Classics Challenge (with a twist)

I’ve been thinking about the Classics Challenge which I read about on Eva’s blog. I immediately loved the idea, partly because I have easy access to so many classics at my parent’s house (where I am still staying despite my serious intention to decamp at the earliest opportunity). Casting my eyes along the bookcases scattered around the house, I can’t help noticing the lack of Classics (or any books for that matter) written by women. There are the usual Jane Austens and also some Margaret Atwoods but the bulk of the books on display are by men. My dad has about three whole shelves of Anthony Trollope and probably the entire works of Dickens but I’m looking for four books to go with Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People, which I note was written in 1980 and could therefore qualify as a modern-day classic.

I’m not sure how I came to this gendered reading realisation but now that it’s in my head, it’s colouring my reading selection. I realised that much of my reading this year has been by men and while it’s perfectly natural that I should be more drawn to male authors, of course this limits my reading input in a big way. So I set out to remedy this in quick time.

Having a quick scout around, I find a few excellent candidates: Anne of Green Gables by LM Alcott; Mill on the Floss by George Eliot; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’m not sure how many of these qualify as classics and two of these books are also children’s books but no matter. I’m doing this challenge my way.

I’m excited to begin my reading challenge but I can’t help wondering if I’m reading these books for the right reason. In other words, am I reading them because I really want to read them or am I hoping to please my female blog-readers with my gendered reading awareness? LOL. But then I think that that’s nonsense and that there doesn’t need to be a right reason for reading. Isn’t reading alone reason enough? And if you choose to read books by Irish authors one month and then Australian authors the next, who cares? The main thing is to read, and then to read some more. And then to reflect on the reading, and to note which ones I enjoyed the most and which ones made me think the most and which ones I just couldn’t get into and why.

I’ll let you know how I progress. Incidentally, and purely by chance, I picked up a John Mortimer in the library today and the first Rumpole story I’m reading (Rumpole and the Model Prisoner) has a few funny digs at Gender Awareness (and the Sisterhood of Radical Lawyers). It’s nice to see that not even Rumpole is immune to gender awareness. And how is it that Rumpole’s chauvinism is part of his charm?

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13 Responses to Classics Challenge (with a twist)

  1. seachanges says:

    Gendered reading eh.. I read a lot of female writers but came unstuck when I tried to think of classics.. Does Iris Murdoch count? Probably not. Then there’s the Bronte sisters, and as you say, Jane Eyre. There’s Toni Morrison, great but probably does not count under classics. I’ve given up on challenges though… I cannot stick to them anyway and so have to admit defeat as I become totally sidetracked!

  2. Interestingly–2 of those books are children’s books: The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, which is by L.M. Montgomery…a Canadian. Louisa May Alcott, another L.M. is American and wrote a generation earlier (Little Women and Little Men). Both authors were favourite writers of mine when I was a kid. And both of them had child characters who wanted to grow up to be writers, like me. But L.M. Montgomery, who was from PEI, Canada’s smallest province was my childhood inspiration (with Emily of New Moon). Because of that, I spent the summer in PEI to sketch the outline of The River Midnight. The final scene in the novel includes the river and the cottage I was at that summer. Enjoy the classics!

  3. adevotedreader says:

    I’m the other way, I tend to read more female authors although I always have time for Dickens, Trollope and Hardy. It’s not a deliberate choice, it hust seems to happen that way.

    You’ve picked some interesting books, I look forward to hearing what you make of them. I should point out thought that Anne of Green Gables is by L M Montgomery not Louisa ALcott.

    Rumpole’s irreverence when it comes to sacred cows e.g gender awareness is definitely part of his curmudgeonly charm.

  4. couchtrip says:

    Seachanges – I think the main thing about a reading challenge is to have fun. So, following Humpty Dumpty (in Through the Looking Glass) I’m going to allow “classics” to mean just what I choose it to mean. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Toni Morrison can definitely be a classic if you think it is. I’m sure there are accepted criteria but I’m going with the most liberal of these 😉

    Lilian – Thanks so much for the correction! I could pretend I was just checking to see if anyone was paying attention but it was a genuine slip (easy to make since they’re both LMs). And I love that there’s a link to your novel with PEI. Even more reason to read both novels now! (The River Midnight is on my order list so will get to it in the next few months.)

    Devoted – Full marks to you for paying attention re the LMs 😉 And thanks for explaining Rumpole’s charm – that “curmudgeonly” is a great word. Have not read any Trollope but if you recommend him then I should give him a chance.

  5. Emily Barton says:

    Funny. I’ve been looking at what I’ve been reading so far this year and thinking about what I’m going to read, and I recently decided I need to add more women writers to the list. However, that’s hard to do when I’m also trying to add things like more pre-nineteenth-century writers to the list. Finally, I decided, “Quit worrying about categorizing what you’re reading so much and just read what you want to read.”

  6. litlove says:

    The means justify the end, Pete! It doesn’t matter what brings you to more women writers, the fun is in trying them out. I still have my Richards and Johns challenge on the go to encourage me to read more men. That sounds like you are finding some great books to read, but I’m curious about your family’s collection. Who buys the books on the shelves – is there any reason why there aren’t that many women writers?

  7. doctordi says:

    I’m definitely in the ‘all reading is good reading camp’ – I never think in terms of the author’s gender when I’m choosing what to read next… and after Auster and Foer, I’ve finished Woolf and started Hustvedt, so… maybe there’s an unconscious balancing act going on. Certainly for every Winton on my shelf there’s an Atwood too. But oh you’ve brought back memories! I used to wish and wish and wish and wish I could spirit myself to Green Gables.

  8. Ella says:

    Eliot is wonderful! If you’ve never read her you’re in for a treat. And then there is Jane Austen, and the Brontes of course (don’t you have winter coming in a few months? Wuthering Heights is a great book to read in gloomy weather) and, moving to the twentieth century, you would probably dig Dorothy Parker and Rose Macauley and Margaret Atwood. I don’t know about the LMs, though. They are both very sentimental writers, and maybe you have to grow up with them to love their books.

  9. Pete says:

    Emily – Finding easily accessible pre-nineteenth century classics sounds like a challenge! But if you’re up for it 😉 And I like the philosophy of reading (and writing) what you like.

    Litlove – Good question. My dad is the compulsive book-buyer in our house (not counting me). He doesn’t go much for fiction but what he does buy he tends to order from the Folio society – so we have wonderfully-bound hardcover classics just waiting for his retirement. Most of those tend to be by men. My mom chooses a lot of women writers but those books are in their room (and thus not easily accessible). My books are largely in boxes in storage. But I still found five interesting titles in a couple of minutes – and the important thing is that I’m enjoying the challenge.

  10. Pete says:

    Di – I’m loving Anne of Green Gables so far. There’s a historical link too since my sister was once Anne in a school production. I remember being amused that Gilbert and Anne (and thus my sister and a guy) were romantically linked. Childhood pleasures hey. But you can’t help liking Anne because she’s so earnest and innocent and good and full of wonder at the world.

    Ella – I’ve read Middlemarch so I agree with you that Eilot is a treat. Thanks for the Wuthering Heights suggestion for winter. Sounds just the thing to read on a cold and blustery day when I’m cuddled up by the fire at Betty’s Bay. I’ve enjoyed quite a few Atwoods so far so I think a Rose Macauley sounds next on the “read more women writers” challenge.

  11. verbivore says:

    Regardless of how you come to them (and most my experience was because the book was assigned, nothing really noble in that!) classics tend to take a hold. I’ll be interested to see which ones you really love and how you’ll relate them to your own passions; I think one of the best parts of reading the Classics is how much can be found inside for everyone – and from all different perspectives.

    I grew up with Folio Society books as well – and still think they are lovely. My father has been a member all his life and I worked for them for a while actually, so I’m now a member in my own right.

  12. doctordi says:

    It makes me want to reread it! And do you feel something that’s quite like guilt about the classics you’ve not yet read? I do.

  13. Eva says:

    I completely think those all count as classics! Oh Anne, how I love thee. 😀 And The Secret Garden.

    A few years ago, I realised I read mostly men authors (even though I’m a girl), so I’ve been consciously correcting that since I’ve been blogging. Now, without me paying attention, I stay around 50-50. But after my Women’s History Month reading, I’m considering reading only women for either six months or a year. I think it’d be fascinating!

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