This was my third year participating in the Back to the Classics Book Challenge! I ended up reading about a hundred books this year, and I did manage to get one in all 12 categories qualifying me for 3 entries in the challenge!
1. A 19th century classic – Sense and Sensibility
2. A 20th century classic – The Mysterious Affair at Styles
3. A classic by a woman author – The Secret of the Old Clock
4. A classic in translation – The Art of War
5. A children’s classic – A Wrinkle in Time
6. A classic crime story – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
7. A classic travel or journey narrative – The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
8. A classic with a single-word title – Emma
9. A classic with a color in the title – Anne of Green Gables
10. A classic by an author that’s new to you – Parnassus on Wheels
11. A classic that scares you – Brave New World
12. Re-read a favorite classic – The Count of Monte Cristo
This challenge always gets me to read books that I might otherwise never choose to read!! This year I fell in love with Parnassus on Wheels and Emma! Looking forward to starting the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge sign up post and dreaming about what new loves might come into my life!!! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of Re-Read a Favorite Classic, I read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. I believe I first read the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo for the Back to the Classics Challenge back in 2016. Recently, my husband has been playing his tractor video game (yes…he plays a video game where he gets to pretend to farm), and while he plays his game (and I knit), we listen to audio books. We had listened to all of David Clarke’s recordings of Sherlock Holmes, but he had not heard his librivox recording of The Count of Monte Cristo. David Clarke does a simply fantastic job with The Count of Monte Cristo changing his accent every time a character speaks in a different language!
This time I caught a few more of the connections between characters as well as more of the historical setting. I still absolutely love this book! To me, the best description is also the same description given to The Princess Bride: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes. True love. Miracles.” The Count of Monte Cristo really does have everything….well, maybe not giants….but everything else!!
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of A Classic that Scares You, I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Confession time: I avoid things that scare me. (I am working on this!) I particularly avoid dystopian fiction. Not only is it super depressing and rarely has any hint of a redeeming ending, but they are also scary because you can see how some of those “prophecies” have begun to come to fruition today. I am looking at you Fahrenheit 451 and your television families, aka reality tv! Thanks in large part to required reading in school, I have read: Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Animal Farm, Utopia (yes, it is dystopian, go figure), The Giver, and now Brave New World. Of all of them, the only ones I find tolerable are Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver, primarily because the main character manages to escape. In a way, I find these two to be the most realistic because while there have been many severely depressing and evil events in our history, there have always been little pockets of hope. As Mister Roger’s mother used to say “Look for the helpers.” I am really not sure what kind of a fatalist you have to be in order to write dystopian fiction, and I am really not sure how this genre can be so popular, especially right now. It is simply beyond my comprehension.
Brave New World is set in a time where all babies are born via test tube to the parameters they are expected to conform to as adults. There are no families, and no relationships. People have sex with whoever they want whenever they want. They work a shift, and then after their shift, they are entertained until they go to sleep. If anything happens to upset them, or if they are just experiencing a depression in their usual mood, they are encouraged to take a drug called Soma. They have regular religious meetings that stand for absolutely nothing other than to worship the greatness of their own society and the genius of their founder Henry Ford. I found the choice of Henry Ford to be an interesting one. Yes, he is considered the father of assembly line work, but he was also a big fan of socialism. Hitler even had a life sized painting of Henry Ford next to his desk! It seems that perhaps Ford was the perfect choice as the founder of this new society.
To be perfectly honest…none of this “Brave New World” sounds very different from what we are seeing today. Families are becoming less of a permanent fixture and fewer people choose to get married. Birth control and better women’s healthcare has led to more freedom with regard to sexual partners. Very often if people are not working, they do not know what to do other than submit themselves to being entertained. And, we are definitely seeing a shift religiously. There seems to be less certainty about what these religions actually stand for. And so many others…the emphasis on keeping people looking young and not valuing age, etc. John in Brave New World, a child born on a savage reservation to Linda, a visitor to the reservation who got lost, is able to point out all of the problems with this “Brave New World,” but he throws the baby out with the bath water and then refuses himself any pleasure. If anything, I think Brave New World represents the importance of balance. We must have sadness in order to truly experience happiness. We must have chaos in order to know peace.
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of A Classic by an Author that is New to You, I read Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. And, because it was so good, I also read it’s sequel The Haunted Bookshop! Parnassus on Wheels is the story of a traveling book salesman who comes to farmhouse belonging to a brother and a sister. The brother, Andrew McGill, has become a famous author, and his sister, Helen, tired of always having to pick up the slack around the farm, offers to buy the horse and book wagon so that her brother won’t be able to buy it and leave her to pick up with the slack on the farm! Mr. Mifflin, the bookseller, goes along with her for a little ways to help her get the hang of things and along the way educates her to his ideals on books. However, once she drops him off at the train station, trouble begins to brew.
This book, and it’s sequel are absolutely darling books that are a must read for any true book lover! Christopher Morley knows a book lover’s soul!
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.” – Christopher Morley
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of A Classic with a Color in the Title, I read Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I don’t know that I have ever actually read Anne of Green Gables. I know that I had an abridged book on cassette tape when I was a girl, and I often listened to it at night when I was going to sleep (and my daughter later did as well). I also recall seeing a movie version, but I don’t believe I have ever actually read the unabridged book.
I wasn’t really surprised by much in the book given that I had definitely read an abridged version and seen one of the movie versions. I suppose what surprised me the most was Marilla’s rather fundamentalist religious beliefs, how they affected her parenting choices, how impervious Anne’s sense of joy and wonder seemed to their influence, and how Anne’s influence ends up affecting them. I have two special needs kids, and I have talked with other parents about what it looks like to share your faith with special needs kids. Growing up, I always thought (probably much like Marilla) that it was about teaching them what is right and how to behave properly. However, as I have raised my atypical children, I have come to realize that it is about sharing what is beautiful, and that is what Anne does in this book. She shares what is beautiful, and that is why this book is so endearing!
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of A Classic with a Single-Word Title, I read Emma by Jane Austen. Prior to starting to participate in the Back to the Classics Challenge a few years ago, I had never read any Jane Austen novels. I have now read them all, and Pride and Prejudice and Emma are my two favorites. More than any of the other novels, we see the main character go through a transformation due to her previously held convictions being challenged. You see this in Sense and Sensibility as well, but it is not the primary main character. I suppose to me that is the primary purpose in any book or any relationship: getting to see how the person’s character grows and also opening yourself up for the same kind of growth through the experience.
Emma, is the story of a young, but not too young, lady who had no interest in marrying herself, just in pushing her friends into it. Her lack of discernment with respect to pushing her friend, Ms. Smith, towards relationships, and her lack of sincerity in her dealings with young men, almost lead her to some pretty embarrassing situations. However, through it all, she realizes that she has always seen Mr. Knightly as the standard by which all young men should be measured and that his influence has brought out the best in her over and over again. The book ends with Emma marrying Mr. Knightly and living happily ever after.
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category of A Classic Journey or Travel Narrative, I read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. Although Robin Hood does not seem to have a destination other than his own eventual death, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is still a chronicle of his “going from one place to another…to see what’s in between.” As JRR Tolkien once said, “Not all those who wander are lost,” and I believe this is an accurate assessment of Robin Hood. Yes, he was a wanderer, but he was not lost. He was at home not only with the wandering nature of his journey but also with himself and his merry men. How many of us today might envy his ability to wander confidently? How many of us gain a sense of security through supporting our illusion of control?
While I enjoy the legend of Robin Hood, I must admit that I have about decided that I am just not a fan of Howard Pyle. I have read at least one other of his books, and none of them have been my cup of tea. My biggest complaint about The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is that he completely leaves out Maid Marian. An all boys club can be fun, but adding a woman to the mix would have made it even more interesting. Next time I wish to read about Robin Hood, I believe I will try Roger Green’s retelling.