Sunday, January 5, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

Books and Chocolate is hosting Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

My selections (subject to change)


19th Century Classic: Nicholas Nickleby (1838)

20th Century Classic: Where the Red Fern Grows (1961)

Classic by a Woman Author: The Sea, the Sea (Iris Murdoch)

Classic in Translation: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (Italian)

Classic by a Person of Color: The Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu, Japanese)

A Genre Classic: Phantastes (fantasy) 

Classic with a Person's Name in the Title: Jude the Obscure 

Classic with a Place in the Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Classic with Nature in the Title: Wide Sargasso Sea

Classic About a Family: The Castle of Otranto

Abandoned Classic: Riders of the Purple Sage


Classic Adaptation: Ragtime (1981 film)

(I also used all of these titles in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge)


2020 Classic Bingo Challenge

Goodreads group, Catching up on Classics (and lots more!) hosts a Classic Bingo Challenge each year. The categories change each year. There is no deadline for joining in, so feel free. The categories this year are:

I’m shooting for Level Four Bingo: Filling out the entire board. The following are the titles I’ve chosen (subject to change):

B1: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu *

B2: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy *

B3: The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story by Horace Walpole *

B4: George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader by Robert F. Jones

B5: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens *

I1: The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I2: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

I3: All’s Well that Ends Well by Shakespeare

I4: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

I5: The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

N1: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë *

N2: The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch *

N3: At Swim Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

N4: Twenty-six men and a Girl by Maxim Gorky

N5: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys *

G1: Phantastes by George MacDonald *

G2: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino *

G3: Rudyard Kipling: Selected Poems

G4: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

G5: The Stranger by Albert Camus

O1: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

O2: Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey *

O3: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls *

O4: Greenmantle by John Buchan

O5: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow *

* (will also be used to complete the Back to the Classics 2020 Challenge)


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Reading Year in Review


I read 55 individual works: 22 novels/novellas; eight short stories; one short story collection; 13 plays; seven biographies; three other non-fiction; and The Pentateuch.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Papillon by Henri Charrière
Candide by Voltaire
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Reablais
The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
The Oak Openings by James Fennimore Cooper
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Short Stories: 

Christmas short stories:

Sherlock Holmes Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle:


Shakespeare Comedies:

Shakespeare Historical Plays:

Shakespeare Tragedies:

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen
Gordie: A Hockey Legend by Roy MacSkimming
Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan

Other Non-Fiction: 
The One Year Book of Hymns by William J. Peterson

The Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy) corresponding to Thru the Bible Volume I.

I completed three reading challenges:

And finally, I read 20 books for The Classics Club round II, leaving me with 13 left out of 75 to complete Round II

2019 Bible Reading and other Spiritual Food

I usually read through the Bible each year, but in 2019 I began a Bible reading schedule that will take five years to complete.

The schedule corresponds to Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee.

J. Vernon McGee was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a non-denominational pastor, and Doctor of Divinity – though I never heard him addressed as Doctor. He was also a radio Bible teacher. His Thru the Bible broadcast was a daily study of every chapter of the Bible that took five years to complete (and then, he’d just start again).

If you never heard J. Vernon, well friend, I’m sorry you missed something special. He had a fatherly, mmm…make it grandfatherly, kindly voice full of warmth and wisdom. Fortunately, audio files of the broadcasts are available for free download at the Thru the Bible website.

I think listening to J. Vernon is the best way to experience Thru the Bible, but, I’m old school about reading, and like to – you know – read. So, I’m using the printed version to go through the Bible in five years – that’s reading the Bible, along with J. Vernon’s corresponding commentary. 

Year One – Thru the Bible volume I, covers the Pentateuch, the writings of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years, but J. Vernon still manages to enlighten and inform. I’m looking forward to 2020, when he covers Joshua through the Psalms.

I also read The One Year Book of Hymns compiled by Robert K. Brown and Mark R. Norton. It tells the story, and back story, to 365 different hymns and hymn writers – some of them well known, others less so. It was uplifting, not only for the joyful praise, beautiful poetry, and profound theology, but also for the diversity of the hymn writers who came from all branches of Christendom.

Some, well known in Chrisitian vernacular:
Isaac Watts
Fanny Crosby
Charles Wesley
Martin Luther
Thomas Moore
Thomas Aquinas

Others, better known for other achievements:

John Milton
John Greenleaf Whittier
G. K. Chesterton
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Rudyard Kipling

And hundreds I'd never heard of.

And of course, reformed slave trader John Newton, whose hymn Amazing Grace is part of the inspiration for my blog name (I once was lost, but now am found)

One excerpt, from one hymn:

O ‘tis not in grief to harm me;
While Thy love is left to me;
O ‘twere not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
     ~ Henry Francis Lyte, from Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, Wrap-Up Post

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, Wrap-Up Post 

I completed all 12 Categories in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, which is hosted by Books and Chocolate

The titles are hyperlinked to my full review – cuz why wouldn’t you want to read those?

Bleak House by Charles Dickens – a 19thCentury Classic
Loved it: Some say this is Dickens’ best. I rank it third behind A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield. It has the distinction as the only Dickens novel with a female narrator

The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark – A 20thCentury Classic
Liked it a lot:  Must be defined as a Western, but it is much more. Tragically beautiful.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – A Classic by a Woman Author
Indifferent: I like her short stories much better. 

Papillon by Henri Charriére – A Classic in Translation
Indifferent: I found the narrator unreliable. That could work if this was pure fiction, but it is supposed to be an autobiographical novel. For me, if the autobiographer is unreliable, then it’s a manifesto, not a story.

Candide by Voltaire – A Classic Comedy
Indifferent: A sharp satire to serve as Candide’s rebuttal of Optimism. I was unimpressed, and didn’t find it funny.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – A Classic Tragedy
Liked it a lot: A non-fiction novel that hauntingly tells the tale of…four shotgun blasts, that all told, ended six human lives.

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais – A Very Long Classic (over 1000 pages)
Didn’t like it. Codpiece jokes – lots of codpiece jokes. Probably pretty bold and edgy in the 16thCentury, but now? Meh.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft – A Classic Novella (under 250 pages)
Liked it. Very creepy – creepy in a good way. Part of the Cthulu Mythos and the only Lovecraft story published as a single book.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – A Classic of the Americas
Liked it a lot: Most consider Huckleberry Finn to be Twain’s greatest work, but for me it's Tom Sawyer.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay - A Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania
Liked it: An Australian classic, unsolved mystery, and a great argument for rereads. I nearly hated this the first time I read it, but with the reread I noticed some very subtle things that made it quite enjoyable.

The Oak Openings (alternate title: The Bee Hunter) by James Fennimore Cooper – A Classic Set in a Place Where I Lived (Set along the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan)
Loved it: The last of Cooper’s Wilderness Tales. For me, this easily Cooper’s best.

The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe – A Classic Play
Liked it a lot: Perhaps the best-know rendering of Faustian legend – a man who sells his soul for power and prestige.


King John by William Shakespeare

King John by William Shakespeare

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror ~ the Bastard

(repost of an accidentally deleted review from may 2019)

The Life and Death of King John is a historical play, written in the late 16th Century, but not published until the early 17th Century.

I am slowly working my way through the entire works of Shakespeare and have finally gotten to his historical plays. I’ve read all the Sonnets and other poetry, quite a few comedies, and several tragedies. This is the first of the historical plays that I’ve read. I decided to read the historical plays in chronological order, so King John is first. The historical King John of England reigned from 1199 until his death in 1216. He was the son of King Henry II and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, succeeded his older brother Richard I to the throne, and was succeeded by his own son Henry who necessarily became King Henry III.

The play centers around the legitimacy of King John’s right to the throne. John is the oldest surviving son of King Henry II, but his older brother, Geffrey had a son, Arthur (no, not THAT Arthur). I am uncertain of 13th Century British rules of succession, but I think Arthur had a strong case. Other advocates for Arthur included King Philip of France, Cardinal Pandolf legate of the Holy See, and of course Arthur’s mother, Lady Constance. John’s advocates include Queen Eleanor, and the Bastard, the illegitimate son of John’s brother King Richard I.

The play is about confusing genealogies, shifting loyalties, and family feuds. I am tempted to call them petty feuds, but they do decide the King of England, so petty is probably unfair.

At one point, the matter is settled by the marriage of John’s niece Blanch, to King Philip’s son Louis (no, not THAT Louis). But moments after the marriage, older, more sacred alliances are recalled and the debate is renewed. Poor Blanch, caught in the middle of the muddled affair, faces war between her new husband and her uncle. She expresses her dismay – which is I think fairly representative of the entire matter:

          The sun’s o’ercast with blood. Fair day, adieu!
          Which is the side that I must go withal?
          I am with both:  each army hath a hand;
          And in their rage, I having hold of both,
          They whirl asunder and dismember me.
          Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win;
          Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose;
          Father, I may not wish the fortune thine;
          Grandam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.  
          Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose:
          Assured loss before the match be play’d

SPOILER ALERT: In the end, it is all settled rather neatly, though tragically. Arthur dead, John dead, leaving Henry the undisputed heir to the throne. (Shakespeare did not write a play for Henry III. In fact, he skipped the next three monarchs: Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II. Next up is Edward III.)

It is easy to get caught up in the dozen or so august personalities named in the play, their divine mandates, and noble destinies, and forget the thousands of unnamed lives that were spent in settling such disputes. I am not criticizing the play – it is quite worthy of its author. I am simply reasserting something that may have been a subtle point of the Bard’s: the political, economic, familial, ecclesiastical, and egotistical plays for power in this period of Western Europe were indeed often – petty feuds with dreadful consequence.

And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince. ~ King John to Hubert

Heaven keep my soul, and England keep my bones! ~ dying Arthur

And as usual, a couple phrases original to Shakespeare that have become part of English vernacular:

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily (which is clearer than the vernacular to gild the lily – to praise something that does not need further praise)

Play fast and loose

I read this for the 2019 Year of Shakespeare Challenge.