Twelve classics

Karen (who blogs at Karen’s Books and Chocolate) is again hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge, a year-long challenge in which participants are encouraged to finally read the classics they’ve always meant to read — or just recently discovered. “At the end of the year, one lucky winner will receive a prize of thirty US dollars in books from the bookstore of their choice.”

Karen asks readers to read from twelve categories in 2021. She offers one entry to the prize to anyone who reads from six categories, two entries to a reader from nine categories, and three entries to a reader from all twelve categories. Now while I’m not too fussed about the prize (I’m already hemmed in by surplus books, despite my credo that ‘you can never have too many books‘) I do like the look of the options; and much as I keep repeating that I don’t ‘do’ reading challenges, I think I can manage the categories from titles I already have on my shelves.

And as I have yet to complete the list of fifty titles for Classics Club which I originally committed to finish by 31st December 2020 (I’ve extended the challenge to the end of 2021) most of my Back to the Classics list will be drawn from there.

Here are the categories for 2021, with my choices:

1. A 19th century classic. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
2. A 20th century classic. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
3. A classic by a woman author. George Eliot’s Middlemarch
4. A classic in translation. The Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter
5. A classic by a Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour author. Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh
6. A classic by a new-to-you author. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince
7. New-to-you classic by a favourite author. E Nesbit’s The Power of Darkness
8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The Golden Ass by Apuleius
9. A children’s classic. J M Barrie’s Peter Pan
10. A humorous or satirical classic. Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens
12. A classic play. John Milton’s Comus

The titles I’ve underlined are in fact rereads, not because I’m lazy or unadventurous (though I am both) but because I read most of them so long ago (more than half a century in the case of Tom Sawyer, for example) that most are barely a hazy memory.

Six are by writers from overseas; five at least will be my original copies; and four — the Eliot, Rushdie, Nesbit and Carlyle — I started but stalled on early in my reading.

Let’s see if I can stick to the plan.


Have you read any of these? Which ones would you recommend I make a priority?

45 thoughts on “Twelve classics

    1. Although I don’t *do* challenges—too lazy, or rebellious, or both—I’ve scheduled a post full of challenges for this year, though I have to say I’m only using them as a way of shaping and giving some purpose to my reading. Most of the time I shall do what I’ve always done, Eleanor—go with whatever I fancy! Thanks, and I wonder what you might choose…

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  1. Book challenges often appeal to me but then, full of good intentions, I get sidetracked by proofs sent to me and review commitments. This one has whetted my appetite as there are books on my shelves that I would love to read and fit the bill. I am ashamed to admit that I have not read a single book on your list except Peter Pan so am looking forward to reading your reviews to find out more. Thank you for prompting me, Chris I’m now going to browse; from where I’m sitting David Copperfield is catching my eye.

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    1. Good luck with David C, Anne, I read that many, many years ago when many (let’s be honest, all) of the subtleties and nuances would’ve passed me by.

      I’m always concerned about reducing my increasingly unmanageable book hoard so I’m hoping this list will help me go some way along that path.

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      1. Some sizable tomes here Chris. I still haven’t read The Glass Bead Game, but it will have to come after Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Have you read that? As it is about a musician it should appeal to you.

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  2. piotrek

    Good luck! I’m not making any specific reading plans this year, again – the general idea of diversifying a bit worked, but I like the thrill of standing in front of my bookshelves and looking for the next book… but you’ve proved you’re disciplined enough to to it in more organized way, even if you need to extend a deadline from time to time 😉

    I’m very interested in what you’ll have to say about The Prince!

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    1. As it’s you, Piotrek, I’ll make Machiavelli one of my priorities! But like you that thrill of browsing and selecting a title from my own shelves is something I look forward to and relish, and I shall be doing a lot of that as well.

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  3. What the heck is The Power of Darkness by E. Nesbit? This intrigues me.

    FYI, Rushdie would not qualify for Back to the Classics, which all have to be at least 50 years old. This has disqualified some things I’d like to read too — just in terms of this challenge.

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    1. The Power of Darkness is a publisher’s title for a collection of Nesbit ghost and horror stories also I think called Tales of Terror elsewhere. I meant to read it in autumn but never got round to it, though I’d read the first tale yonks ago.

      Yes, I dithered about the Rushdie but then decided life’s too short — I’d be approaching 100 if I waited till the fifty years were up! — and anyway I don’t ‘do’ challenges, I merely use them as prompts for my next reads. So it stays… 😁

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  4. Tom Sawyer is such fun, I haven’t read it for years; the rest of your list is very interesting too–Dickens’ Italy book particularly–I don’t think I’ve read his travel writings or any non-fiction before. The only others from your list that I’ve read are Middlemarch and bits and pieces of the Prince–for reference if I remember right. Good luck with your challenge.

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    1. Some bloggers say the Huck Finn book is better than the Tom Sawyer, but I’ll start with one I’ve got on my shelves first, I think, and see how that goes!

      As for the Dickens travel book, I wanted to reread the Mary McCarthy travelogues on Florence and Venice but thought I should start with his first; both are meant to be in lieu of easy access to Italy now because of Covid restrictions and the fallout from an ill-conceived Brexit—I don’t think we’re not going to be able to revisit the country in the near future, sadly. Maybe the Machiavelli will inject a bit of realpolitik into the yawning gap!

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      1. Tom Sawyer (if I’m remembering correctly) in a sense is much lighter in both tone and the themes it deals with. But lots of fun incidents like Tom getting his friends to paint the fence or feeding his medicine to the cat and such.

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        1. I mostly remember reading in my early teens about the journey through the caves while listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, the ‘fun incidents’ having dissolved into the mists of time…

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          1. I never forgot the cat incident I think probably more from the movie version, while the excerpt of the fence thing was in my English text book in primary school so its one I read many times and have never forgotten.

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    1. I’ll be reading the 1911 novelisation, but in my edition is paired with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, the chapters extracted from The Little White Bird (1902) before the 1904 play and published separately in 1906. I’m hoping to sample the two either side of the play for my review.

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    1. Hesse is definitely going to be an early read this year, but I am hoping to space all these titles out over the twelve months. I did Latin up to the age of 16 (though I wouldn’t characterise my effort as ‘study’) but luckily I have Machiavelli in translation… 😁

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  5. I’ll look forward to finding out your thoughts on these books, especially ‘Middlemarch’ (I’ve always had a soft spot for the Reverend Causabon, a man whose intellect and ambition were grossly undervalued by his creator). If you’re reading ‘The Prince’, then I recommend the 2009 translation by Tim Parks. It has very high ‘readability’ compared to older English versions; Parks’ lengthy note is also good on the inevitable difficulties of rendering nuances from one language to another. Someone above spoke of Mann’s ‘Dr Faustus’, that suggestion I second, not that you are short of either books or suggestions! I’d propose reading in publication order and travelling through the centuries to see how the idea of the ‘novel’ develops.

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    1. I have an older edition of The Prince to read, Harriet, but I’ll certainly look out for the Parks version. And following a chronological order is definitely attractive but I’m very much a spur of the moment reader, which is why I momentarily paused Middlemarch when other matters beckoned; but I’m keen to pick it up again.

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  6. I like your thought of using challenges as prompts, good idea – good luck and I do hope you enjoy Middlemarch, I’ve only read it once but it sits firmly in my mind.

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  7. Comus takes me back many years – it was one of the texts on our A level English lit syllabus and every one of us hated it!

    Middlemarch though is my favourite classic book – I must have read it about 7 or 8 times and still find something new in it each time because it is so richly layered. You just need to get through the first few chapters. Once the ‘heroine’ Dorothea gets back from her honeymoon, it begins to get more interesting.

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    1. Thanks for the reassurance about Middlemarch, Karen, I found much to enjoy up to where I’d paused but have every intention to plough on this year. I take heart from the number of rereads you’ve completed!

      I’ll be reading the Milton for the second time, luckily it’s not a long script (I’ll have to imagine the musical interludes!) and I have an old annotated edition to help me get my teeth properly into the action and ideas.

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