This was my second year participating in the Back to the Classics Book Challenge! I ended up reading 118 books this year, and I definitely managed to get one in all 12 categories qualifying me for 3 entries in the challenge!
1. A 19th Century Classic – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. A 20th Century Classic – Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
3. A classic by a woman author – A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason
4. A classic in translation – Arabian Nights
5. A classic originally published before 1800 – The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
6. A romance classic – Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves by Edmund Spenser
7. A Gothic or horror classic – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
8. A classic with a number in the title – Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title – Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit – Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield
11. An award-winning classic – The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
12. A Russian classic – Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
So many wonderful books this year!! Looking forward to starting the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge!!! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of A Classic in Translation, I read the version of Arabian Nights created by Muhsin J. Al-Musawi. (Since Arabian Nights is a folk tale that developed over centuries, there is no author, just translators and compilers.) My daughter has been studying the Middle Ages this year, and so I decided to read Arabian Nights to her. I had never read it, and discovered while I was researching which version to read that there is 1) a lot of variation and 2) many of the adult versions are inappropriate for children but many of the children’s versions leave out large chunks in favor of more popular and later additions to the folk tale such as Aladdin and Ali Baba. I eventually settled on this version and was very pleased. The language is similar to the Bible so the sex scenes (or which there are MANY) are very vague: “They conversed familiarly.”
If you are unfamiliar with the story, the plot is that there are two brothers that are both kings. One brother is going to visit the other one, but he decides to go back home unannounced before leaving and discovers his wife shacking up with one of the slaves. He kills them both and goes on to visit his brother, but he is very depressed. His brother wonders what is the matter with him, but he refuses to discuss it until one day while his brother is out hunting, he sees his brother’s wife and all of her attendants having an orgy in the garden. He then feels much better because he realizes that he is not the only one and perhaps he doesn’t have it nearly as bad as his brother. His brother then kills his wife as well, and they run away determined not to return unless they find someone worse off than themselves. This is when they run into a geni that has a “virgin” he captured before her wedding and has hidden in a locked chest in the ocean. He brings her out, and she puts him to sleep. She then sleeps with both of the brothers and requests a ring from each to add to her collection of rings from men she has managed to sleep with under the geni’s guard which totals to 100. The brothers conclude that the geni is more unfortunate than they are and return home. One of the brothers then decides to solve his problem by marrying a different woman every day and killing her the next morning before she has an opportunity to cheat on him. Obviously the entire land is very upset about this, and a very clever woman creates a plot to end this disaster. She asks to be chosen as the next wife. Her father who is in charge of selecting the wives…and killing them….is VERY hesitant to allow this, but he agrees as she is so insistent. She then asks the sultan is her sister could sleep in the next room since she will have to die the next day. She then has her sister waken her in the morning to tell a story. The sultan is so brought in by her tales that he keeps delaying her execution for 1001 nights until finally, he learns to trust her and decides not to execute her.
My daughter learned many valuable life lessons out of the book. One thing I remember her bringing up was that “It’s important to make sure you really love the person you marry and that they really love you….so you don’t end up married to an evil sorceress who turns your legs to stone and visits you every day to beat you while turning your subjects into fish!” She also particularly enjoyed the fact that the stories were set up to be a story within a story within a story within a story….etc! I felt it also taught us a lot about Arab culture as many of the words were not Westernized (the book used Allah instead of God and several other such things). Of course now that we have read this version, I want to read several other versions to see how different translators and compiler’s chose to interpret the tales in English!
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of An Award-Winning Classic, I read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck which won a Pulitzer Prize. I had read this book once before in high school and remembered really enjoying it. I felt like I remembered a majority of the book, and I did, except for the ending. I am wondering if I perhaps forgot the ending because I found it disappointing. There are two sequels, and despite my disappointment in the ending, I would still like to read them (especially since the description of the third book hints that peace finally returns to the family by the end of the trilogy).
The Good Earth opens on Wang Lung as he is preparing to get married and bring a woman to once again live in the house of his father. Wang Lung feels the need to indulge in a full bath, tea leaves, and some special foods for the wedding feast. His wife-to-be is a slave procured for him by his father from the great house of Hwang. As they begin their new life together, there is so much promise for the future. Though they don’t know each other, they are both united in their desire to make themselves and his father’s house greater than it is, and for several years they experience happiness as child after child is born to them and their farm continues to grow and prosper. Then a famine comes in which they all come very close to starving to death. They escape to the South and are eventually able to return home with money and jewels enough to buy more land, seed, and hire help. It is in this excess that they cease to experience peace. Wang Lung sends his boys to school where they learn new ideas, but Wang Lung does not remain actively involved with his boys and the new things they are learning. Then a big flood comes and they are unable to work the fields. At this point, Wang Lung, with no work to do and no book or hobby to feed his mind, falls into the habit of frequenting the tea shop, specifically to visit a prostitute names Lotus. Eventually, he becomes so obsessed with Lotus that he marries her as well, and from there on out, his goal in life becomes to keep peace in his home between his wives and his children. Eventually Wang Lung dies leaving all of the problems for his sons to sort out in the sequel, Sons. Overall, it is a soulful book that serves to remind me of the importance of striving to grow as a person and address your problems as opposed to striving for material value and temporary peace.
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of A Classic Set in a Place You’d Like to Visit, I chose to read Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. At first glance, you may wonder where exactly I am wanting to visit. Understood Betsy begins with Betsy living with her Aunt Frances in a town in Middle America, but due to a string of illnesses among her relatives, Betsy is sent to temporarily live with the Putney cousins on their farm in Vermont. With Aunt Frances, Betsy was small, lacked confidence, and was afraid of everything, but upon her arrival at the Putney farm, Betsy began to grow in stature, confidence, and learned the world was not nearly as scary as she had come to believe.
What was it that made the difference? Was it the cold air of Vermont? Was it the wide open spaces and experiences offered by a farm? What makes the difference normally in whether or not we enjoy and thrive in a particular place? Is it not the people themselves? Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, and Cousin Ann, allowed Betsy the freedom to try new things and yes, to fail. These experiences helped grow Betsy’s confidence in herself so that she could grow big and strong. While it would be lovely to visit a farm in Vermont, mostly I think I would like to visit Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, and Cousin Ann. Thankfully, in a way, I have gotten to visit them already through the pages of Understood Betsy, and it has strengthened me personally and my parenting.
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of A Classic About an Animal or Which Includes the Name of an Animal in the Title, I read Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I had never read Wind in the Willows before so I was surprised to discover that I was already familiar with at least a part of the story line thanks to a ride at Disney World! (And after finishing this book, my children and I took the opportunity to watch the movie Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was based on!)
The Wind and the Willows is about the lives of several animals that live on the river or in the forest that banks it. The main characters are Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Toad. Between them they represent many characteristics often found in people we know and follows their friendships through all kinds of adventures and misadventures! However, my favorite part of the story though is the friendship between Ratty and Mole.
Overall, it is a sweet and fun collection of adventures, but I have to give a shout out to Mark Smith from Librivox. His audio recording of Wind in the Willows is what really made this story come alive for us!
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of A Classic with a Number in the Title, I read Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit. Five Children and It is about an English family of five children who go to the country on holiday. While they are there, they find a “sand fairy” who will give you one wish every day that will last only until the end of the day….provided you manage to catch him!
The children take the opportunity to wish for all of the things that children often wish for…to be beautiful, to have wings, to have lots of money, to be in a castle under siege, that their baby brother would grow up,…or that someone else might take their baby brother off their hands… And then, the rest of their day is spent in the antics of trying to avoid the consequences of their wishes! It is not only a delightful little story, but it also serves as a great reminder to be thankful for what you have. This was one of my daughter’s favorite books we read this year, and I couldn’t believe I had made it to adulthood without the pleasure of reading this gem.
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of A Gothic or Horror Classic, I read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Last year I read my first Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express, and wondered how I had made it so long in my life without ever reading her books! This year when I read And Then There Were None, I immediately experienced a sense of hesitancy. Reading books that pull at the readers feelings of sadness, grief, loss, fear, etc has always been difficult for me, but this year in particular it seemed even harder. Thankfully though, despite the number of murders involved, I ended up really enjoying And Then There Were None! It is all of the twists and turns in trying to figure out how the murder(s) was done, that makes Agatha Christie novels so fascinating!
The book begins with a poem called Ten Little Soldier Boys; however, upon further research, it appears that the poem was originally Ten Little Indians. I *thought* I knew that song “8 little, 9 little, 10 little indians…” but as it turns out, the original was much darker “Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine…” Turns out the original version was written in 1868 by a guy from Pennsylvania for a minstrel show, and in fact, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was actually originally titled Ten Little Indians and then later changed to the last line of the poem to make it more politically correct (at least in the American version…the British version was even less politically correct). At that point the poem and the name of the island on which the story takes place were changed to “soldier” as opposed to “indian.”
At any rate, that is a nice little side bit of information for you that has no bearing on the actual book! The basic plot of the book is that there are 10 people who have all been invited to visit an island. Once they get there, people are slowly being murdered one by one until none are left which leaves you asking at the end of the book “Who killed them?” In the epilogue, we learn that a message in a bottle has been discovered in which the murderer reveals his identity and how he did it. It really was a great book despite all of the murders and creepy poem!