Category Archives: Classics

Joseph Conrad Nailed It

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My husband has long admired Joseph Conrad’s writing. Conrad’s stories are both powerful and profound, and his writing is impressively beautiful, especially considering that English was not his first language. Byron’s old, yellowed copy of Heart of Darkness sits on our coffee table these days rather than on the bookshelf.

So I wasn’t surprised the other day when Byron asked me to read a quote from Conrad’s, Lord Jim. He had just run across the quote in his handwritten reading notebook, copied down from his reading of the book in 2018, and told me that the quote described what having terminal cancer is like for him. He said that Conrad nailed it. It is heart-wrenching to read, but I’m glad that he shared these really deep emotions with me, through the words of one of his favorite authors.

I decided to share this quote with you, because I think it perfectly demonstrates a big part of why we read — to find those nuggets of truth that explain, give an understanding of, or put into words what we are going through in life at the moment.

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Chapter 2

There are many shades in the danger of adventures and gales, and it is only now and then that there appears on the face of facts a sinister violence of intention—that indefinable something which forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this complication of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy, to annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed, or hated; all that is priceless and necessary—the sunshine, the memories, the future,—which means to sweep the whole precious world utterly away from his sight by the simple and appalling act of taking his life.

A Mystery Short Story

A Christmas Tragedy, by Baroness Orczy, was a fun and interesting short story I listened to for the Readers Imbibing Peril-XVI reading challenge. The very first audiobook I listened to (some 40 or so years ago!) was Baroness Orczy’s, The Scarlet Pimpernel. I loved that story and her writing, so I knew this would be a good choice for a quick mystery to read for my “Peril of the Short Story”.  And I did enjoy this classic who-done-it.

from the publisher:

A Christmas Eve party at Clevere Hall ends in tragedy when the host is found stabbed to death. Major Ceely certainly wasn’t short of enemies, but who hated him enough to commit the crime?

Baroness Emma Orczy (1865-1947) was an Hungarian-British author who is known for her popular series of books starting with The Scarlet Pimpernel. That series was groundbreaking in terms of introducing a hero who specialized in disguises and appeared to be just a bit of a dolt in his daily life. Sort of a Clark Kent of that time. She also created the character of Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, who was one of literature’s first female detectives.

Her books are fun to read, ahead of their time, entertaining, and are well worth reading.

I read this book for the Readers Imbibing Peril – XVI challenge.

 

 

It was also one of my choices to read 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club.

 

Sunday Reading

…painting by Robert Panitzsch (Danish artist, 1879-1949)

I came across this painting by the Danish artist, Robert Panitzsch, and loved the feeling it gave me. It describes beautifully my Sunday afternoon reading mood!  The book open on the chair would be my current read: A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. And I would be taking just a brief break to make some more tea. How lovely to read in such a room with sunshine, open window, potted plants. The perfect Sunday afternoon!

Classics Club Spin #26


It’s time for Classics Club Spin #26!”  Here’s how it works for members of The Classics Club.

At your blog, before Sunday 18th April, 2021, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. (Click here to see my list of 50 books to read in 5 years.)

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

On Sunday 18th, April, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 31st May, 2021.

Please check back here soon to see which of these books I will be reading for this new Classics Club Spin!

  1. Night, Elie Wiesel
  2. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
  3. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  4. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  5. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  6. The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
  7. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  8. Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  10. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  11. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

  12. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  13. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  14. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  15. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  16. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  17. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  18. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope
  19. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  20. Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, Ronald Blythe

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, is a gem of a book. It consists of ten letters written to a young man who wrote to Rilke for advice on how to become a successful poet. These ten letters revealed the heart and soul of Rilke himself, and all were full of wisdom about finding what you are passionate about in life and living true to that vision.

Rilke’s first response to the young poet was to tell him that he should not look outside himself for advice…

Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.

As the correspondence between the two men continued, the conversations became even more heartfelt, and were beautiful exchanges about life and living, growing and becoming, as both an artist and a human being.

In one of the early letters, Rilke recommended an author he admired and suggested the young poet read those works. I loved that sharing a favorite book was important to him, and his explanation of how that book had touched his life was quite wonderful…

Get hold of the little volume called Six Tales by J. P. Jacobsen, and his novel Niels Lyhne, and start with the first story in the former book, which is called Mogens. A world will come over you, the happiness, the wealth, the inconceivable greatness of a world. Live for a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. Your love will be repaid a thousand thousandfold, and whatever your life may become,—will, I am convinced, run through the texture of your growing as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.

One more nugget of gold about Life:

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

This book is a little treasure that I will return to many times because his beautiful writing and his wise words touch my heart.

I chose this book for my 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club.

 

The Call of the Wild

I think I must have first read The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, in high school, and it’s been ages since then, so I put it on my Classics Club list and reread it. Of course, with more life experience since my first time reading it, I found it to be much more profound and powerful than I remembered. The writing is beautiful, and this story of survival is very moving.

From the publisher:

The Call of the Wild is a novel by Jack London published in 1903. The story is set in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush—a period when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The novel’s central character is a dog named Buck, a domesticated dog living at a ranch in the Santa Clara valley of California as the story opens. Stolen from his home and sold into the brutal existence of an Alaskan sled dog, he reverts to atavistic traits. Buck is forced to adjust to, and survive, cruel treatments and fight to dominate other dogs in a harsh climate. Eventually he sheds the veneer of civilization, relying on primordial instincts and lessons he learns, to emerge as a leader in the wild.

A favorite quote (that shows the beauty of Jack London’s writing):

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.

As I reread it, the storyline came back to me. It’s such a powerful story of survival, betrayal, loyalty, trust, the brutality of civilization and the savage beauty of nature. I remembered the cruelty and the kindness, so it had made a strong impression on me. But as I said before, with a lifetime between first reading it and now, I understand the depth of the story much better at this age. So, if you read it in high school and haven’t revisited it since then…it’s a beautifully written book that will touch your heart and leave you thinking.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Alaska.

Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes

When Robert Louis Stevenson was in his late 20’s, he set out on a journey that he hoped would provide material for writing a book. It was a hiking journey of approximately 120 miles through the Cévennes Mountains of France, but it was not a solo hike.  He took with him a companion — a donkey he named Modestine. He wrote of his adventures in his book Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes.

From the publisher:

In twelve days, from September 22, 1878, until October 3, 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson walked from Le Monastier to St. Jean du Gard in the Cevennes. His only companion was Modestine, a donkey. He traveled as his fancy led him, stopping to sleep whenever occasion offered. One morning after a night’s sleep out of doors Stevenson scattered coins along the road upon the turf in payment for his night’s lodging.
Modestine, the donkey, demanded that her owner exercise all his ingenuity. At first he loathed her for her intractable differences of opinion displayed concerning the rate of travel to be maintained. Repeated blows seemed not to influence her until he learned to use the magical word “Proot” to get her moving.

If you have read some of his other books, like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, or his book of children’s poems, A Child’s Garden of Verses, you know he is a wonderful writer and storyteller. This was one of his early works, but he already had the power of description and fun storytelling, so it is an enjoyable recount of his travels. It actually became a very influential book in the genre of travel writing.  Traveling with a donkey also provided a fair amount of comic relief for the reader, although I’m sure it was massive frustration for him as a traveler!

Since our travel is so restricted these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fun to walk alongside Robert Louis Stevenson through these mountains in France. There were times when I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed being with him, though, because he appeared to be a bit of a curmudgeon, but I would love to retrace his route with my husband as my walking companion! Many people do just that!

 

An Excerpt from the Book:

Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof; but in the open world it passes lightly, with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours are marked by changes in the face of Nature. What seems a kind of temporal death to people choked between walls and curtains, is only a light and living slumber to the man who sleeps afield. All night long he can hear Nature breathing deeply and freely; even as she takes her rest, she turns and smiles; and there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping hemisphere, and all the outdoor world are on their feet.

He captured the people and the times very well, described the outdoor experience beautifully, and there was plenty of adventure (such as convincing Modestine to take a short-cut up a steep hill!) to keep you reading through this short book.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Reluctant Dragon

 

The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame, is another classic I chose to read for my 50-classics-in-5-years challenge for The Classics Club. I downloaded the audiobook version from Audible, narrated by Anton Lesser, and absolutely loved listening to it! The narration was so much fun, and the story truly is a wonderful old classic. I would love to listen to it again while on a road trip (ahh…some day we’ll be able to do that again!). The story is a fun twist on the Medieval story of Saint George and the Dragon. But in this sweet and gentle story, the dragon is a completely non-violent and friendly creature, with a great interest in poetry.

From the publisher:

…a young boy befriends a poetry-loving dragon living in the Downs above his home. When the town-folk send for St. George to slay the dragon, the boy needs to come up with a clever plan to save his friend and convince the townsfolk to accept him.

A favorite quote from the book:

“You see all the other fellows were so active and earnest and all that sort of thing- always rampaging, and skirmishing, and scouring the desert sands, and pacing the margin of the sea, and chasing knights all over the place, and devouring damsels, and going on generally- whereas I liked to get my meals regular and then to prop my back against a bit of rock and snooze a bit, and wake up and think of things going on and how they kept going on just the same, you know!”

The wonderful artist, E. H. Shepard was the illustrator of the original publication.

 

The author, Kenneth Grahame, also wrote the timeless classic, The Wind in the Willows. Another classic that is most enjoyable to read or listen to in audiobook form!

Both of these books are fun and timeless classics for the whole family!

Classics Club Spin #25: Heidi

Although I didn’t post my list earlier for the Classics Club Spin #25, I did read the book that corresponded to the number chosen. That book was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. It was another book I had missed reading when I was growing up. Of course, I loved the movie starring Shirley Temple, but for some reason, I never read the book. I do love going back and reading the books I missed over the years!  And this book was a sweet one.

Summary from the publisher:

When Heidi, a cheerful 5-year-old orphan, comes to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, she brings a bright ray of sunshine into the lives of the people around her. Young Peter, a goatherd, shares her love of nature, and his blind grandmother delights in the little girl’s bubbling personality. Even Heidi’s surly and hermit-like grandfather, the old Alm-Uncle, finds his long-lost grandchild a source of immense pleasure.

A few years later, when she is forced go to Frankfurt to serve as a companion for Klara, a well-to-do but sickly girl, Heidi must leave her beloved mountains and friends behind—an experience that proves highly traumatic to the innocent and sensitive little girl. But her return home and a visit from Klara result in magical moments that will leave young readers thoroughly captivated by this heartwarming tale of an unforgettable child and her effect on the people around her.

Some favorite quotes from the book:

    • Let’s enjoy the beautiful things we can see, my dear, and not think about those we cannot.”
    • The fire in the evening was the best of all. Peter said is wasn’t fire, but he couldn’t tell me what it really was.  You can though, Grandfather, can’t you?’  ‘It’s the sun’s way of saying goodnight to the mountains’ he explained. ‘He spreads that beautiful light over them so that they won’t forget him till he comes back in the morning.

And some teacher humor that caught my eye:

“My tutor is very kind, and never cross, and he will explain everything to you. But mind, when he explains anything to you, you won’t be able to understand; but don’t ask any questions, or else he will go on explaining and you will understand less than ever. Later when you have learnt more and know about things yourself, then you will begin to understand what he meant.”

As I said before, it was a sweet book. Heidi was one of those wonderfully strong, free-spirited, deeply caring girls that I loved to read about in stories like  Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it…and now I’d like to find the Shirley Temple movie and watch it again!

 

Heidi was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust: Reading the World,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based in Switzerland.

Classics Club Spin, #24: The House on Mango Street

“She thinks stories are about beauty. Beauty that is there to be admired by anyone, like a herd of clouds grazing overhead. She thinks people who are busy working for a living deserve beautiful little stories, because they don’t have much time and are often tired.”

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is a beautifully written series of vignettes, very poetic and poignant, about a young Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago. These short little narratives of so many episodes in her life, create a clear view of the culture she grows up in and the struggles she faces in coming of age. It’s not an easy life, but she is one who observes closely and learns from her experiences. She is often lonely on her road to self-discovery, but is also surrounded by family and friends. She seeks beauty and a life beyond where she is growing up. And she describes it all as a poet would.

“Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.”

The House on Mango Street was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

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 I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Illinois.