Classics Club Spin #14

Sigh!  I usually get excited about the Classics Club Spin but this time, between my failures to finish my last spins and the load of books I already have on my plate, my enthusiasm is severely compromised.  I should pass …..

…….. however, if I can finish up some of my reads, I don’t have much planned after them, AND I’m always trying to concentrate on my Classics Club List.  So with these excuses in mind, I’m going to give it a whirl …..

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by December 1st.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:
  1. We (1921) – Yevgeny Zamyatin
  2. Address to Young Men (363) – Saint Basil 
  3. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) – Jacob Burckhardt
  4. The History of Napoleon Buonoparte (1829) – John Gibson Lockhart
  5. The Well at the World’s End (1896) – William Morris
  6. The City of God (426) – Augustine 
  7. Ivanhoe (1820) – Sir Walter Scott
  8. Wives and Daughters (1864/66) – Elizabeth Gaskell 
  9. Dead Souls (1842) – Nikolai Gogol 
  10. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller (1979) – Italo Calvino
  11. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides (1775) – Johnson & Boswell
  12. Tartuffe (1669) – Molière
  13. Twenty Years After (1845) – Alexandre Dumas
  14. Framley Parsonage (1860-61) – Anthony Trollope
  15. On the Social Contract (1762) – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  16. The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) – Ann Radcliffe
  17. The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) – Sigmund Freud 
  18. The Merchant of Venice (1596 – 1598) – William Shakespeare
  19. The Histories (450 – 420 B.C.) – Herodotus 
  20. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) – Jules Verne

Oh, Lord help me.  I left some BIGGIES on the list without changing them out.  I just hope the spin goes in my favour and misses them.  I’m sure I’ll be tense until Monday. 🙂

Best of luck everyone with your spin!



Classics Club Spin #13

I was going to resist the spin this time.  I have too many books on the go and too many of them are atrociously difficult, or inordinately huge.  But one of my goals for the year was to pare down my Classics Club list, so why on earth wouldn’t I participate in a spin?

With that said, I’m not shy to admit that I absolutely manipulated my list.  Well, perhaps not completely, but I did change out about seven books for ones that I’m either currently reading, are shorter novels, or projects that I am struggling with (Shakespeare, that’s YOU!).  Surprisingly, one of the manipulations was not The Faerie Queene.

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by August 1st.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:
  1. Ivanhoe (1820) – Sir Walter Scott
  2. Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy
  3. Framley Parsonage (1860-61) – Anthony Trollope
  4. 1984 (1949) – George Orwell
  5. The Fairie Queene (1590 – 1596) – Edmund Spenser
  6. Henry V (1599) – Wiliam Shakespeare
  7. The Histories (450-20 BC) – Herodotus
  8. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare 
  9. Le Rêve (1888) – Emile Zola
  10. Tom Sawyer (1876) – Mark Twain
  11. The Good Soldier Svejk (1923) – Jaroslav Hasek
  12. The Silver Chalice (1952) – Thomas Costain 
  13. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour
  14. The Lord of the Flies (1954) – William Golding
  15. The Red Bade of Courage (1895) – Steven Crane
  16. The Robe (1942) – Lloyd C. Douglas 
  17. The Twelve Caesars (121) – Suetonius 
  18. The Stranger (1942) – Albert Camus
  19. Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) – Thomas Hughes 
  20. The Merchant of Venice (1596 – 1598) – William Shakespeare

While my intentions are good, if I don’t finish by August 1st, I won’t be surprised.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  And if I get a book I’m already reading, it will be more of a guarantee for success.  
So let the spin begin!

Classics Club Spin # 12 ……….. And The Winner Is ……………

 Number 8

Well, this was a very good choice for me.  I’ve been trying to read through Anthony Trollope’s The Barsetshire Chronicles for about two years, and am at the halfway point. Number 8 for me is Framley Parsonage, book number 4 in the series.

For some reason, I’ve had a Trollope-block in the last year, and I really needed a push, so perhaps this is it.  Now I just need to buckle down and read!

Classics Club Spin #12

I really wasn’t certain whether I wanted to participate in the new Classics Club spin.  My last spin was a fail; I read the first essay of God in the Dock and then realized that I wouldn’t do it justice with a quick read and a quicker post, so away it went back onto the list for when I have more time. However, I did read Cirtnecce’s spin book, The Time Machine, so all was not lost.  At the moment though, I have so many reads going that adding another book just didn’t appeal to me ………….  Until I told myself that I am trying to concentrate on paring down my Classics Club list this year, and gave myself the permission to tweak the spin list a little.  I hope something good comes of it.  If I don’t succeed with this spin, it will be my third fail, or almost fail,  in a row and my self-esteem just couldn’t take it.  😉  

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by May 2nd.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:
  1. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare
  2. Villette (1853) – Charlotte Brönte 
  3. The Robe (1942) – Lloyd C. Douglas 
  4. Twenty Years After (1845) – Alexandre Dumas
  5. The Histories (450-420 B.C.) – Herodotus
  6. Metamorphoses (8) – Ovid
  7. Dead Souls (1842) – Nikolai Gogol 
  8. Framely Parsonage (1860 – 1861) – Anthony Trollope
  9. Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532 – 1564) – François Rabelais 
  10. The Faerie Queene (1590-96) – Edmund Spenser
  11. The Republic (380 B.C.) – Plato 
  12. Huckleberry Finn (1884) – Mark Twain
  13. Henry V (1599) – William Shakespeare
  14. A Doll’s House (1879) – Henrik Ibsen
  15. The Waves (or other) 1931) – Virginia Woolf 
  16. Bondage of the Will (1525) – Martin Luther
  17. Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son (1894) – Sholem Aleichem
  18. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) – Victor Hugo 
  19. Fear and Trembling (1843) – Soren Kierkegaard
  20. The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) – John Bunyan
Since I’ve completely manipulated my list (well, not completely ….. I changed out about 6 books)  I don’t really have any that I’m dreading.  All the ones I’d dread, such as Metamorphoses, The Faerie Queene and The Histories, I’m already reading or have plans to read, so I’m really fine with anything on the list.  I will admit to removing Augustine’s City of God; I’d love to read it but my time is so limited that if it was chosen, I’d be breathing in a paper bag. 😉

As for books that I’m anticipating with eagerness …..  I will say Metamorphoses because I’m already more than half way through!  How’s that for manipulation?

Oh Muse, sing of my spin choice ……….

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”

I read this book for the Classics Club Spin #11.  Was it my spin book?  No, it was Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses, and Prejudices spin book but I decided to read along with her.  Why?  Well, her book was much shorter than my Spin book, and I couldn’t imagine getting through God in the Dock in the allotted time frame.  Yes, I’m breaking the rules, but it’s on my Classics Club list, AND at least I read something!

The unidentified Time Traveller has built a machine that he believes will transport him through time.  After he explains to his dinner guests the concept of his invention, he puts it into practice, returning the next week to regal them with the fantastic details of his adventure.

Having sent himself to 802,701 A.D., he encounters a race called the Eloi, a diminutive race that behaves in the manner of small, wide-eyed children, even though they are of adult growth.  They live an uncomplicated life of leisure, simply eating and resting, and having no initiative or curiosity to speak of. Expecting some sort of greatly evolved being living in the future, the Time Traveller experiences disappointment and puzzlement at their almost backward evolution, wondering how their lackadaisical way of life is supported. But the Traveller’s perplexity turns to dread as his machine mysteriously disappears.  Pursing the theft using reason and action, he eventually discovers another race, living in the depths of the earth; the Morlocks, hideous, pale, savage, troglodyte-like creatures who are in possession of his time machine. Unlike the Eloi land dwellers, these cavernous people exhibit an industry and an ability to reason, but in a primitive way that is only based on their survival. The Traveller discovers that they are providing the means for the Eloi’s rather vacuous paradisical existence using underground tools and machinery, yet they are also the predators of their parasitical neighbours, catching them for food during the night.  Eventually, he concocts a plan to retrieve his machine, his only link with human society, his only means of returning to a civilized world.

Source Wikipedia

Trained as a biologist, Wells developed an interest in Darwinism, and the significance of evolution is apparent in this work.  The Eloi and the Morlocks, descendents of the human race, are presented as two species that have evolved on completely different tracks, separated by social oppression and elitism.  The Traveller observes:

“Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people —- due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor —- is already leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land ……..  And this same widening gulf — which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich —- will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along line of social stratification, less and less frequent. So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour ….”

The Traveller had expected unprecedented progress, but instead found a degeneration on each side, of intelligence, empathy, mercy, discipline, respect, etc., in fact most qualities which make us human.

Wells, a commited socialist, was extrapolating some of the problems faced in his own time, such as the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and hatred or disdain along the same class lines.  But instead of the poor simply being oppressed by the rich, Wells takes it a step further; the rich, in their mindless indulgence, become the prey.  Wells intended to communicate not only these innate problems in society but the lack of success of the solutions that communism and utopian socialism offered for the betterment of society. It’s a very bleak picture of the future.

C.S. Lewis loved Wells’ fiction as a boy, but as he matured and his tastes became more discerning, he began to see cracks in their veneer.  While he praised Wells for his original thought, and his desire to tackle the bigger questions, he found the works “thin” and “lacking the roughness and density of life.”  I’m by no means a Wells expert, but so far I’d agree with that assessment.  The book’s plot is entertaining but rather simple, lacking any subtleties or true character development.  His characters often work on an elementary level, to illustrate the questions, but without being imbued with a life of their own.  The questions themselves, while compelling, are treated quite swiftly, with the narrator often chronicling the issues instead of the reader becoming intimate with the characters and absorbing dilemma through their actions.  While the pace might be useful for a movie, it doesn’t really give the reader time to process, so the ideas thump around in our heads a little but there is no true contemplating of them that leads to a greater understanding, or development that leads to possible solutions.

Ruth from A Great Book Study was also reading The Time Machine at the same time as Cirtnecce and I, so I’m including both of their insightful reviews below.

Further Reading:

Classics Club Spin #11 ………… And the Winner Is ………

Number 19 !!
Oh, my!  This means that I’ll be reading C.S. Lewis’  God in the Dock.

Yikes.  On one hand, I was really wanting to avoid this book because I know that it’s going to take quite a bit of brain power, but on the other, I’m anticipating it because I know that it will be rich with ideas and meaning. Even donning his scholar’s hat, Lewis is so immensely practical and gracious to others.  I’ve read the first essay and right away he is lauding the positive aspects of a philosophy that he disagrees with.  I really love the guy.

Yet realistically, I’m not going to finish this by February 1st.  I don’t want to rush through it and miss the gems that Lewis has to offer, and I’d like to journal as I go to better understand what I’m reading.  All of this will take time, so if I don’t finish on February 1st, I’ll be still plugging away.  That’s my prediction although stranger things have happened.

Enjoy your spin books, fellow Bloggers!

Classics Club Spin #11

Well, my last spin was a fail, so I was humming-and-hawing over whether I should do this one, but …….. I really need to start concentrating on my Classics Club list, if I want to finish it on time.  So, I’m in.

As per usual, the rules for the spin are:

  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by February 1st.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  So my list ended up looking like this:
  1. She Stoops to Conquer (1773) – Oliver Goldsmith
  2. Dead Souls (1842) – Nikolai Gogol 
  3. Kidnapped (1886) – Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. The History of the Pelopponesian War (431 B.C.) – Thucydides 
  5. Huckleberry Finn (1884) – Mark Twain 
  6. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  7. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch (1962) – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  8. Brideshead Revisited (1945) – Evelyn Waugh
  9. The Lord of the Flies (1954) – William Golding
  10. On the Imitation of Christ (1418-27) – Thomas à Kempis
  11. Moby Dick (1851) – Herman Melville
  12. The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) – John Bunyan
  13. On the Social Contract – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  14. The Silver Chalice (1952) – Thomas Costain
  15. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century (1978) – Barbara Tuchman 
  16. The Custom of the Country (1913) – Edith Wharton
  17. Fear and Trembling (1843) – Søren Kierkegaard
  18. The Small House at Allington (1864) – Anthony Trollope
  19. God in the Dock (1970) – C.S. Lewis
  20. Au Page d’Amour (1878) – Émile Zola
Well, my last spin was a fail, so I was humming-and-hawing over whether I should do this one, but …….. I really need to star concentrating on my Classics Club list, if I want to finish it on time.  So, I’m in.

I don’t know why, but I’m not excited about this list.  Is it because it seems unbalanced?  I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because there is no book that really pops out at me and give me an anticipatory thrill.

Five books that I’m dreading to read:

1.  Moby Dick (no explanation necessary, right?)
2.  Brideshead Revisited (I’m not sure why this is on my list)
3.  A Distant Mirror (for length)
4.  God in the Dock (not in the mood to do it justice)
5.  On the Imitation of Christ (only because I have no idea what to expect)


Five book that I’m reasonably curious about:

1.  The History of the Pelopponesian War
2.  On the Social Contract
3.  Moby Dick
4.  God in the Dock
5.  Custom of the Country

Yes, I’m both excited and dreading Moby Dick and God in the Dock.  With A Small House at Allington, if I get it, I’ll switch it out for Framley Parsonage, which is the next book on schedule for my Barsetshire read.  Similarly with Zola, I would switch Au Page d’Amour to La Révè, which again is next in the Rougon-Marquart series.
Spin away, oh, Classics Club and I will accept my fate!

Classics Club Spin #10 …………. And the Winning Number is ………..

 Number 5

So the book that I’ll be reading is The History of Napoleon Buonaparte by John Gibson Lockhart.

I’m actually very excited about this choice because it gives me an opportunity to finish this book that I’d already begun to read and had set aside, AND because I’m able to read a non-fiction choice.  I really love non-fiction (and history), yet rarely have the time to read it; my pitiful performance in my Non-Fiction Adventure Challenge will attest to that.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with the great man, Napoleon!

Classics Club Spin #10

I wasn’t going to participate in this Classics Club Spin.  I am so behind with my reading due to various family matters that have taken up unusual amounts of time.  Add to this, a very busy fall, and common sense told to me skip the Spin this time around.  However, when have I listened to common sense when it comes to books ………??

So I went to my Classics Club list, sorted it with the random generator, and came up with my list.

  1. The Pickwick Papers (1836 – 1837) – Charles Dickens
  2. The Heart of Darkness (1899) – Joseph Conrad
  3. Moby Dick (1851) – Herman Melville
  4. The Fairie Queene (1590 – 1596) – Edmund Spenser
  5. The History of Napoleon Buonoparte (1829) – John Gibson Lockhart
  6. The Well at the World’s End (1896) – William Morris
  7. The Silver Chalice (1952) – Thomas Costain
  8. Wives and Daughters (1864/66) – Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. The Prince (1513) – Niccolo Machiavelli
  10. The Merchant of Venice (1596 – 1598) – William Shakespeare
  11. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) – Jacob Burckhardt
  12. The Man in the Iron Mask (1850) – Alexandre Dumas
  13. The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) – Charles Reade
  14. Tom Sawyer (1876) – Mark Twain
  15. Pensées (1669) – Blaise Pascal
  16. Murder in the Cathedral (1935) – T.S. Eliot
  17. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century (1978) – Barbara Tuchman
  18. Aristotle, Ethics (330 B.C.) – Aristotle
  19. The Good Soldier Svejk (1923) – Jaroslav Hasek
  20. Bondage of the Will (1525) – Martin Luther

Oh, help!  Seriously, there are some ENORMOUS books in this group and, if they’re not huge, they’re mentally taxing.  Why, oh why, am I doing this to myself?

Five Books I’m Dreading: (could we make it 18 books I’m dreading?):

1.  Moby Dick (because of size and content)
2.  The Fairie Queene (because of size absolutely!)
3.  The Pickwick Papers (because of size)
4.  Ethics (oh, my poor brain)
5.  The Distant Mirror  (because of size)

Five Books I’m Excited About:

1.  The Prince (because it’s short)
2.  The Heart of Darkness (because it’s short)
3.  Wives and Daughters (I love Gaskell)
4.  The History of Napoleon Buonaparte (because I’m half-way through it)
5.  The Merchant of Venice

To be honest, I really like all the books on the list and all my dread comes from lack of time.  We will see what the future holds on Monday ……

Erewhon by Samuel Butler

“If the reader will excuse me, I will say nothing of my antecedents, nor of the circumstances which led me to leave my native country; the narrative would be tedious to him and and painful to myself.”

I’ve been reading oodles of satirical fiction lately and entirely inadvertently, as this genre just seems to be dropping onto my lap.  My first taste of utopian satire was given to me by Voltaire’s Candide, which left me rather unsure if we were going to be good friends.  Then came Utopia by Thomas More and I was firmly hooked, only to have my enjoyment of it further strengthened with my read of Gulliver’s Travels.  My most recent Classics Club spin book landed me with Erewhon by Samuel Butler.  I was somewhat familiar with Butler from my skimming of some of his translation of The Odyssey (wouldn’t recommend it for a first read) so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Would he be a Voltaire, or a Swift or somewhere happily in between?

The narrator of Erewhon, Higgs, tells the reader of his journey to a fictional country, in fact, modelled on the country of New Zealand where Butler spent the early part of his life.  Higgs loses his native guide, Chowbok, on a trek into the wild, and manages to wander into a society who, while they resemble the human race, have completely different standards for managing their nation.

Map of part of New Zealand to illustrate
Erewhon & Erewhon Revisited
source Wikipedia

Butler explicates on some rather curious aspects of Erewhon society.  For a start, the Erewhons view machines as dangerous to their community and anyone caught with one can be at risk of being put to death.  Machines are regarded as having a greater ability than people in that they are growing and evolving at an exponential rate and thus, they have the capacity to enslave mankind.  The Erewhons also view immorality as a sickness and actual illness as a crime.  For example, a man who has lost his wife to illness is tried as a criminal, yet is lauded for his action of raising her insurance premium immediately before her death and, therefore, benefiting from it before he’d paid even two premiums.  There are other curious idiosyncrasies to this society, such as the repellent manner with which they view birth, the rights of animals and vegetables, and their promotion of the idea of unreason, claiming that reason could not exist without it.

Samuel Butler’s Mesopotamian Homestead
New Zealand
source Wikimedia Commons

Butler claimed that Erewhon nearly wrote itself with some resistance from its author:

“I did not want to write Erewhon.  I wanted to go on painting and found it an abominable nuissance being dragged willy-nilly into writing it.  So with all my books — the subjects were never of my own choosing; they pressed themselves upon me with more force than I could resist.  If I had not liked the subjects I would have kicked and nothing would have got me to do them at all.  As I did like the subjects and the books came and said they were to be written, I grumbled a little and wrote them.”

Apparently it was Butler’s aim to make a commentary on the ills of Victorian society, but I had a difficult time finding Butler’s voice in the prose.  With Voltaire or Swift, it was easier to see the issues that they were targeting with their criticism, but Butler was more obscure.  He presented issues, but was less clear as to which side of the fence he stood, as some of the most ridiculous laws often had an element of truth to them.  In fact, in a second preface to the book, Butler had to correct some misconceptions with regard to his novel, stating that contrary to the assumption that he was showing Darwin’s theory of evolution as absurd, in fact, he had a healthy respect for it, and he goes on, quite charmingly, to blame the Erewhons for all the inconsistencies in the story. For me, the novel soon degraded into great swathes of philosophical narrative with little to prop it up.  I love philosophy, but to engage a reader one needs the background of a story to support it; Butler attempted the reverse in hoping that his philosophy would prop up his story.  This approach only served to weaken the novel as a whole.

In spite of the novel’s mediocrity, it is quite obvious that Butler was a great thinker who explored some fascinating ideas that remain with us in the 21st century.  His analogy between crime and disease, the over-emphasis on appearance of an individual, and the especially significant topic of how humans interact with technology and their enslavement to it are all powerful issues that still resonate with us through the centuries.

” …. so ingrained in the human heart is the desire to believe that some people really do know what they say they know, and can thus save them from the trouble of thinking for themselves, that in a short time would-be philosophers and faddists became more powerful than ever, and gradually led their countrymen to accept all those absurd views of life …… I can see no hope for the Erewhonians till they have got to understand that reason, uncorrected by instinct, is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason ….”