The Classics Club Challenge – 50 books in 5 years
Novels and collected short stories
1. A Long, Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott (1866)
Who knew that Louisa May Alcott, alongside her wonderful children’s books – Little Women, Jo’s Boys – had a side-line in adult pot-boilers? This one wasn’t published in her life time and the manuscript was lost for many years, eventually seeing the light of day in 1995. But as she wrote it in 1866 (two years before Little Women was first published) I think it counts as a classic.
2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
Despite my life-long, and somewhat obsessive, passion for Jane Austen’s works, Persuasion remains unread. I have read each of her other novels multiple times over many years, as well as her unfinished novels and juvenilia (and a depressingly hopeless array of sequels, prequels and pastiches). And there’s more than one copy of Persuasion on my bookshelves, so it’s not through a lack of opportunity. There’s a little bit of me that doesn’t want to get to a place where I will never again read an Austen work for the first time, doesn’t want to eat the last chocolate in the box knowing there can never be another. But I really have to break this duck. Just how stupid would it be to die without having read the whole of Austen’s oeuvre?
3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Atwood is an author I admire hugely, having read just a handful of her novels. But I haven’t read this one despite many recommendations from people I trust. So it’s about time I did.
4. Old Wives Tales by Arnold Bennett (1908)
Bennett is one of my favourite authors – his Clayhanger trilogy entranced me as a teenager and they are among the books I return to for comfort reading: and yet I always discover something new in them. Bennett was however a hugely prolific author and there’s still much among his writings for me to discover for the first time. I make no apology then for there being several Bennett titles on this list.
5. Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett (1902)
6. The Matador of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett (1912)
This is a collection of short stories, counting then as one on my list of 50 classics.
7. Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett (1908)
8. The Clayhanger Trilogy by Arnold Bennett (1910 -1916)
The trilogy comprises Clayhanger (1910), Hilda Lessways (1911) and These Twain (1916). As this will be a re-read for me, I’ve decided to count them as one for the Classics Club Challenge.
9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Chosen because of its influence. It has the reputation of being ‘weird’, which usually doesn’t work well for me, but I’m going give it a go.
10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
11. The Wanderer by Francis Burney (1814)
Recommended by William Hazlitt. What more justification is needed?
12. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins (1857)
Reading Collins’ The Moonstone was a revelation for me: I didn’t expect to like it at all, and yet I loved it, loved it I tell you. So there had to be another Collins’ on my list and I just happen to have a copy of this on mount TBR already.
13. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
A classic detective story, and the birth of the cultural icon, Sherlock Holmes. Strangely I’ve never read it.
14. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
The text against which so much colonial and post-colonial narratives react, it feels as though this is one of those books that I really ought to have read.
15. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This is a re-read for me (it was my O’level set text!). It’s one of those novels which haunts me and I have to read it every so often.
16. Mariana by Monica Dickens
Another one chosen because it will also fit with my aspiration to read the entire Persephone collection of books. Persephone publish forgotten fiction and non-fiction from the 20th century. I chose this one because I enjoyed Monica Dickens’ children’s books when I was little and thought it would be interesting to try some of her adult fiction.
17. Sybil or, The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
18. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas (1850)
I was keen to include at least one Dumas on my list – he is such a popular and influential novelist yet, despite a lot of his stories being very familiar from TV and movies, I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his novels. The Three Musketeers and the Man in the Iron Mask seemed just a little too predictable, so I’ve plumped for this one.
19. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
I have a guilt complex about this novel. I really, really should have read it I was doing my MA. I constantly referred to it in essays, cited it as an example of this or that, read a lot about it. But somehow I just never got around to actually reading it. This is the time to put that right.
20. Romola by George Eliot
Everyone’s read, or is at least familiar with, Middlemarch, Adam Bede, Mill on the Floss etc. Keen to have at least one Eliot on my list, I’ve been tempted to go with something a little less familiar.
21. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978)
Philip Hensher (a novelist for whom I have great admiration – there would be at least one of his novels on this list if any of them met the criteria of being at least 25 years old) said of Penelope Fitzgerald that “of all the novelists in English of the last century, she has the most unarguable claim to greatness”. Who am I to disagree? I chose The Bookshop from among her novels because, as a former bookseller, I really like novels which feature books, bookshops and booksellers.
22. The Odd Women by George Gissing (1893)
I’ve included this novel solely on the grounds that I enjoyed Gissing’s New Grub Street so much, I thought I would enjoy reading another of his works.
23. Our Man in Havana by Grahame Greene
There had to be at least one Grahame Greene on my list, and this is one of the few that I haven’t read already. Its inclusion is a sort of tribute to my father as this was one of his favourite novels; and it was my father who taught me that I had to read to live and inspired me to live to read.
24. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)
I’ve never really got on with Hardy. Tess left me cold and Jude the Obscure confused. But the years have passed and I’m a different reader now – and a bookblogger I trust is a big fan. So going to give Hardy another go. I chose this one from among his works solely on the grounds that I already have a copy waiting to be read.
25. The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby (1924)
A third choice from the Persephone collection. Persephone publish forgotten works from the 20th century, mostly by female writers. I chose this one because I was enchanted by Holtby’s prose when I read her critical assessment of Virginia Woolf a few years ago.
26. Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (1951)
Read a review of this which tempted me to read (and as it’s published as a Penguin Classic, it really must be a classic!)
27. Women in Love by D H Lawrence (1920)
As a teenager, and again in the years immediately after university, I read a lot of D H Lawrence. I was encouraged to do so by my father, who admired Lawrence greatly. Sons and Lovers would appear on any list of my favourite novels, regardless of mood or moment of preparation. But these were years of penury, when books were an unaffordable luxury, on line ordering and e-books unheard of. Our nearest public library was miles away and with no public transport in our otherwise idyllically rural and remote spot, visits were difficult and expensive. Moreover, my father had a vast library from which I could read at whim so there was little incentive to for library visits…but he didn’t have Women in Love. And somehow, after I moved out, and got myself a career and a husband and a home of my own, I never worked my way back to Lawrence.
28. The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)
Another from Persephone Books – this time a thriller, set in London – which has been highly praised by the like of P D James and Penelope Lively.
29. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (1960)
Because everyone should read this at least once every five years. And because I’m really looking forward to reading the expected biography of Harper Lee, if it ever emerges out of litigation in the US and makes its way to the UK’s shores.
30. Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater (1935)
Another novel about booksellers, which is the main reason it finds its way onto this list. But it was also one of the first ten titles that Allen Lane published as a penguin paperback, so it must be good.
31. Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller (1935)
I’ve chosen this one (and a couple of others on this list) because, having read one or two Persephone books, I have decided to try to read my through their whole list. Persephone publishes forgotten fiction and non-fiction from the 20th century, mostly works of female authors. This one appealed in particular because of its themes of racism, otherness and identity and because it is set in London. I love to read books set in places I know well.
32. The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe (1841)
Part of my mission to discover more about early detective fiction.
33. Shame by Salman Rushdie (1983)
Rushdie is another favourite author for me, so I wanted to put at least one of his novels on this list. I chose Shame because it is one of the few which meets the criteria of being at least 25 years old that I haven’t already read. It also appeals because of its subject matter – a satirical account of an imagined country but based on Pakistan: I have a long-standing interest in post-colonial literature and what it can tell is about nationhood and national identity (yeah, I did actually enjoy studying literature once upon a time!)
34. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966) READ FEBRUARY 2015 (review)
35. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1820)
I’ve never read anything by Sir Walter Scott and I feel it as a big hole in my reading. I’ve chosen this one because it’s set in medieval times which I thought would add variety to my reading of the classics.
36. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
37. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
I may have read this as a child – I’m not sure. But it certainly justifies a re-read.
38. O’Donnell by Lady Morgan Sydney (1814)
Another that’s been among my ‘must reads’ for ages.
39. The Missionary: An Indian Tale by Lady Morgan Sydney (1811)
Another choice inspired by an interest in empire and national identity, and literature’s role in both, and another which I really should have read at when studying.
40. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
This one just slips in under the 25 year rule so, as I’ve been keen to read it for some time, I’ve included it for this challenge.
41. A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
I loved Tey’s The Franchise Affair, having been introduced to her writing through my obsessional fascination with the debate over the character of Richard III and her fine mystery based on that debate, The Daughter of Time. I wanted to have a least one of her books on my list. I was inspired to choose this one by an excellent review by Catherine Hawley of C J Hawley Books. Catherine and I were once both members of the second hand book selling community, Ibooknet. The review is published on her excellent books and bookselling blog, Juxtabook.
42. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
I haven’t read any Trollope since I was a teenager, although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of the TV serialisations. A good friend of mine lives, eats and breathes Trollope (quite literally as he runs parts of the UK Trollope Society) and he would have been quite angry with me if there hadn’t been at least one Trollope on the list. I chose this one because it is reputed to be a fine commentary on the corruption of Victorian times, which sounds interesting.
43. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal
A final choice from Persephone Books (Persephone publish forgotten fiction from the 20th century). This novel was written in the 1950s although not published until a few years ago.
44. War of the Worlds by H G Wells (1897)
There had to be one of the greats of science fiction on this list and this has the reputation of being one of the best. Its reputed commentary on racism and empire also attracts me. I thought about putting Asimov’s Foundation series on the list instead but they would have been re-reads for me.
45. The Reef, a Novel by Edith Wharton (1913)
Everyone always calls the Reef Wharton’s forgotten masterpiece, the book that is always overlooked in favour of The Age of Innocence and the House of Mirth. I’m not falling into that trap.
46. Tatar, Maria (editor), Classic Fairy Tales (1999)
Fairy Tales fascinate me. They fascinated me as a child – for their fantasy and exuberance, for their escapism and story-telling. As an adult, I still enjoy those aspects, but other aspects appeal too – their variety, history, morality and evolution. I propose to read the collection put together by Maria Tatar. Although her book was only published in 1999 I hope the fact that each of the stories it contains has its origins many, many years ago will mean that it accepted as a ‘classic’ for the purposes of this challenge. This collection also includes considerable analysis and critique alongside the stories, so it may take me some time…
47. English Fairy Tales retold by Flora Annie Steele (1918)
This will be a re-read for me, and I will thoroughly enjoy revisiting Arthur Rackham’s fantastical illustrations as well. It will also be interesting to read alongside Tatar’s Classic Fairy Tales.
48. William Hazlitt by Augustine Birrell (1902)
William Hazlitt is has always fascinated me, ever since I was brought up in the same house he was, surrounded by pictures of him and his father, who was the local Utilitarian minister and with most of his works on the shelves. His prose is exquisite, even if I find some of his opinions quite repellent. He was a strange and mentally unstable man. Having read so many of his essays, I thought it would be interesting to read a biography dating from a period when his works were more popular than he appears to be today.
49. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
50. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)