The Classics Club One Year Round Up

A year ago today I joined The Classics Club with the aim of reading 50 books in 5 years. So far I have read 9 from my list, so a little behind schedule. I’ll have to make up for it and read 11 this year.

So far I have read:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Major of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
1984 by George Orwell
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I am going to pinch an idea from Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles and just highlight a few key points of my reading.

Most Anticipated:

Anna Karenina

Most Beautifully Written:

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Most Disappointing:

The Age of Innocence

Most Surprising (In A Good Way!):

The Hobbit

Most Memorable Character/s:

Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird

Most Recommended-to-Others:

The Hobbit
The Mayor of Casterbridge

Favourite New Authors Discovered:

George Orwell

Ambitions for 2013/2014:

To read at least 11 books from my list. I have bought The Connells Guide to both Great Expectations and Tess of the D’Ubervilles, so I think they will be top of my list. I look forward to another Classics Club spin as I like the idea of someone else choosing my books.

But for now I am back to the third installment of The Hunger Games. Happy Easter to all!

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Wonder

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Wonder tells the story of ten year old August Pullman’s first year at school. Up until this point August has been home schooled by his mother and has had very little to do with children of his own age. Like all students starting a new school August is nervous, but unlike most students, August was born with a facial deformity and attending a new school and meeting new people is incredibly daunting, mainly because he knows just how they will react, and just how they will judge him purely on his appearance.

I’m really not sure where to begin with this novel. I did thoroughly enjoy it, although it took a while for me to become fully engaged in the story. It is certainly an interesting topic to discuss and I felt that on the whole Palacio handled the narrative in a sophisticated, yet believable way. Yes, August faces prejudice on a daily basis, and some of the behaviour of those around him is shocking, but Palacio also discusses the impact on August’s family and how they cope with the attitudes of others.

I did have difficulty gaining interest in the story to begin with, despite the fact that August is a likeable character. No, what made me truly engaged in this story was the narratives of other characters. The story isn’t just told from August’s perspective, although the majority of it is, we also hear from: Via, his sister, Justin, her boyfriend, Miranda, her childhood friend and August’s friends, Summer and Jack. It was interesting to read their take on different events and to fully realise that there are two sides to every story, regardless of what one might think. I particularly liked Via’s narrative. As August’s older sister it is clear that she had to sacrifice a lot so that her parents could look after August, take him to various operations and generally protect him from the brutality of the outside world. Yes, you feel sympathy for August because of how people react/treat him, but I also feel sympathy for Via, who has spent a lot of her childhood on the sidelines, and is now struggling with adolescent on top of this.

The one thing I didn’t like, in fact I hated, and this is the English teacher coming out in me again, was Justin’s narrative. The big reason was the use of punctuation, oh yes my old bugbear, but it drives me insane. Justin’s narrative has virtually no punctuation, there are the occasional full stops, but these are not followed by capital letters, and there are no speech marks, making it difficult to follow who was talking. I don’t know what Palacio was trying to achieve with this as for me it didn’t even seem fitting with Justin’s character. He came across as an intelligent boy with an interest in music and theatre, so why the complete lack of correct punctuation. I truly believe that children/teenagers subconsciously learn a lot about spelling, punctuation and grammar through reading, so finding poor examples of it in young adult fiction really annoys me. I don’t care if the author is trying to capture the voice of youth, I don’t think there is any need for it.

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Wonder is on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist and is the second book I have read for my school enrichment shadowing the prize. Do I think it is a winner? Possibly. I would certainly place it over A Greyhound of a Girl, which is the other book I have read so far. It deals with a challenging subject and leaves a lasting impression on the importance of kindness and accepting people for who they are. It is this that suggests to me it could be a possible winner…watch this space!

A Greyhound of a Girl

Its

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It’s that time of year again! Last year at my placement school they had a reading group shadowing The Carnegie Medal Awards, with students encouraged to read the books on the Shortlist and vote for a favourite before the winner was officially announced. It happened towards the end of my teacher training, and although I was able to take part, I was not able to play a significant role in the shadowing programme. This year I am running an after school enrichment shadowing The Carnegie Medal, which I am a little excited about, therefore I thought it a good idea to get started on the Shortlist (for the Shortlist follow this handy little link

And so to the first book…

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…Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl. This book was not what I expected, completely reinforcing the whole never judge a book by its cover and I put this down to the blurb.

Mother and daughters heading off on a car journey.
One of them dead,
One of them dying,
One of them driving,
One of them just beginning

In my mind this suggested a car accident of some kind and I expected the narrative to focus on the aftermath of this. How wrong I was?

Mary is 12, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, but not quite there yet. Her best friend has just moved away and her Grandmother, Emer, is dying in hospital. On her way home from school one day Mary meets Tansy, a lady who on first appearance seems to be old, but is actually quite young; it is her clothes that make her seem so much older. Tansy seems to know Mary’s Grandmother, although she doesn’t mention how, only that she has come to let Emer know ‘it will be grand.’

To begin with I wasn’t sure about this book. The main reason, and this just proves that I am an obsessive English teacher, was the over use of punctuation marks whenever Scarlett, Mary’s mum, was talking. This sounds like a ridiculous reason to be uncertain I know, but having marked book after book after book of students who think it is fine to end every sentence with an exclamation mark I do find this somewhat irritating. Luckily for Doyle he soon justifies this overuse:

“What happened to the !!!s?” said Mary.
“What?”
“The !!!s,” said Mary.
“Oh,” said her mother. “They seem to fall out of me whenever I go into that hospital.”

So I did a slight U-Turn and decided this was a clever way of over emphasising a character’s emotions, perhaps not necessary in an adult’s book, but I imagine it is helpful to those who struggle with reading and inference. Once I had overcome this little niggle, I was able to enjoy the book and the journey it took me on. It gives a great insight into the attitudes of different generations of women within a family and their relationships with one another. I come from a family made up predominantly of women, and this has become more apparent due to various family issues over the past 18 months, so this style of narrative certainly struck a chord with me. It really highlighted the importance of strong relationships between women, especially mothers and daughters, something I was not expecting from a male author, but then shame on me for stereotyping. I liked the ghostly element of the novel, and I can clearly see how superstitions ease the minds of those dealing with difficult situations.

Do I think it is a winner? It is hard to tell having only read the one book from the Shortlist, but I certainly think it is a worthwhile read.

Villette

Back in February I took part in The Classics Club Spin (original post here). I chose my 20 books and despite keeping my fingers crossed for a book I already owned, it landed on No. 14, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette

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Villette is told from the perspective of Lucy Snowe, a young woman, who on the death of the woman she lives with, leaves England for the Continent and ends up in Villette. Lucy soon finds employment in a foreign school and the novel centres on her time at this school and the people, from her present and past, who appear in Villette bringing drama, passion and problems of their own. Most notably, Mrs Bretton, Lucy’s Godmother, and her son, Graham, who are at the centre of much of the novel, with Graham adding to the romance aspect of the novel. It is clear that Lucy has feelings for Graham, having known him since childhood, however these feelings are one sided and Lucy soon graciously steps aside and finds romance of her own slightly closer to home.

I enjoyed Villette and without The Classics Club Spin, I don’t think I would have picked it up as my next read from the list. However I have never been a huge fan of any of the Brontes, although maybe that is a tad unfair as I haven’t read anything by Anne Bronte, but Emily and Charlotte have never been my favourite Victorian authors; I tend to favour male authors from the period. (Arguably a case of being influenced by the Literary Canon and the slight favouritism towards white, middle class male authors of the Victorian Era, but that’s a different post!). I was more interested in the lives of the other main characters than that of Lucy, finding her slightly too insipid and pious for my liking. It was these characters that held my attention and ensured I continued reading, and when their stories were neatly tied up I found the narrative held little fascination for me. Luckily their narratives came to the end in some of the closing chapters, so I didn’t have to plough through 200 odd pages of just Lucy. They all get their happy endings, even the ones who don’t deserve it. And yet Lucy is good and proper and behaves just as a respectable young English woman of a certain class should, and she still doesn’t get her happy ever after. Where is the justice?

On the whole, a good read and I am glad to cross it off my list. Although the publishers of Villette need to include French translations, maybe some of them do, but the Vintage copy I borrowed from the library didn’t. Now I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I don’t read French and I also don’t have the time to translate every French sentence through Google, so it did get a touch frustrating at times. I know it is probably a sin, but I just bypassed these sections and relied on my inference skills to pick up the gist of the conversation; luckily for me this worked, but I don’t think I should actively promote it as a reading technique.

Happy Blog Birthday

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Today marks the first anniversary of my blog. It was a year ago today that I made the decision to move from a private blog that was focused on my teacher training to an open blog about the books I have been reading.

I have had a quick look back through all the books I have discussed over the course of this year, but choosing a favourite is virtually impossible. Instead I will keep it brief and say how much I have enjoyed not only writing about the books I have been reading, but discovering new authors and new books through the huge variety of amazing blogs I follow. Without some of these blogs I don’t think I would have discovered Persephone books or Elizabeth Taylor or been inspired to read some Classic novels that I have always wanted to read but never had the time. The list goes is endless. So a big thank you to all those who follow me and those who write their own blogs dedicated to reading and help me to discover new literary gems!

Classics Club March Meme

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The Classics Club monthly meme for March is:

Do you love Jane Austen? Or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone?” (Mark Twain quotation)
Why?
Favourite Austen novel and why?

For me this is an easy question. I LOVE AUSTEN!

Austen has been on my radar since my early teens, but I didn’t read any of her novels until my mid/late teens and I didn’t study any of her novels until I was at university. In hindsight all of this was a blessing. It means I didn’t come to Austen with preconceived ideas or memories of drool teachers in stifling classrooms (as an English teacher I am determined to make any novels I teach exciting and engaging!) I came to Austen on my own terms, and yes I didn’t entirely enjoy Pride and Prejudice on first read, but luckily for me I didn’t write Austen off completely.

Since then I have read all of Austen’s novels and seen many TV and film adaptations and my love has only grown. Part of the reason I enjoy her novels stems from the witty language used throughout and the beautiful descriptions of each and every character. Yes, some of the characters grate on my nerves *cough* Lydia Bennett *cough* but they only add to the pleasure I derive from my read; don’t we all enjoy a great love/hate relationship with certain characters. The insightful depictions of family relationships and the trials and celebrations that come from these, as well as the closeness and the bond between sisters in the novels (not all) are one of the reasons her novels, for me, remain timeless.

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Arguably the most obvious reason Austen remains a well loved and prominent literary figure stems from the romantic attachments of her heroines. From Lizzie to Darcy, Emma to Mr Knightley, we can always expect a joyous romantic ending to an Austen novel. However, for some it is not the romance the endures, but the one that flashes by, that makes Austen novels a pleasure to read. A sentiment that leads me perfectly into my favourite Austen novel.

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Sense and Sensibility is my favourite Austen novel: I love the relationship between Elinor and Marianne and how their differences compliment one another and show up the flaws in the other’s personalities. For me it is the dastardly Mr Willoughby that earns this novel a special place in my heart. I do love a good villain. I find the confusion surrounding Elinor and Edward and their love for one another a fascinating storyline that still resonates with modern life.

And I don’t just love Austen for the novels. As mentioned there have been hundreds of TV and film adaptations of all Austen novels, as well as countless portrayals of her life, and it is through these that a share a special bond with my mum. She never seems to have time for reading (a truly shocking thought) however she does enjoy period dramas and it is Austen who holds the crown in this arena. You can’t beat a fantastic Austen adaptation: the beautiful buildings, enduring love stories and, of course, the ever present pianoforte!

Oh I have a yearning for an Austen-feat now!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Back in October half term I read The Hunger Games and I foolishly waited all this time to read the second in the trilogy, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. However having watched the film a few weekends ago I decided to raid the school library to pick up the second instalment.

Katniss Everdene survived The Hunger Games, however in doing so she unwittingly deceived The Capitol and became the catalyst for rebellious talks from the various districts that make up the futuristic country of Panam. On her victory tour Katniss begins to witness the quiet mummers of rebellion and begins to wonder how she can play her role in this act of defiance against The Capitol. But before she can act Katniss finds herself back in the deadly arena facing twenty-three new Tributes of a completely different calibre.

Before writing this review I went back to look at my initial thoughts on the first novel, reminding myself of the reasons I loved it and why I found it so engaging. One of the things I wrote about was Katniss as a heroine and how refreshing it was to have a strong and independent female role model within teen literature. I still agree with this and feel it is a feature that comes through in Catching Fire as much as it did in the first novel. Katniss’ fit to survive and defy The Capitol at any cost shines through and is a key device that helps the narrative progress. Despite the unimaginable world of The Hunger Games Collins still writes about aspects of teenage life that those in the real world can relate to, most obviously the ill fated and complicated love triangle. It is always in the background of Katniss’ thoughts and motivations, and I love that although it is a key part of what spurs her on it does not become the primary focus of the novel and nor is it rammed down the readers’ throat every 5 seconds.

There were parts of the novel that I had to reread as I wasn’t 100% sure what had happened, and I am sure when I reread it (which is inevitable) I will pick up on lots of little hints that I missed on first reading. However this is part of the magic; there is nothing better than a book that grips you from the off and that you are desperate to turn each page to find out what happens next. I am a little sad that I don’t have the third book ready on my bedside table ready to go right away, but patience is a virtue and all that. I can’t decide if I want to dive right in to the last instalment, or if I will change pace and read something else first, saving the excitement for a few weeks time. What a pickle!

Thank You, Jeeves

Whenever I am in need of a lighthearted read that requires little concentration but is guaranteed to make me laugh out loud, I turn to P.G.Wodehouse. The recent BBC adaptation of Blandings reminded me that it had been a while since I immersed myself in the witty prose and engaging mishaps of the loveable Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves.

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Thank You, Jeeves opens in Bertie’s London flat, where we find our hero playing the banjolele, an instrument he has grown fond of of late and one that Jeeves quite clearly despises. Regular readers of the Jeeves and Wooster series will already have earmarked Bertie’s new hobby for the bin, as it is inevitable that the poor banjolele will not see the end of the novel. Sadly Bertie’s neighbours agree with Jeeves, which results in Bertie’s determination and Jeeves handing in his notice; oh horror of horrors, how will Bertie cope without Jeeves? Bertie pushes off to the country to live in a cottage on the estate of an old ‘private school, Eton and Oxford’ chum, Lord (Marmaduke) Chuffnell, Chuffy! Of course things don’t go to plan, and soon Bertie is caught up in a confusion of secret/forced engagements, contested wills and love affairs gone astray. Luckily, Chuffy has employed a new man…Jeeves!

Thank you, Jeeves is full of the usual plot devices readers of the series expect, a series of tricky problems that Bertie can’t decipher, an unwanted engagement, general loony behaviour and some of the best names characters in English literature. How can you not enjoy reading about Pongo Twistleton, Gussie Fink-Nottle or Tuppy Glossop?

However, I did not find this tale as enjoyable or as engaging as the others I have read and I put this solely down to one reason in particular: there is an underlying tone of racism throughout the novel and the climatic problem rests on a mistaken identity, racist disguise. Now before anyone gets up in arms, I am completely aware that this is a novel of its time. There are many incidents of racism, colonialism and prejudice throughout literature, and I am of the frame of mind that removing these from the canon, or modernising language to erase/gloss over history is ridiculous. But in this case I just was not expecting it and I think that is why it sat so uncomfortably with me as I was reading this novel. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I liked escaping into the carefree world of Bertie, where all problems are solved by someone else and everything has a happy ending. Considering this series was written between the wars it is amazing that very little to do with current affairs is alluded to within the books, and this is why they are so amusing and lighthearted. It is just unfortunate that the narrative didn’t quite live up to my usual expectations, luckily Wodehouse’s hilarious and witty prose did.

February Round Up!

February has been an exciting and fast paced month with lots of changes, stress, fun and not as much reading as I would have liked. The biggest, and most significant, change in my life has been my move. Before I lived in a town about 10 miles outside of the city, which sounds close, but I was too far away from work, my friends, life in general to have a social life and I was getting a tad grumpy. Now I am in the city centre, can easily walk to the shops and my friends are super close so we can easily grab a coffee etc after school (which we did today and which is aiding my macaroon addiction!). So yes I am a happy bean again!

February half term was a welcome break, especially as Mummy and I had big plans. Mum turned 50 this year and as a special treat I bought tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera in London. Phantom is Mum’s favourite musical and her love for it has spread to me and my sister. All of us have been to see it at least once, although I was sat up with the Gods and have watched the film and stage version DVDs countless times, however I have never been to the theatre with Mum. We had amazing seats in the stalls, where the view was excellent, and of course the production was incredible. I was prepared with the tissues for the second half as I knew I would cave and have a little cry; I just can’t help it, I feel so sorry for the poor Phantom! The music is spine chillingly beautiful and I loved every moment, as did Mummy, which was what I wanted. We spent the night in London (right in the heart of theatre land) and spent a lovely day moseying around Covent Garden, Harrods and the V&A before we had to venture home. I couldn’t quite believe that Harrods sold pets, so we had to go and see that. Sadly there weren’t any there, however we were both shocked to discover that they sell pugs for £3000! My sister has a slightly naughty little pug puppy, who spends most of her time terrorising our labrador, but she was a bargain in comparison. The Harrods Food Hall is beautifully quaint and I did indulge in a macaroon there too. I’m obsessed! We went to the V&A as Mummy has never been and I always love looking around the Theatre section. I was pleased to see that the newly refurbished Fashion section has reopened and loved looking at fashion through the ages…oh to live in the 1920s, the clothes were spectacular!

I have a built in wardrobe in my new flat, however the doors are horribly bare so I am determined to cover these in beautiful postcards and posters and made a start at the V&A. Ideally I would like a retro French style poster or two, but these will be a good start.

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The tutu costume from Black Swan

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An Edwardian tile.

In between all this and school I did do some reading.

Tongue in Cheek by Fiona Walker

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

<em>Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

I also finished by reread of To Kill A Mockingbird as I am teaching that at the moment.

I loved all of my reads for February, but for me Life of Pi was the biggest surprise and I absolutely adored it. I have been busy recommending it to everyone I meet.

I also took part in The Classics Club Spin, and my book is Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I studied Jane Eyre at Sixth Form, but haven’t read any other C. Bronte, so it should be an interesting read, although I’m not sure about the French bits; maybe it is time to learn French at long last. I was a little sad that the spin didn’t land on one of the books I actually own, but now I live within walking distance of the city library I can hardly complain! In fact I have been there this evening to take out even more books…oh dear!

On that note I am off to finish my current read!