Mid Year Classics Wrap-Up

Dear Readers,

Summer Solstice completely passed me by this year!

Usually I love to acknowledge the longest day, and celebrate in some small way. I will confess that the seed of this idea was planted back when I was 13 and first read Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle… My imagination was captivated by the image of Rose and Cassandra leaping round a bonfire chanting into the warm and starry night…! Although I have not yet done something of that magnitude (there is still time!) I do like to light a candle or go for a moonlit walk, stand under the stars or watch the sunset etc.

Not this year.

I did not realise it was Summer Solstice until I was going to bed – quite how I managed this I don’t know. This is the weird thing about Covid-life – some days seem to pass very slowly, and yet life itself seems to be racing by! How can the days possibly be shortening now until midwinter??!! It just doesn’t seem possible.

Anyway – enough waffling.

You may already know that I love to read classics. I love the fact that they document ordinary life in the past, I love the reflections in the writing of the era in which they were written, I love the old-fashioned language, I love escaping into an age gone by – basically I love everything about them!

This being said, working as a bookseller has made me more focused on keeping up with current literature and new publications, proof reads etc. to help me to keep abreast of all the amazing new talent that just keeps appearing!

In an attempt to keep a steady stream of classics in my reading repertoire, I set myself a goal this year to read at least one classic a month. So, in a belated summer solstice (it was only Monday)/mid-year celebration, lets see what classics I’ve managed so far…

First up, Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I read this back in January with my Mum. I’d been meaning to read it for ages, especially after reading A Room of One’s Own last year and a few of Woolf’s essays since – I just love her language! In the end Mum listened to it on BBC Sounds and I read it alongside so we could chat as we went along. It really helped to share this read because, I’m not gonna lie, it is a bit obscure… Though that being said, it was mind-blowingly ahead of it’s time!

It helps to split it up really, as the story and plotline are, well, in my opinion…debatable. It’s written as a kind of informal biography by a biographer who has to work with great gaps in their subjects life, and therefore often uses these gaps to philosophise about life itself. Not only that, but the narrative spans some 300 years as the protagonist doesn’t age like a normal human, but crosses centuries – this enables Woolf to pit her arguments/speculations about society against the constantly changing (or in some cases not) backdrop of societal history. There isn’t much of a story structure (and talk about plot holes!), but the concept of the protagonist starting life as a young nobleman, and then halfway through the book being reborn as 36-year-old woman encompasses ideas around gender fluidity and defining sexuality in such an inclusive way that I couldn’t believe it was published in the 1920’s.

Despite the unusual structure it deserves all the fame it gets – I think even more so now – so much of what Woolf explores is utterly timeless. I surprised myself by really enjoying it. More than anything I was surprised at how humorous it was – I even found myself chuckling out loud on a relatively regular basis! I especially love Woolf’s deeply contemplative and gently questioning style – her obsession with the experience and feel of things…everything is so sensory. Her observations on society and understanding of human nature are particularly perceptive and, at times, unnervingly accurate. A fiercely feminist book that dissects the restraints placed on women throughout the centuries. I would really urge you to read this and I definitely want to read some more of her work – next up The Waves I think…?

“And so bewildered as usual by the multitude of things which call for explanation and imprint their message without leaving any hint as to their meaning, she threw her cheroot out of the window and went to bed.”

– from Orlando by Virginia Woolf

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My sister is an avid Tolkien fan and had been urging me to read this for years – finally I did! Actually, I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would. Another lovely literary surprise. It is a bit slow (actually very at the beginning!), but the simple concept of a journey and a discovery (both material and of the self) is artfully executed through some incredible world building and wonderful words of wisdom. I grew to love little Bilbo Baggins, he’s a wonderful protagonist and we really follow him in his long and treacherous journey. I also enjoyed dipping into some fantasy – I’m not much of a fantasy reader but it was really interesting to read the king of fantasy himself.

I did experience some pure escapism with this read – and may have even shed a small tear at the end…! And though I’m not sure about tackling the Lord of the Rings just yet (I’m sure my sister will win in the end), I did really love The Hobbit.

“If more valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

– from The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

You can read more about my Tolkien experience here…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Though I read my first Bronte as an audiobook aged 12 (Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights), I somehow never got around to reading the infamous Jane Eyre. And not only that, but somehow managed to know pretty much nothing about it! Not even the ending! To this day I don’t know how I managed it, especially as I love researching classics and finding out things about the lives of the authors. Anyway, lucky for me, I was able to jump into Jane Eyre this year with a relatively blank slate which made it all the more enjoyable. To add to this, when I read it earlier this year, I had hurt my foot and was unable to walk, so sat reading in the garden wrapped in blankets in an attempt to get some fresh air… I felt like a Victorian invalid! The upside to this otherwise incredibly frustrating event was that I got lots of reading in and devoured this Bronte instalment.

Now as you know, I am a huge Austen fan – and I stand by that. However, I loved Jane Eyre. Though her prose is distinctly less beautiful and considerably less witty, her gothic plotline was captivating – more compelling than Austen’s. And Jane was a brilliant protagonist – truly feminist and full of inspirational wisdom of character. If you are wanting to get into classics I would recommend giving this a try; at the heart of the story is a passionate romance and dark secret.

“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

– from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. This is proper comfort reading. By that I don’t mean that the characters don’t encounter hardship, but more that the way they do is utterly heart-warming. I have decided that Moomins are the perfect Covid companions. The parallels between the unstoppable threat of the approaching comet and that of Coronavirus were strangely comforting – visiting the scientists for information, their familiar world turned unfamiliar, having to hide in the cave from the outside world, irritability and minor obsession in the face of fear… but also the power of working together. And what inspired me most was their inexhaustible capacity for hope. The story is a fascinating blend of reality and fantasy, simultaneously quaint and absurd, full of strange lands and even stranger inhabitants. It reads like an old fairy-tale or folklore. Really beautiful.

“But it’s true,” said Snufkin. “We’re all like that. You must go on a long journey before you can really find out how wonderful home is.”

– from Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

You can read more about my Tove Jansson reading here…

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. In hindsight this probably wasn’t the best thing to read during the middle of a Lockdown due to a global pandemic…. but I did. That said, it was an incredible book – Plath’s poetic prose and incredible perception of society and human nature is brilliant. But it is a book about a young woman who experiences crippling depression and makes several attempts to commit suicide. To add to this, it is semi-autobiographical, and the author herself did eventually commit suicide.

It’s safe to say that the skill of Plath’s writing adds to the power she has over you as a reader – this book takes you to some very dark places. I really admire her courage to write what she did and it certainly shines an important light on the barbaric mental health practices that were going on in the 1950’s. I’m really pleased I’ve read it and do think it is one to be read. However, I would now recommend with caution to other readers – think carefully about when you choose to read it in your life. It’s a beautiful, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching work of art. But so very, very sad.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

– from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

April Lady & Venetia by Georgette Heyer. Another author I cannot believe I haven’t read until now! Georgette Heyer was a historical novelist writing in the 20th C. and is considered to be queen of regency romance. Which she absolutely is. Inspired by Austen she took her prolific writing career to the next level – mixing entertainment with incredible period detail and thoroughly engaging plotlines. Seemingly less political than Austen she is definitely more escapist. I listened to both April Lady and Venetia as audiobooks through Net Galley and I honestly think it was the best way! Both the readers were fab and captured the vibe to a ‘t’. With April Lady I felt as if I were at the theatre watching a social farce – and I honestly laughed so much! Venetia was superb comfort reading and I couldn’t wait to plug myself into my earphones and slip into Heyer’s regency world. I fell head over heels in love with Damerell and Venetia is now one of my all time favourite books. I laughed, I cried, and I loved the story. If, like me, you haven’t yet read any Georgette Heyer I would definitely recommend starting with Venetia.

“I don’t think I am green. It’s true I only know what I’ve read in books, but I’ve read a great many books.”

– from Venetia by Georgette Heyer

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy. I absolutely adored this book and if you read nothing else I’ve talked about in this post, you should read this! It really is incredible and I am certainly going to hunt down some more titles by her. I actually came across this classic, first published in 1950, through Net Galley. For a platform dedicated to championing upcoming publications this was a strange discovery! However, it does have a simple explanation. It has been re-issued by Faber this month with a new foreword by Cathy Rentzenbrink and therefore e-ARC’s were available. I was lucky enough to get one and just cannot recommend enough. To be fair to Cathy – her recommendations are tip top so it was no surprise really!

The tagline says it all really; Cornwall, Summer 1947. A buried seaside hotel… – how can you not want to pick that up?! To expand slightly, the story begins with a recent cliff collapse onto Pendizack Manor Hotel. All the guests inside have perished – but there were survivors… Who were they? And how did they survive? We then go back to the week leading up to the collapse, meeting all the guests, witnessing tensions build and cliff cracks widen. It has the tension and structure of a murder mystery, but is almost Austenesque in its social critique style. The characters are fantastic – so crisply portrayed. Despite the forewarning of the tragedy to come, early on is full of trivial episodes and I was chuckling out loud and having to read out sections to my family. However, as we progress, you become invested in the lives of certain characters and, suddenly remembering the ending, find yourself feverishly reading to see who lives and who doesn’t. Incredible.

I searched for a quote to include, but honestly it’s just all so good – and the best bits are interspersed throughout the story and much to long to include – you will just have to read it!

But a full review is coming soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Well that’s all from me. So far I don’t seem to be doing to badly on my plan to read one classic a month, and am actually slightly ahead! So excited to get stuck in to the second half of the year – I’ve got some really good reads lined up! At least that will be something to look forward to even if the nights are now drawing in till christmas… No lets not think about that 😉

If you too have read any of the books I have shared then do drop me a line in the comments, I would love to know – or if you have been inspired to pick up something new. Oh and if you are a nerd like me and enjoy celebrating solstice then let me know your favourite thing to do 🙂

Happy belated Summer Solstice readers!

Bookish wishes,

Meg xx

6 thoughts on “Mid Year Classics Wrap-Up

  1. I have read woefully few classics too, for the same reasons! I’ve tried to catch up with some kids classics over the last couple of years but can’t quite bring myself to tackle the big guns 😂 You’re making a good case for Jane Eyre though…
    I liked the Hobbit but couldn’t get going with LOTR. And The Bell Jar is a favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I really want to reread Bell Jar, though fitting it in is laughable. I’ll try Jane Eyre – I’ll see if I can find an audio version with good narration, audio seems to work for me with the classics.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know what you mean! I want to re-read some favourites but I can barely keep up with my new reads!! I love doing classics on audio. The first big classic I ever read was Wuthering Heights and I listened to that 👍 I think Jane Eyre is available as an audio for free on the BBC Sounds app at the moment – my mum recently listened to it on there and said it had a really good narrator.

        Liked by 1 person

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