The last flight

Waterstone’s bookshop, Edinburgh (photo: C A Lovegrove)

I’ve just got thirteen titles left on my original Classics Club list of fifty classics I opted to read in, um, the Cretaceous period and which I subsequently revised to exclude books I never would read. About half of these would be rereads (RR) of works I read before this century, with at least one example — Kipling’s Kim — first completed way more than a half-century ago!

Here are those 13 laggards, in author alphabetical order.

  1. Petronius Arbiter: The Satyricon RR
  2. Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Little Princess
  3. Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist RR
  4. George Eliot: Middlemarch
  5. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game RR
  6. Charles Kingsley: Hypatia
  7. Rudyard Kipling: Kim RR
  8. D H Lawrence: The Princess and other stories
  9. Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince
  10. L M Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables
  11. Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast
  12. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer RR
  13. Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto RR

A fair old mish-mash this, with children’s classics, short stories, a couple of Gothick romances, a statesman’s handbook, tales set in the Roman Empire, and a couple or so written when Britain still had its own ill-gotten empire. Where to start on that final flight of literary stairs?

What I really needed were prompts to get me settled down to whittling this list down as close to zero as possible, so I, erm, zeroed in on Back to the Classics 2022, a meme that Karen (of Karen’s Books and Chocolate) devised. Could I fit some of my titles into her categories?

1. A 19th century classic. Any book first published from 1800 to 1899. Hypatia perhaps?
2. A 20th century classic. Any book first published from 1900 to 1972. “All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1972 and posthumously published.” Maybe The Glass Bead Game?
3. A classic by a woman author. A couple of titles leap out immediately: A Little Princess? Anne of Green Gables?
4. A classic in translation.  Any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. “You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer.” The Satyricon? It’s in Latin, a language I only just passed an exam in when I was 16.
5. A classic by BIPOC author. Any book published by a non-white author. ???
6. Mystery/Detective/Crime classic. It can be fiction or non-fiction (true crime). ???
7. A classic short story collection. Any single volume that contains at least six short stories. “The book can have a single author or can be an anthology of multiple authors.” The Princess and Other Stories? The pieces are all by D H Lawrence, an author I’ve never really got down to reading.
8. Pre-1800 classic. Anything written before 1800. “Plays and epic poems, such as the Odyssey, are acceptable in this category.”  The Castle of Otranto? I’ve been intending to revisit this 18th-century classic, the first ‘Gothick’ novel, ever such a long time.
9. A nonfiction classic. “Travel, memoirs, and biographies are great choices for this category.” The Prince? It fits the bill, and it’s short…
10. Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest. Hmm… Kim? My copy was given to me by my parents when I was a kid.
11. Classic set in a place you’d like to visit. “Can be real or imaginary — Paris, Tokyo, the moon, Middle Earth, etc.” Gormenghast? I did so enjoy its precursor, Titus Groan.
12. Wild card classic. “Any classic book you like, any category, as long as it’s at least 50 years old!” Oliver Twist? Tom Sawyer?

What I’m missing are titles for numbers 5 and 6. It’s not been long since I read Black No More by George S Schuyler for the Vintage SciFi Month so technically I could also count that as as a classic by a non-white author. I’ve also got a policier by Georges Simenon from the library so, since he ceased writing fiction in 1972, that also fits into Karen’s criterion for a classic, being more than 50 years old.

Anyway, these works are now all listed in my Classics Club page where I’ll keep a tally of how I’m doing should you be interested. Step by step, slow and steady, I hope to get there over the months left to 2022. Just this final flight of stairs…

I know many of you have your own personal challenges, goals or prompts to get you reading those few recalcitrant novels or nonfiction works that give you a guilty stare. Do you have a strategy to tackle them which works for you?

The City of Books, Aix-en-Provence (photo: C A Lovegrove)

42 thoughts on “The last flight

  1. For Heavens Sake!!!!! Just give yourself the most wonderful pleasure and read Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. One of Joan’s all time favourites and mine, has sustained me through incarceration in the Bastille and more…

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A friend gave me a present of Middlemarch a few Christmases ago. I’d always heard it was long and difficult. What I got was an enjoyable soap. I read a chapter a night – all of which were pretty short, perhaps due to the fact that the book was originally published as a series – and a few months later I was finished. I guess it depends on how much time you’re willing to allocate to a particular book?

    The Glass Bead Game comes up on lists all the time, but sounds like a lot of hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually have several books on the go, Aonghus, so interspersing novellas and such between chapters of Middlemarch will be no imposition! The Hesse I enjoyed years ago — despite the abrupt ending which I’m now ready for — and particularly appreciated the assimilation of Bach fugues, formulae and other intellectual and aesthetic conceptions in the patterns and moves of the Game. Looking forward to revisiting it, for sure.


        1. As a classically trained musician and retired music teacher I have always seen parallels in the ways the different arts (and, broadly, sciences) express themselves — though I can’t claim any synaesthetic tendencies — so naturally the ideas Hesse explores in the Game interest me. But there’s a whole lot more in the novel which I want to rediscover!


  3. Good luck with finishing your list! If you enjoyed Titus Groan, I’m sure you’ll like Gormenghast just as much. I’ve been meaning to re-read the whole trilogy for ages – maybe 2022 will be the year!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never read with a plan, but I do pick up books sometimes and try them again in a different season or different time of life. I tried Gormenghast as a teen and again last year and just don’t like it much (I read most of the first book). I picked up Anne of Green Gables again as an adult, having read only the first one as a kid, and liked them enough to read all of them last year. I read A Little Princess as a kid and reread it when my kids were young, but am not quite sure why it’s currently making the rounds with adult readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “No plan” sounds like an excellent strategy, Jeanne, especially if you’re reading to please yourself. Sadly I fall between the two stools of No Plan and Over Plan, though that probably suits my nature.

      I’ve long neglected Anne of Green Gables as a ‘girly’ book, but now I’m no longer a a lad with that kind of cultural prejudice I think I’d be ready for it — but A Little Princess comes first! I don’t know why the latter is back in fashion but having read Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished Emma I’m rather keen to see what Hodgson Burnett made out of what began as a promising and tantalising plot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laurie (Relevant Obscurity) wrote a lovely review of ALP not long ago and that inspired me to read it again. I do wonder what you’ll make of it, it’s nostalgic comfort reading for me but I think also holds up as a wonderfully effective piece of storytelling. Quite unlike Burnett’s turgid The Lost Prince, which I reread as well.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I checked Laurie’s review and, lo, I’d not only read it and liked it but even replied to it! Clearly I had good intentions of reading the Burnett last year but never got round to it, tch, tch

          Liked by 1 person

  5. There are some glorious titles there, Middlemarch is just brilliant and The Castle of Otranto I haven’t read but it’s going on my next classics list and Anne is, well, just Anne! You’re nearly at the end and you’ve had a great idea to link it with another challenge for that final bit of insperation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jane, I’ve now nailed my colours to the mast for 2022’s classics so expect reviews and even discussions of most if not all of these titles! AoGG I’m quite looking forward to now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. JJ Lothin

    Definitely time for The Satyricon again – the decadence of our society has grown apace to match that of Ancient Rome in the several decades since I last read it myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have two translations, an early 20th-century one and another more recent Penguin where the arrangement of the narrative fragments is different, so I might read them in tandem, I think. Who knows, the parallels with our own times may be enlightening! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I could barely bear to watch the Fellini in the cinema when it first came out — there were a few memorable scenes like Trimalchio’s feast, and wasn’t there a fight with a gladiator? — but it felt loose and unfocused, as far as I recall, which is why I went to the book in the first place, to try to make sense of it. I’m looking to do the same some forty or so years later!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. jjlothin

            I suspect that it would have been quite a shock to my 16-year-old system! I do remember having an argument with my brother about whether Fellini’s vision of ancient Rome was closer to the historical reality than William Wyler’s in Ben-Hur (I was in the Ben-Hur camp!).

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Since this is my fourth attempt at Back to the Classics, with nary a completion in sight, I’m afraid my advice wouldn’t be worth much! Or, if I gave any, you’d no doubt be better off doing the opposite!
    I do like your list of books. The Challenge’s pre-1800 category was particularly tough for me; I never thought of the Satyricon. Hmmmm…. I actually did like the Fellini film (which bored Mr. J to tears) but I looked at it as just one brilliant visual after another, with little to connect. I also enjoyed the book when I read it. Can’t remember the translation, but it was relatively modern, so it was frank about all the naughty bits.
    As for Middlemarch: I finally read it by doing one chapter a night, before bed. It put me to sleep. Then I became more & more interested and it kept me awake, as I read more and more. It’s now one of my favorite classics!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I felt guilty pausing the Eliot because I knew it deserved its reputation, Dorothea was admirable, Casaubon’s planned opus magnum intrigued, and I’d watched the BBC adaptation many years ago when a then Bristol neighbour, Patrick Malahide, played Dorothea’s dry husk of a husband. But I knew I was going to return to it when the mood took me again!

      As for the Satyricon my Penguin translation has a detailed intro which I think I may well enjoy as much as the main text. Maybe I’ll watch the Fellini afterwards to see if I’m in Mr J’s camp!


  8. I fainted when I saw that you’ve never read Anne of Green Gables. With your interest in children’s fiction I’m amazed that one has slipped through your net. I “identify with” Anne – she is my kindred spirit and imaginary friend. Do read it! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh! I hope you didn’t hurt yourself when the shock hit you — though you may find it hard to believe I was encouraged to read boys’ own adventure stories by my rather conservative parents and, sent to a boys only grammar school, AGG was not one of the books shelved in the school library.

      I only migrated — via authors like Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault — to the likes of Nesbit, Aiken and Le Guin (who were more on the fantasy side than the quotidien) later in life, and thus have a lot of catching up to do!

      Anyway, since you insist, I’ll make Anne’s acquaintance sooner rather than later this year. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Emma, I’m hoping thirteen is lucky for me! But though I’m a fan of serendipity my reading is less random these days, and rather than adopting the Classics Spin method (which has rarely gone well for me) or relying on some other random generator, I shall try to structure my choices around memes and events, with the gaps in between filled with titles that don’t easily conform with a reading theme.

      That said, one never knows, I may resort to consulting Dame Fortune!


  9. I think your final thirteen will be swift and enjoyable. Anne of Green Gables…Tom Sawyer…Middlemarch…Glass Bead Game…Little Princess…all of these are gentle reads, I think. Now I know little of the others on your list, so I’d sandwich the others between these.

    Just my strategy…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. elmediat

    I am envious of your book lists & successful challenges. At one time, I could inhale books one after another – now I struggle to complete a few short stories at one go. Time is a great con artist, it hands you gifts with one hand, while picking your pocket with the other. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get your metaphor of time as a con artist, Joseph, it taketh as it giveth away. You, I suspect, produce art in abundance as a way of strengthening the dyke that holds back Time’s tides, while I devour book after book to make up for all the reading and considering I wanted to do when decades of teaching — however rewarding, however punishing — took up a lot of my mental and physical energy.

      Liked by 1 person

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