I joined the Back to the Classics Challenge last year as a way to be more intentional in the reading of the classics. But also to keep a record and review of those I did read.
And though I intended to complete it when I signed up, things changed during the year. I found more challenges I wanted to join. For other types of books. I started a couple of book clubs. And life continued happening.
Being a homeschool mom leaves very little time for extras. Like the luxurious hours of reading I enjoyed as a youth with few responsibilities. Not to mention, my insatiable curiosity that leads me to want to continually learn about new things.
So completing this list became less important than just being intentional about keeping one book from it on my currently-reading list. You can read more about this in my post – 4 Ways to Fulfill Mother Culture.
But part of being intentional is looking at what I accomplished with the eye towards improving. If possible. So without further ado, a look back at the books I chose to read and my review of those I completed.
19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.
Lilith – George MacDonald (1895) 341 pages – I did not finish this book. I started it once. But quickly moved on to something else. I don’t remember why.
20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969.
Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence (1913) 423 pages – I finished this book just before the end of the year. Literally. I completed it December 31, 2019 about an hour before midnight.
D.H. Lawrence has been on my list of classic authors to read for a while now. And when I looked at the books he wrote, this one stood out. Want to know why? It’s about the family Morel. I may have known this at one time. But it wasn’t until I married my Frenchman with the family name Morel that it became relevant to me.
But the reason I chose the book is not the reason I liked it. The writing is excellent. Lawrence pulls the reader in and makes him care about the characters he has created. Though they are all flawed, you begin to like them and cheer for them to get what they want. Sometimes even if it is something that is clearly bad for them.
I love a story that makes me want to know the end. And that keeps me coming back to it. So I would have to give the book 4 out of 5 stars. If you get a chance to read Sons and Lovers, please do so.
Classic by a Female Author.
Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (1877) 255 pages – This is the first book I finished on the list. It was an easy read and an enjoyable one. In fact, I used this book as a read-aloud with my oldest daughter since she absolutely loves horses.
We both loved it. While some of the scenes may have been difficult for my sensitive girl of eight to hear, it did not deter her from wanted to continue the book. In fact, the sadder parts are where she was held more rapt than any other. She soaked it in and prayed for a good outcome.
This is a great book to read as a family. Especially if you have girls. I just can’t believe I never read it when I was younger.
Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a language other than my native language.
Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880) 796 pages – I did not get to this book at all. Unfortunately, because I have been wanting to read it for a while.
Classic Comedy. Any comedy or humorous work.
The American Claimant – Mark Twain (1892) 291 pages – I also did not read this book. And I’m not sure why. I have always enjoyed Mark Twain so I am sure that I would have enjoyed this one.
Classic Tragedy. Any work with a typically sad ending.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (1937) 187 pages – This is another book I can’t believe I never read before now. I’ve read a few others by Steinbeck but never got around to this one. And surprisingly it was never assigned in school. Neither in high school (where I took every English literature class I could fit in my schedule) nor in university (where I majored in English specializing in literature and also took every literature class I could fit).
And there is a reason why it is considered a classic. And an excellent story. Beautifully written. And though the ending is quite sad and depressing, it would not have worked any other way.
Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or endnotes.
War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy (1869) 1225 pages – Yeah. No surprise that I didn’t get around to reading the 1000+ page novel. Even though I have always enjoyed the Russian novelists. Maybe next year.
Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.
The Lifted Veil – George Eliot (1859) 75 pages – I love George Eliot. I think I have read just about every novel she has written. And her novels can be pretty long (I’m thinking of you Middlemarch). I didn’t know about this story before this year, however.
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her longer works. In fact, I don’t really remember much about it. Maybe she is just a better writer with longer tales.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark (1961) 144 pages – This was a possibility I chose last year for this category. Obviously I did not read it.
Classic from the Americas (including the Caribbean). A classic novel set in either continent or the Caribbean or by an author originally from one of those countries.
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (1966) 192 pages – Another book I never got around to reading. I may have actually done so if it had been easier for me to get a hold of. I usually first look at the library in the English section. If it is not there (which most are not), I will look at Scribd for which I have a monthly subscription. If it is not available on Scribd, I usually will only read it if I am passionate about getting my hands on a copy. And then I will pay the necessary price for a copy on Amazon. Kindle if I can.
I wasn’t passionate about reading this one so when I was unable to find it at the library or on Scribd, I pretty much gave up.
Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). A classic novel set in one of those continents or islands, or by an author from these countries.
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (1958) 209 pages – I found this at the library so decided to check it out as one of my first books. It was easy to read but I found myself struggling because I did not like the main character much. I’m not so sure he was meant to be liked. And often I can get around that by cheering on the antagonists.
However, maybe because it involves a culture that I do not understand (and to be honest, was never really interested in learning more about), I just couldn’t seem to get into it.
I will say this. It was a good story and written very well. It just wasn’t for me.
Classic from a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived.
Choices for me include the United States, China, or France.
The Man Who Walked Through Walls (Le Passe-muraille) – Marcel Aymé (1943) 244 pages – I read this one in French. And I have a funny story about it, too.
So even though this book is considered a classic in France, I could not find a copy at our local library. Luckily, my mother-in-law had given me a paperback a few years ago that she got at her yearly used book sale for Amnesty International. I started it immediately in January. I like reading physical books best so I try to get to those first.
Well, I was really getting into this book, reading it every night before bed, when we started making some changes in our house. Since our homeschool was growing, we decided to move it from the master bedroom on the second floor, to the dining room on the first floor. This meant that I could officially move my bedroom from the third floor (where I had been sleeping with the kids) back to the master bedroom.
In the move between rooms, somehow, I lost track of the book. I couldn’t find it anywhere. And I was frustrated because I was really into one of the stories at the time and wanted to know the end. We searched the house on and off for months. Months! I was persuaded it was somewhere in the mess of the third floor.
Finally, sometime around October, I finally started making some headway in the mess of the third floor. And I found the book. Tucked into a box of kid’s books that I was going to be donating.
At the same time, my daughter found another copy of the book in the bookshelves of the schoolroom.
So for months, I had been searching the house for this book. I looked for one at the library so I could continue reading. I even went to the nearest bookstore and had no luck. Only to find out we had TWO copies the entire time. Yikes.
Anyway, an excellent book of short stories.
Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago.
Tartuffe – Molière (1900 though written in 1664) 208 pages – I did not choose this play because I remembered reading it at the university.
Uncle Vanya – Anton Chekhov (1897) 76 pages – I decided to go for Uncle Vanya because I do really like the Russians.
It was a fun little read. It may not be Chekhov’s most famous work (I think The Cherry Orchard is the most well-known), but it is a good one. I would be interested in seeing it actually performed one day. Youtube maybe?
So here it is. Finally. A look at my first Back to the Classics Challenge.
And even though I technically never completed it, I would still consider it a success. It allowed me to finally read some of those classics that have been haunting me for years. And even allowed me to try a couple of books I may not have otherwise.
And that is my definition of success.
If you’d like to join me in this reading challenge for 2020, you can find the details and rules at Books and Chocolate. And you can read my post about the books I have chosen for this year on my post Back to the Classics Reading Challenge 2020.
I’ve created a small checklist that can be printed and pasted in your journal or planner. You can access it through the Freebies page.