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The Classics Club | Reading the Classics

The Classics Club book reading challenge

A Room of One’s Own

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.

My Classic Book Reading Plan

Reading the Classics Book List

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

Classics TBR

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 can read my spiritual reading plan list here.)

Enter the world of classic books

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.

Finished: 6/50+

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)

  1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962) - Finished 04/21/2012, Read review here.
  2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
  3. The Possessed by Fodor Dostoevsky (1954)
  4. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1896)
  5. The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (1919)
  6. Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory (1485) RR
  7. The Song of Roland  by Unknown (1040 – 1140)
  8. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791 – Volumes 1-3)
  9. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)
  10. Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by William Henry Hudson (1904)
  11. The Sea Wolf by Jack London (1904)
  12. Argonautica (Jason and the Golden Fleece) by Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century BC)
  13. The Iliad by Homer (8th century BC)
  14. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (1880) RR
  15. Nibelungenlied by anonymous poet (1180 – 1210)
  16. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667)
  17. Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1795)
  18. Travels with a Donkey in Cervannes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879) – Finished 01/10/13; review to come. 
  19. The Last Days of Pompeii by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1834)
  20. The Way of the World by William Congeve (1700)
  21. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
  22. Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri (14th century)
  23. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859) RR
  24. The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine of Hippo (397 – 398)
  25. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (1874)
  26. The Divine Comedy by William Blake (1308)
  27. A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (1880)
  28. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)
  29. The Little Flowers of St. Frances of Assisi  by anonymous (14th century)
  30. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)
  31. One of Ours by Willa Cather (1923)
  32. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickins (1893)
  33. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1908) RR - Reading now
  34. The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale (1863) RR - Finished 10/12/13. Review to come
  35. The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881) RR
  36. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1897) RR
  37. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) RR
  38. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) RR
  39. The Story of Reynard the Fox by F.W. von Goethe (1845) RR
  40. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift (1726) RR
  41. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (1847) RR
  42. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (1873) RR
  43. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope Hawkins (1894) RR
  44. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870) RR
  45. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890) RR   -  Finished 01/17/13; review to come.
  46. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins RR
  47. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) RR
  48. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) RR
  49. Faust by Johann Wlfgang von Goethe (1808)
  50. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  51. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
  52. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
  53. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
  54. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839)
  55. 1984 by George Orwell (1948)
  56. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (1944)
  57. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
  58. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) RR
  59. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (1942)
  60. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (1990)
  61. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (1947)
  62. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) RR - Reading now – Started 10/08/13  75% read
  63. Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
  64. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  65. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953) RR
  66. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950) RR
  67. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
  68. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889) RR
  69. Hamlet by Shakespeare (1600) RR
  70. Macbeth by Shakespeare (1605) RR
  71. King Lear by Shakespeare (1608)
  72. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1901-1902)
  73. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
  74. Transformation in Christ by Diedrich von Hildebrand -  Reading now 05/17/12
  75. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
  76. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway (1952)
  77. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987)
  78. Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov (1955)
  79. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (2010)
  80. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851) – Finished 10/12/13. Review to come
  81. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry James - Reading now  85% read
  82. Xingu 1916 by Edith Wharton (1916) - Finished 01/05/13. Review to come. 
  83. City of God by Saint Augustine (426) – Reading now (01/05/14 – 01/31/14) on track!
  84. Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (1898) – Reading now

Collections (Short Stories and Essays)

  1. The Best Short Stories of O. Henry by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) (1896 – 1909)
  2. The Christmas Novels by Charles Dickens (1843 – 1848)
  3. The Best Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant (1881 – 1891)
  4. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century) RR
  5. Metamorphoses by Ovid 8th century RR
  6. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1860) RR
  7. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1909 – 2004)
  8. Runaway (short story collection) by Alice Munro
  9. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)
  10. Selected Stories by  Andre Dubus (1988)
  11. Basho: The Complete Haiku Matsuo Basho (1662 – 1694)
  12. Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works by Flannery O’Connor (1946 – 1964)
  13. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Conner (1955)

On Writing

  1. Willa Cather On Writing by Willa Cather (1949)
  2. Aristotle: Poetics by Aristotle (RR) (335 BC) RR
  3. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (1990) RR
  4. 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.

  • http://jillianreadsbooks2.wordpress.com/ Jillian

    Hi Vikk!! Thank you for that generous introduction. :-) I love that you’re going to be revisiting some works to see what you think now, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you included some essay and story/poetry anthologies. I can’t wait to see what you think of Dickens’s Christmas novels. I just read those for the first time last year. Very best wishes to you in this, and WELCOME! :-)

  • Hope Owsley

    I’ve read only about a dozen of the titles listed here, but REALLY enjoyed Cyrano de Bergerac, Count of MC and Fahrenheit 451.  Hope you like them too!

  • http://melainebooks.over-blog.com/ melainebooks

    Hi Vikk ! Your choice is wonderful :) I’ll follow you and your readings. Now that I’ve read your list, more books come into my mind to read. It’ll be extra readings.

  • Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Jillian. I’m a huge fan of collections for many readers. As a writer I find anthologies to be a great way to get a feel for a writer’s work and style without having to delve deeply into a big book, but especially because the anthologies introduce me to so many more writers.

    I’m looking forward to the Dickens Christmas collection. It is the 200th anniversary of the great literary giant and it’s only fitting that I re-read The Christmas Carol and acquaint myself with the two other stories. Thanks for the hearty welcome. This is going to be a lot of fun, I’m sure. I’m looking forward to reading the new works but am eagerly anticipating the rereading of so many books that brought me so much pleasure long ago.

  • Vikk Simmons

    Hi Hope, I loved the three books you mentioned. Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

  • Vikk Simmons

    Thanks for reading my rather extensive list. It’s always great to meet a new reader to my blog. I’m happy that you found so many titles appealing. Trust me, I’ll be checking your experiences as well as that of so many others in the club. I admit I’m curious to read what others have thought about many of the books I’ve read in the past as well as those that are new and waiting. Welcome.

  • http://hlindskold.tumblr.com/ Heather

    Great list. There are so many books here that I wanted to put on my list that I just didn’t have room for. If I get close to finishing my list earlier than planned, I’ll tack on some of the books that I had to leave off my initial list. We’ll see.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Heather. I’m glad so many titles spoke to you. Never enough time, right? 

  • Gedwards004

    You have a terrific list that I enjoyed reading through, Vikk.  I’ve read or listened on tape to about 45 of these works over the course of my reading life.  I’ve heard of many of the others that I’m not familiar with and I think you have an enticing and noteworthy assortment of prospects assembled here.  Your comments about the interconnection between books gets right to the heart of things.  On a simpler level, it’s great when authors can lead you to other writers they’re enthusiastic about by means of their recommendations.  Clifton Fadiman, Michael Dirda, Harold Bloom, Charles Van Doren, John Cowper Powys, David Denby, Robert Kanigel, and Philip Ward, to name a few, (maybe a few too many) offer enticing guidance that can help serve as a gateway into many of the books you’ve listed.  And, of course, you have already read many of these.  A short story by Ray Bradbury titled “Forever and the Earth” led me in my 20′s to a fascinating absorption with everything I could find that Thomas Wolfe ever wrote.  Novels, short stories, letters, etc.  This is just one example that, for me, strikingly comes to mind.

    I’m looking forward to reading any and all of your commentaries on books, or other matters, too.

  • Listra Thessalonia

    Glad to see Monte Cristo on your list. I’ve just finished reading it for my project as well (haven’t posted the article about it though). I’m going to read Illiad too. Happy reading.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com Vikk Simmons

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Count. It’s been years since I read the Illiad but I’m looking forward to it. This time I have the Great Courses lecture series on The Illiad, although I’ll read through it first and then go back into the course. The Illiad is such a great story and has such a rich history of patterning among writers. Good reading. 

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com Vikk Simmons

    Wow, thanks for all your suggestions. They’re terrific. I have several works by Harold Bloom that I want to read during the same time period I read several recent books about Shakespeare–as well as tackling the three plays. I’m going to see if I have the Bradbury story, too. Nice list for me to explore. 

    Do you enjoy going through books via audio? I tend to find my thoughts drifting and have to do a lot of rewinds. Thanks for stopping by. 

  • Gedwards004

    I’m glad you liked the suggestions, and I hope some are helpful.  To me, the three tragedies of the Bard of Avon that you listed are some of his utmost cream of the crop for sheer power and impact.  You have Harold Bloom’s The Invention of the Human, I’ll bet.  I have that sizable work and guides to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov and Marchette Chute, too.  The Bradbury story is found in a collection titled Long After Midnight.  Thomas Wolfe figures in this tale as the main character, and it pictures him as I think he really was, huge and magnificent; both physically and in terms of his talent. 

    Like yourself, my thoughts tend to drift, but reading through listening has always worked well for me.  And the reliable rewind button is there to reel us in when necessary.  In additon, listening can enable you to get the rewarding experience of taking more books into your heart and mind than you might otherwise have ever been able to cover.  But whatever seems best for you is what counts.  You have an admirable, high-quality list ahead of you and I expect it to prove very fulfilling!!  

  • http://novembersautumn.blogspot.com/ Katherine Cox

    I love your list, Vikk. Will really look forward to your post on Ben-Hur! I’ve been wanting to read it but keep forgetting it amidst all the other Classics I want to read.

    We’ll both be reading Cyrano, it will be fun to compare notes, I recently saw the adaptation with Gerard Depardieu, he’s also in a great adaptation  of Le Comte de Monte Cristo.

  • http://bookwormbitesback.blogspot.com/ Debbie

    There are a few books here that are on my list including: The Divine Comedy, Pilgrim’s Progress, Frankenstein, Moonstone, and others.  
    Looking forward to you reviews.

  • Sara (of the Page Sage)

    It’s great that you’re reading the classics! I think it’s important to read both contemporary books and the oldies. (: I’m one of the few people I know who read classics for fun, but luckily with TV shows like Sherlock and web series like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, more people are getting into them. (:

  • Vikksimmons

    Hi Sara, Thanks for stopping by. I’ve always enjoyed the classics. I think because of the way I was raised I never really had a huge demarcation between the types of books that we read. We read as much science fiction and mysteries as we did classics. Just another genre in a way, so I grew up with a great appreciateion for the books simply as stories. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • http://bucklingbookshelves.blogspot.com/ Christine

    Hi Vikk — I finally got up my list of Banned Books picks for the challenge! You can find it here. In the end, I decided to only commit to 5. If you’re still looking for ideas, I know you already mentioned Lord of the Rings and Fahrenheit 451, but 1984, Lolita, As I Lay Dying, and Brideshead Revisited have definitely been challenged as well (and are on your Classics Club list!)

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Christine. I’m definitely going to go for the Banned Books challenge, although I may choose the lowest level and add a couple of options. Thanks for checking my list, too.

  • Eszter K.D.

    Wait! You have read The Picture of Dorian Gray already? And, what are your thoughts about it? I have to read it in March, because that’s the book I’ve got in the Classics Spin game. And, as I’ve mentioned in a post of mine (http://bit.ly/YoItwP), I’m so afraid of it…

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