Category Archives: The Classics Club

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!

The Enchanted April

 

The Enchanted April, by Elizaberth von Arnim, is my first book read in 2021. It was a reread of a book I love, so it was a comforting and enjoyable way to start this new reading year. It is a lovely book to read in the dead of winter. It is so full of color and the warmth of the sun. In a time of continuing quarantine, it’s revives the spirit and quenches the thirst for travel to warmer climes.

Synopsis from the publisher:

A discreet advertisement in The Times, addressed to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine,” is the prelude to a revelatory month for four very different women. High above a bay on the Italian Riviera stands the medieval castle San Salvatore. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs. Arbuthnot, Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the gentle spirit of the Mediterranean, they gradually shed their public skins, discovering a harmony each of them has longed for but none has ever known. First published in 1922, this captivating novel is imbued with the descriptive power and lighthearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnim is renowned.

Favorite descriptions from the book:

“All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in color, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose-colors of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.

She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light.”

“All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wistaria. Wistaria and sunshine . . . she remembered the advertisement. Here indeed were both in profusion. The wistaria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. The ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea, each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on trellises, and fig-trees, and peach-trees, and cherry-trees.

The story is not all sunshine and light, however. The four women brought together by that wonderful advertisement, have complicated lives, marriages, relationships. We get to know each of their stories very well. It’s quite fascinating to see the profound effect such a month away from their usual lives has on each of them.

 

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

 

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.

A River Runs Through It

Norman Maclean was a wonderful writer. My father really admired him as an author and read his book, A River Runs Through It, twenty-six years ago shortly before he died. I remember that he loved it, and I have kept my father’s copy of the book on my shelf for all these years. I decided to put it on my reading list for The Classics Club as one of my fifty-books-in-five-years, so I would finally read it.

from the publisher:

From its first magnificent sentence, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing”, to the last, “I am haunted by waters”, A River Runs Through It is an American classic.

Based on Norman Maclean’s childhood experiences, A River Runs Through It has established itself as one of the most moving stories of our time; it captivates readers with vivid descriptions of life along Montana’s Big Blackfoot River and its near magical blend of fly fishing with the troubling affections of the heart.

I can only guess now the things my father liked about this book. My father was also a writer, so I know he appreciated the beauty of the writing. He and Norman Maclean also had a sense of place in common — Norman Maclean grew up in Montana, and my father grew up in Wyoming, so they shared similar landscapes and boyhood experiences of place. This book is based on Maclean’s family and memories from his younger years; my father was also writing of his own memories and family history.

It would be nice to talk with my father about this book because, in all honesty, I didn’t like it as much as he did. The first half of the book dragged a bit for me. The second half was much more engaging and the story he told of a family tragedy was very moving. The beauty of his narrative through that part of the book really touched me. But I also felt that it was more of a “man’s book,”  although I realized that it was actually an honest depiction of the life and times and culture of that day.

I had previously read Norman Maclean’s other book, Young Men and Fire, which is an amazing account of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana where 13 young Smokejumpers were killed. It was a terrible tragedy, and Maclean’s meticulous research and exquisite writing, brought the story right to this reader’s heart. That was a book that has had a lasting impact on my life!

So, although A River Runs Through It didn’t touch me in the same way it touched my father, we were both touched deeply by the beautiful writings of Norman Maclean, and that’s a connection I treasure.

 

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

 

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 Montana.

 

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.

Kindred

I actually read Kindred, by Octavia Butler, last year, but did not review it when I finished it because there was so much from the story to process and absorb. What I’ve discovered in the months that have passed since I finished it, is that it was a powerfully haunting experience to read it. I’ve thought a lot about it and don’t know when a book has stuck with me, haunted me, quite like this one. It was a powerful reading experience because Octavia Butler, being such a gifted writer/storyteller, makes you feel as if you are right there with her main character, Dana, throughout all her experiences, in the past and in the present. Those experiences were profoundly life-changing. Experiencing firsthand the life of her enslaved ancestors, being catapulted back and forth to the time of her ancestors and then back to her life in present times brought an incredible depth to Dana’s understanding of her own life experience. And it had a powerful impact on those of us who traveled with her. It is definitely a book I would highly recommend, although it is not an easy story. And for anyone wanting to gain more understanding of the black experience in this country, this is a creative and fascinating book to read.

from the publisher:

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Author Octavia E. Butler skillfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure.

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 Maryland.

Classics Club Spin #24

It’s time for another Classics Club “Spin!”  Here’s how it works:

At your blog, by August 9th, 2020,, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your “Spin List.”

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

Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you have been putting off, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favourite author, re-reads, ancients, non-fiction, books in translation — whatever you choose.)

The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020.

During this time of continued quarantine for Covid-19, I am enjoying a lot of reading. So here I go again with a list of  books from my 50 books to read before March, 2022.
Please check back here soon to see which of these books I will be reading for the new Spin!

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope
  3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  4. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  5. Night, Elie Wiesel
  6. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  7. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
  8. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  9. Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell
  10. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  11. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  12. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  13. Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
  14. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  15. The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  16. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
  17. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  18. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

  19. Sons, Pearl S. Buck
  20. Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston

Around the World in Eighty Days

“A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager.”

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne, is a classic that I was familiar with, watched the movie version, but had never read the book. So I  put it on my “Fifty books in five years” list for The Classics Club. It was so much more fun, and funnier, than I expected! It’s a wild mad dash around the world!

The story is that Phileas Fogg makes a wager with his gentleman’s club members that he can circle the world in just eighty days. He and his French valet, Passepartout, set out from London to win this wager, and have every kind of adventure, and obstacles to overcome, that can be imagined. To add to the adventure, although he didn’t realize it at the time, he was pursued by a detective due to a misunderstanding that he was a criminal on the run.

“It’s really useful to travel, if you want to see new things.”

This novel was full of humor and fun. I must read more of Jules Verne’s books!

 

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

Classics Club Spin #23: Excellent Women

I read Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym, many years ago. It was the first book I read by her and I remember liking it very much. Since then, I have read many of her other books, but it had been so long since I read this one that I decided to include it on my list of 50 books to read in 5 years for The Classics Club. Last month, it came up as my “Classics Club Spin” book for May. I’m glad I reread it, and I’m happy to spend time reading anything written by Barbara Pym.

Excellent Women” is a term referring to unmarried women who are considered spinsters. In this story, which takes place in the 1950s, the main character, Mildred Lathbury, is just over 30, and well established in the community as a spinster. As the daughter of a clergyman, she devotes much of her time to helping at her church, and just helping people in general. She is capable and independent, and quite satisfied with her life as a single person. But new neighbors, a married couple, complicate her predictable daily existence, and she gets drawn in to the drama of their lives. She is good friends with the pastor of her church and his sister, (who has always taken good care of him), but when he gets engaged to the widow of another clergyman, that further complicates Mildred’s ordered life.

Throughout this story, I felt that Mildred was the only “adult in the room.” Everyone else was needy in one way or another, or selfish and unable to really care about others. I felt sorry for Mildred because of the demands placed on her, and when others took advantage of her I wanted her to stand up to them and just say “No.”  It took her quite awhile to be able to do that, but she weathers all the demands and drama, and in the end appreciates her single life, her solitude, and her independence even more than before.

I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business, and if she is also a clergyman’s daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.

There is always a lot of subtle humor in Barbara Pym’s novels, which is very entertaining. I liked the main character, Mildred Lathbury, more and more as the book progressed and appreciated her intelligence and her insightfulness into the humans around her. This was a novel well worth re-reading.

 

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