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The first step of the Classics Challenge is to make a list of 50+ classic work of literature you pledge to read in the next 5 years. The beauty of the project is that there’s no third party telling you exactly what constitutes a “classic”, and you can decide this entirely at your own volition. And you have an excuse to read books you always wanted to read but never got around to reading! I decided to do 50, I usually pledge to read so-and-so amount of books in a year’s time anyways, but there are seldom few situations which are not improved by sharing them, so having other people agree to do so with you, which makes me extra enthusiastic about this project.
Here are my 50 classics I’ve never read before which I’ll tackle in this challenge:
1.) Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I never managed to pick this one up somehow, so I’ve decided to address this gap in my education as soon as I find a copy that’s complete and preferably annotated.
2.) The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold. I feel guilty about never having read anything by McMaster Bujold, she’s won the Hugo Award four times (matching Heinlein’s record) and is famous for her original, incredible created worlds. I supposed I should start with this one.
3.) Native Tongue, by Suzette Haden Elgin. Another famous woman of science fiction whom I’ve neglected. Native Tongue, being focused largely on language and its power over gender, is right up my alley. The author is quoted as saying, “Women need to realize that SF is the only genre of literature in which it’s possible for a writer to explore the question of what this world would be like if you could get rid of [X], where [X] is filled in with any of the multitude of real world facts that constrain and oppress women. Women need to treasure and support science fiction.” I can’t skip it now!
4.) Doctor Glas, by Hjalmar Söderberg. Anton Chekhov once said “Medicine is my lawful wife, literature, my mistress.” Doctor Glas is supposedly written as though Chekhov’s ghost was floating over Söderberg while he wrote this, whispering this quote in his ear. It comes with the recommendation of both my best friend and Margaret Atwood, which seals the deal for me.
5.) The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson. I’ve read just about everything else Tove Jansson has ever published, except for this. Her other “adult” novel, besides The Summer Book, this one sounds promising, I love isolated mountain villages, novels that take place deep in a “snow country”, and pondering on isolation, mortality, and art.
6.) Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told to read this, so, why not? It just squeaks by my criteria, being barely ten years old, but since it’s considered such a classic of comedy now, I’m willing to let it pass through.
7.) Brave Story, by Miyuki Miyabe. Originally published as a serial in Japanese newspapers from 1999 to 2001, this is the godparent to books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, combining illustration with words to be a near hybrid between a traditional novel and a manga. Since I love visual art so much, I’m eager to explore its use in this work and see how it complements the story.
8.) Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Edith Grossman has just come out with a new translation that was recommended to me by a Hispanist, and since this was the first Western novel ever written, I’d say that it more than qualifies as a classic I need to read.
9.) The Home and the World, by Rabindranath Tagore. I’ve never read any modern Indian literature before, and this seems an excellent place to start, since it’s one of the most famous novels to come from the subcontinent.
10.) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré. I promise, this has nothing to do with the new movie coming out, although it does look like a promising flick. I’ve just realized I’ve never read a spy novel.
11.) A Sinless Season, by Damon Galgut. There’s something to be said about someone who manages to publish a book about boarding school’s horrors when you’re seventeen years old, I imagine the trauma is still quite fresh.
12.) The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Certainly a classic of murder mysteries if there ever was one.
13.) The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andric. It’s been about two years now since someone with a respectable literary opinion first told me about Ivo Andric, and I feel stupid for still not having read any of his works.
14.) Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz. Are you noticing a theme here? A good portion of the books I wish to read are not just for literary pleasure, they’re also history lessons packaged in fiction. Palace Walk deals with Egypt in WWI up to the nationalist revolution. Lord knows I’m ignorant and need to remedy it as soon as I can.
15.) The Beast Within, by Emile Zola. I’m pretty sure it’s a punishable crime to be an aspiring academic who hasn’t read a single book by Zola before the age of 25.
16.) Embers, by Sándor Márai. The synopsis of it was strongly reminiscent of Slaughterhouse 5, but somehow, sounded more exciting, if such a thing is possible.
17.) Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto. I have a copy laying around, I can’t let it go to waste any longer.
18.) The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. Reading this will finally allow me to lay my guilt about not reading the book, even though I love the movie, to rest.
19.) Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. Well, it was my favourite episode of Wishbone growing up…
20.)The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China, by Lu Xun. I’ve read very little 20th century Chinese literature, and Lu Xun is probably the most famous, most influential, and most beloved writer of this period, so what better place to begin?
21.) The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R Eddison. The godparent of heroic fantasy, praised by Tolkein, time for me to discover it myself.
22.) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This novel is a heady condemnation of the Soviet gulag prison system, written by someone who went through it firsthand. I haven’t ventured into the 20th century in Russian literature, preferring the splendour and melancholy of the 19th century, but that’s still no excuse on my part for neglecting this.
23.) Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. Bad feminist Leah’s never read a single Brontë work. Can you detect the hint of my blush through my typed words?
24.) Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe. Since I love quoting Marlowe, I might as well read his most famous creation.
25.) My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. This one sounds so vibrant, wild, and interesting, I couldn’t pass up the chance to include it.
26.) The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know, I know…
27.) The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. Again, I feel kind of ashamed to admit I haven’t read this one yet, but oh well, I’m still young.
28.) The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’m told this one is dreadfully dated, but it still has something to offer, I believe.
29.) Herzog, by Saul Bellow. One day, I will hopefully be forty-seven too, so I better read this one now, before I enter -my- midlife crisis.
30.) Disgrace, by J.M Coetzee. I have no idea what it’s about, but I was told to read it as an aspiring academic. If you’ve read it, make of that what you will.
31.) Tortilla Curtain, by T.C Boyle. I may not live in the states anymore, but I know works like this are going to become more and more relevant to U.S life as time goes by. Plus, I am mad that I never got to read this in high school and had to read Anthem and That Was Then, This Is Now, instead.
32.) Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. Because I can’t go through life with the only Aboriginal authors I’ve read being Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich.
33.) Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. I read the Pippi books as a child, and can’t understand why Lindgren’s other books are so unheard of outside of Sweden. I should start a trend by reading her other works and spreading the word.
34.) We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. One of the first Soviet dissidents using the written word to spread his criticism.
35.) The Book of Sand, by Jorge Luis Borges. I went through a Hispanic Lit phase, but never once picked up a Borges collection? Silly me.
36.) To Live, by Yu Hua. I’ve got nothing against The Good Earth, but I think that reading a story about a wealthy family’s rise and decline around the time of the revolution which was actually written by a Chinese person deserves to be just as famous as one written by a non-Chinese missionary.
37.) Bless Me, Ultima. Being such a fan of Banned Books Month, I don’t know how I overlooked this one for so many years, it regularly tops the list of challenged books.
38.) La Regenta, by Leopoldo Alas y Ureña. Nothing like a good scathing critique of upperclass and papal hypocrisy to lighten the day!
39. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. I think that I am going to have to get on my knees and grovel in front of a statue of bell hooks for all of the famous feminist classics I have yet to read, this one being a particularly glaring omission.
40.) Naomi, by Junichiro Tanizaki. I can’t properly call myself a lover of Japanese literature until I’ve made my way through this one, I think.
41.) No Longer Human, by Osamu Dazai. I have read so much of Dazai’s work, but this is his most famous book available in English, so, full steam ahead.
42.) The Collector, by John Fowles. Neil Gaiman cites this as inspiration for The Doll’s House, and countless films, plays, and spin-off books have been based on it.
43.) An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. Like The Collector, endless screenplays and spinoffs were borne from this one, and I feel my understanding of 20th century popular culture is lacking without reading it.
44.) Atonement, by Ian McEwan. This doesn’t mean I’m going to watch the movie, though!
45.) Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. Someone I respect once told me this was the funniest novel he ever read. Can’t pass up that recommendation.
46.) The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. I’m hoping this will be more awesome and less gender essentialist than the only other Lessing book I read, The Cleft.
47.) Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. A good portion of the people I know who read stuff like this have described it as the godfather of postmodern literature. Others describe it as “unreadable”. I say “Challenge accepted”.
48.) I, Claudius, by Robert Graves. The synopsis promises “bloodlust” and “hubris”, somewhat unsavoury traits I find irresistable in both lovers and books.
49.) Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie. I’ve only read Rushdie’s short stories, and was told this was a good entry point for his novels.
50.) Mauprat, by George Sand. It was a hard decision between this and Anais Nin’s Henry and June. I ultimately went with Mauprat because I’ve read Nin before, but never any George Sand. Hope this is a good introduction!
This is a five year challenge, meaning I’ll read 10 classics on this list per year, and will finish on March 25th, 2017. The prize I will give myself for this is up in the air, I am open to suggestions, thinking something big and grand, like a trip to someplace I’ve never been, or something which will last me forever.
If you’re wondering how I am defining a classic, it’s simple: A book that’s at least ten years old and has been extremely influential either on its genre or a culture at large. I’m using this challenge as a way of acquainting myself with books I know to be highly influential and significant which I just haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s highly arbitrary, but then again, so is everybody else’s means of defining a “classic” book. Don’t believe me, look at Goodreads’ “classic” tag.