My 10 Classics Club Favourites

Now that I’ve completed my Classics Club project (whoopee) I thought it would be fun to look back over the 50 books I read and and pick my 10 favourites.

The books I’ve listed were those I consider the most memorable and thought provoking out of the 50 books I read in the last seven and half years. They are also books I think that perfectly fit Italio Calvino’s definition of a classic as

a book which which each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.

Though I seldom seem to find the time to re-read, these 10 novels are all ones I know will prove as rewarding the second, third or even fourth time around.

L’Assommoir by Emile Zola

You knew there would be a Zola in the list didn’t you? My all-time favourite is Germinal but L’Assommoir comes a very close second. Paris is the setting for this tale of a woman from the bottom rungs of society who tries to make something meaningful in her life. Her lazy, drunk of a husband thwarts her ambitions. There are some magnificent set pieces including a brawl between women in a wash house and a wedding “banquet”.

Published: 1877. Read 2014

Author’s origin: France

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

This was a joy to read. Elderly women are not often portrayed in a positive light in fiction but Sackville-West gives us a memorable tale of a woman who decides at the age of 80 to assert her independence.

Published: 1931 Read 2019

Author’s origin: UK

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

On the surface this would seem to be a novel about a crime and the hunt to bring the culprit to justice. But actually it’s more a study of the criminal mind and whether it is ever acceptable to commit murder. Completely engrossing.

Published: 1866 Read 2013

Author’s origin: USSR

Heart Of The Matter by Graham Greene

This has become my all-time favourite Graham Greene novel. It’s an intense novel in which a decent and well-meaning man takes an action that leads to spiritual conflict and despair. The West African setting adds to the atmosphere of oppression and suffocation.

Published: 1948 Read 2013

Author’s origin: UK

North And South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Nothing I’ve read by Gaskell has come anywhere close to being as good as this tale of conflict in an industrial city (it”s loosely based on Manchester.) In what is considered a classic Industrial Novel, Gaskell shows the desperate poverty of the mill workers and the consequent effects on their health.

Published: 1855 Read 2012

Author’s origin: UK

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

New York in Wharton’s novel is a city where the individual spirit is hampered by codes of behaviour that govern everything from the time at which dinner is served to what to wear to the opera. It takes a brave spirit to try to break out from the constraints of this society.

Published: 1920 Read 2020

Author’s origin: USA

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck isn’t an author you would naturally associate with humour. But this novella has characters who make such a mess of things, that you can”t help but laugh even though their situation is anything but funny. They are people who live in the sardine canning district of Monterey, California. Among them is a group of down-and-outs who live from one drink to another, begging, borrowing, stealing and fighting.  

Published: 1945 Read 2013

Author’s origin: USA

Old Goriot by Honore Balzac

A biting novel in which Balzac portrays France as a corrupt, ruthless society that feeds on ambition, money and status. This is meant to be one of the best novels in La Comedie Humane series. It’s made me hungry for more Balzac.

Published: 1835 Read 2015

Author’s origin: France

Mrs Dalloway  by Virgina Woolf

A complex stream of consciousness novella that takes place in the course of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. It’s so rich and multi-layered that I don’t think one reading alone can possibly do justice to Woolf’s narrative.

Published: 1925 Read 2016

Author’s origin: UK

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Set on the cusp of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Paton’s novel expresses his love for his home country and his fear for its future. Paton uses multiple voices to dramatise the differing attitudes between the country’s white and black populations and the emergence of irreconcilable hatred.

Published 1948 Read 2015

Author’s origin: South Africa

What do you make of my choices – any surprises? What would be on your list of 10 favourite classics? If you’re curious about what else I read, you can see my full Classics Club list here.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on June 15, 2020, in Classics Club and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Congrats on finishing your 50 Classics. Of these, my favorite is L’Assommoir. I don’t remember doing a post about my favorites when I finished my first 50 classics, I think that was very hard to choose.
    Are you going to choose 50 other classics to read? I have already read 36 of my 2nd round, though a lot are classics that were NOT on my list !!

    • I’m taking a break from the project so I can try and finish a few other projects….I’m impressed you are almost finished with your second list

  2. Congrats for completing the CC project! Mine would finish the end of this year.
    I’m glad L’Assommoir made it to this list.
    Agree with Cannery Row – it’s funny and warm. One of my favorites from Steinbeck.
    Can’t wait to take a peek into your next list – if you’d plan to do another round, that is.

  3. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    Oooh yes, Crime And Punishment and The Age Of Innocence definitely get a +1 vote from me. I was particularly blown away by Crime And Punishment, it was nothing at all like what I was expecting, exceeded every expectation!

  4. This reminds me to read Edith Wharton, esp. The Age of Innocence. I’m sorely lacking in her literature, other than Ethan Frome, and she makes an appearance in a new biography I read about Louis Bromfield, The Planter of Modern Life, as they were friends. Anyway, a long way of saying thanks for this list! I too loved Mrs. Dalloway and also The Heart of the Matter.

    • Glad to hear we share similar tastes. Now I’ve enjoyed The Age of Innocence so much I’m tempted to try House of Mirth once again. I wasn’t all that struck by it before but sometimes your reception of a book can change on second reading

  5. A great selection. I loved Cannery Row and Mrs Dalloway. Cry the Beloved Country Was on a reading list I was given for my first year at Grammar School and I still haven’t read it, so I was very interested to see that it’s made your top ten favourites list. Maybe I should read it soon.

  6. I’m so pleased to see Cannery Row up there; one of my favourites and overdue for a reread. I also love Mrs Dalloway which I do plan to read any time now having recently read the article flagged by Paula on BookJotter which points out that Clarissa was recovering from what was almost certainly spanish flu. It will be my 3rd read and this time I’ll see it through very different filters.

    • I missed the article you mention that Paula discovered. Was that in her most recent jottings post? Mrs D is definitely the kind of book that you can read and find new meaning in each time – it might be slim in terms of number of pages, but the content is quite dense isn’t it? You kind of have to unpick it slowly

  7. That’s a great selection, one with which I’d be quite happy to be stranded on a desert island. I like Gaskell, Ruth in particular but I’ve read and enjoyed N&S a couple of times. All Passion Spent you of course got me to read (and enjoy!) this year. Crime and Punishment and Cry the Beloved Country I haven’t read since school days. I must read them again, but after Brothers Karamazov.

    • Oh yes they would be great companions on that island. I have a copy of Ruth somewhere so should give that a go. I didn’t care for Cranford so hope its nothing like that.

  8. Ivan Arthur Sayer

    Thank you. I have now ordered Warton and Balzac

  9. Inspiring!

  10. Wharton is one of my favorites, and I haven’t read Cannery Row but loved East of Eden. North and South was also really good. All of these are authors I want to read more of.

    • I’ve yet to read East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath in fact – I didnt think I would like Steinbeck but Cannery Row and Mice and Men convinced me otherwise,

  11. Great list (although I’m NOT a fan of the soap opera Zola, I can understand why others are)

  12. piningforthewest

    Yes great choices, I’ve read them all except the last three, which I should definitely do. I hope you will be compiling a second list of 50 classics now.

    • I have a lot of titles left over from my list so could use those as a starter for round 2 but I want to finish a few other reading projects first….

  13. Good choices. I loved North and South, Age of Innocence, and Cry,the Beloved Country. I will read Passion Spent–thanks, I did not know of it.

  14. I love the classics and your list provided good inspiration. In particular, I am warming up to start Crime and Punishment, so nice to see that one on the list! Mrs Dalloway is a favourite of mine, although it took me several attempts before I got into it and managed to finish it.

    • I read Mrs Dalloway years ago and really didn’t get on with it – I just could’t work out what was happening. So yes, I think you do have to tune into it…

  15. I would love to finish North & South someday. I started reading it a few years ago but never finished it. I love Gaskell’s style, and wouldn’t mind reading more of her books 😊

    • What caused you to give up on it? I suppose you’ll have to start from the beginning again (I know i wouldnt be able to remember what was happening if I had a break of a few years)

      • I began reading North & South just before I had begun to write my term papers and exams. I was about 100 pages into the book. Although I loved the book, I didn’t have much free time to read for about a month. By the time my exams ended, I had brought North & South back to the library. I figured that I would start again in a few months time. A few years have passed since then. I will certainly have no choice but to start it again.

  16. Jolly good selection I think – although I have only read three of them!

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