Final Thoughts on the Back to the Classics challenge of 2018 and Reading Tips

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Wow! I know EVERYONE says this every year but really, where has this year gone? It just flew by. One of the ways I marked the passage of time was doing Back To the Classics Challenge 2018 hosted by Book and Chocolate . I revealed last year my book choices for the challenge prompts. Well, I want to do it again! I had so much fun and I really challenged myself on some of these books. I define classics as books that have stood the test of time. Despite the decades or centuries that these books were first published, they have delighted readers throughout time.

So in today’s post I am sharing with you all my final thoughts and reviews on this past year’s challenge and I am also sharing with you 3 tips that really helped me in a slump. Classic books can have some deep thoughts, a writing style that is not common in today’s literature, and a vocabulary that will make you dust off your dictionary. So I found 3 things to help me get over the slump and I hope it will help anyone else that decides to add more classic literature in their reading life.

Let’s start off with the first 4 prompts and my reviews. All reviews are on my Goodreads account which you can find here:

A 19th century classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin (linked is my Goodreads review). I went into this book with assumptions and a general idea of what the overall arching theme of this book was. It was a difficult one to start with and getting use to the language and writing style took some time getting use too, so that I felt it was a slower start over all. However, once I got my groove going, it really became apparent that the real hero of this story is Uncle Tom. I had assumed it was Eliza and that because of what Rogers and Hammerstein’s King and I interpretation of this story. There were several subplots in this book that sometimes my characters would get mingled with one another. Overall it was what I called an “intriguing book” and it ended up staying on my shelf because it is one I would like to read again. 3.5 stars overall. 

A 20th century classic – (any book published between 1900 and 1968.)To Kill a Mockingbird (linked Goodreads review).
As mentioned in the review, when I first started this book, I had an idea of what the book was about, I had seen the Gregory Peck classic some years ago. However, this book contained so much more than I anticipated. I didn’t find it to the be the ultimate classic that a lot of people find it to be. It was good. It wasn’t life changing for me. It was just an enjoyable read. Again, what I expected the book to be about ended up containing much more and in the end I really enjoyed how Harper Lee put together so much prejudice and issues of the times in one little book through the eyes of infamous Scout. 3.5 Stars overall. 

A classic by a woman author.  The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. (Linked Goodreads review)
The first 5 star review! So much wrapped up in such a small book. It was an easier read and it contained a lot that I still struggle to this day to wrap my head around. One of the main points that still stays with me is how much the wealthy valued fashion and image over morality. I also found it fascinating that its through the perspective of Marguerite who looks at the outward appearance. I know there are more than one Scarlet Pimpernel novels, and I look forward to reading more in the future. 5 stars! 

A classic in translationAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. (Goodreads Review linked)
So, unfortunately, this was my first fail for the challenge. I had actually started this book on and off in 2017 as my read on the go book, but I realized quickly on that it needed to be a good sit down read. The challenge states that, “Books started before January 1, 2018 do not qualify.” So while I really enjoyed this book, I cannot count it for the challenge if I am sticking by the rules. While this may seem a bummer, I REALLY loved this book so it really didn’t bother me. It was not a wasted read. It had some amazing lines that really just tugged my heart.  The super amazing this was that this was told in the first person. And it did not loose a star because of that! WOW. I only just realized this and not too long ago I made the statement that books written in the first person would end up loosing a star in my final review. The scene where Paul is with his best friend’s mom and she convinced her son suffered and Paul is “honest” with her about how it was like, was just, had me choked up and still stays with me. I want to raise my sons like Paul. I also listened to a GREAT audio version of this book and you can find that one here. 5 Stars!

So, now that we have gotten through the first four books, I want to offer you my tip no. 1 in beginning to read classics. Work your way back into time. I think if I could go back and do it over again I would begin with the lastest published book on my list and work my way back. I think it would have strengthened my reading a bit more. Like exercising. You don’t jump in trying to lift 400lbs or running a marathon, you build yourself up to that. By the end of the year, I didn’t have the struggle that I had throughout the year but I think some of the books that I did struggle with would have been a bit easier if I had followed this tip. Ok, lets get back to the books.

A children’s classic Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink (goodreads review linked).
Another book that I cannot unfortunately claim for completing all of the stipulations. I know I read this as a child, but I could not remember anything about it, However, the challenge states: “read that classic that you somehow missed years ago”. So I will not count this. However, in so far as how the book was, I LOVED it. I read it in a short amount of time; children’s classics will do that to me. 😉 I also ended up reading it as a read aloud to the children and they all loved in, including my husband. Caddie is what I picture Laura Ingalls being if she would have been more allowed to be a tomboy. Jim Trellis, author of what of the most beloved book, The Read Aloud Handbook, stated, “You take Laura Ingalls, and I’ll take Caddie Woodlawn” 5 Stars and two thumbs up from the crew!

A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionLord Peter Whimsey Series by Dorothy Sayers. (goodreads account linked)

I really should have made this the year I read all the classics that I had seen the movies too first and not read the stories! Epic fail in the booknerd world.

Lord Peter series are yet another book (series) where I watched the movie but hadn’t read the books first. The books were really good. They had a lot of Sherlock Holmes vibes to it. Lord Peter was released as short stories and novels, similar to Sherlock Holmes. Lord Peter was a favorite of both sexes, male and female. His charm, wit, and intelligence delighted fans for decades. Unfortunately the copy I owned was a bit of a disappointment because it was a random selection of stories and not the complete book, like I originally assumed. Because of that, I ended up feeling like I didn’t get a complete overall view of Lord Peter. The mysteries were awesome, some of them challenging, some of them were more trying to figure out why Lord Peter was doing what he was. I have to say, I think my favorite story was when 2 people were claiming to be Lord Peter and one was in cahoots with one of the “Lord Peter’s”  and it was brilliantly done.  3 stars overall, mainly for the version I had. Not so much a reflection of the author and her writings as much as how the publisher put the content together that was frustrating. 

A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction:  Around the World in 80 Days By Jules Verne. (Goodreads Review linked).

Everything I had ever seen about this book circles around traveling the world and a hot air balloon pictured. Not knowing more than that, I assumed the story was about a man traveling in a hot air balloon around the world. However, the story is actually a little more complex and adventurous than that. I really enjoyed this story and thought it covered a lot of geography and culture that was pretty amazing. It had a really slow beginning for me. So much so that I actually set it aside, picked up another classic to read and then came back to this one. Phineas Fogg has a lot of characteristics that a rich vocabulary can describe. I would read my fiction and classics at night only to realize that it wasn’t a goodnight story, if you know what I mean. You really needed to be fully present to understand what the story was about and what some of the words meant to get a full appreciation of the character and story. I really enjoyed this book and have plans to read it aloud to my children in the 2019 school year. 4 Stars 

A classic with a single-word title. Persuasion by Jane Austen. And we come to the first prompt that I did not even start or finish for 2018. I actually finished my last prompt only a week ago and realized I was not going to make it to Persuasion. And in the end, I didn’t bother trying because I have some happy projects coming up in 2019 regarding Austen that I ended up just setting this aside. I tried Thomas More’s Utopia, but I only got one page into the story before I realized that this was not going to go well at all. I ended up just fudging a bit, even though the challenge says, “No articles please!” I ended up reading The Chimes by Charles Dickens in order to complete my 12 classics reads for 2018. The Chimes was ok. It wasn’t my favorite, but Charles Dickens really isn’t a favorite to read. I much prefer watching his books on screen. LOL. The Chimes is a New year book with a ghost that is showing Trotty that being poor doesn’t make you bad, but forced circumstances places you in dire predicaments. The Chimes are the clock towers that basically ring out messages to Trotty and keep him encouraged until one day he realizes that they are more of a mark of time. It was ok. I gave it 2.5 stars. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t like it a whole lot.

Before I share the last 4 books, I want to share another tip. My no. 2 tip is not to read a classic before bed. This may seem silly but if you are just getting into reading classics you may find a similar situation that I found myself in, and that is it uses a lot of mental concentration when reading a classic. If it was just before bed, I would find myself time and time again, setting it aside and choosing one of my other “lighter” books to read. If I had to get out from my snuggly quilt to look up a word or to have to read a sentence out loud to fully understand the context of what was being said, then I just wouldn’t read it or I would fall asleep quickly. I know for many moms especially, before bed is a great block of time to read. Try to carve yourself out 20 minutes after lunch time to just read a few pages or chapters. I found that changing around my reading time really improved how much I was able to read in my classic selection. 

A classic with a color in the title. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Goodreads Review linked).
I want to say that this was my first true disappointment in my read the classics challenge. I knew it was a favorite with my husband, and it thrilled me to learn a bit more about the War of the Roses. However, in the end, I felt like R. L. Stevenson just took the Robin Hood outline and rewrote it to work with his plot. The story was fun. It was VERY hard to get into the timeline of when this takes place. But in the end, I really thought that Stevenson, being an ardent admirer of children’s classic literature just made a twist of his own on Robin Hood. It was a good read, but if given the choice between someone’s interpretation of Robin Hood and the real deal, I’ll choose Robin Hood (which is one of my childhood favorites). 3 Stars overall. 

A classic by an author that’s new to you. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (Goodreads Review linked).  Another one that just didn’t make the cut for me. I am almost hesitant to even admit this! I encourage you to click my Goodreads review above and just check it out there. Rochester just, yeah there is a wall there that I am building up. “Throughout the whole story of 500+ pages, I kept adding up how many more I had left.” 2.5 Stars overall.

A classic that scares you.  The Picture of Dorian Grey By Oscar Wilde. (Goodreads Review linked)
Oh my. This book. Again, saw the movie years ago, black and white film with Angela Landsbury. Yeah. Good memories… However, first time reading the book. Some GREAT lines in here, but this book was just very hard to read. It dances on horror which doesn’t appeal to me, at all. I really had to just read it not for the stories sake but for the nuggets of wisdom that was sprinkled throughout it. I have the idea of the story but if I never read this again, I’ll be fine with it. 2 stars. 

Re-read a favorite classic. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The character of Fanny is everyone’s least favorite Austen character. I can understand, she is physically a weak creature, but she makes up for it in moral stamina. One of my favorite quotes from the book was, “She was not often invited to join in the conversation of the others, nor did she desire it. Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions.”   And that really is something that I gravitate towards. Which seems odd. I am not like Fanny, I have social media platforms and I share. In the company of friends, I will converse, laugh, and even jump up and down with good news. But in my deepest soul, I long to be filled with the character of Fanny. She was in the background observing so much, she read such deep books that helped her form opinions and ideas, she is shown to have a deep faith with God, and so much more. I read this in highschool after seeing the 1980s adaptation from BBC and it followed the book so closely that I think I missed some of the thoughts and facial tellings that the movie doesn’t always share. It did begin as a disappointment when I read it again. I remember Fanny being a strong character and the beginning of the book showed a REALLy timid child. But, as I got further into the book I realized how much of her character was formed. I finished the book and I wanted to begin it again. I am more frustrated by Edmond this time around then I was the first. He really is not a strong Austen hero. So, 5 stars from me. 

And those are my thoughts on all the classics I read for this challenge.  My final tip is to embrace audio books. With a few of these books, I found it easier to listen to the audio and get into a rhythm of the story rather than stumble on what I thought I was missing. They are some great narrators that really do a phenominal job! I would also day that sometimes watching the movie does help you understand more of the story when you read it. You don’t get bogged down by all the whose who and just really get the enrichment of the story. I am really glad I saw Jane Eyre before reading the book. I think it really helped when I would have just set it aside. 

Will you be doing the Back to the Classics Challenge for the 2019 year? I intend too and I have everything planned out so stay tuned because I will be revealing that shortly!

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