Category Archives: The Classics Club

The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner, was published in 1976, and received the National Book Award for Fiction in 1977.

From the publisher…

Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, “just killing time until time gets around to killing me.” His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice. He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side. When an unexpected postcard from a long-lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother’s birth­place where he once sought a link with his past. Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.

Throughout much of this story, Joe is a grumpy old man. At seventy, he has many physical aches and pains but he carries some heavy emotional aches and pains as well. Pain of any kind can certainly make a person grumpy and color one’s outlook on life. Dealing with the changes retirement brings is also quite challenging, and in Joe’s case presents itself in depression. Retirement puts one at a distance which is both welcome and a big challenge. I remember hearing my father say about retirement, “It’s amazing how quickly you are forgotten in the workplace.” Joe seems to be sitting on the sidelines, even more a spectator than earlier in his life, not sure of what he wants to do with his life at this point.

“Maybe because the bush tits are doing what I thought we would be doing out here, just messing around, paying no attention to time or duty, kicking up leaves and playing hide and seek up and down the oak trunks and generally enjoying themselves.

Joe also continues to grieve for the loss of his son and only child, Curt, who died in a surfing accident (Joe thinks it was possibly a suicide). He has not been able to let go of the guilt he feels about this troubled relationship with his son, and he questions himself every day.

“Do I hate the thought of Curt’s death more because he never fulfilled himself, or because he never fulfilled me?

Joe struggles with the aging process and grieves for the losses and irrevocable changes time brings, and he is also struggling to redefine meaning and purpose at this later stage of  life.  As he and Ruth share an old journal from a trip to Denmark they took many years earlier, they rediscover some important and defining moments in their marriage. It becomes clear that the most important thing is his relationship with Ruth, and that their marriage, with the easy (and difficult)  companionship of so many years, with what Virginia Woolf calls the “daily-ness” of their relationship, is the strength that guides him through each day and through the rest of his life. His realization of that is a tender and romantic notion, a notion that is also true in my own life experience. Wallace Stegner describes it beautifully.

“The truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark. But Ruth is right. It is something — it can be everything — to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”

I read this book for The Classics Club. It is the first book I have read by Wallace Stegner, but will not be my last. I admit I’ve been a little intimidated to read him before now. I have some personal connections to him, and he has always loomed as a larger-than-life figure to me, so I think I was simply afraid to try him out. This book started out slowly for me, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but his “big ideas” really touched my heart, his literary references amazed me, and his beautiful “way with words” have all made me a real fan.

Crooked House

Last week I finished reading Crooked House, by Agatha Christie, but it’s been such a busy week and weekend, that I’m just now getting around to posting about it.  I’ve read many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries over the years, starting with And Then There Were None when I was in the 5th grade many, many years ago! I’ve read quite a few since then with Miss Marple as the detective, a number with Poirot,  and one or two with Tommy and Tuppence. And, happily, there are still a lot of them I can look forward to reading!  Crooked House is a stand alone novel, not part of one of her series, but is a very enjoyable mystery to read!

From the Agatha Christie web site, here is a synopsis of the story:

A wealthy Greek businessman is found dead at his London home… The Leonides were one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That was until the head of the household, Aristide, was murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection. Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiance of the late millionaire’s granddaughter…

In this book, I was particularly struck by Christie’s chilling description of the mindset of a murderer:

“What are murderers like? Some of them,” a faint rather melancholy smile showed on his face, “have been thoroughly nice chaps.”

… “Murder, you see, is an amateur crime. I’m speaking of course of the kind of murder you have in mind–not gangster stuff. One feels, very often, as though these nice ordinary chaps, had been overtaken, as it were, by murder, almost accidentally. They’ve been in a tight place, or they’ve wanted something very badly, money or a woman–and they’ve killed to get it…

…”But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse…And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ — murder is wrong– but not for them — for them it is necessary — the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.'”

Crooked House was one of Christie’s own favorites of the books she wrote:  “Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure and I feel justified in my belief that it is one of my best.”

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

Spinning

I joined The Classics Club earlier this week and have immediately found a fun way to pick my first book to read from my list of 50-classics-to-read-in-5-years. Every so often, the club has a special event called the “The Classic Spin.” It works like this:

Choose 20 books from your list of classics TBR and post that list on your blog before March 9th. On Friday, March 10th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by May 1, 2017. 

So here is my first Spin List.  It should be fun to see which number (and which book) is chosen in the “spin” on Friday! That’s where I will start my five year classics journey!  I’ll return to this post on Friday and highlight the book chosen.

Classic Spin #15:

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  3. The Railway Children, Edith Nesbitt
  4. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  5. Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz
  6. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  7. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  8. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  9. A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir
  10. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  11. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  12. The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell (started on 03.10.17)

  13. Ask Me, William Stafford
  14. The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner
  15. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  16. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  17. Crooked House, Agatha Christie
  18. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  19. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  20. Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the CIty, Italo Calvino

 

The Classics Club


Why haven’t I joined The Classics Club before now? I’ve been interested in it and thought about doing it for years! I lurked around their web site… started my own private reading challenge of 50 books à la The Classics Club but without joining… read lots of classics…  But I was afraid of not being able to finish the commitment I would make because I’m just awful at finishing challenges these days.

But, this morning I read a post by Melissa @Avid Reader’s Musings, and was so inspired by the fact that she just posted her last review and finished her 5-year challenge with The Classics Club! Congratulations, Melissa!  I wish I had simply joined 5 years ago when I first heard about it and was both fascinated by and fearful of it. Five years goes by quickly and I, too, would be finishing my last book from my list of 50 classics. So no more hesitating. Inspired by Melissa, I have decided to just go ahead and join. I am proud to become a member of The Classics Club!

My list is a mix of novels, short stories, and poetry, a combination of adult and children’s literature. Many of these books are already on my bookshelves or on my Kindle. My goal for completing my reading of these books is March 2022!  That sounds so far away, but I know that five years goes by in a flash. And what pleasurable reading years they will be!

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  3. Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  4. The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  5. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  6. The Railway Children, Edith Nesbitt
  7. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  8. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  10. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  11. Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz
  12. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  13. The Rainbow and the Rose, Nevil Shute
  14. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  15. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  16. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  17. A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir
  18. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  19. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  20. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  21. The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
  22. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl
  24. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  25. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  26. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  27. The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell
  28. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  29. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  30. Kinfolk, Pearl S. Buck
  31. Ask Me, William Stafford
  32. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
  33. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  34. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  35. The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner (read March 2017)
  36. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  37. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  38. Kindred, Octavia Butler
  39. The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude
  40. The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  41. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
  42. The Unicorn and Other Poems, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  43. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  44. Crooked House, Agatha Christie (read March 2017)
  45. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  46. Two on a Tower, Thomas Hardy
  47. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  48. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, Eleanor Perenyi
  49. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  50. Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the CIty, Italo Calvino
  51. Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays
  52. Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway
  53. The Sea Runners, Ivan Doig

 

On Having Time to Smell the Roses

the_soul_of_the_rose

My husband and I retired in July of this year. We are slowly adjusting to this new stage of life, and are starting to realize that we actually have  time to do some of the things we couldn’t do before. And we have time to get back to some things that we left off because of the frenetic pace of our work lives. For me, that means that I am now able to get back to knitting projects, long walks, some gardening, and the kind of relaxed reading I did before the pace of life got crazy on us. It feels like a reward for all that hard work! It feels like “coming home” again…to myself.

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at the books on our numerous bookshelves. As we prepared to move into our new home in July, we seriously culled our collection of books. We donated almost a thousand books to our local library…but we still have too many books! The ones we still have, however, were worth the pain of packing and loading into a U-Haul, and carting 220 miles to our new home. And it’s a wonderful collection of books to read!

me_reading-sm

So I decided to make a list of books I’d like to read or re-read now that I actually have some serious reading time. I used to love reading the classics, so I’ll start with a list of 50 Classics that have been patiently waiting for me on our bookshelves, and I will put a link to this list on the sidebar of my blog. In all honesty, I won’t promise to write a review of each book I read, but I’ll provide a link to any reviews I write and a date-finished for those not reviewed.

What a delight to have some time to ‘stop and smell the roses’…and, in my case, to get back to more reading!

My 50 Classics List:

Alcott, Louisa May Eight Cousins
Alcott, Louisa May Rose in Bloom
Allende, Isabel The House of the Spirits
Alvarez, Julia In the Time of Butterflies
Adichie, Chimamanga Ngozi Half of a Yellow Sun
Austen, Jane Persuasion
Austen, Jane Sense and Sensibility
Baum, L. Frank The Sea Fairies
Berry, Wendell Hannah Coulter
Bowen, Elizabeth The House in Paris
Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine
Bronte, Anne The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall
Bronte, Charlotte The Professor
Buck, Pearl S. Sons
Buck, Pearl S. A House Divided
Burnett, Francis Hodgson The Land of the Blue Flower (read November 2014)
Cather, Willa Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chandler, Raymond The Big Sleep (read February 2016)
Chesterton, G.K. The Innocence of Father Brown
Collette Claudine’s House
Conrad, Joseph The Secret Agent
Dahl, Roald The BFG (read October 2014)
Dickens, Charles Three Ghost Stories
Dinesen, Isak Winter’s Tales
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
du Maurier, Daphne My Cousin Rachel
Durrell, Gerald Marrying Off Mother, and other stories
Gibson, William Neuromancer
Godden, Rumer Coromandel Sea Change
Graham, Kenneth The Wind in the Willows (read January 2014)
Greene, Graham Travels with my Aunt
Grey, Zane The Rainbow Trail
Gunther, John Death Be Not Proud
Hardy, Thomas A Pair of Blue Eyes
Holtby, Winifred South Riding
Hudson, Henry Green Mansions
Jewett, Sarah Orne Country of the Pointed Firs
Kipling, Rudyard The Jungle Book
Kundera, Milan The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Mahfouz, Naguib Arabian Nights and Days
Malraux, Andre Man’s Fate
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia One Hundred Years of Solitude
Pyle, Howard The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Pym, Barbara Some Tame Gazelle
Pym, Barbara No Fond Return of Love (read November 2014)
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye
Sandburg, Carl Rootabaga Stories
Smith, Betty A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

NOTE:  I noticed that many of my blogging friends have lists of Classics on their blogs, too. Investigating, I discovered The Classics Club, and since this list is right in line with that self-challenge, I will provide a link to that site even though I haven’t joined up yet.

classicsclub-1 .