Flush with the success of completing my Booker Prize project, I’ve now reached the finishing line on a second long-term reading project: The Classics Club.
This was a project started in August 2012 to read 50 classics of literature over the course of five years. That “deadline” came and went. As did the sixth and the seventh anniversaries. But I was determined I would have this done before the eighth anniversary rolled around.
I made it with three months to spare.
Thankfully my final book was a pleasure to read: Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope which is book number four out of the six that form his Chronicles of Barsetshire series.
What else did I read as part of the project? You can see my full list of titles here as well as the books I couldn’t finish, I actually listed far more than 50 titles when the project got underway because I wanted plenty of choice. So there are another 30 books that I never got around to reading.
The books I chose were a combination of authors I’d never read previously (like
was an attempt to fill in the gaps in my reading of the great and the good from the literary world. The eagle eyed among my readers will notice that there are more than 50 titles listed here. The reason is simple: I wanted plenty of choice so I could pick a novel to suit different moods.
Some of the authors I selected were people I have never read before such as Honore Balzac and John Steinbeck. Others were novels I had read previously but at age when I don’t think I fully understood them (such as Mrs Dalloway). I mixed in a few favourites like George Eliot; some novels translated from their original language and some Welsh classics.
I used a very loose definition of “classic”. I didn’t take it to mean just old (though I did read a few Greek tragedies). Nor did I interpret classics as those books appearing in “xxx books you must read before you die” lists. I wanted books that had endured the passage of time; that could be considered “important” or “significant” in themselves or in terms of the author’s body of work.
So I ended up with books spread across the centuries starting from Euripedes and Medea, both believed to have been written around 431 BC. I managed one eighteenth century novel in the form of The Vicar of Wakefield and 18 novels from my favourite literary period. To my surprise the majority of books I read were from the twentieth century, starting with Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career in 1901 and ending with The Human Factor by Graham Greene in 1978.
Was it worth doing? Yes absolutely, I read some fabulous books and found some authors that I want to discover further.
Will I do it again? I know there are some members of the Classics Club that are on their second cycle. I have 30 books already identified and it wouldn’t be too hard to find another 20.
But I’m not going to commit myself at this point. You all know I don’t like projects which involve reading from lists plus I have a few other projects i’d like to complete first. So I shall pause for this year at least.
Which were my favourite books? I’ll share my list of 10 favourites and (maybe) 10 disappointments with you soon but will just leave you with my top 3 selections for now.
The 3 Favourites
L’Assommoir by Emile Zola: My love affair with Zola continued with this novel from 1877. It’s set in Paris, tracing the miserable existence of a woman who tries to make something of her life but keeps getting pulled down by a lazy, drunkard husband. Simply superb.
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West: A wonderful tale of a recently woman who decides, in her late 80s, to exert independence for the first time in her life.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: I read this on a flight from UK to USA and, for once, did not want the journey to come to an end. I was quite resentful when we landed and had to unbuckle before I had read the last few pages.
Would these be among your favourite “classic” reads? Are there any books you think I should add to my list if I decided to do a second round of the Classics Club? By the way if you’d like to join in with this project, just visit the blog site Classics Club via this link.