Category Archives: The Classics Club

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.

The Measure of My Days

Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.

I have had this book on my shelf for ages. But as I move into the years she wrote about, her seventies and eighties, I decided to finally read Florida Scott-Maxwell’s, The Measure of My Days. It’s a quiet book, with many thoughts about her daily life, about aging, and about death. I do not live alone at this point, but I am touched by her thoughts on aging and being alone, and think of my mother and how she handled those years. I see them coming ahead of me, sooner than I would like, and look for guidance and wisdom to help me along. And she most definitely has wisdom and guidance to share with me! Here are a few examples of some of her thoughts that resonated with me…

I wonder if living alone makes one more alive. No precious energy goes in disagreement or compromise. No need to augment others, there is just yourself, just truth—a morsel—and you. You went through those long years when it was pain to be alone, now you have come out on the good side of that severe discipline. Alone you have your own way all day long, and you become very natural. Perhaps this naturalness extends into heights and depths, going further than we know; as we cannot voice it we must just treasure it as the life that enriches our days.

It is not easy to be sure that being yourself is worth the trouble, but we do know it is our sacred duty.

The crucial task of age is balance, a veritable tightrope of balance; keeping just well enough, just brave enough, just gay and interested and starkly honest enough to remain a sentient human being.

When a new disability arrives I look about to see if death has come, and I call quietly, “Death, is that you? Are you there?”. So far the disability has answered, “Don’t be silly, it’s me.”

I want to tell people approaching and perhaps fearing old age that it is a time of discovery. If they say “Of what?” I can only answer “We must find out for ourselves, otherwise it wouldn’t be discovery.”

One cannot be honest even at the end of one’s life, for no one is wholly alone. We are bound to those we love, or to those who love us, and to those who need us to be brave, or content, or even happy enough to allow them not to worry about us. So we must refrain from giving pain, as our last gift to our fellows.

Florida Scott-Maxwell, painted by Amanda Brewster Sewell.

When I bought the book, I hadn’t heard of her, I just liked the concept of the book. So, for those of you who have never heard of her, either, I’m including a short biography of Florida Scott-Maxwell from The Poem Hunter.com:

Florida Pier was born in Orange Park, Florida, and educated at home until the age of ten. She grew up in Pittsburgh, then moved to New York at age 15 to become an actress. In 1910 she married John Scott Maxwell and moved to her husband’s native Scotland, where she worked for women’s suffrage and as a playwright. The couple divorced in 1929 and she moved to London. In 1933 she studied Jungian psychology under Carl Jung and practised as an analytical psychologist in both England and Scotland. She died in Exeter, England. Her most famous book is The Measure of My Days (1968).

 

 

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