Classics Roundup, June 2018

Despite my busy schedule this spring, I was surprised as I put this post together at how many classic books I’ve read this year so far. Some of them have been boring or too offensive for me to enjoy, but some of them have been gems. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Middlemarch

Taking place in the years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Middlemarch explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but naive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein.

Let me be honest: It took me about 2.5 years to finish this book. I was reading it on my beloved Serial app, and I kept getting distracted by books that had only 36 issues, rather than almost 200. No matter how you read it, Middlemarch is a doorstopper, and it can be really intimidating when you’re getting started. But…

I loved this book! Dorothea is a wonderful main character; many of the less likable characters get what they deserve; there’s love and romance and politics and scandal and class conflict. I felt with this book what I felt with Anna Karenina: If you can make your way far enough into the novel to get into the story, the characters will end up feeling like friends.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Julius Caesar

This play was okay. I wish I had more to say about this classic, but I don’t often enjoy reading plays, especially historical ones. I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure I care to ever see the staged version.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

My Antonia

Through Jim Burden’s endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature’s most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia’s desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.

I enjoyed this so much. The writing feels amazingly fresh, and I was surprised at how connected it made me feel with Nebraska, my childhood home. If you also have a fascination with the prairie and the hearty but flawed people who populated it, you should give this book a try.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Princess and the Goblin

Princess Irene’s discovery of a secret stair leads to a wonderful revelation. At the same time, Curdie overhears a fiendish plot by the goblins. Princess Irene & Curdie must make sense of their separate knowledge & foil the goblins’ schemes.

Princess Irene and the young miner Curdie spend the length of this classic children’s book fighting goblins with the help of Irene’s mysterious “grandmother” whom no one else can see. It’s a sweet, fun story filled with magic and adventure. I’m not sure I’d hand this to an actual child, but I enjoyed reading it as an adult.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

A Damsel in Distress

When Maud Marsh flings herself into George Bevan’s cab in Piccadilly, he starts believing in damsels in distress. George traces his mysterious traveling companion to Belpher Castle, home of Lord Marshmoreton, where things become severely muddled. Maud’s aunt, Lady Caroline Byng, wants Maud to marry Reggie, her stepson. Maud, meanwhile, is known to be in love with an unknown American she met in Wales. So when George turns up speaking American, a nasty case of mistaken identity breaks out. In fact, the scene is set for the perfect Wodehouse comedy of errors.

This is the first P.G. Wodehouse book I have read, and it was truly funny. A Damsel in Distress is a romantic comedy full of mistaken identity, class conflict, and sweet characters. I would recommend this Wodehouse book before any of the Jeeves series (see below).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Three Men in a Boat

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a ‘T’. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks—not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.’s small fox-terrier Montmorency.

I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to. Some parts made me laugh, but a lot of the novel just struck me as young rich white men complaining. There was also a fair amount of sexism and racism, which, while not unexpected, was at a level that made me unable to really enjoy the rest of the story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Right Ho, Jeeves

Follow the adventures of Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, in this stunning new edition of one of the greatest comic novels in the English language. Bertie must deal with the Market Snodsbury Grammar School prize giving, the broken engagement of his cousin Angela, the wooing of Madeline Bassett by Gussie Fink-Nottle, and the resignation of Anatole, the genius chef. Will he prevail? Only with the aid of Jeeves!

I felt similarly about this book as I did about Three Men in a Boat. Some parts were funny, but on the whole, Bertram Wooster was too irritating as a main character, and the occasional racist or sexist remark did not make it any easier to enjoy the book. If you’re going to read just one Wodehouse, skip this one and read A Damsel in Distress instead.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

About Monica

I am obsessed with all things books. I'm a music teacher by day and a freelance editor by night.

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