his life being lived beside or in front of him. Always one step ahead or to the side and looking back, instead of revelling in the moment.

Oh I know a lot of Nick Carraways and when procrastination gets the better of me, I do can indulge in a few Carraway traits. Self loathing and analysis, distance from others and questioning what would be the ‘right thing to do’. Perhaps the one thing I took out of the book was, that it’s not so much about the right thing to do, but the doing of something that matters.

What perhaps fascinated me the most was I intended to read through this list from the perspective of a writer and prospective author, studying the prose and gaining insight into my style and how I portray the characters in my novel which is still stuck at infancy.

Instead I became completely absorbed in the characters, in the setting, in the polar opposites and at the same time, striking similarities between Nick and Gatsby and the emotional manipulations of Tom and Daisy Buchanan.

The only redeemable feature of both Daisy and Tom is their love of each other and ability to save their own skins. Perhaps this is an unfair judgement but they both come off in the end as remarkably cold-hearted.

The real key to this book is the characters. I completely became entrapped in trying to understand Gatsby and seek some insight and depth to Carraway.

If that’s one lesson I take away from the interminably talented Fitzgerald, it’s that if you make the reader fall in love with the character, they fall in love with the book.

Consider me suitably infatuated.


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