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

Archive for the tag “challenge”

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.

Once a cad, always a cad

So ‘To the Lighthouse’ will sit on the bedside table for a while. I feel I need to lock myself up in a quiet room to read it. Virginia’s prose requires complete and utter concentration. I just don’t have that right now. It’s timing. I promise to come back to it.

So with Virginia on hold indefinitely I decided to give Henry James another attempt to woo me. He did so did so badly with Portrait of  a Lady, I thought I’d give him a chance for redemption. I’m a sucker like that.

I’ ve tried to read Cold Mountain by Charles Fraizer 15 times. Every time I would get stuck just a third  of the way in. I simply lose the will to the turn the page. I’m a bit like that with men. Every cad has his chance with me and sadly Henry is turning into one of them with his offering Wings of the Dove.

Look at those eyes, they feel as though they could look right inside your soul. Almost creepy. Shame his writing isn’t doing that. In fact I’m finding I’m Just Not Into Him.

Sorry Henry. I tried. I’ll keep reading because it’s only fair but rest assured this time it’s definitely you, not me.



catch the drift

It’s been a few days since I put down Catcher In the Rye and I’m still thinking about it.

It’s an addictive read told in the voice of a sometimes angry and nearly always  lost and lazy teenager Holden Caulfield. He is full of purpose yet hopeless at the same time. At every sentence you feel you are on the edge of finding out what he has been driven to do and then it evades you once again.

The every day hum drum detail is told differently through his judgemental and critical eyes. After reading clockwork orange it feels as though I am almost regressing back to what it felt like to be teenager, dying for freedom but having no idea what to do with it.

 I finished it hoping there would be some kind of a sequel, books that end without a conclusion drive me crazy. I always wonder about what happens after and which path the character heads down next.

I’d literally just finished the last page and was looking for some space when I went and got out a film from the DVD store. A movie version of a book I had read a while ago by Lionel Shriver. The film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, featured Tilda Swinton and was about a mother and her paranoid fear that her son was capable of something terrible. And he does. He goes on to commit an inconceivable atrocity.  The film weaves chaotically between past and present, delving into the pain and suffering the mother goes through as before and after,  making it a gripping and heart breaking movie.

I had just put down The Catcher in the Rye only to once again be thrown back in the sea of teen angst and to see just what some teenagers who are lost and destructive are capable of. No wonder Clockwork Orange and Catcher in the Rye are on the top 100 list. They deal with themes that even as adults we still struggle with.

How to find your niche in the world and the cost which comes at losing and gaining parts of yourself along the way. Sometimes it leads to madness, sometimes to success, but all of it can be dictated by one turn or fork in the road.



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



Recipe for a classic with a twist…

Take one mixing bowl and add:

– A scrawny, guileless and gutless American soldier/optometrist, an alien abduction and World War II

– Add a sprinkle of time travel and stir until well combined

– Fold in a loveless marriage, a fatalistic attitude and a life-long nemesis and knead until a soft consistency

– Cook in an oven on medium heat for 2 hours and then leave to cool

– Season to taste and sample the final result in one sitting – Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five

I suppose I should have known when I first bought it that it was going to be an unusual read. I only had to mention the title before the shop assistant became incredibly animated. He literally jumped on the spot and rattled off a raft of sci-fi authors and other works by Vonnegut. In between his breathless enthusiasm he got out that Slaughterhouse was one of his favourites and what did I think of it? Was I re-reading it?

When I told him that I’d never read any of his work before and that I was just re-educating myself on the classics he dropped me like a hot plate. I read his face instantly. ‘She’s not one of my people.’

I practically had to force him to take my money for the book. I knew then, that this book wasn’t going to be any old classic book to tick off the list.

It was better.

Think The Time Traveller’s Wife set in WW2 with an alien abduction thrown in along the way. It’s beyond strange but completely enjoyable. The Time Traveller’s Wife simply pales in comparison.

Told from the view of a timid, often gutless and cowardly man, the book keeps coming back to the idea that life does not end with death, instead its about the living of moments. So as the plot develops it jumps back and forth, as Billy, the main character keeps reliving his time and time again.

It’s a fascinating read and I have deliberately not picked up another book since I finished it last Friday. I just wanted to savour the taste it left in my mouth. The thoughts and questions it probed at the reader really made me think about the past, present and future and all that intertwines.

How Vonnegut came up with the idea and flow of the book baffles me entirely. I’m struggling just with one linear story and plot. A jumble of experiences which flit back and forth in time would be overwhelming to try to capture and put into words.

It was one of the few books I’ve read that is written and told exactly the way life actually is. A jumble of experiences, moments and thoughts. All happening at once, with memories of the past interfering with the present and future.

It makes you think about everything that has led to the makings of who you are, small as well as dramatic moments and experiences. It made me think about what has turned me into the aspiring writer I am today and that the only thing stopping me from becoming not only an author but a successful one, is me.


The damned and the vain…

I have to admire F.Scott Fitzgerald for a couple of things:

1) For being able to write a book where every character is despicable

2) for shining the spotlight on the very class from which he is from, showing them as nothing more than frivolous and soulless

3) For pointing out that when youth is fading, money is little consolation

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have picked ‘the beautiful and the damned’ off the shelf. Sure the heading is interesting but one quick skim of the blurb is enough to put me off.

It goes: a pretty rich girl partners up with a rich man. By rich, meaning he’s never had to work a day in his life and doesn’t intend to. He plans to be a man of leisure. Partying and decadence are their daily routine until the money starts to dry up and their marriage crumbles along with their youth.

It’s interesting watching their lives implode but what is disturbing is in all this turmoil not a single redeemable feature comes to the fore.

They drown in self-pity, vanity, shallowness and weakness.

They weren’t built to survive hard times only the good times.

While it’s set in the 20’s I can’t help but think how it’s still relevant today. How many young people who get married, often do so with the intention of enjoying the good times but when the tough or bad times arrive they cut and run.

They might not be rich, but somehow they still have the weakness in character and the vanity to go along with it.

There is one point in the book where the vain, silly stupid wife, Gloria, drives herself mad with her obsession with her looks –

“there was nothing she had said she wanted except to be young and beautiful for a long time and to have money”. Pg 244

” oh my pretty face, I don’t want to live without my pretty face! Oh what’s happened?”. Pg 354

Her obsession with beauty is enough to make you feel ill, but times haven’t changed much have they?

Perhaps the biggest coupe de grace is that both Gloria and Anthony nearly drive themselves mad in the battle for his $10million inheritance, but it’s only when he actually wins that Anthony goes clinically insane.

An ironic touch by Fitzgerald. If there is one thing he is good at, it is in peeling back the layers or lack of in characters and showing what they are really made of.

In this case they are made of nothing more than flour and egg, dashed away when the rains arrive.

When u read a book like this it makes u look at your own life to take your own measure. And I’m pleased to say the only egg and flour you’ll find on me is if I’ve been baking


Next one – slaughterhouse five by Kurt Vonnegut

what I meant to say was…

So it seems to me that when it comes to insulting people and describing people unfavourably, no one does it better than a classic lit book.

Cleverly veiled barbs and hooks are weaved in the prose, designed to sting and take the wind out of any character’s sails.

So I thought it might be interesting to translate these insults into modern language just for the fun of it… after all it an insult in any era is enjoyable :p

She was a woman of high fashion –
What they meant to say : she’s a vain, materialistic cow

She had a great deal of manners which classed her as the most affected of women-
What they meant to say: She’s a boring snob

He was what she would describe as provincial
What they meant to say: He isn’t worth a second glance and is beneath me

She was a woman with a high, free spirit and was very engaging. She was often indelicate in her behaviour with men-
What they meant to say: She’s a dirty tramp/slut/whore

He had a pleasant countenance and unaffected manner-
What they meant to say: He’s alright

She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me-
What they meant to say: She’s a feral and no one in their right mind would be interested

She had very cordial feelings toward him-
What they meant to say: She was fantasizing about marriage and the names of their babies

His sisters had the air of decided fashion –
What they meant to say: They were snobs who thought they looked better than they actually did

She was a woman of mean understanding, little information and an uncertain temper-
What they meant to say: She was not the sharpest tool in the shed

She had charming, happy manners –
What they meant to say: She didn’t throw herself at men like the rest of her trampy friends

She was headstrong and spirited –
What they meant to say: She never did what she was told and enjoyed a good roll in the hay

He had a most ungentlemanly disposition –
What they meant to say: He was a chauvinist pig

She boasted neither cleverness nor beauty –
What they meant to say: She is a butt ugly idiot

She was fond of society –
What they meant to say: She liked to hob nob and lived to kiss ass

He was fond of his own society –
What they meant to say: He was a loner and  was most likely into midget porn with the potential to be a serial killer

She had a wilful nature –
What they meant to say: She never did what daddy told her to do

and the best til last…

He was too proud for even his own company –
What they meant to say: He had his head up his ass so far he couldn’t see straight


Classics 101

It’s quite hard to resist temptation at the moment.

Everyone struggles with it. The chocolate bar at the till that literally leaps into your hand bag without a second thought or it’s the new pair of red shoes you bought because they were on sale but you didn’t really need. Or it could be the coworker who is making u think about swapping monogamy for infidelity.

And right now I’m trying very hard to be good. But I really want some candy. Book candy that is.

You know when you read a really challenging, emotionally draining book and you just want to reach for the latest chic lit book for a bit of light relief? Right now I’m craving book fairy floss.

Anything fluffy will do. I just went and saw ‘my week with Marilyn’ and now all I want to do read re-read her autobiography all over again. But I’m trying to stay faithful to the classics.

Only them and nothing but the classics until I finish the top 100. It’s perhaps the closest I’ll get to being in a committed relationship with Mr Darcy.

I went to a book store on the weekend and practicality hovered near all the new chic lit books. Fingering the new Jane Green and Marian Keyes book and even considering a re-read of Sophie kinsella’s.  Any book candy hit would do.

I was like an addict cruising the book alleyways. Feverish and irrational. Avoiding eye contact with the literature section at all costs.

I stood strong. Yes Jane Green would be much more fun to dive into than Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘the beautiful and the damned,’ at the moment but I’m committed. I’m a one book kind of girl.

So for the sake of my sanity I’ve made a compromise. I can’t read candy but I can still look at it right? So now when u notice a slightly crazed looking woman in your shopping aisle quickly scanning the latest Who or Woman’s Weekly don’t judge. She might be in the middle of a book candy drought and after her latest fix.

It happens to the best of us

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