romanoir

to a dusty shelf i aspire

Top Ten Tuesday – Books This Year

Since it’s the start of June and almost halfway through the year (!) there couldn’t be a better time for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, which I’m going to use as a kind of recap of this year in Literature. I’ve read a lot of great books this year so this Top Ten Books I’ve Read This Year list will be rather easy. Well, hopefully…

In no particular order my Top Ten are:

10.
Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev

9.
Poor Folk – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

8.
Rubicon – Tom Holland

7.
Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte

6.
Inferno – Dante

5.
The Plague – Albert Camus

4.
Animal Farm – George Orwell

3.
The Theban Plays – Sophocles

2.
The Book of Sand – Jorge Luis Borges

1.
Persuasion – Jane Austen

I won’t add descriptions since I did a major post about most of these but I will say that so far this year I have read books that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read, some more than others, but I have enjoyed them all.

Winter

Image

Looking at my reading habits over the past few years I seem to get most of my reading done during the coldest months in the year. Which really does not surprise me at all. I love reading at night under a labyrinth of blankets with a cup of coffee, tea or even hot chocolate. Living in a hot climate doesn’t give me many opportunities to enjoy reading the way I love to do it so when winter comes around I’m almost never seen without a book in hand. I’ve been reading a lot over the past two weeks and I’ve even managed to write two reviews (!) and with Winter here I want to keep that great progress going. Usually when I write lists about which books to read in a month or in a season I end up never following it but this time I’m going to write a very rough list and not put pressure on myself to read them in the order I originally put them in. So without further ado the following list of books are the titles I am planning to read or at least read some of over the next three months:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales – I’m almost a quarter of the way through this collection but I’ve been making good progress and I’m aiming to finish by the end of this month. I have loved each story so far and I’m planning to write a review of the first ten tales which I should finish up tomorrow. 
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – I’m currently reading this book at the moment although I haven’t gotten through much of it. The language is quite laborious at first but I love adventure stories and I’m told Robinson Crusoe is an excellent book so I’ll push through. I’m oping to finish it over the next couple of days. I’m also aiming to read Moll Flanders which is another of Defoe’s novels. I knew when I came across it in a book store last year I would love it and I’m really looking forward to starting it.
  • Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Mallory – I’ll be starting this as soon as I finish Robinson Crusoe. It’s just over a thousand words and it will be this months long project as it’s the title that I’m reading for the Classics Club Spin and the deadline to finish is early July. It was one of the novels on my Classics Club list I was most looking forward to reading as the Arthurian Myth has always been a passion of mine.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens –  I have no idea why I have put this book off for so long but it’s high time I read it. I haven’t had the best luck with Dickens in the past but I’ve been reading a lot of Victorian Lit lately and hopefully that will provide a fresh start for my very complicated relationship with Dickens. If I have time I’ll also read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – I’ve read two novels by Dostoyevsky this year and I’m eager to read another before the year is done. Russian Literature is a personal favourite of mine and I’ve loved every Russian novel I’ve ever read so I hope this will be no different.
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante – I’ve already read the first part of the Divine Comedy, Inferno, and I loved it so I look forward to reading the other two parts, Purgatory and Paradise
  • Emma by Jane Austen – As I’ve mentioned in other posts I wanted to re-read all of Austen’s novels this year and Emma is next on my list. It’s my second favourite Austen, after Persuasion, and Emma is definitely my favourite of Austen’s heroines. Since I read Emma the first time I’ve seen almost all of the film and television adaptions and I’m looking forward to going back to the source. 
  • Fall of the Roman Republic by Plutarch – I’ve had this on my to-read list for a long time and I’ve read bits and pieces but I want to dedicate a chuck of time to reading it from start to finish. It deals with one of my favourite time periods in history and dedicates whole parts of the book to some of the most interesting figures in all of history.
  • Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkein – I think it’s important to break up all of my classics reading with something a tad more fantastical and since I read the three part novel so long ago I want to revisit Middle Earth and fall in love with it all over again. 

As I said this is a rough list and quite short at the moment so I’ll keep adding and changing as the next three months go on but I’m happy with my Classics Club progress and can’t wait for the cold weather to start so I can bury myself in a wall of books.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

Image

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Animal Farm, a widely read and loved Novella by George Orwell, was first published in 1945. On the surface it’s a simple tale of mistreated animals taking a farm from the hands of humans and building a new world order but once you look deeper it’s a very strong and crisp allegory of the Russian Revolution and the creation of the USSR. I’ve read a lot of books published over the last hundred years or so but none, with the possible exception of the Great Gatsby, is more deserving of the word classic.

For a novella, Animal Farm is actually quite dense and covers many issues/is set over a decade or so. The tale starts off with the death of Old Major who before he passes spreads the idea of the animals one day rising up and taking over the farm from the corrupt humans. Old Major’s death is followed by the quick expulsion of the humans, including the owner of the farm Mr. Jones, who ends up trying to come back but is driven away again. The main action of the story takes place after the original expulsion of the humans from the farm and most of the book covers the animals building a functional new order (led by two pigs Snowball and Napoleon) and the eventual corruption of their original communist ideals. The animals start off with seven simple rules but as time goes on Napoleon and his followers (mostly pigs and dogs) get a thirst for power the rules are changed and the “less intelligent” animals are manipulated into submitting to Napoleon.

As someone who has always had an interest in Russian history,specifically the Russian Revolution, the story was quite entertaining as I was able to spot the animal counterparts of real historical figures. Old Major represents either Marx or Lenin as the instigators of the Communist ideal (critics are still split over whether Old Major actually represents Marx or Lenin), Napoleon is Stalin, Snowball is Trotsky, Mr Jones is the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas I and other animals represent the workers and peasants of the USSR under Stalin.

Although I loved the story itself and the not-so-subtle allegorical hints, the discussion of the many issues (corruption, communism, how to build an equal society/how to sustain it, power and control) that the Animal Farm faced was definitely the most interesting. I live in Australia which is a first world, capitalist, multicultural, economically stable and secular country that is governed by a very conservative party. Australia is a contrast to the USSR in almost every area but I found some of the issues discussed in Animal Farm are the issues that my country is facing even now. Recently the liberal government released the Federal Budget which put forward the idea of raising the age of when the elderly could retire and have access to the aged pension to 70 years old. This is a parallel to Napoleon raising the pension age on Animal Farm and taking away certain benefits for animals who had reached the age to retire, such as the hard working horse Boxer. It’s quite alarming that even sixty years later our progression as a society isn’t much improved.

Yes, Animal Farm is a book very of it’s time but due to the discussions of society, government and the corruption of socialist ideals it will always remain relevant no matter which country or time period you’re living in.

The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte

Image

“In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but how many wet days are there in life—November seasons of disaster, when a man’s hearth and home would be cold indeed, without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.”

The Professor, Charlotte Bronte’s (pen name Currer Bell) first novel, was published posthumously in 1857 and at first wasn’t well received mostly because of it’s similarity to another of her novels, Villette. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s least known novel but it’s valued because you can see her promising talent laced throughout the work. As well as the fictional elements it has shades of the autobiographical due to Charlotte Bronte’s own experience teaching in Brussels when she was younger.

 The story itself is quite simple. The Protagonist, William Crimsworth, is a poor orphaned Englishman who by chance is offered a place as a professor (teacher) at an esteemed boys boarding school in Brussels. This later turns into a second teaching placement at the all girls school next door. William isn’t a handsome man, he doesn’t have any considerable talent for trade and he’s certainly not rich but he does have moderate intellect which is his only weapon against a world that largely doesn’t care for him. He is determined to work for what he earns and mentions constantly that he doesn’t want to be given a single thing. Charlotte Bronte mentioned in the preface that she wanted to tell a real story, a story about a man who is average and plain who has to work for everything he has. In that respect she succeeds. I was quite enchanted by his character throughout the novel.

The secondary characters are memorable too. There is Frances Henri, a student of William’s, who at first is a reserved and guarded but sweet girl, but then transforms into a strong and smart young woman who is determined to pay for her own way in life. There are the two antagonists of the novel, Francois Pelet and Zoraide Reuter, who are ambitious and cunning but I found them simply delightful. And there is Hunsden Yorke Hunsden who befriends William early in the novel and who pops in now and then to offer his interesting take on where William’s life is heading and who ends up being a dear friend to both William and Frances.

This novel had a lot of promise and it did hold my attention throughout but the  prejudice against Catholics (at one point Bronte called them Romish Wizards and people who lacked integrity), the French and Belgians prevented me from completely enjoying the novel. The prejudice and racism was laced throughout the work and at points I had to take a breath and force myself through because of the strength of Bronte’s venomous hatred.

All in all I enjoyed parts of the novel but much like Northanger Abbey I highly doubt I’ll visit this one again.

Classics Club Spin #6

Image   The Classics Club has announced the sixth Classics Club Spin and it really couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve made good progress on my list (so far this year I’ve read fourteen classic novels which is almost on track to where I wanted to be) but I’m not exactly sure which novel to read next. Picking the next novel is always the hardest part since my decision making skills leave a lot to be desired. I just missed out on joining the previous spin and I am absolutely thrilled another is so soon. My list is a mixture of books I am nervous about starting and books I can’t wait to read. I tried to challenge myself so a lot of these are rather long. So without further ado here is my list:

1. Le Morte D’Arthur – Thomas Malory
2. Emma – Jane Austen
3. The Iliad – Homer
4. Orlando Furioso – Lucovico Ariosto
5. Three Comedies – Ben Johnson
6. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
7. Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes
8. Essential Tales and Poems – Edgar Allan Poe
9. Richard III – William Shakespeare
10. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11. The Complete Poems – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
12. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
13. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
14. Silas Marner – George Eliot
15. The Aeneid – Virgil
16. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
17. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte
18. Paradise Lost – John Milton
19. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
20. Metamorphoses – Ovid

 

THE FIVE I’M DREADING (due to the length not because I’m dreading the story itself):
Don Quixote, Orlando Furioso, Vanity Fair, Metamorphoses, Le Morte D’Arthur

THE FIVE I CAN’T WAIT TO READ:
Crime and Punishment, Great Expectations, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Aeneid, Richard III

I’m actually looking forward to all of them, even the ones I’m also dreading because of the length. I’ll be happy with any of them.

 

UPDATE: Number 1 was selected so I have the pleasure (and probably pain) of reading Le Morte D’Arthur which comes to 1049 pages! It’s going to be a task to finish it in a month and a half but if I time manage and don’t leave it until the end of June I should be okay. I’m nervous but I absolutely love Arthurian Legends so hopefully it’ll be an entertaining read. 

May Update

Image

This year has gone by incredibly fast hasn’t it? I can’t believe it’s almost half way through the year. It’s insane. Since I live in the southern hemisphere May is the last month of Autumn before the cold winter sets in. Personally I detest Winter and I’m lucky to live in a country that is relatively warm compared to Europe and North America. However there are still cold days (such as today) where I wish nothing more than to hide under the covers with a good book and a big cup of coffee.

For the past month I have been in quite a book slump. I haven’t even finished one book, which is extremely rare for me, especially since I have had a bit of free time on my hands. At the end of March I read two books I didn’t enjoy at all (Northanger Abbey, Vathek) and one book I didn’t finish (the Hunchback of Notre Dame) which put me off picking up another book. Then life intervened and I kept pushing reading to the side. Soon enough it was the end of April and I hadn’t read a thing. I’ve been spending the last few nights reading old favourite poems and short stories which have finally brought me out of my reading slump. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed reading until I was knee deep in brilliant poetry and prose.

For May, I don’t have many clear cut reading goals as I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself but I have a few titles picked out that I’m excited to stick my teeth into. Last week I bought a collection of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales which I want to read first up. The collection is beautifully illustrated which always enhances my reading of fairy tales (I have an illustrated collection of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales as well). I also have Shakespeare’s Henry IV (and possibly another Shakespeare) to read this month as I am woefully behind on my Shakespeare Project. I also want to read another Russian novel this month, maybe Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I recently found a copy of the Three Comedies by Ben Johnson and I want to read at least one of them this month. Other than that I’m thinking about reading a Dickens (why? Because it’s Dickens), perhaps Great Expectations or Oliver Twist.  If I have time after the aforementioned titles I think I’ll read another Austen since one of my year long goals is to re-read all of her novels. So far I’ve read Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey and I think I want to read Emma next. I also need to write reviews which I’ve been so slack on.  

May should be a quiet month so hopefully I can reach all my book/review goals and then some! My birthday is in late May so that’s exciting. I can’t believe it’s here already. I’ve been hinting to my family about these beautiful leather bound copies of Wuthering Heights and Persuasion so if all goes to plan I should have them in my hands in no less than twenty days. A girl can dream. 

For now I’m going to make a big cup of coffee and settle in bed with Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales and hopefully read at least five of them before I turn in. Some are long and some are short so it shouldn’t be too hard to read five. I plan to do mini posts about ten of them at once so hopefully I’ll be writing that up over the next few days. 

What are your reading plans for May? 

History Challenge 2014

Image

I have a few goals for reading this year: keep a detailed log of the books I read, review each book in detail, finish my blog’s Shakespeare Project which I am in the middle of drafting up, complete the various challenges I have signed up for and increase my reading of non-fiction. On average I used to read more non-fiction but for some reason over the last two years I have read nothing but fiction. When I came across Fanda’s 2014 History Reading Challenge I knew it was the perfect fit. I will be aiming for the Historian level (which is seven or more books) which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as I have an enormous backlog of non-fiction history books I have on my shelves. he books I will be reading for his challenge include:

Rubicon – Tom Holland
1415: Henry V’s Year of Glory – Ian Mor
timer
Europe During
the Renaissance – John Hale
Lives Vol 1 and 2 – Plu
tarch

(this list is a work in progress but those four are he ones I am definitely sure about)

TBR Reading Challenge 2014

roofs

For as long as I can remember I have had a chronic book buying problem. It’s gotten to the point where I have to actively stop myself from purchasing any more books. Adam’s TBR challenge is he perfect fit for someone like me. Now I finally have the motivation and push to read at least twelve of the untouched books I have on my shelf. I have spent days going through my books to compile the compulsory twelve books and two optional alternates. My list includes:

The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
Rubicon – Tom Holland
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Plague – Albert Camus
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes
Utopia – Thomas More
Middlemarch – George Eliot
The Art of War – Sun Tzu
1415: Henry V’s Year of Glory – Ian Mortimer

Alternates:
Res Gestae Divi Augusti – Augustus Caesar
Leaves of Grass –Walt Whitman

More information about the challenge is under the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Russian Literature Challenge 2014

Before I ever read a Russian Classic novel I was of the opinion that they were overwrought and ostentatious mountains that I would not (and could not) conquer. I have never been more wrong.

I was in high school when I read my first Russian Classic. I had bought One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn a year before I decided to read it because it was small and reading it would be a tiny victory before I decided to conquer mammoth novels like Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment. I read it in one evening. It was, and remains, one of the best novels I have ever read in my life. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was the best introduction to Russian Literature I could have had. A few months later I read Anna Karenina, fell head over heels with 19th century Russian Literature and never looked back.

Now, having read several classic Russian novels, I have the ideal platform to conquer a Russian Literature challenge. To try and fill the gaps in my knowledge of Russian Lit and to expand my library of Russian Classics as much as I possibly can. As soon as I found O’s challenge I knew it would be something I could not pass up.

Since I will be signing up for several challenges I don’t think I’ll have time to read 12+ books so I will aim for Level Three – 8 books.

Titles:
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Poor Folk and the Gambler – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin
Pnin – Vladimir Nabokov
Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (if I’m feeling particularly daring)

Possible Standby:
Any of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work since I’ve only read one of his novels and have always wanted to read more

Arthurian Lit Challenge 2014

In my readings of the Arthurian Legends I’ve always focused on Merlin and the mythology of magic in the Middle Ages. I’ve never shown an interest in King Arthur and his Knights outside of film, mostly because I’ve never delved too far into the literature. This challenge is exactly what I need to push me in the right direction. I am ready to become lost in Camelot and the Middle Ages. I plan on reading chronologically through the oldest tales to the most recent and hopefully at the end I will be able to find academic criticism on Arthurian Literature.
Image

Read the rest of this entry »