Saturday, 17 December 2016

12 Months. 12 Classics #2016ClassicsChallenge

In December 2015, I signed up to Pretty Book's 2016 Classics Challenge. By now, it's no secret that I've been struggling with YA in recent months, and thus have decided to branch out, and read of new adventures, new styles, and new authors. Outside of the literary canon [because let's not even go there] classics have become classics because they have been read and loved time and time again. They are books that, out of all the books ever published, a handful that many many people say are worth reading. 

Stacey's challenge was not limited to a set number, but as someone who had very little experience with classics before this, I challenged myself to read one classic each month. Now December has come around again, and I've read 12 classics, it's about time for a wrap-up.

January - The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This was my first book of 2016, and it set the year off to a great start. The Outsiders is truly amazing. The entire book felt like one big exhale, and the teenage voice was pure and perfect. Over the course of three days, I completely fell in love with this tale, and became engrossed in the lives of Ponyboy and the greasers. When reading this, a part of me didn't want to open the book, because as long as the book is closed, I could tell myself that the characters were fine, and everyone in this world was okay. The symbolism and meaning is so thought provoking - this wasn't screaming to be studied, but everything was so subtly laid out in front of you, providing you looked close enough.  5/5

February - Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Whenever I'd spoken to fellow readers about Plath, all of them recommended that I started with her final collection of poetry; Ariel. Sadly, this turned out to be a great disappointment. Poets speak to the soul, and their work will effect each reader differently. Some poets will speak to a reader in a stronger voice than others. Very early on into the collection, i found that perhaps, although I expected the opposite, Sylvia Plath's writing, just doesn't work for me. There were some great pieces, such as Lady Lazarus, Daddy, and The Moon and the Yew Tree. But the majority just didn't spark genius like so many claim. 2/5

March -  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Having adored Louise O'Neill's Only Ever Yours, naturally, this classical version felt like the next stepping stone in the world of feminist dystopia. Turns out I was wrong, very wrong. Whilst the premise and concept of Gilead [Offred's dystopian America] was certainly a shocking one, the story was lacking so much development. Offred was incredibly passive, and I feel like eventually she succumbed to accepting her oppression like 'well I guess this is just the way it is.' Where Atwood creates beautiful prose substance was missing - and where revelations or extra details were needed, Atwood relied solely on her writing style rather than plot to pull readers through the story.  3/5

April - A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Ah, yes, the required college reading book that somehow made it into this list. Trouble is that by the time April came around, I had already been in 'full-on-revision' mode for 2 months, and was at the point where my reading was slowing down ahead of exams. This was the last AS Level text we were studying, and thankfully was also a classic. Given the reality of Thomas More's execution, and knowing that that is what awaits him adds a poignant note to the play - because despite his awareness that the penalty for treason is death, More respectfully never gives into his morals and principles. Whilst insightful, I can say I've read more intriguing classics, and more moving plays. This just didn't speak to me. 1/5 

May - The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is fascinating for looking at feminism and also feminism within the American south. But it's also incredibly hard to read; not just for its nature, but also for its style. Because of Celie's lack of education, in her first person narration, the language is choppy and hard to follow. For me at least, the book only developed in pace and Walker's language only really begun to shine through when Nettie's letters were brought into the story.

There were a lot of points in this book which made me uncomfortable, and that drew away from the reading experience, as that completely removed me from the story. Despite The Color Purple not being something that I intend to re-read any time soon I couldn't have more respect for many of the ideas that Alice Walker puts across in the novel [such as choosing for yourself what counts as losing your virginity.] The main reason that this only gets 3 stars from me is because of the slow pacing of the first half of the story, and yet after 150 pages, the story just seemed to gain so much - it was like reading a different book. Aside from this, the ending partially let me down, as although Celie was far more empowered in older age, part of her was forgiving of someone who had abused her for decades; and I just can't get my head around how she could be, or WHY she would be. 3/5

June - The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
In the process of reading this - I'm having a lot of trouble with the 'timeless' quality of this collection. Everything feels so historic and 18th century-esque, but then someone will casually use the phone, or 'hail a taxi.' It takes me right out of the story, and helps this otherwise beautifully prosed collection loose some of it's majestic qualities. 3.5/5

July - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 
I detest this book. Admittedly, the reason Wuthering Heights still gets 2 stars despite my jibe is because it did get progressively better in the second half; and there were parts surrounding Cathy's restlessness to escape Thrushcross Grange that I rather enjoyed reading. But aside from that, I just cannot see the appeal. 
This isn't a love story. It's a story of brutal obsession that spirals out of a love that cannot be admitted due to a class divide. It's a story of a man hellbent on getting revenge on people who've done nothing wrong, simply because he didn't get what he wanted. It's just a story of lust, hatred, and what goes wrong when you don't use your words. Whether or not I'd been reading this for my A Levels or not, I would have read this at some point in my life out of sheer curiosity; needless to say though, I'm disappointed. 2/5

August - The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery 
You could say that for a children's book, this left me speechless. I've nothing really to say on The Little Prince other than the fact that this is a truly beautiful tale about childhood innocence and the naivety of adults not having faith in those younger than them. The running idea of how children have it best because whilst they're not exposed to parts of the world, their imaginations are the most vivid and untameable in existence exists to remind the reader of what we lose and what we should choose to keep as we age. 4.5/5

September - Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Whilst I can understand the literary merit, and agree that the acclaim Letters to a Young Poet receives, where it speaks to others it didn't speak to me.
The first half of the letters felt like things that too many times I've needed to hear, and will probably need to hear again when I get particularly low; but upon reaching the second half of the collection, I just didn't care for what Rilke was saying. Then again, Rilke doesn't seem to at that point either - to me at times, he felt like someone trying to be a lot wiser than he actually was, and seemed like a reckless pen pal, who though appearing endearing, fails to conceal the idea that they have better things to do. I failed to gain a connection to the second half, and in skimming through the letters, this is where the book lost any chance of a higher rating. Perhaps I'll read this again sometime, when I'm older or in a different place mentally, but for now, I don't think I need Rilke's letters to Mr Kappus as much as I initially thought... 

October - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Austen's dialogue is witty and sharp, but the narrative framing this is questionable. I didn't like how Austen appeared within the novel as if telling the story herself, yet I've read that this is the only one of her novel's in which this happens. Most of the time the plot was monotonous, recounting the adventures to and from the 'pump-room' of Catherine and Isabella. Described as 'Gothic,' and having just studied the Gothic in Wuthering Heights, I expected far more of that genre to blossom throughout Northanger Abbey. I expected darkened corridors in a lonely Abbey; I expected a little more mystery or an amping up of fear - and that's not what this book is. For the most part, I really loved Catherine. She's a little naive, but she's not stupid; and she doesn't fall for the manipulation of this odious Thorpe. She lives for the books she reads, and that's what kept me reading when I wanted to DNF this. 2/5

November -  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith 
Whilst the premise was intriguing and the characters are surprisingly well developed from page one, I really don't care for where this is going. At 70 pages, I was bored, but I made myself keep reading in the hope that that would change - it hasn't. At 250 pages I caved in and read the full plot on Wikipedia, and it's not for me. Right now at least, I don't care for 2 teenage sisters falling for 2 much older American brothers and then ending up in some sort of love square. DNF

December - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Deep in metaphors, imagery and symbolism, Fahrenheit 451 is utterly engrossing. Bradbury's writing style is enchanted with the bitter sense of reality, censorship and a level of social commentary that applies today, 60 years on from the book's first publication. This struck a chord with me in one particular line - 'Are we having so much fun that we've forgotten the world?'  Now, at the time we're in when print has conquered over ebooks, this reality feels a little out of reach, but it's grim and horrific nevertheless. No wonder this is a classic. 5/5

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