Monday, 14 July 2014

Top Ten Lists - The Classics

It's a hot summer day, 25 degrees Celsius, according to the thermometer on my computer. The dogs are sprawled in the living room, panting and I'm braving the stuffiness in the computer room for an hour to write this. Brave man that I am.. :) Spent an hour watering the plants out front this morning, after dropping the missus off downtown and also laid some river rock around the BBQ. Will have Jo check that out when she comes home later on. I still have one bag left to play with. Enjoyed the coolish breeze for a little while, sitting in my lawn chair on the deck while reading Jo Nesbo's Nemesis.

So now I'm ensconced in the den, listening to Ken Bruce on BBC2 and thinking about classics. I will readily admit that my exposure to the classics (what exactly does that mean anyway?) is probably quite limited. In high school, I hated having to read Wuthering Heights  The Catcher in the Rye, amongst others. In university, I took a Classic Fiction course in my 3rd or 4th year and it included books such as Madame Bovary, James Joyce's Ulysses, Sons and Lovers and so many others. But at that time, I was more interested in my Science Fiction course and partying. In the past few years, however, I've been trying to expand my exposure to the classics and maybe it's a sign of my increased maturity (ha ha), but I'm enjoying them so very much for the most part.

So on that short note, I'm providing my current list of Top Ten Classics. Some of these books are in the late to mid-1900's but I still think they qualify as classics, for my definition, I think they have to stand the test of time; in that, no matter when they were written, people will still find them excellent stories and interesting to read. I will qualify this list by saying once again, my exposure is probably quite limited; I've read only one Jane Austen and have yet to brave Wuthering Heights again.. But at least it might be a discussion point and give you a few books you might like to check out. I hope in the next few years to be able to build on this list and expand to a Top 20 even.

So hear goes... for your viewing pleasure and maybe your agreement / disagreement with one or two. :0)

Top Ten Classics

10. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929) - I've read this book a couple of times, once as Book Club edition, which included a number of Hammett's hard boiled mystery classics; Red Harvest, The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, amongst others. I found this edition, published in 1972 by Vintage Books at the Comox Valley Book Fair in March 2012. Lovely paperback edition it is. I read it again August of last year and enjoyed it just as much. It is definitely a classic in the mystery genre and set the stage for so many more of the hard-boiled detective stories. It was also an excellent movie starring Humphrey Bogart and a cast of other luminaries, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, etc. Excellent story and well - worth reading. This was my most recent review..

"I've read before and was very happy to enjoy as much again this time. Dashiell Hammett has produced an excellent example of a hard-boiled mystery and Sam Spade is the penultimate gumshoe, staying one step ahead of trouble and playing off the baddies against each other. It's a classic mystery, turned into an excellent movie by John Huston, one of Humphrey Bogart's best movies. A great cast of characters, from Brigid O'Shaugnessy to Joel Cairo and Kasper Gutman, through his faithful, lovely secretary, Effie Perine. A story that everyone should read and marvel about."

9. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (1963) - This is the third book from John Le Carre that features his intrepid spy, George Smiley and who became so very famous with the later trilogy; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. I have read at least one of the earlier books, but this is the one for me. I found this edition, published in 1980 by Pan Books at the same book fair, just a year earlier. I've found many excellent books at the twice annual fair, sponsored by the local Rotary Club and always enjoy myself wandering through the book stalls. Anyway, this is a classic of the Cold War spy novel and was made into an excellent movie starring Richard Burton as main character Alex Leamas. This is my review of this novel. -

"Fantastic story. A classic spy novel, classic Le Carre story. His third novel, after  Call for the Dead and a A Murder of Quality, it features tired spy, Alec Leamas, the British Secret Services Berlin organiser, who is called home for a special mission. I won't get into too many details as there are so many interesting surprises throughout the story, that I wouldn't want to ruin the story. There is a brief role for Le Carre's most famous spy, George Smiley, but the story revolves mostly around Leamas. The spy craft is interesting, the plot twisting, the story fascinating and one you will have difficulty putting down. An excellent story for those who enjoy spy dramas and also a nicely historical feel for the cold war between the West and East.. Great stuff.. "

8. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955) - This is by one of my favourite Science Fiction writers and one that should be read many times. Having said that, I could easily have picked another of his classics, The Day of the Triffids. I've chosen this one as I like the themes of genetic mutation and the consequences of post-apocalyptic disasters. This is a book I wish someone would turn in to a movie or BBC mini-series as I believe, if developed caringly, could become a classic. It's a book I must reread as it's been too long since the last time. This edition was published by Penguin Classics in 1974 and I've had since my university days. This is the synopsis on the back -

"A world paralysed by genetic mutation. John Wyndham takes the reader into the anguished heart of a community where the chances of breeding true are less than fifty per cent and where deviations are rooted out and destroyed as offences and abominations."

Lovingly written, powerful youngsters as characters, fascinating story.

7. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957) - For some reason, a few of my 'classics' are from the Science Fiction genre. I found this edition, published by Ballantine Books in 1977, at Books on View in Victoria, BC in 2008. It's a book I've read so many times and I never tire of it, still find it poignant and so lovingly written each and every time. I've been expanding my reading of Nevil Shute's writings and I have to say he would definitely be in my top ten authors (ohhhhh, I see another list coming) of all-time. He writes simply but his stories evoke so many emotions in me. Check out Pied Piper or The Far Country for other examples. This is another of those post-apocalyptic novels, with the people of the Southern Hemisphere basically waiting for the end of the world and dealing with the consequences of a nuclear World War. Such dramatic consequences but told in such a manner that you actually want to be with these last survivors, who deal with such class and sensitivity. At least two movies have been made of the novel, the earliest I think was the best. Must read classic.. And here is my latest review -

"One of my top ten favourite books. I've read it so many times and also seen the movie with Gregory Peck a few times. So low key, yet it's the end of the world. US submarine in Australia, trying to see if there is any life in the Northern hemisphere. Life in Australia as the end draws near. US submarine makes final voyage to US.
Truly fantastic story.
Having read this again, it's still a great story, what a powerful lesson to teach mankind. So depressing, ultimately, but told with class."

6. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1928) - I have to say that I was so very surprised by this book. I read as part of one of my book group challenges this year, that being to read a book in the Erotic genre. Of course, this was the book I chose and I was pleasantly surprised to find this was so much more than that. Well-written, great characters, especially Lady Chatterley, and an excellent story. I found this particular edition, published by Vintage Books in 2011, at The Laughing Oyster book store in Courtenay, BC and it did shock the missus a bit.. ;0). So here is my review..

"Definitely a book out of my normal comfort zone, but such an excellent read. I had ideas about what to expect; a banned book, due to its rawness, explicit sexual language, but I was surprised. It's a thoughtful story of a woman, living in a marriage with a broken man; physically broken from the war, but also emotionally broken. Constance loves Clifford Chatterley anyway, cares for him, comforts him, but finds her life to be stagnant, loveless, emotionless. She meets Oliver Mellors, an other ex-soldier who now works as the game keeper on the Chatterley estate and finds herself drawn to him. The story is about their developing relationship, both emotional and sexual. I expected the sex to be graphic, raw, but other than some language, it was crafted very lovingly, very gently on the whole. The story itself is interesting, the characters as well and the interludes describing the countryside, coal mining country are also well-crafted. An excellent story and I'm glad I finally pulled the book off my shelves to read."

5. The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (1944) - I found this novel while wandering around Kingston Ontario with the missus back in 2013. It wasn't a book store per se, rather a collectibles store that was unfortunately in the process of closing down. The store was Turks and had many interesting items. This edition is a hard back published by Blakiston Company in 1945 and my copy actually looks very much like that, right down to the little tears in the jacket. Anyway, I started reading the book while Jo and I were attending the World Figure Skating championships in London Ontario and found that I couldn't put it down. What a fascinating story, so simply written but so thoughtful and excellent. This is my review at the time

"I'd never read any Somerset Maugham before and really had no desire to read anything by him either. However recently I saw The Razor's Edge in a antique/ collectibles shop and I liked the look of it. Since one of my Reading groups was reading Modern English Classics as this month's genre, I decided to read it. I must say that I was most pleasantly surprised. Maugham has a way about him of telling a story. His writing style is very fluid and eminently readable. The story was interesting, the dialogue flowed nicely and I found myself waiting anxiously to get back to the book when I put it down. Did a lot happen? It was a tale of people, specifically friends of Maugham's, as he is the narrator and a character, who he spends time with and observes. I liked the characters and I liked Maugham as well. He's an observer of humanity and expresses his observations so very well. Anyway, I loved the story, it's one of my favourites of this year. Will I read any more of his books? Well I purchased The Moon and Sixpence yesterday, so I hope so.. :0)"

4. Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (1924 - 1928) - This novel consists of 4 books and was published between 1924 - 28. I bought it for the missus due to the BBC mini - series that we both enjoyed so very much. It's one of my more challenging reads, I have to say, but I loved every page of it. It takes some time to get into the flow of the narrative, but when you do, it's hard to put the story down. Excellent book about pre - WWI, the war itself and the coping afterwards as seen through the eyes of Christoper Tietjens, his wife Sylvia and his lover, Valentine Wannop, plus other characters. The cover photo above is not the edition I have, but I could not find one on line. I purchased my edition, published by Penguin Books in 2012, at Novel Ideas in Kingston, ON. This is my review -

"This was a challenging, but ultimately, an enjoyable, interesting read. The book is made of four separate books, Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and, The Last Post. It is set in England and France, before, during and after WWI. It deals with Christopher Tietjens, his wife Sylvia and Valentine Wannop, a young woman who has captured Christopher's heart. Around these people are family members, Christopher's brother, Mark; friends, associates and many others. Christopher's relationship with his wife is bitter and harsh, she goes out of her way to destroy his life, even though she won't grant him a divorce. At the same time, Christopher has fallen in love with the young woman, Valentine, who he met as a result of his father's friendship with her mother. Amidst these personal issues is the war, life in the trenches, all these matters. The story is detailed, it takes time to get used to the flow of the story, but when you do, it is most enthralling. The second and third books, which deal more with the War itself, I personally found the most interesting. Critics have said that there needn't have been a fourth book, that Christopher, himself, isn't really even present, but ultimately, I found that it wrapped up so many of the unresolved issues very nicely. Definitely worth reading, if you want to try a classic."

3. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876) - I guess this would qualify as the most 'classic' of my Top Ten, it having been written and published before 1900. Once again I took a chance on this due to my missus. She had enjoyed listening to a BBC Radio adaptation of the novel, starring Juliet Stevenson. I decided to buy her a copy, so on line I found a hard copy edition published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1877 and distributed by Scarthin Books, Cromford, UK. It turned out we also already had an edition published by Boston Estes and Sons in 1894 and purchased at a local Antique store, A Gentler Time. At any rate, I also bought the above edition, a Penguin Classic, as I really couldn't bear the thought of disrupting the pages of these earlier editions. So after all that, I read the book last year and after getting into the flow, loved it so very much. Such an excellent novel; I think my review provides an inkling of the story and characters, so I'll just go there.

"Not my normal story at all; I do tend to more light reading, thriller, adventure, but at times I do try to explore more challenging stories. This was definitely one of those. It's a true classic, well-written and intelligent. The story focuses on two main characters, Gwendolen Harleth, a selfish, young lady who thinks the world revolves around her and Daniel Deronda, a gentlemen, searching for himself. This search has many aspects, the simple one being trying to ascertain who his parents are as he has grown up under the protection/ guidance of Sir Hugo Mallinger from childhood. This also involves more internal searching, who is he, why does he think as he does. He is a caring individual, selflessly helping friends and strangers; his flighty school friend Hugo Meyrick, the lovely Jewess Mira and even Gwendolen.. There is so much in this book, unspoken love, a brief study of what it is like to be Jewish in those times, death, romance, etc. I was very surprised how much I enjoyed the story and as I worked my way through the initial pages to get accustomed to the style of the time, it was published in 1876, I enjoyed it immensely. As much as Gwendolen irritated me to no end with her selfishness, at the same time, there was an inkling of sympathy for the plight she finds herself in (even if much of it is due to her own actions) and ultimately.. well, I won't go there. It's a heavy tome, but well worth reading. I'm very glad I did."

And on to the Top Two. You will find write ups of both books in much earlier Blogs. Both books have been loving read many times and will be again. One is in the Science Fiction genre, the other would be classified as a Modern Classic, but is one of the best books ever written; definitely my all-time favourite book ever. So here we go...

2. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells  (1897) - A classic in the Science Fiction genre, possibly one of the best SciFi stories ever written. I've read so many times and it's stood the test of time. Unfortunately, it's never been made into a good movie; I prefer the early American version to Steven Spielberg's, Tom Cruise, version. The edition above is of course the Penguin Classic and was published in 1974 and it's another that has survived from my university days. The last time I read it was a few years ago, before I started writing reviews of my novels. For the uninitiated, it tells the story of an invasion of Earth by creatures from Mars. The setting is pre-War England and the story deals with their efforts to oust the Martians from Earth, after failed attempts to communicate with them. The story is told so matter-of-factly and so believably that it's not surprising that a radio broadcast of the story by Orson Welles in 1938 caused panic in the US as it was broadcast as a news broadcast. If you've never read any science fiction, read this first and you'll be hooked on the ideas and the genre itself. Fantastic story, a true classic that must be read.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) - My wife will not be surprised by this selection, except she might argue it's not a classic (probably not though). I can't tell you how many times I've read this book or seen the classic movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, but it's never grown old. The story is timeless, it tells of growing up, it tells of racism, it tells of heroism, and family and life and everything in one small story. Writing this chokes me up, the story chokes me up but at the same time makes me feel somewhat better about humanity in general and about the characters of this lovely, wonderfully crafted story of Scout Finch, a young girl who experiences so many things in her small town, things that affect her life in the present and the future... sorry for the run-on sentence, but I can think of no other book that affects me so very much and in so many ways. Everybody should be made to read it and / or to watch the movie. Simply said, it's fantastic! This edition was published in 2006 by Arrow Books and was a gift from my sister-in-law, it's a lovely simple cover, perfectly suited to the story within. I'd provide my review, but it says nothing at all that isn't in my comments above. READ IT!!

So there you have it, my initial Top Ten Classic books. What do you think? The den is hot and stuffy now so I think I'll sit outside with the dogs for a few minutes before we go check the mail.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails