Classics Challenge 2009 Guidelines

Trish is hosting the Classics Challenge 2009. She has posted a list of classic books including some possible future classics. (Future classics - is that a paradox or what?) in this site.

Choose Your Level
1. Classics Snack - Read FOUR classics

2. Classics Entree - Read FIVE classics

3. Classics Feast - Read SIX classics

1. Cross-posting with other challenges is allowed (and encouraged!)

2. Audiobooks are fine

3. Re-reads are acceptable, BUT books must be finished after April 1st to count for the challenge

4. Lists don't have to be set in stone; you can change your selections at any time.

5. Have fun!!

6. You do NOT need a blog to participate.

To sign up and for more information, go here. The challenge runs from April to October, 2009. Come join the fun!

My Choices for the Classics Challenge

I've decided to do the Classics Feast.

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

2. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

6. Sherlock Holmes: Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Bonus: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Classics Challenge 2009: Overview

This year was my first time to join The Classics Challenge as well as my first year to being a book blogger. When I first heard about The Classics Challenge, I was really excited to join. I don't really read a lot of classics. Sure, I read some as a reading requirement for school like Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights and The Grapes of Wrath. Other classics were read by choice like the Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, Dracula, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Pride and Prejudice, and Of Mice and Men.

I decided to broaden and challenge my reading experience. Since I aimed to become a better writer, I knew that I had to study and read a variety of books. I knew that the Classic Challenge would reach my expectations, and it did.

My reading experience did expand, and I met some some of the most interesting yet flawed characters like Amir of The Kite Runner and Esther from The Bell Jar; courageous souls like Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities and Corrie and the Ten Boom family from A Hiding Place; persistent and strong characters like the Old Man from the Old Man and the Sea and Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; and the unforgettable team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Although my progress as writer had yet to be seen, I did learn just by reading these books what momentum the story had, what worked, and what didn't work in the plot.

One thing's for certain. I appreciated the classics more, and I'm grateful that I learned about this challenge. I even intend to read more classics. So expect me to discuss some Crime and Punishment and introduce you to Oliver Twist in the near future. I might even be inclined to talk about War and Peace. Yes, it's ambitious, but I'm excited to read them.

I'm finished with this challenge but I'm definitely not finished reading the classics yet. If there's going to be a Classics Challenge next year (and I hope there is), you can bet that I will be there and ready to read and to be challenged.

A Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Pub. Date: January 2006
ISBN-13: 9780800794057
Pages: 272
Rank: 5 out of 5
Summary: A Hiding Place is a true story of the Ten Booms who helped saved the Jews by helping them escape and hiding them during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland.

Review: I absolutely loved this book! Though Ten Boom’s writing style was first person narrative, it made me feel like I was sitting in front of her having coffee by the fireplace, listening to her wonderful tale. Her descriptions just drew me in, and I felt like I was right there in 1940’s Holland.

I flew through this book. I just marveled at the simplicity of her life before Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Towards the middle of the book, I felt so tense because I already knew something terrible was going to happen when Corrie and her family started hiding the Jews, but I kept reading.

What truly amazed me was Corrie’s and her sister Betsie’s undying faith, and their ability to forgive and to love their enemies no matter how things went from bad to worse. They remained spiritually strong and so was their belief in God even after they starved and suffered in the concentration camp in Germany.

The Hiding Place is a remarkable story of courage, strength, forgiveness, and hope. It will be forever in my collection. It is definitely one of the best books I have ever read.

Recommendation: This is a great book to read if you are looking for a World War II story or if you are looking for something inspiring.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Pub. Date: August 2004
First Publication Date: 1859
ISBN-13: 9781593081386
Pages: 404
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary: A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It is the story of the French peasants who suffered under the French aristocrats. England provided as a refuge for the oppressed French yet the social injustices towards the poor in England were no different. In the French Revolution, the aristocrats were brutalized by the revolutionaries who made them pay heavily for their lives.

Review: What an excellent book! After reading, I was really surprised how this became one of my favorite books. However, it didn’t seem that way in the beginning. It started out slow, and I felt that Charles Dickens can be overly descriptive in his scenes. This was his way of laying the groundwork of the story. It worked for me (and the story, of course) because I was hooked.

The book was divided into three parts. In part one, the characters were introduced, and the setting was before the French Revolution. In part two, more characters came into play and events slowly led towards the revolution. Finally, part three was set during the French Revolution, and I thought this was the most exciting and suspenseful part of the book.

The story was more than just about the madness that led to the chaotic French Revolution. As I read on, I discovered that it was also about second chances. One of the characters who experienced this was Dr. Manette. He was released after being in jail for eighteen years. He was traumatized so severely that his mental state deteriorated. With the love and support he received from his daughter Lucie, he slowly recovered.

Charles Darnay started over with his life by denouncing his French aristocratic family. Like Dr. Manette, he went to live in England to leave his past behind.

I also came to love all the characters in this book, but I was mostly impressed with Sydney Carton. He became my favorite. He wasn’t perfect, but he, nonetheless, had a good heart. His love for Lucie was rivaled by Charles, the virtuous gentleman. Ah, to love someone you can’t have. I really felt for Sydney. That’s probably why I had a soft spot for him.

The description of how the poor and the prisoners were brutalized was gruesome. Honestly, I had second thoughts about continuing, but my curiosity got the best of me. I thought that perhaps Dickens felt that he had to write these horrific descriptions because he wanted the readers to understand why the revolutionaries were so angry and vengeful towards the aristocrats.

Even though some parts were gross, I got past it because the story was getting better, and I was eager to see how the ending was going to be. Still, I shivered when I read that women, men, young or old, peasant or not were “all red wine for La Guillotine….Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death; the last much easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”

The ending was astonishing. I shouldn’t have been surprised because there had been some foreshadowing. I was equally shocked as the story revealed how and why Dr. Manette was jailed, why Charles Darnay never hesitated to denounce his family, and how Madame Defarge became such a vindictive, evil character. I was really sad at the ending. Yet, it had so many twists that I wasn’t disappointed with the whole book. There’s no doubt in my mind why this was one of the best classics ever written.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a serious book with powerful themes, this is it. Be prepared though because some descriptions can be disturbing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: January 2005
First Publication Date: 1943
ISBN-13: 9780060736262
Pages: 528
Ratings: 4 out of 5
Summary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie Nolan, a thirteen year old growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. It is also the story of her family struggling to get out of poverty.
Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the books I chose to read in the Classical Challenge this year. The main character was Francie Nolan who dreamed of having a better life. As the oldest of the three children, she continued to study and work hard so she can become the first one in her family to go to college.
At first, I really didn’t know where the book was going. The beginning was fine, but towards the middle, my interest started to wane. Things began to pick up after a death in the family. The tragedy made the Nolan family closer, and it also made me feel closer to the characters. The author also included some humor towards the end, and the ending was really great. I felt that the author kind of let loose by then because the majority of the book was very serious.
Probably one of the most admirable characters in the book was Katie Nolan. As a wife of an alcoholic, she had to be the strength of the family. I really liked the part where Francie and Katie became close even after their misunderstandings.
Even though it took me awhile to warm up to this book, I consider this as a great read.
Recommendation: I recommend this if you like...
1. A coming of age story
2. A story of triumph even after heartaches and hardships
3. Historical fiction

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: April 2004
ISBN-13: 9781594480003
Pages: 400
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary: Amir and Hassan are childhood best friends and are close as brothers but each belong to a different class. Amir is a son of wealthy businessman while Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant, and therefore Amir’s servant as well. Hassan also belongs to the minority group of Hazaras who are despised in Afghanistan. Their friendship is torn apart by an unspeakable and heinous crime that will forever haunt Amir even after he tries to escape the past. America becomes his haven, but he returns to Afghanistan to face his sins and atone for them.

Review: I’ve read books where I’ve shed a tear or two, but this book was the one of the two (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was the other) that made me cry in buckets. If I had read this book in a cafĂ© or library, people might have thought I was crazy. Seriously, though, The Kite Runner made me grab the tissue box. There were books that touched me and inspired me. The Kite Runner was different. This book punched me in the gut. I felt so many emotions: shock, anger, sadness, and pity.

Though what began as an innocent, happy and carefree childhood for Amir, he witnessed a horrible crime that involved Hassan. Consumed with guilt, he became a tortured soul even though he escaped to America, married a beautiful and kind Afghani woman, and obtained a successful career as writer.

As an adult, Amir was forced to go back to Afghanistan to save Hassan’s son, Sohrab, who was suffering from the hands of the Taliban. Yet, even after he and Sohrab escaped the Taliban, Amir still faced challenges which included gaining the trust of the traumatized Sohrab.

I have to admit that Amir was not my favorite character, but that slowly changed as he transformed and redeemed himself which didn’t happen until the end of the novel. The plot was very original. Hosseini’s a wonderful author. Although I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns, I think that The Kite Runner was his masterpiece.

Recommendation: Read it if you haven’t already. You are missing a lot. This book is already a modern classic in my eyes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: October 2006
First Edition published: 1963
ISBN-13: 9780061148514
Pages: 288
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood who is a junior editor of a magazine begins her descent towards depression. It became so severe that she tries to commit suicide, and she goes through therapy. This is a semi-autobiographical book about Sylvia Plath, who also battled her own demons of depression. She committed suicide in 1963.

Review: This was probably one of the darkest books I had ever read. It was very interesting, but there were some things that weren’t clear. For instance, it was never explained why Esther hated her mother in the first place. Esther’s mother obviously played some part that made her childhood terrible, but there were no specifics. Esther never really got over her father’s death either, and she somehow blamed her mother. Again, it was ambiguous.

Some parts were very disturbing like how Esther planned to kill herself a few times. I felt sorry for her especially when she was misdiagnosed by a doctor for mental illness instead of severe depression. The result harmed Esther instead of helping her, and eventually she almost succeeded in committing suicide.

Recommendation: It’s not the kind of story that everyone would like to read, and I think Sylvia Plath was bold to write this. If you are looking for a fun-filled or uplifting book to read, I suggest that you read something else. Esther’s story is the kind of story that no one likes to talk about. I do think it is an interesting book to be discussed in a book club though.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Publisher: Signet Classics
Pub. Date: July 10, 2001
ISBN-13: 978-0451528018
Pages: 256
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: The Hound of the Baskervilles is a murder-mystery story that will keep the readers on the edge. Detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville, the owner of the Baskerville Manor. The manor is plagued by the legend of a giant hound (hence the title of the book) who killed the manor's previous owners including Sir Charles. The Baskerville Manor is inherited by Sir Henry Baskerville, Charles' nephew. Upon his arrival in England from Canada, Sir Henry is immediately greeted by baffling events and is warned to leave Baskerville Manor. Will Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson be able to protect Sir Henry? Or will he fall into the fangs of the grotesque hound?

Review: This book kept me in suspense the whole time I read it. The story was told in Dr. Watson's point of view so it was limited. I thought it was fitting though since it added the excitement of the guessing game of "Whodunit?". Dr. Watson's reports were so detailed that I felt like I was trying to solve the mystery with him and Sherlock Holmes.

Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used simple words, his descriptions of the lonely, dark moors brought me to the scenes of the story. I could almost hear the howls of the giant hound which made the hairs from the back of my neck rise. Truly bone-chilling!

The story has plenty of twists so it was truly enjoyable.

Recommendation: Excellent book if you are looking for something quick and easy to read and especially if you love suspense and mystery.