How The Classics Club revived my love for reading the classics
Reading is–or should be–a major component in the evolution of a writer. Reading the classics should be part of this larger reading. One of my favorite bloggers has been Jillian over at A Room of One’s Own. I ran across her fledgling blog a couple of years ago and was struck by her enthusiasm for books and for reading. I was also a bit shocked to read that although an English major, she had “rarely read books before 2010.” Intrigued, curious, and even a bit sad, I began to follow her journey as she waded into the classics. When I read about The Classics Club, memories of old friends found between book covers stirred and the desire to return to reading the classics emerged again. At the end of this page, you’ll find my challenge to you.
What is The Classics Club?
The Classics Club is a book reading challenge, one that is focused on reading the classics. Jillian wanted to “inspire people to read and blog about classic books.” I’m with her 100%. I all but cut my baby teeth on book bindings, so it’s only natural for me to be an advocate for all books but especially the classics. Call me a throwback but I do think it’s a good thing to have a foundation of the classics, especially if you are a writer.
The basic idea is to read a minimum of 50 books in 5 years. That’s an average of 10 a year. Yes, you can up the challenge to 75-100-200 or more. No, you don’t have to blog. Yes, you can include more recent non-classics. You read and then you write. Share your opinion, share your review. Many members use Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or other venues to share and participate.
Why read the classics?
For me reading is not a passive act. It’s an active conversation with an author. The writer’s words may cajole, inspire, motivate, or even provoke me. I can agree or not. As a writer, I find there’s an engagement with the words penned by other writers and what I learned over the years is that many books are written in response to those that have come before. Reading the classics, reading those books that have come before that titillated, inspired, or even angered writers to action–or acting out–in the pages of their own books only adds to the conversation. I often pick up the trail in one writer’s book only to be led through the pages of another and another. The richness and full display of an author’s intent is often missed when the reader is only privy to one layer or one side of the conversation.
Think of all the written conversations that have occurred since Shakespeare’s time. Stories and chatter trace back to the times of the Romans, the ancient Greeks and earlier. That deep layer is lost if the reader has never been exposed to those earlier tales. That’s why I take reading the classics so seriously for writers.
Why I joined The Classics Club book reading challenge
Walls of bookcases and stacks of books have been a major part of my environment for as long as I can remember. I grew up with the sturdy slip-covered bound books of the Heritage Press Book Club. I was enthralled with the stories from 1001 Arabian Nights, delighted by the tales by Rudyard Kipling, and curled up under the covers enjoying the mastery of Edgar Allan Poe. I probably read The Scarlet Letter long before I understood it’s meaning. Why go back?
Books have that rare ability to keep on giving and those considered classics have a track record for being able to bring new nuances and layers of meaning to the stories to match the age of the reader. Where once, as a child, I was content with the surface tale of horror, the depth and dimension of the horror may only be appreciated as I’ve grown older. So for those books that beckon again, a rereading will only enhance my engagement and may continue the conversation in new directions. But trust me, bookworm that I was and still am, there’s no way I’ll ever read all the classics but a map and a direction will at least provoke and chide me into action.
My 5-year Classics Club reading plan
Wait, I have more than 50 books listed. Why? Well, I have an unruly muse. I also know although there’s a good chance that I’ll easily meet the 50-book minimum, I’d rather keep my goal reasonable and easily managed. This is for fun, after all. It’s not a race. It’s not for any specific reason other than for my pleasure and edification. Even more important is that this is an evolving list. Books may come and go.
You’ll find my book choices are eclectic and range back and forth and splay out all over the book world. Some are ancient while others are fairly new. A number are rereads ( RR). I’m interested in seeing how they strike me now and what I might unearth in the reading process today. I began by going to the bookcases and pulling books off the shelves, then moved on to reviewing lists, notes, and articles on the classics. Over a period of days and weeks my list took its current shape. The basic list is comprised of old and new classics, predominantly old. There’s also a list of collections, both short story and essay, as well as a pull out list of classic books on writing.
- 5-year finish date: May 31, 2017
- Most looking forward to read: Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667) RR
- Currently reading: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) RR
- Last read: The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale (1863) RR
- Classics Club SPIN: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (1847) RR
FYI: Titles and cover images are Amazon affiliate links. I will receive a small commission should you decide to buy the book.
The Classics (New and old, mostly old)
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962) - Finished 04/21/2012, Read review here.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
- The Possessed by Fodor Dostoevsky (1954)
- Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1896)
- The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (1919)
- Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory (1485) RR
- The Song of Roland by Unknown (1040 – 1140)
- The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791 – Volumes 1-3)
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)
- Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by William Henry Hudson (1904)
- The Sea Wolf by Jack London (1904)
- Argonautica (Jason and the Golden Fleece) by Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century BC)
- The Iliad by Homer (8th century BC)
- Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (1880) RR
- Nibelungenlied by anonymous poet (1180 – 1210)
- Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667)
- Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1795)
- Travels with a Donkey in Cervannes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879) – Finished 01/10/13; review to come.
- The Last Days of Pompeii by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1834)
- The Way of the World by William Congeve (1700)
- The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
- Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri (14th century)
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859) RR
- The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine of Hippo (397 – 398)
- The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (1874)
- The Divine Comedy by William Blake (1308)
- A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (1880)
- Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)
- The Little Flowers of St. Frances of Assisi by anonymous (14th century)
- Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)
- One of Ours by Willa Cather (1923)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickins (1893)
- Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1908) RR - Reading now
- The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale (1863) RR - Finished 10/12/13. Review to come
- The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881) RR
- Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1897) RR
- The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) RR
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) RR
- The Story of Reynard the Fox by F.W. von Goethe (1845) RR
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift (1726) RR
- The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (1847) RR
- Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (1873) RR
- The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope Hawkins (1894) RR
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870) RR
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890) RR - Finished 01/17/13; review to come.
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins RR
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) RR
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) RR
- Faust by Johann Wlfgang von Goethe (1808)
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
- The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
- The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839)
- 1984 by George Orwell (1948)
- Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (1944)
- The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) RR
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (1942)
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (1990)
- Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (1947)
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) RR - Reading now – Started 10/08/13
- Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
- The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953) RR
- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950) RR
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889) RR
- Hamlet by Shakespeare (1600) RR
- Macbeth by Shakespeare (1605) RR
- King Lear by Shakespeare (1608)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1901-1902)
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
- Transformation in Christ by Diedrich von Hildebrand - Reading now 05/17/12
- The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway (1952)
- The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987)
- Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov (1955)
- Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (2010)
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851) – Finished 10/12/13. Review to come
- Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry James - Reading now
- Xingu 1916 by Edith Wharton (1916) - Finished 01/05/13. Review to come.
Collections (Short Stories and Essays)
- The Best Short Stories of O. Henry by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) (1896 – 1909)
- The Christmas Novels by Charles Dickens (1843 – 1848)
- The Best Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant (1881 – 1891)
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century) RR
- Metamorphoses by Ovid 8th century RR
- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1860) RR
- The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1909 – 2004)
- Runaway (short story collection) by Alice Munro
- Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)
- Selected Stories by Andre Dubus (1988)
- Basho: The Complete Haiku Matsuo Basho (1662 – 1694)
- Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works by Flannery O’Connor (1946 – 1964)
- A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Conner (1955)
- Willa Cather On Writing by Willa Cather (1949)
- Aristotle: Poetics by Aristotle (RR) (335 BC) RR
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (1990) RR
- Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor (1970)
My Read the Classics challenge to YOU
Check out A Room of One’s Own for more on The Classics Club book reading challenge.
Are you a blogger or do you write reviews about what you read on Amazon, Good Reads, Library Thing or anywhere else? Join The Classics Club.
Don’t want to blog but are ready to read? By all means create your own list of 25, 50, or even 100 books to read and start now. Be sure and let me know what you’re doing, too. Comments are welcome below.
Image Credits: Book covers sourced from Amazon.com; Reading the Classics cover composite created by Vikk Simmons 2012 using Amazon cover images; The Classic Club image via A Room of One’s Own blog; Shelves of books photographs copyright Vikk Simmons 2012.