The Classics Club – Year One

imgpressSo it’s been a year since I joined the Classics Club. I had decided early on that I didn’t want to join the Classics Club since I had so much going on already and a lot of commitments, both connected to which books I wanted to read and the rest of life.
But people kept on writing about the Classics Club and they seemed to enjoy themselves so much that I started to feel left out. I also love making to-do lists (although not necessary doing what they say) so the whole idea of making a list of books I wanted to read, was very appealing to me.
So yeah, I caved and I joined and I made a list of 50 books that I want to read before September 2017.
And now, a year has gone by and where has it left me. I have read 8 books so far which is not quite as much as I would have liked to. But it has been wonderful books – see the list below.

Richard Adams: Watership Down. (5 stars)

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (4 stars)

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (4 stars)

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (5 stars)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. (5 stars)

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. (5 stars)

Toni Morrison: Beloved (5 stars)

Virginia Woolf: Orlando (5 stars)

So yeah, it has been amazing books. Only two of them got below 5 stars – and I’m thinking now that I might have been a bit harsh because I remember them both very fondly. It has just been such amazing reads so I’m really looking forth to the next 42 books on my list. I’ll try to get a lot read during this next year so I’ll be on target with my reading of this list.
So while that has been good, what hasn’t been as good is my general participation level in the club. I have participated in one of the monthly memes, just one. And that is a bit shabby. I’ve never really explored all the wonderful reviews I know has been written for the club by it’s members – and I hope to explore that more during the next year too.
So what I can conclude after this my first year is, that I have read some wonderful books but if I’m not participating more in the various club activities, I could just as well have made a list completely on my own and not be in a club. And that’s a shame. So my goal for the next year is to read many, many more wonderful books from my list and to try and be an active member of the club.

Oh and I promise I’ll write the last reviews soon – it’s a bit shameful that I have only written 4 reviews out of 8 when I loved all the books and really want to convince everyone else to read them!!

Related posts:

The Classics Club: April Meme – Question #9


So I’ve been a member of The Classics Club for a while now and I’ve been a very bad member. I haven’t participated in any memes and I’m not sure I’m on track with my reading either. I’ve read two books from my list since I joined in September 2012: Victor Hugo: Les Misérables and Toni Morrison: BelovedBoth were extremely good.

Anyway, back to the case in point. This month’s meme:

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

When I first read the question, nothing really popped into my head. But after reading this post on the BookerTalk blog, I got inspired and suddenly knew who I wanted to showcase as a hero.

None other than Jean Valjean from Les Misérables. Jean Valjean starts out as a nice man trying to help out his family by providing for them. But when he has to steal bread for them, he is put in the gallows and ends up staying there for so long, that he forgets his family and is a changed man when he eventually gets out. He is a broken man, a man with no good in his soul anymore.

But then he meets a man. An old bishop who is a giver. When he has the chance to put Jean Valjean back in the gallows, he doesn’t. This changes something in Valjean and even though he performs one more crime, the bishop’s good deed has put him on a new path.

When we next meet him, he is a mayor doing everything in his power to do good. And even when he again becomes down on his luck, he continues on this path of doing good and helping – particularly in the case of the young daughter of Fantine.

Valjean is very much a hero. He does everything to do good and even though he’s viewed as the lowest of all, he continues striving to improve himself – and succeeds.

A heroine from classic literature can be found in the same book. Fantine. Fantine is a woman who goes from being the belle of the ball to being very much down on her luck. It does seem that I like my heroic characters to be the type who face adversity with dignity and strength, doesn’t it?

What makes Fantine a heroine in my book, is that she is willing to do everything to take care of her child. And not just do everything in the sense that she feeds or clothes her. No, Fantine knows that she is not able herself to take care of her daughter so she finds her what she thinks is the best possible foster home and does everything to pay for it – including selling her hair and teeth. Fantine is an amazing mother even though she doesn’t mother her child herself.

The book was wonderful and amazing. I haven’t watched the recent movie yet but Anne Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed a Dream makes me cry every time.

Related post:

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables (review)


‘To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.’ (p. 1354)

We all know the story. Jean Valjean is sent to prison because he steals a lump of bread to ensure his and his family’s survival. But this is no ordinary prison. This is the gallows where men are worked and worked and where the smallest offense just gets them locked up some more. And Valjean is locked up for nineteen years because he tries to escape this hell hole.

When he’s finally released, he is an angry bitter man, not the least because no inn will let him stay the night because of his yellow convict passport: ‘A convict may leave the galleys behind, but not his condemnation.’ (p. 103).

But Valjean is lucky. He meets Bishop Myriel who kindly gives him shelter for the night. And just as kindly – or not – Valjean repays the favor by making off with Myriel’s silverware, the only luxury the old Bishop allows himself. Of course he’s caught – but when he is brought in front of the Bishop against, the Bishop claims that he gave the silverware to Valjean and forgot to give him the silver candlesticks. Valjean is then sent on his way with this extra loot and an awakened conscience. Unlucky for him – but lucky for the reader since it gets to be of vital significance later on – Valjean hasn’t quite quit his criminal ways yet and so he steals a coin from a 12-year-old boy.

After a couple of year has passed, we are back with Valjean who is now living under an alias as a wealthy factory owner who does good wherever he goes. One of these good deeds is helping a young woman, Fantine, who after having been a young and beautiful woman living the good life in Paris, has a child. She tries what she can to protect the little girl names Cosette by leaving her with a couple owing an inn whom she thinks she can trust. Fantine never runs out of bad luck and she sells whatever she has – her hair, her teeth – to pay for her daughter’s upkeep.

Fantine comes to live in the same town as Valjean and is eventually fired from his factory because of her having a child. Valjean meets her when Inspector Javert arrests her for attacking a man. Javert is Valjean’s evil spirit. He has been working in the gallows too but as an inspector and he knows Valjean from then. When Valjean one day lifts a cart off a man, Javert recognizes him – but Valjean escapes, together with Cosette.

Now, Valjean takes care of Cosette and is as close to being her father as it’s possible without it actually being so. But again and again, he crosses paths with Javert and of course, we will get a final showdown because Hugo is the master of chance meetings.

When reading about Fantine, I can’t help but wonder if Victor Hugo read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Story of a Mother and became inspired by that to write Les Misérables. I know that a mother giving up everything to save her child, is a common theme but still. Fantine gives up her teeth and her hair to help her child, the unnamed mother in the fairytale gives up her eyes, her hair and her warmth to find her child and rescue it from the cold hand of death. It is possible – especially since Andersen and Hugo met each other in 1833 so at least Hugo has been aware of Andersen’s existence. The Story of a Mother was published 1845 so it was published before Les Misérables. I can’t find any confirmation but it’s an interesting connection, I think!

Hugo’s writing style is so impressive. He writes pages and pages about something and you just can’t see the connection to the rest of the novel, and suddenly there it is, and everything becomes so clear. He starts the novel writes pages and pages about the Bishop Myriel and I just kept wondering why he wrote about him when Jean Valjean is the main character of the book. But of course, it made sense. And he did that throughout the novel and even though it surprised me, even irritated me at some points, it works. He just has a way with language (or I assume that it’s him and not just the translator) – even (especially) when he’s writing about the sewers: ‘These heaps of garbage at the corners of the stone blocks, these tumbrils of mire jolting through the streets at night, these horrid scavengers carts, these fetid streams of subterranean slime which the pavement hides from you, do you know what all this is? It’s the flowering meadow, it is the green grass, it is marjoram and thyme and sage, it is game, it is cattle, it is the satisfied low of huge oxen at evening, it is perfumed hay, it is golden corn, it is bread on your table, it is warm blood in your veins, it is healthy, it is joy, it is life. Thus wills that mysterious creating which is transformation upon earth and transfiguration in heaven.’ (p. 1234-1235). At another point, he writes about what it would be like to drawn in a pit of quicksand at the bottom of the sewer – magnificently written!

It also surprised me that he was funny. Especially in the beginning, he made me smile several times and I definitely hadn’t expected that from this book. See this way of characterizing a man: ‘The senator /…/ was an intelligent man, who had made his way in life with a directness of purpose which paid no attention to all those stumbling-blocks which constitute obstacles in men’s path, known as conscience, sworn faith, justice, and duty; he had advanced straight to his object without once swerving in the line of his advancement and his interest.’ (p. 35). I love this – it’s spot on and just nails (a lot of) politicians!

Throughout the book, you can see Hugo advocating for education among other things. ‘The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’ (p. 21). According to the introduction in my edition (Everyman’s Library), Hugo saw himself as a politician and therefore, from time to time, inserts himself into the text to talk about how he feels about Waterloo, the state of France, Napoleon, convents and gallows, and how a just society ought to be. In the end, I think he tried to write a truthful account of France as he saw her. And it’s beautiful and well worth taking one’s time with.

‘/…/ truth is a nourishment as well as wheat. A reason, by fasting from knowledge and wisdom, becomes puny. Let us lament as over stomachs, over minds which do not eat. If there is anything more poignant than a body agonising for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light.’ (p. 984)

  • Title: Les Misérables
  • Author: Victor Hugo
  • Publisher: Everyman’s Library #239 – Alfred A. Knopf
  • Year: 1998 (original 1862)
  • Pages: 1432 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

So I read quite a few good books this year, 42 so far and 11 of which I rated 5 stars. Of these, I’ve selected 10 and put together the list below. So it was quite easy to do. They are listed in an order reflecting only on the order I read them in, the last read mentioned first. These are all great books, if you haven’t read them, you should go do so now! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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  1. Elie Wiesel: Night. Wiesel’s short book about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, is almost beyond description. It’s a must read for anyone, simply put.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book yet but it still seems that I have been talking about it all over the place. Hugo can write about anything and he frequently steers off on a tangent to do just so. Still, this story about Jean Valjean and Colette is a wonderful book, it’s a classic and it’s worth the many pages and the huge amount of time, it takes to take.
  3. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. I really like magical realism. This story of Beverly Penn and Peter Lake and Athansor set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City is written in the most beautiful and lyrical way and I just loved it. So much in fact, that I don’t dare to read another novel by Helprin because I’m afraid that it will not live up to this one.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. In some ways, this is the Japanese version of The Hunger Games. A class of kids with weapons are set free on an island to shoot each other down until only one remains. This is much more violent than The Hunger Games and it’s such an exciting book. Pure entertainment.
  5. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. How does a boy handle loosing his father? How does he handle loosing him in the 9-11 attack? This is a wonderful story of a young boy dealing with this loss and at the same time, it’s an experimental novel using pictures and more to tell this story. Foer is an amazing writer and he writes so well and not only uses pictures to emphasize his story, but also paints pictures with his words. And in this way, he is telling Oscar Schell’s story as well as the story of his grandfather who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II.
  6. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. So if everyone knew just how thrilling the classics can be, everyone would be reading them. And to get them doing so, everyone should be handed this one and told to go read it. When I read it, I just sat down and read and read and read, ignored everything around me to finish this novel to figure out what happened to Walter Hartright, Laura Fairlie, Marian Halcombe and the woman in white.
  7. Dan Simmons: Drood. On June 9, 1865, Dickens was in a train disaster that influenced him for the rest of his life. This is Simmons’ account of what happened. And it’s amazing and exhilarating and exciting and even when you’re done, you’re really not sure what happened. It was so good!
  8. Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin. I read this in the beginning of the year and … well, after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it just became an even more important book. Everyone should read this. It tells the story of a mother whose son guns down several of his school mates. Is it nature or nurture who caused this to happen? If it’s nature, can you do something to prevent it from happening? I don’t want to get political here but really, everyone should read this!
  9. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Richard Papen starts attenting college and taking Classics studies. The group of kids studying Classics studies consists of 5 other students and are taught by the charismatic Julian. But right from the beginning, you know that this group of friends kill one of their own and you’re eagerly reading on to find out why and how this happened. This is Donna Tartt’s first novel and it’s amazing! Much better than other books with a similar theme like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  10. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. This is one of those novels that hurts you when you read it but which is worth the pain. It’s set in China in 1979 and it’s about the execution of a 28 years old woman and the consequences of this death. I’m fascinated by China and what happened in China after Mao came to power, after the Cultural Revolution and more. This is a debut novel and you should definitely read it now so you can say you were in almost from the beginning!

Related posts:

October and November – ‘Monthly’ Wrap Up

Yes, I admit to beeing behind on my wrap up posts – and just about everything else blog related. I blame work mostly – and that pretty much suck since I don’t get paid to work and because of that, I would really much prefer just reading and blogging. But it’s necessary to work and so we must try to find work as best we can. But lame excuses aside, I’ve been reading tough and long books these months so I haven’t read all that many books. The best thing, though, is that I finished Clarissa (and the crowd goes wild…) and I also read and loved Les Misérables. So two huuuuuge novels finished and although I’ve cheated and read Clarissa all year long, it only really counts in the month, it’s finished. I’m not sure I can complete argue for why that is but that’s one of the rules of (my) reading.

Anyway, this of course means that I’m hugely behind.

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See, already 2 books behind on October 1st. But it should get much, much worse.

Skærmbillede 2012-11-02 kl. 12.52.02

In one short month, I went from being two books behind to being 5 books behind. I mostly blame Les Misérables for that. It took me a month to read – but it was worth it. However, it did seriously mess up my goal of reading 52 books this year. And then I began reading The Kindly Ones in November too and well, any chance of reaching 52 was just gone.

  1. Samuel Richardson: Clarissa. Clarissa, Clarissa, Clarissa. So many months spend reading about this young woman who flees an arranged marriage and ends up in the hands of a womanizer. It could have been so good but it wasn’t. 3 stars.
  2. Jean M. Auel: The Land of Painted Caves. A dreadful end to a series that started out so so good. In this one, we follow Ayla’s training to become a Zelandonia but also relationship issues with Jondalar. After reading the last three books in this series, I have to say that Auel should have quit while she was ahead. 2 stars.
  3. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. This is an amazing book, well worth it’s status as a Classic. Jean Valjean as a character is so real and so flawed that you forget he is just a character. His relationship with Colette is one that all fathers will recognize, I think. Add to that Hugo’s fantastic grasp of language, which enables him to write beautiful about the sewers of Paris, and you can easily see why this book is so good. 5 stars.
  4. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere. From beginning to end, I loved this book! Richard Mayhew’s adventures in London Below are just so much fun. Gaiman’s grasp of language is amazing and I love how well he uses London as a setting and plays with well known place names. 4 stars.

As you can see, I’m also so behind on writing reviews. I promise I will try to get them written before the new year.

I have finished almost all my challenges this year. Reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere finished my second to last challenge. However, I have to realize that I will not finish my own reading list and challenge for this year. I still need to read 12 books, I need to read Neil Gaiman American Gods, Don DeLillo Underworld, the first volume of Coppleston’s history of philosophy as well as a non-fiction book about collecting and then finish reading Sherlock Holmes…  I’m not going to make it. So I will focus on reading as many books as possible because there are so many books I desperately want to read – and then set some new goals for 2013.

Related posts:

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

 So we are getting closer to Christmas and it shows in the Top Ten topics as well. Last week, we listed the books we wished Santa to bring us and this week, we’re looking back on 2012 and listing the best new-to-us authors we’ve read this year. Looking back over the year, I think I’ve read some really excellent  books, I have read some not so good – and I’ve read books by authors, I haven’t read before or even in some cases, haven’t heard of before. So it was relatively easy for me to put together this list. As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Yiyun Li. The Vagrants was the first book I finished in 2012 and it was amazing. I just looooooved it. It was a wonderful book and it made me feel so sad. Both people and animals are hurt in it but it’s so worth reading. Yiyun Li is definitely an author that I will keep an eye out for.
  2. Lionel Shriver. We Need To Talk About Kevin freaked me out. It’s one of those books where you stay up reading it because you have to know what happens, you have to finish it – even though you have to get up early in the morning. It was such a nasty read but also very much worth reading.
  3. Dan Simmons. After finishing Drood, I knew I wanted to read more books by Simmons – especially The Terror because he mentions the story in Drood, and it sounds so fascinating.
  4. Wilkie Collins. Like Simmons, Collins was part of my Dickens-and-Drood reading this year. I grew to really like both Dickens, Simmons and Collins. The Woman in White is such a good book, I just sat there and read and read and read to finish it and find out what happened and I’m so looking forward to  reading The Moonstone.
  5. Jonathan Carroll. Almost all Carroll’s books sounds amazing. I enjoyed The Ghost in Love so much and I just want to read more, more, more. I think Carroll might end up on my favorite authors list some day in the future!
  6. Jonathan Safran Foer. Before reading it, I was convinced that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be good, but I had no idea how good. I already own Everything is Illuminated, which is supposed to be even better, and Eating Animals so I hope to get around to reading these next year.
  7. Mark Helprin. I had never even heard of Mark Helprin before finding Winter’s Tale in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it – and loved it. It’s an incredibly journey you take when you read this novel and the love story and the characters just stay with you afterwards. It’s a huge novel but amazing.
  8. Ken Follett. Of course I had heard of Ken Follett before. Over and over and over. And I really had no desire to read anything by him but a friend had gifted me The Pillars of the Earth years ago so this year, I challenged myself to actually read it. And guess what, I loved it! Despite a weak ending, the novel was so so good and I’m hoping on Santa bringing me World Without End this year.
  9. Iris Murdoch. A friend challenged me to read Murdoch’s The Message to the Planet – and I liked it quite a bit. It’s a novel that makes you think and challenges you and I think some of Murdoch’s other novels will do so even more. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by her.
  10. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is one of those classic novels which are rather intimidating. But I had challenged myself to reading it this year and it was an amazing book. It’s huuuuuge but the story of the two lost souls at the center of the book is just beautiful. Hugo can write about sewers in a way that makes you think it the most pretty poetry. Sometimes you feel he has completely lost it but he always manages to bring it all together. And he’s even funny at times.

Related posts:

Top Ten Books Which Need to be Read More Than Once

This week, the Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie. We each get to decide which theme we want to write about. I’ve decided to make a Top Ten list of books that I want to reread – mostly books that are so complex that they need to be read more than once to get the most out of them. As usual, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and here are my list for this week.

  1. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace. Come on – does anyone really expect that you can grasp everything that is War and Peace by reading it just once? Not going to happen! I loved it when I read it – and I know I want to research a bit more about Napoleon’s France and his wars before reading it again. But it is an amazing book – which has the huge amount of sidestories in common with the next book on my list.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I’m reading Les Misérables right now and even though I still have about 400 pages to go, I can say with complete conviction that this book deserves – and needs – to be read more than once. The main story of Jean Valjean and Colette is easy enough to follow and really draws you in and keeps your attention, but the book is so much more and this more is what demands more readings because you sometimes have a tendency to read rather quickly to get back to Colette and Jean Valjean and find out what happens with them.
  3. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses. I so didn’t get this book the first time I read it. I read it through, I googled stuff and understood more – but I didn’t get this book. I think it was a combination of not having read a lot of magical realism, not having read anything else by Rushdie and not knowing enough about Islam. I have read more magical realism now, I have read Rushdie and plan on reading more and I do know more about Islam now and will probably brush up on my knowledge before attempting to read this book again. It’s a book I really want to understand and like because of the consequences it had.
  4. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov. Another Russian novel. I think I just need to come to terms with the fact that these classic Russian novels need to be read more than once. This is also a really great novel – and I thoroughly enjoyed it while reading it – and I need to read it again…!
  5. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights. The reason for adding this to my list is mainly that I was underwhelmed by it. Before reading it I had heard so much good about it – and maybe that’s what somewhat ruined my experience of it. However, after reading it, I’ve again heard and read so much about it that I’m pretty sure that I will like it better if I give it another chance. So that’s what I’m going to do.
  6. Harry Mulisch: The Discovery of Heaven. This is another of those books that just has much in it on top of a brilliant story so you just have to read it again. It’s by a Dutch author and it talks about friendship, religion, art, philosophy, WWII and so much more – and it’s amazing! Definitely worth a reread!
  7. George Elliot: Middlemarch. Big and wonderful, I really loved this novel when I read it. But I can’t quite articulate why I loved it so
  8. Georges Perec: Life – a User’s Manual. I recommend this book every chance I get – even though I strongly believe it’s not for everyone. Perec was a very experimenting author and this novel is no exception. Set in a block in Paris, we follow the lives and deaths of the people living here – there’s no real forward moving story, except maybe for this one guy who paints pictures, get them made into puzzles, put them together and then has them destroyed… It sounds weird, but it’s fascinating and wonderful.
  9. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. A huge and impressive first novel filled with lots and lots of footnotes – and fairies! So another book about Napoleon warfare among other things. From the British point of view, though. I think it would be hugely beneficial to sit down and study up on Napoleon and his France and then read War and PeaceLes Misérables and this book – even though this as a alternate history/fantasy novel is hugely different from the other two. I love how the English use magicians to help them fight their wars and how you can see the same historical fact from very different ways, depending on whether you are Victor Hugo or Susanna Clarke!
  10. John Irving: The World According to Garp. Yes, I know. This falls somewhat outside the scope of my list but it’s my favorite novel and I’ve read it over and over and I still love it and enjoy each reread. So just go read it 🙂

Related posts:

Look what Santa brought…

Santa didn’t bring a lot of books this year – but he did bring some really nice ones so it’s okay. I’m not mad at him. I found three books under the tree and I’m hoping to read them all in 2012.

Stephen King: 11.22.63

New York Times has picked this novel as one of the 5 best fiction novels in 2011. I’m not sure if a King novel has been put on this list before? – but it’s impressive. And King is one of my favorite novelists. I started reading him as a teenager and have read him regularly since. I think he’s a wonderful story teller. This novel is about a man who gets to go back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. It sounds very promising!!!

Jean M. Auel: Hulernes Sang (The Land of Painted Caves)

I started reading the Earth’s Children series way back, back when I wasn’t able to read them in the original English so I have the entire series now in the Danish translation. I loved the Clan of the Cave Bear, the next two was good as well – but I lost momentum with The Plains of Passage. It was sooooo boring! I hope to read both The Shelters of Stone and The Land of Painted Caves this year and finally finish Ayla’s story.

Victor Hugo: Les Miserables

The last couple of years, I’ve gotten a classic novel from my boyfriend. Previous books have been War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov and Madame Bovary. This year it’s Victor Hugo’s famous novel in a beautiful hardcover edition. I can’t wait to read this one! But wow – 1432 pages …!