Category Archives: The Classics Club

April Activities

Is it only April 7th today? It seems like April has already been a month long! How much Life can be packed into seven days, anyway? Well, I have to answer my own question with: A LOT!

April Activities thus far:

I have finished two books already in April. I read Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute, for my Classics Club Spin book. I will be reviewing it soon. Then, I listened to the audiobook version of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a beautifully written memoir of a young neurosurgeon’s battle with lung cancer. It made the waiting room time go much faster.

 

Our daughter came to spend time with us, which is always a delightful time for us. Once again, she helped out with our yard work and gardening, something she loves to do and which we appreciate so deeply.

Our daughter starting the spring clean-up the butterfly garden…

Byron underwent his second chemotherapy infusion, and in these first few days of April, has completely lost his hair. He is tolerating these chemo treatments every three weeks pretty well, with fatigue (and hair loss!) being the main side effects so far. During the times that he is feeling deep fatigue, we have been watching (and really enjoying) a YouTube channel called 4kSeoul. A very talented young man films his walks through the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea. There is no narration, just sounds of the city surrounding you (especially if you put on your headphones to listen). Byron loves to see the architecture of the city as we walk through different neighborhoods. I am fascinated by the people we see, the energy of that city, and the historical structures we come across on these walks. It’s a fun way to experience a different place and a different culture.

On a walk in Namsan Park, in Seoul, South Korea…

So, hello to April! Life is full and busy for us right now, albeit in some ways we didn’t anticipate, and we are enjoying and appreciating the beauty of early Spring.  I hope you are enjoying your April, too!

Classics Club Spin # 29

It’s time again for a Classics Club Spin! (Click here to see how a “SPIN” works.)  I missed the announcement of this new Spin, so I didn’t make a list of 20 books from my current Classics Club list. However, I want to participate, and so when I realized that a number (#11) had already been chosen (too late to put together a list), I looked at my list for my TBR Pile Challenge, and found that #11 on that list is also on my Classics Club list. Perfect!  So for Classics Club Spin #29, I will be reading Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute! And I’m looking forward to it!

The Three Musketeers

November and December brought a fun reading experience for me. I participated in a “chapter a day” readalong with some Twitter friends. We read and posted quotes from The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. The readalong was carefully planned by Deacon Nick Senger (@nsenger on Twitter), and was timed so that after reading one chapter a day, we would finish the last chapter on the last day in December. It has been a great adventure and a wonderful way to read a chunkster classic!

This is a book that I’ve always thought about reading but never got serious about moving it up higher on my TBR list. I think I was a bit intimidated by it, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. The characters are terrific, the action nonstop swashbuckling, and the story compels you through all 700+ pages. A total “entertainment”!

From the publisher (Oxford World’s Classics):

The Three Musketeers (1844) is one of the most famous historical novels ever written. It is also one of the world’s greatest historical adventure stories, and its heroes have become symbols for the spirit of youth, daring, and comradeship. The action takes place in the 1620s at the court of Louis XIII, where the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, with their companion, the headstrong d’Artagnan, are engaged in a battle against Richelieu, the King’s minister, and the beautiful, unscrupulous spy, Milady. Behind the flashing blades and bravura, in this first adventure of the Musketeers, Dumas explores the eternal conflict between good and evil.

Some quotes that give you the flavor of the story:

‘You are not one of us,’ said Porthos. ‘True,’ replied d’Artagnan, ‘I have not the dress, but I have the heart and soul of a musketeer; I feel it, sir, and it impels me along, as it were, by force.’

D’Artagnan marvelled at the fragile unseen threads on which the destinies of nations and the lives of men may sometimes be suspended.

A rascal does not laugh in the same manner as an honest man; a hypocrite does not weep with the same kind of tears as a sincere man. All imposture is a mask; and, however well the mask may be made, it may always, with a little attention, be distinguished from the true face.

‘Perhaps so,’ replied Athos; ‘but, at all events, mark this well: assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or cause him to be assassinated—it is of no consequence to me: I know him not; and he is, besides, the enemy of France. But, touch not one single hair of the head of d’Artagnan, who is my faithful friend, whom I love and will protect; or I swear to you, by my father’s head, that the crime which you have then committed, or attempted to commit, shall be indeed your last.’

I so enjoyed getting to know these four musketeers and tagging along with them on one adventure after another. I fell in love with d’Artangnon, who was so much more than he appeared in the beginning, and I appreciated the friendship of the four men. I also have a respect now for this author, Alexandre Dumas, who gave us such an interesting historical look at that time period, and wove a story of the political/religious intrigues of the time with the basic human fight between good and evil.

As I finish the last few chapters this week, I have one bit of advice for those of you who have thought about reading this book but never got around to it: just read it! It’s so much fun!

 

A Little Princess

Illustration by Jesse Willcox Smith…

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favorite books read this year. It had been so many years since I last read it that I’d almost forgotten what a treasure it is. I think I loved the story even more this time around.

From the publisher:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl’s fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children’s literature.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”

“She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you think of, and what you do.”

“Perhaps kind thoughts reach people somehow, even through windows and doors and walls. Perhaps you feel a little warm and comforted, and don’t know why, when I am standing here in the cold and hoping you will get well and happy again.”

“If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and, though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that — warm things, kind things, sweet things — help and comfort and laughter — and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

This is a story of resilience in adversity, and of choosing to be positive and hopeful even under the worst conditions. It is about kindness and compassion and love. What better story to read during the holiday season?

 

The Long Winter

The winter of 1880/1881 was one of the worst winters on record in South Dakota. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the story of her family’s experience in surviving that dreadful winter. One of the books in her Little House on the Prairie series, this book chronicles the seven months of blizzard after blizzard, the deep cold, and the terrible hunger that the citizens of DeSmet, and Laura’s family, suffered.  Even the supply train became stuck in the snow and could not bring in the desperately needed supplies.

The story of how this family and the townspeople survived is riveting and amazing. Laura’s parents were amazing with their survival skills, as the homesteaders of those days had to be. But I was inspired by their inner strength and how they encouraged that strength in their daughters. Laura was a tremendous help to them throughout that winter struggle.

However, that long long winter took a tremendous emotional toll on the family along with the physical struggle to survive. It became increasingly difficult to keep up their spirits, as the struggle to stay warm went on and endlessly on.

I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to our year+ of quarantine and isolation due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So many people have really suffered from the isolation and feeling of endless restrictions on “normal” life. Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the resilience we find deep inside at times of intense hardship and difficulty.

For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white. A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.

“Now, girls!” Ma said. “A storm outdoors is no reason for gloom in the house.” “What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.” “I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”

After Ma had seen them all tucked in bed and had gone downstairs, they heard and felt the blizzard strike the house. Huddled close together and shivering under the covers they listened to it. Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm. There were houses in town, but not even a light from one of them could reach another. And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted and winds howled and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.

 

I read this book as one of 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,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in South Dakota.

Looking Ahead

I have started looking ahead to my 2022 reading. I will continue with my personal reading projects, and  “round 2” of my Classics Club reading. I always look forward to the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge in the fall. And in January, I will again participate in Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #15. It’s always such a lovely one. All of that should keep me busy and out of trouble next year!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


I will admit that I did not care much for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. It was on my list of 50 classics to read in 5 years, and was the book that came up for my Classics Club Spin #28, however I labored to get through it. Mark Twain had a wicked sense of humor, and that was the part of the book I enjoyed the most. If it had just been a comedy, with the fantastical adventure of going back in time to the world of King Arthur, I would have gotten a big kick out of it. But it was overall a much more serious book, touted as a critique of the political and social Institutions of the time. I’m afraid I’m suffering from burnout from the political and social institutions of our own time, and it was clear from this book that not much has changed since Twain’s America.
I found it tedious with the tedium lifted by episodes of brilliant humor.

from the publisher:

Hank Morgan is the archetype of modern man in 19th-century New England: adept at his trade as a mechanic, innovative, forward thinking. So when a blow to the head inexplicably sends him back in time 1300 years and places him in Camelot, instead of despair, he feels emboldened by the prospect placed before him and sets out to modernize and improve the lives of his fellow citizens. But, in order to do so, he’ll need to contend with brash nobles, superstitious nincompoops, and a conniving, blowhard wizard.

While time travel has become a common trope in storytelling today, in Twain’s time it was truly a novel idea; all the more imaginative when you consider how it’s used for satirical effect. A thinly veiled critique of the political and social institutions that impede progress and a scathing condemnation of the naiveté that allows them to thrive, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court saw Twain’s biting wit and sharp tongue honed to a fine point.

I had both a Kindle version of the book and the audiobook which was narrated by Nick Offerman. He did a great job with his narration, and that was a plus in my experience with the story. And as I have discovered over time with my negative responses to certain books, it was simply not a good time for me to read it. I might like it much better at a different point in my life. But to quote my wise son (at age 3 or 4), “maybe so and maybe not.”

November Reading, 2021

November has been a busy reading month for me. Here are the books I finished this month:

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And here are the books I’ve been reading in November that are taking longer to finish:

Summer at Fairacre

Chalgrove, England: watercolor by Ian Ramsay

The author, Dora Saint, whose pseudonym is Miss Read, wrote two delightful series about life in an English Village as described through the eyes of the village school teacher. The first series is the Fairacre series, the second is the Thrush Green series. As a personal project, I have slowly been reading my way through the Fairacre series, and enjoying each volume and growing to love the myriad of characters that live in the village. I’m looking forward to moving on to Thrush Green soon!

Summer at Fairacre starts with the first day of spring and ends at the beginning of autumn. It is an ode to the loveliness of the village during the warmth and beauty throughout the summer months. First, there’s the anticipation of the warmer months and the freedom that arrives with them. Then, there’s the changing of the season, the storms, the gardens, the birds, the quiet moments of just sitting and enjoying the warmth of the sun. And interwoven with all of this was the school, the children, and the schoolmistress, with all the complications and joys of daily life.

The golden weather continued. For week after week the sun had gilded all with glory, and it came as quite a shock to realise that July was upon us, and still the sun shone. Soon it would be end of term, with all that that involved for a schoolmistress…

The only major drama in this story concerns the cantankerous Mrs. Pringle, the school cleaner. She’s so difficult to get along with, but keeps the school sparkling clean. Unfortunately, she gets offended easily, and this time decides to quit her job, out of spite, it seems.  But more unfortunately, finding a permanent replacement for her proves to be almost impossible.

We all know that summer goes by too quickly, and that was the feeling in Summer at Fairacre. While living their everyday lives, the people of Fairacre celebrated the season and appreciated each other, even when that was difficult to do.

It grieved me to think of the waning of this most glorious of all summers, its joys and its splendours. Well, we had celebrated it, every one of us, and must face the inevitable, I supposed.

This was a gentle and humorous read. If you need a break from the stress and hustle of the holiday season, and perhaps are missing the warmth of summer, I recommend this book and series as a healing antidote.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, read by Andi Serkis

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a book I’ve read so many times I’ve lost track of the number. But every time I reread it, I find something new to enjoy about it. This time, I listened to the new audiobook version narrated by Andi Serkis. What an incredible talent he has for voices, dialects, and everything it takes to bring such a story to life!  Just in case you don’t know, Andi Serkis was the voice actor and motion capture actor for the animated character of Gollum in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And he did an awesome job of narrating The Hobbit!

from the publisher:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.   Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic.

If you are looking for a delightful audiobook for the whole family to listen to during the holidays, look no further! This is just a delightful entertainment for all.

Smaug, illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading Long Books

A Place of Her Own, by James C. Christensen

It’s been a long time since I read a long-ish book, and now I’m immersed in two of them at the same time. Both books are on my Classics Club list, but I didn’t plan to read them right now, let alone at the same time. However, one was chosen as my Classics Club Spin book, and the other one was for a fun read-along challenge that I simply couldn’t resist. So here I am, reading one chapter a day for The Three Musketeers read-along, and listening to the audiobook of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court while doing chores or driving in the car. And I’m enjoying them both!

I Heard the Owl Call My Name

I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven, begins with a diagnosis.

painting by Emily Carr

The doctor said to the Bishop, “So you see, my lord, your young ordinand can live no more than three years and doesn’t know it. Will you tell him, and what will you do with him?” The Bishop said to the doctor, “Yes, I’ll tell him, but not yet. If I tell him now, he’ll try too hard. How much time has he for an active life?” “A little less than two years if he’s lucky.” “So short a time to learn so much? It leaves me no choice. I shall send him to my hardest parish. I shall send him to Kingcome on patrol of the Indian villages.” “Then I hope you’ll pray for him, my lord.” But the Bishop only answered gently that it was where he would wish to go if he were young again, and in the ordinand’s place.

So the young vicar, unaware of his diagnosis, went to live in the village of Kingcome. Over time he learned the Kwákwala language. He learned about and appreciated the old ways of the people of the village, and came to understand the struggles of the young people. He became close to many of the villagers, and they came to him for support and guidance. But it was the villagers who would teach him the most fundamental things about life and death.

About the people:

There was pride in his eyes without arrogance. Behind the pride was a sadness so deep it seemed to stretch back into ancient mysteries…

Kingcome villagers…

About the village:

“The Indian knows his village and feels for his village as no white man for his country, his town, or even for his own bit of land. His village is not the strip of land four miles long and three miles wide that is his as long as the sun rises and the moon sets. The myths are the village and the winds and the rains. The river is the village, and the black and white killer whales that herd the fish to the end of the inlet the better to gobble them. The village is the salmon who comes up the river to spawn, the seal who follows the salmon and bites off his head, the blue jay whose name is like the sound he makes—‘Kwiss-kwiss.’ The village is the talking bird, the owl, who calls the name of the man who is going to die, and the silver-tipped grizzly who ambles into the village, and the little white speck that is the mountain goat on Whoop-Szo.

A village at Kingcome Inlet…

When after his few years of living with the native tribe, the young vicar finally understands what is happening to him, and that he will have to leave his place in the village, that someone will arrive to replace him in his work, he  tries to come to terms with such a change, and tries to come to terms with the end of all things.

How would he live again in the old world he had almost forgotten, where men throw up smoke screens between themselves and the fundamentals whose existence they fear but seldom admit? Here, where death waited behind each tree, he had made friends with loneliness, with death and deprivation, and, solidly against his back had stood the wall of his faith.

And what had he learned? Surely not the truth of the Indian. There was no one truth. He had learned a little of the truth of one tribe in one village. He had seen the sadness, the richness, the tragic poignancy of a way of life that each year, bit by bit, slipped beyond memory and was gone. For a time he had been part of it, one of the small unknown men who take their stand in some remote place, and fight out their battle in a quiet way.

It was the village that reached out to him to ease his mind at that point in his life.

“Stay with us. Marta has told us. We have written the Bishop and asked that he let you remain here to the end, because this is your village and we are your family. You are the swimmer who came to us from the great sea,” and he put his arms around her and held her close, finding no words to say thank you for the sudden, unexpected gift of peace which they had offered him in their quiet, perceptive way.

It is a poignant but uplifting story. The descriptions of the land there and the villagers’ relationship with the environment, are beautifully written. It is a quiet, honest book, a true classic, and I loved reading it.

The author, Margaret Craven, lived in the village of Kingcome, in British Columbia, for awhile before she wrote the book. The photos I chose for this post are from that area, so I hope they help give a visual reference for this story.

https://www.sfu.ca/brc/virtual_village/Kwakwaka_wakw.html

Kwakiutl canoe