Goodbye, Classics Challenge

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I began the Classics Challenge back in January 2012, when I read Lord of the Flies. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t love this famous allegorical tale about the conflict between “civilisation” and “savagery”. It was all right, I suppose. I was pleased I’d finished it. And it didn’t put me off reading more classics. In February, I spent a cold evening curled up with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and it was then that I got excited about all the wonderful classics ahead of me. The endless possibilities, spanning all genres, from children’s classics to classic science fiction. I fell in love with Jane Eyre, Anne Shirley, Matilda, and many more classic characters. And now we’re coming to the end of 2016, to the end of the fifth Classics Challenge. And the last one.

2016 has been a good year for the challenge. Nearly 500 people joined, hundreds of people entered the Vintage Classics giveaway, signed up to receive the monthly newsletter and shared photos of which classic they were reading on Instagram, and I’ve had a lot of fun hosting #ChatClassics on Twitter. But in the past 6 months, I’ve not picked up a classic. And so after a lot of thought, I think now’s the time to say goodbye.

 

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)
It’s not that I no longer want to read classics, or no longer want to blog, but I’d love to see what else I can tackle next year. 2016 has been a tricky year for all of us and I’ve neglected Pretty Books a little recently – and it’s time to get it back. Sadly, you won’t be rushing to join the 2017 Classics Challenge when January hits, or see any more challenge posts from me, but I’m still immensely proud of what I’ve achieved over the past five years. I’m also incredibly thankful to everyone who’s ever joined in – and would love to see everyone else still pick up a classic a month. (Don’t forget to tweet me with recommendations!).

Maybe we’re just on a break but, for now, I wonder what 2017 will bring?

 

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

Shelved: Adult fiction (mystery/crime, classic)
Series: Hercule Poirot (#4)
Published: 1926 by William Collins and Sons
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #4
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fourth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much. He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was blackmailing her – and now he knew she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

Soon the evening post would let him know who the mystery blackmailer was. But Ackroyd was dead before he’d finished reading it – stabbed through the neck where he sat in his study…

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I received it in 2012 for Christmas. I’m not sure why I asked for this one in particular, but it’s likely that I scrolled through Goodreads to see which ones were her most popular (it’s currently her fifth most read book).

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was time for my annual dose of Agatha Christie! I’ve (mostly) read one a year for the classics challenge: Murder on the Orient Express (2014), Death on the Nile (2013) and And Then There Were None (2012).

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Agatha Christie is one of the most well-known and beloved crime writers. If she’s not a classic of the genre, who is? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most popular mysteries, known to have a shocking twist, and apparently had a significant impact on the mystery/crime genre. It was voted by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the best crime novel ever.

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who lives in the fictional village of King’s Abbot. He’s a great narrator: full of wit, light mockery and surprising vivaciousness. He’s shocked when he receives a phone call saying that his friend Roger has been found dead. Dr Sheppard knows it must have occurred shortly after Roger received a letter from someone who blackmailed the woman he adored into committing suicide – but does anyone else? He calls on as many people as he can (even his gossipy sister!) to help solve the murder. As with previous Christie novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is full of clever detail, interviews with fishy suspects, and a lot of surprises.

It was my third Hercule Poirot and I enjoyed his character a lot more than I have previously. I’ve not found him to be memorable but, this time, the Belgian detective had more of a Sherlock/Watson dynamic with Dr Sheppard – and they worked well together on solving the mystery. Even so, I can’t say I’m a Poirot fan. I’ve not yet come across a Christie that has gripped me as much as And There Were None. I’ll continue to hope I didn’t read the best one first, and try a Miss Marple next…

I’ll have to agree with Robert Barnard: “Apart — and it is an enormous “apart” — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. … A classic, but there are some better Christies”. I was enjoying the first half until it all got a bit puzzling, with a lot of red herrings thrown in. Even though the ending was a little bit of a surprise (I did wonder at some point, though!), it’s still not my favourite Christie so far. Sorry, Agatha.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Agatha Christie will continue to be loved many for years to come! Even if Poirot isn’t my favourite, I’m looking forward to seeing why Miss Marple is a much-adored detective.

“It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love crime/mystery stories. People who love twists. People who are new to classics.

“The things young women read nowadays and profess to enjoy positively frighten me.”

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Shelved: Classic (Humour)
Published: 1889
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my second post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

Suffering from every malady in the book except housemaid’s knee, three men and a dog decide to head for a restful vacation on the Thames. Anticipating peace and leisure, they encounter, in fact, the joys of roughing it, of getting their boat stuck in locks, of being towed by amateurs, of having to eat their own cooking and, of course, of coping with the glorious English weather.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I can’t quite remember but it might have been when I first got my Kindle back in 2011. I downloaded a whole bunch of out-of-copyright classics for free and this was one of them. But it wasn’t until I started the classics challenges that I actually decided to read it.

“We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.” 

WHY I Chose to Read It
I wanted a short, light read and this seemed like the perfect classic! I came across the audiobook on Spotify and started listening to it on the way to work.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s one of the oldest books I’ve read –  127 years old! (That’s 100 years older than myself).

“I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.” 

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Three Men in a Boat was a thoroughly enjoyable classic – and I don’t say this lightly. It helped that I was listening to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Laurie, who was perfect for the story. It’s told with the sort of British humour that I forget how much I enjoy until I hear it – witty, hyperbolic one-liners told in a serious tone. I rarely laugh at any book, but this one had me trying not to giggle on the way to work.

Three Men in a Boat is exactly what it says on the tin (or should I say, cover). George, Harris, narrator Jerome, and a fox terrier called Montmorency (a fantastic name!) take a two-week boating holiday from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford and back again. Even though much of the story is about the everyday experiences of the river journey – from washing one’s clothes to making a pot of tea – it’s made much more enjoyable by Jerome K. Jerome’s expert understanding of the things that tie us all together; it’s like a 100-year-old version of Very British Problems.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – even though it’s an older classic, it still feels funny and fresh. I could quite believe that it was only published this year.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who enjoy British humour. People who want to read older classics. People who want to give classics audiobooks a try.

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

Shelved: Classic (Gothic)
Published: 1962
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #1
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my first post for the 2016 Classics Challenge (I’m a little late!) – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” 

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not quite sure when I discovered Shirley Jackson. It might have been when I was looking up classic horror stories and came across The Haunting of Hill House. I decided to buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle after it was Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classic.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was included in my Pick My December Classic poll and came second to The Hundred and One Dalmatians. It received such high praise that I made sure to pick it up in January.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s actually a little struggle to think about why this is a classic, aside from that it’s dark Gothic literature at its best. It feels like a story that will never become dated.

“I would have to find something else to bury here and I wished it could be Charles.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I’m not sure what I expected from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Goodreads describes it as ‘horror’, but that doesn’t feel correct to me. It’s a bit Gothic and dark. It’s a bit dreamy, and a little crazy. It hints at something not quite right. But it’s not scary.

Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the 18-year-old protagonist who tells the story of the Blackwoods. She tells us their history and how they came to be. She tells us about life, living with her uncle Julian, beloved sister Constance, and dutiful cat Jonas. She’s honest about her anger towards the rest of the world after her sister was accused (and then acquitted) of murdering their parents. She’s a fascinating character – with one of the best names I’ve come across. Shirley Jackson’s poetic writing works perfectly with Merricat’s often troubling thoughts.

I really enjoyed Merricat’s commentary on day-to-day life. Going into the village; buying groceries; living in an impressive house; and cooking and baking and eating. It’s all wonderfully described and the twists and turns are revealed as plainly, and without drama, as the rest of their daily routine. It’s a calm, dreamy story contrasted with Merricat’s hostility and frustration. As the reader, we shouldn’t understand. Merricat is, after all, incredibly unreliable But we do. When Charles arrives, we feel what she feels. And she is very, very angry.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – Shirley Jackson’s writing still is enjoyed by many. It feels timeless.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who like dark stories with complex and unreliable narrators. People who enjoy beautiful and poetic writing. People who are in the mood for a short classic.

“We were going to the long field which today looked like an ocean, although I had never seen an ocean; the grass was moving in the breeze and the cloud shadows passed back and forth and the trees in the distance moved.” 

Welcome to the 2016 Classics Challenge!

2016 Classics Challenge

I’ve really enjoyed reading classics over the past four years. I have read 45 books for the challenge: Roald Dahl and Judy Blume alongside Emily Brontë and Daphne du Maurier. I’ve read non-fiction alongside children’s classics. See the books I read in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

I am continuing with the challenge in 2016 – and I’d love for you to join me! Your task is to read one classic per month and blog, vlog, instagram or tweet about your experience. Don’t forget to tag your posts with #2016ClassicsChallenge (or #2016 Classics Challenge). If you’d like to blog/vlog during the challenge, you might like to answer the below questions each month – but this isn’t compulsory. (And you’re welcome to use the above banner and button!).

If you didn’t join the challenge in January, don’t worry, you can start any time!

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

It’s up to you to define ‘classic’ and choose your books. I personally categorise books under pre-1945 (older classics), post-1945 (modern classics) and children’s classics, but that’s just me! I’ve recommended 24 classics here.

Sign up to the Challenge

Click here to sign up to the challenge. Add your name and blog (or twitter, instagram, YouTube channel) to the list and see who else is participating!

Welcome to the 2016 Classics Challenge!

Sign up to the Newsletter

Click here to sign up to the challenge newsletter. You’ll be the first to hear about all the exciting things you can get involved with.

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#ChatClassics on Twitter

I’ll be hosting #ChatClassics all year on Twitter. Join in with live chats – from tweeting classics recommendations to discussing the definition of ‘classic’ – every 3 months. Join us on each chat date, follow the hashtag, and chat classics! We’ll be talking about older classics on Monday 25th July at 8pm BST – see what time this is in your timezone here.

View highlights from the previous chats here and find me at @theprettybooks.

One Last Thought

Remember, this is a no pressure, non-judgmental and guilt-free challenge! If you’re not enjoying a classic, put it down and pick up another. Read the classics you want to read rather than the ones you feel you ought to read. It’s also fine to take a break.

Classics I’ve Read in 2016

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
★★★★ • Goodreads

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
★★★★ • Goodreads

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
★★★ • Goodreads

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
★★★ • Goodreads

George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl
★★★★ • Goodreads

Which classics will you be reading this year? Let me know in the comments!