I was absolutely delighted that Back to the Classics, one of my very favorite challenges, has returned for another year (thank you very much for hosting, Karen!). Although my completion rate is beyond dismal (this is my fourth year to participate and I’ve yet to read and review even a fraction of my twelve Challenge books) I always have a lot of fun picking my categories and reading at least some of my selections. Last year, in fact, I did quite well in the reading portion of the Challenge, finishing ten of my twelve selections. And what about the reviewing? Well . . . . not so good. My reviews were . . . non existent! Nada! zilch! zero! What can I say, except that 2021 was not a good writing year for me? Circumstances change, however; new houses become not-so-new; boxes get unpacked; dusting tchotckes gets forgotten about (these days I just throw them in the closet and call it a done deal) and a new year appears, bringing with it new opportunities and great new books! So I’m back to the Challenges, adding the Classics Challenge to my 2022 European Reading Tour. Never say, dear readers, that I don’t set my goals high.
Since Karen has explained her Challenge much better than I’m able to, I won’t repeat the details. Essentially, participants select classic works that fit into a series of defined categories; for 20th century works the selection must be at least fifty years old (i.e., published before 1972). Initial selections are thankfully non-binding, an important point for fickle old me, as I’m pretty quick to move along from a book that isn’t right for me at a particular time. To compete in the Challenge, a participant must read and review his/her selections between the beginning and end of 2022.
In making my selections, I’ve added a few of my own, idiosyncratic requirements. In the last few years I’ve engaged in massive, massive book acquisition binges, partly from pandemic stress and partly because y’all, fellow bloggers, write such great book reviews that I’m always discovering another novel or novella I simply must read! Because my TBR is now one of the largest piles of books on earth, I’ve largely limited my selections to what’s already on my shelves. In addition to selecting books that I already own, I’ve also tilted my selections towards the British end of the scale because I’ve already planned to read so much translated literature this year and I read U.S. works as a matter of course (I don’t need a challenge for them) Since my neglected mountain of Persephone books has now been joined by several very interesting publications from the wonderful British Library Women Writers series, I’ve also tried to select books from these publishers as much as possible. Finally, although I adore re-reading, as much as possible for the most part I’ve avoided selecting books I’ve already read. Each reader has her own goals in participating in a Challenge; for me, it’s to read new things, or discover new writers whenever I can.
Without more blathering, here are my choice for this year’s categories:
1. 19TH CENTURY CLASSIC (i.e., published from 1800-1899):
I know, I know, I’m only at the first category and already I’m veering away from my “Read British” year. Zola just seemed so perfect for this category, however, I couldn’t resist! I love Trollope and Henry James, but I’ve read a great deal of their works; Edith Wharton (another favorite) published mostly in the early 1900s and, well, I’ve just been intending for years to read something by Zola. The big uncertainty that has kept me from doing so, however, has been just where do you start with such a prolific novelist? Luckily for me, this issue was resolved last summer when I stumbled across Bookertalk’s excellent Zola reviews. While I don’t aspire to read the complete Rougon-Macquart Cycle, I do hope at least to become acquainted with the families.
2. 20TH CENTURY CLASSIC (any book first published from 1900 to 1972):
3. CLASSIC BY A WOMAN AUTHOR
4. A CLASSIC IN TRANSLATION
5. A CLASSIC BY A BIPOC AUTHOR
6. MYSTERY/DETECTIVE/CRIME CLASSIC (includes True Crime)
Don’t you love Persephone Editions? I, alas, am better at collecting than at actually reading them (and I’ve been shamefully neglectful in the last few years) but in 2022 I will mend my ways! Although Hughes doesn’t quite fit my Reading British theme (a U.S. writer, many of her works are set in New Mexico) I think that a Persephone publication of her work makes her inclusion o.k..
7. A CLASSIC SHORT STORY COLLECTION (must contain at least six short stories)
8. PRE-1800 CLASSIC (Plays and epic poems are acceptable)
This is a very tough category for me, as I’m not in the mood at the moment for an 18th century novel (I know I should give Tristram Shandy a try but — not yet, not yet!) or any works from classical antiquity. Nor does Shakespeare appeal at this point. Prompted by a recent movie release, I spent a week last summer reading Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight (Simon Armitage translation) and still feel I’m a bit “epic’ed out.” But still, aren’t Challenges all about stretching ourselves? To read things that are good for us? Although it’s very tentative at this point, for the present my choice is
9. A NONFICTION CLASSIC (includes travel, memoirs & biographies)
For once, I’m ahead of the curve, having read and — gasp! — actually reviewed a wonderful set of memoirs by the great Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen. Often brutal, frequently poetic and always beautifully written, Ditlevson’s account of her life made me want to rush out and immediately read all her novels!
10. CLASSIC THAT’S BEEN ON YOUR TBR LIST THE LONGEST
Oh, there is so very much competition in this category, dear readers, how to choose? At best, I can only approximate, as many of my books have followed me around for years and years and I have no clear recollection of when they drifted into my orbit. If this isn’t the most senior dust-catcher, it’s close:
11. CLASSIC SET IN A PLACE YOU’D LIKE TO VISIT, REAL OR IMAGINARY
This was another tough category for me, believe it or not. After all, what’s so hard about picking a nice place to visit? Wouldn’t you want to do a jaunt through Middle Earth? But then, what if you ran into one of those nasty Orcs and ended up on the menu? Or instead of Middle Earth, you popped over to Earthsea but stumbled onto a dragon, without the Archmage Ged there to protect you? After I considered the matter for bit, I thought it safest to visit Durrell’s Alexandria, where intrigue ran high but actual peril rather low. I realized that I needed to re-think my itinerary, however, after I re-read a few pages; I loved the Alexandria Quartet when I read it years ago, but find that now I’m either not in the mood or, alas, my digestion is no longer up for all that rich descriptive prose. Then — epiphany occurred during a browse in a great local bookstore, when another book joined the collection (I’m bending my little guideline about no new books for the Challenge but consistency, after all, is the hobgoblin of little minds):
12. WILD CARD CLASSIC (any classic, any period provided it’s at least 50 years old)
If you’ve stayed with me this far, you deserve a little treat. After all, what’s content on the internet without a cute cat photo?