The Pre-Printing Press Challenge 2014

I stumbled across The Pre-Printing Press Challenge at All Booked Up via Howling Frog Books (can you tell that I like her blog?).  It’s rules are reasonably unstructured so I thought it might fit nicely into my year.

The rules of the Pre-Printing Press Challenge:

     1.  All books must have come out before 1440, when the printing
          press was first invented.
     2.  Books chosen for this challenge can overlap with other
     3.  Books can be translated into the language of your choice.
     4.  All the books you’ve chosen must be read by December 31,
     5.  You can read 1-3 books, 4-6 books, 7-9 books or 10 or more
          books if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
     6.  The choice of books is up to you.  There are not set reading
          lists, and you don’t have to set one when you join.
     7.  Post your blog address where you’ll be posting your
          comments on your choice of books in the comments of
          this post when you  join, and tell me how many books
          you’ve chosen.  I’ll set up a link to participating blogs 
          from here.
     8.  Above all, have fun!!!

The challenge starts December 1, 2013.

So, remaining list-less (that’s me!) I will add my books to the list below as they are read:

1.  The Apology (of Socrates) by Plato  —  December 12, 2013

2.  The Odyssey by Homer  —  March 23, 2014

3.  Oedipus Rex by Sophocles —  May 25, 2014

4.  Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles —  June 24, 2014

5.  Confessions by St. Augustine —  June 30, 2014

6.  The Book of Margery Kempe — August 1, 2014

7.  The Epic of Gilgamesh — August 14, 2014

8.  Defence Speeches by Cicero — August 20, 2014

9.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers — August 25, 2014

10.  The Inferno by Dante Alighieri — October 15, 2014

11.  The Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri — October 25, 2014

12.  Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory — December 6, 2014

I’m so glad that this challenge begins in December so I can get started right away!

Russian Literature Challenge 2014

O at Behold the Stars came up with the wonderful idea of a Russian Literature challenge for 2014!

Everyone is probably wondering why on earth would I join another challenge?  I was wondering the same thing, but his one is too good to pass up.  I have been making my way through the Russian literary greats but much too slowly, and this challenge will help me focus and give me connection with friends who are doing the same thing as I.  What better reason to join?

The requirements are as follows:

Because this is a classics blog, I would limit it to classic literature. It can be a novel by a Russian author or a novel set in Russia, and how you choose to define “classic” is up to you. And, of course, you can use books from any other challenge you’ve set yourself. Finally, you can list list your books before you start, or, like me, you can just explore and read whatever comes your way.

There are four levels:

  • Level one: 1 – 3 books
  • Level two: 4 – 6 books
  • Level three: 7 – 12 books
  • Level four: 12 + books
If there’s enough interest, I’ll put a post up each quarter for people to link any posts may have written.
So, if you want to join in, write a post on your own blog writing your intentions, then leave me a comment so I know to read it.

I am going to go completely against my nature and be conservative, aiming for Level One.

1.  Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin

2.  The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

3.  Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

4.  War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

5.  Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev

The Eugene Onegin Read-Along will soon give me my first Russian book for the year.

Best of luck with the challenge, everyone!  And thanks to O for creating it!

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Straight from Roof Beam Reader and under the gentle influence of Jean at Howling Frog Books, I have decided to tackle the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

This challenge is somewhat different from my other TBR Challenge.  The rules are:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2013 or later (any book published in the year 2012 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky on Roof Beam Reader’s site – link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.
3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky must be to your “master list” (see Roof Beam Reader’s site). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge). See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2014.
4. Leave comments on Roof Beam Reader’s post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back to the post if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2014 TBR LIST! Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from or The Book Depository!
5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published before 2013!
*Note – You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review – that will keep the comments section from getting ridiculously cluttered. For an example of what I mean,Click Here.
Monthly Check-Ins: On the 15th of each month, Roof Beam Reader is going to post a “TBR Pile Check-In.” This will allow participants to link-up their reviews from the past month and get some recognition for their progress. There will also be small mini-challenges and giveaways to go along with these posts (Such As: Read 6 books by the June Check-in and be entered to win a book of your choice!). This will help to keep us all on track and make the challenge a bit more engaging/interactive. 

  My original hesitation in joining this challenge, was due to the fact that I am terrified of making lists in case I don’t follow them.  However, I have decided to really challenge myself in 2014 by participating in this challenge.  My list is as follows:

  1.  Defense Speeches by Cicero  August 20, 2014

  2.  Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory  December 6, 2014

  3.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley   April 4, 2014

  4.  The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis   June 15, 2014

  5.  The Epic of Gilgamesh  August 14, 2014

  6.  Stories from the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church

  7.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers  August 25, 2014

  8.  Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes

  9.  Socrates by Paul Johnson

10.  Daniel Deronda by George Eliot  February 24, 2014

11.  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

12.  The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton  August 20, 2014

And my alternates:

1.  Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

2.  Oedipus Rex/Oepidus at Colonus/Antigone by Sophocles  December 28, 2014

Yes, I am actually going to attempt to follow a list!  Everyone wish me luck …….. I’ll need it!

Eugene Onegin Read-Along

Marian at Tanglewood is having a Eugene Onegin Read-Along for 5 weeks beginning January 7, 2014.  Pushkin was seen as setting the foundation for Russian literature so if you are looking for an introduction, this work is a wonderful place to start.

Here is the schedule:

Ch. 1 & 2 – January 7 to 16
Ch. 3 & 4 – January 16 to 25
Ch. 5 & 6 – January 25 – February 3
Ch. 7 & 8 – February 3 to 12

She has decided to allow 1 1/2 weeks per every two chapters, which seems like a decent balance between going at a regular clip and dragging on too long.

Please see the Tanglewood blog for further instructions and also a lovely calendar for a visual schedule of the read.

Since I just finished reading Eugene Onegin, I am very excited to be participating in the discussion of Pushkin’s “untranslatable” poem.  Thanks for organizing the read, Marian!

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

“My uncle – high ideals inspire him;
but when past joking he fell sick,,
he really forced one to admire him –
and never played a shrewder trick.”

Eugene Onegin is a fun-loving, rakish young man who lives carelessly among fashionable society and cares nothing for any of the responsibilities of life.  Yet soon his wild living becomes stale and, desperately bored, he moves to an estate in the country inherited from his uncle, to recapture the zest in life.  Onegin’s lack of growth and a stable character causes him to return to his constant feelings of ennui and he passes his days in careless endeavours.  Enter, Tatyana, a sheltered girl who falls passionately in love with Onegin.  Finally, amid her torments of love, she composes a letter to Onegin, confessing her devotion.  Giving her a surprisingly gentlemanly refusal, he then, on a whim, proceeds to seduce his friend, Vladimir Lensky’s, future wife, Olga, who is the sister of Tatyana.  Lensky, in a fit of poetic rage, challenges Onegin to a duel, where Lensky is shot through the heart.  A number of years later, Onegin spies a married Tatyana at a party and is immediately drawn to her.  He pursues her to the point of exhaustion and finally writes her a letter acknowledging his love and eternal devotion.  Tatyana, in spite of still harbouring tender feelings for Onegin, spurns him from the outset, and eventually declares that she would never be unfaithful to her husband.  Because Onegin has never made any effort to develop into anything other than an empty man, he is left with a bleak future ahead of him.

I’ve hear it mentioned that Tatyana is the true hero of this novel, and her strength and effect is certainly evident.  While she shows a naivety and a juvenile infatuation with Eugene when she first meets him, years later when they meet again, she exhibits the poise and maturity of a sophisticated and experienced young woman.  In the magnificent finale, she admits her love for him but says, “… but I’ve become another’s wife — and I’ll be true to him for life.”   Onegin has spent his whole life blowing around like a leaf in the wind, consumed by ennui, driven by precipitate decisions and self-absorption, while Tatyana grows and blossoms into a strong woman with firm convictions.  She became a truly admirable character.

One wonders at the commonalities between this work and Pushkin’s life story.  Pushkin, himself, was no stranger to duelling.  He was involved in many contests before being killed in a duel while defending his wife’s honour, echoing his poet Lensky’s fate in an ironic prophesy. And, of course, there was the question of Pushkin’s wife being unfaithful, as Olga was untrue to Lensky, which one can also contrast with Tatyana remaining true to her vows of marriage at the end of the tale.

In one way, the poem is an eerie premonition of future events, while on the surface it takes many forms; playful, romantic, humorous, mocking, tragic.  It’s a tribute to Pushkin’s genius that he was able to artfully blend a myriad of themes and emotions into a introspective classic that examines the human condition and began a Russian literary tradition.

(translated by Sir Charles Johnston)

Classic Children’s Literature Event – January 2014

Amanda at Simpler Pastimes is hosting a Classic Children’s Literature Event for January 2014.  I will be reading at least two classic children’s books in January and I will try to participate in The Wizard of Oz read that she has scheduled for this month.  It is one of the few well-known children’s books that I haven’t yet read, so I am looking forward to it!

Rules for the challenge:

~  During the month of January, read as many Children’s Classics as you
    wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the 
    event page on Amanda’s blog.  She will have a link page starting the first
    of the year to gather posts so that we may share as we go.

~  The optional RAL title:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
     She plans on discussion the weekend of January 24-26.

~  Use your own judgement for what fits the category but here are some 
            *  Read books prior to 1963.
            *  Books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged
                child or preteen including fairy tales.
            *  Feel free to included books from any country, in translation or not.
            *  Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.

~  There is no deadline for joining or participating (except, of course, the end 
    of January.

Most important:  Have Fun!

I will start my list here and hope to get at least 2 – 4 done by the end of the month:

1.  The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

2.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

3.  Once and Future King – T.H. White

4.  Prince Caspian – C.S. Lewis

Breton Children Reading by Emile Vernon

The Classics Club – December Meme Question #17

What is your favourite classic book?

A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Being a lover of the classics it is impossible for me to pick just one book. There are a few dozen that come to mind, all with special memories.  It is like trying to choose a favourite from among your children.  So instead, I am going to choose my favourite classic book from this year: 2013.

And the winner is:

Dante Alighieri’s epic work, The Divine Comedy, was just amazing in its scope. This was my first read, so I spent much of my time attempting to familiarize myself with the various historical figures and allusions.  I plan a re-read in another couple of years.  This time I read the translation by John Ciardi that, while not the best one for sticking to original content, apparently conveys the “flavour” of Dante the best of all the translations.  Next time I will probably try the Mandelbaum translation which is more balanced in content.  Dorothy Sayers’ translation intrigues me as well but she sacrificed content for form, so it is not one of the higher recommendations.

Honorable mentions go to:

The House of Mirth was a surprise star for me this year.  Wharton’s masterful handling of the character of Lily Bart captured my respect and admiration.  She paints on the surface, a scheming, artful coquette who is, in spite of her humble origins, at ease in fashionable society, yet underneath we get glimpses of a purity and innocence that seem impossible given her experiences.  The story unfolds into a poignant and tragic ending which left me speechless yet anticipating my next Wharton read.

What can one say about Pride and Prejudice?  I usually read it at least once every two years and enjoy it just as much each time.  Lizzy’s spunky character and her ability to mold Darcy’s prideful reserve into to a more mellow and empathetic character is an entertaining read, and the cast of supporting characters is outstanding!  A true classic!


The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

“I dreamed of a boy who was born in the land of Puritania and his name was John.”

In The Pilgrim’s Regress, John is a boy who lives in Puritania and is given a rather legalistic view of the Landlord of his country by the overseer or Steward.  When he sees a shimmering Island in a vision through a crack in a wall, he experiences such an intense longing that he leaves Puritania, setting out on a journey to discover its location.  With this incredible longing (Sehensucht) throbbing inside him, he tries to assuage it by a number of worldly means.  The basic gist of the story is that John starts out, running from something he doesn’t truly understand and running to something he doesn’t truly understand.  Through his numerous adventures, many with his friend Vertue, he discovers that he has run right back to where he had begun, Puritania, but thanks to the enlightenment he has received on his travels from Mr. Halfway & son, the Clevers, Mr. Mammon, the Giant, Reason, Mother Kirk, Three Pale Men, Mr. Savage, Mr. Broad, Wisdom, Contemplation, the Hermit, and Silkisteinsauga, he finds the answers to his questions and is able to pass over the brook and into the light.

One of the many strengths of this book lies in the fact that John didn’t simply learn from the “good” people he met along his journey.  Each of his encounters taught him something about life and his beliefs, which helped him to grow into the person he became at the end of the story.

This was one of the hardest reviews I have written so far.  You begin with what appears to be a simple allegory of C.S. Lewis’ own journey to faith, yet the reader is soon made aware that embedded in this simple story is a plethora of incredibly complex material and ideas.  Lewis incorporated numerous ideologies such as Romanticism, Neo-Romanticism, Communism, Freudianism, Facism, etc. along with imagery, metaphors, and a host of allusions and quotes that is mind-boggling.  The fact that he wrote this book while on vacation at his friend Arthur Greeves’ house in a mere two weeks, and was able to incorporate the wide-ranging scope of material that he did, is astounding!

In talking about his book years later, Lewis appeared almost embarrassed by it:  “On re-reading this book ten years after I wrote it, I find its chief faults to be those two which I myself least easily forgive in the books of other men: needless obscurity, and an uncharitable temper.”  He blames his youthful idealism on failing to give the reader the guidance to understand his personal journey.  I, for one, can forgive him this minor fault.  To mine The Pilgrim’s Regress of its treasures is a difficult task, but one that is well worth the effort.