A Few of My Favourite Things!

Currently reading Alexandre Dumas’ wonderfully evocative, twisty-turny Napoleonic adventure The Count of Monte Cristo and George Eliot’s Middlemarch – a book I’ve attempted countless times before, but never quite reached the end of. Other things I’ve read since I last posted include Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I don’t think I’ll be posting thoughts on every single book that I read. I did have a lot to say about Moon Tiger, but since it’s so slim, I think I may re-read it before writing about it here. I can’t really say that I read it all too thoroughly the first time through, it was all rushes of colour and exotic places and vague, washy impressions – I always feel I need to read a book more than once to start seeing any deeper glimpses.

Plus updates to my list! I discovered some Korean contemporary classics (novels and short stories from the late 19th to early 20th centuries), and though they’re English translation, I’m sure they’ll be a fantastic read anyway. The titles have been added to the Classics list here. It’s so difficult to find foreign books in their original languages where I live. Well-known classics like Anna Karenina do seem to be available for free online though – I can provide links if anyone’s interested, seeing as I’m planning on reading some Russian sooner or later myself.

As for this month’s meme, choosing a single favourite book is always a bit of a hard task, so I’m going to ‘cheat’ and introduce a select list of my most loved classics from across the ages (limiting it to 18th-early 20th centuries, because I feel those are the centuries where the novel – as a form and literary phenomenon – really reached its pinnacle*):

* though I’m not, in any way, implying its demise in recent days ;)

(18th century) Dream of the Red Chamber, Cao Xueqin 

One of the best works of Chinese classical literature, written in vernacular Chinese. Circulated in manuscript form with various titles, until its print publication in 1791. Follows the rising and falling destinies of two branches of an ancient and prosperous family/clan. It is incredibly complex and captures very well the lives of the Chinese aristocracy in those days. In fact, it’s such a sprawling, huge piece of literature that I’ve yet to read it from start to finish, but the parts that I did read were absolutely fabulous. I have to say that with Dream of the Red Chamber, I’m as much fascinated by the premise, the historical context and the idea of it all, as I am with the actual book.

(Early 19th century) 1816Persuasion, Jane Austen

Almost impossible to choose a ‘favourite’ out of the Austens, because they’re all equally wonderful. I think I am prone to favouritism though. I remember at one stage reading Emma over and over again (and having a bit of a crush on Mr Knightley-types for a while); at another time, it was possibly Sense and Sensibility, given that I sat through the terrible BBC production of it. At the moment, though, I have to say that Persuasion captivates me most. Who can forget? The ever-so-romantic scene by the seaside, the poignant love letter! The tortured moments in the earlier sections of the book where Anne Elliot is tormented by her own foolishness…

(Late 19th century) 1870sAnna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

This is an absolute tapestry of a book; finely woven and rich in detail and imagination. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it wonderful writing, stylistically speaking – it’s a little dry and prosaic for that. Yet Tolstoy is undeniably the master of storytelling, of weaving strands and threads of life, death, love, betrayal – all those great themes of literature – into a single story that flows seamlessly onto the page. What else can I say? It’s a masterpiece.

(Early 20th century)

1925: The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

Sparse, poetic language. All the exuberance and recklessness and glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties. Wonderfully written, terrible but complex and memorable characters. Incidentally, Baz Luhrmann’s film Gatsby is out on December 26th of this year, and I can’t wait. From the looks of it, he’s succeeded into transforming Fitzgerald’s prose into a delectable visual treat – the scene with all of Gatsby’s coloured shirts; the wet, dripping garden of lilacs where Gatsby and Daisy are first reunited; Daisy and Jordan seated like languid golden cats, dressed in floating whites – and of course, Gatsby’s magnificent house parties with flapper girls, Jazz music and men in brilliantly sleek, sleek tailored clothes.

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Published in the same year, incidentally, all the way across the globe though. Mrs Dalloway is my favourite Woolf, possibly because it’s the first I ever read. It may also have left an impression because it was one of the first works of literature I ever read in the stream-of-consciousness form, that that style of writing just blew my mind away at the time. I was fascinated by how seamless and melodic the entire thing was; it seemed like such an ingenious and incredibly beautiful way of capturing the mind’s innermost thoughts and melding them into a narrative.

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11 thoughts on “A Few of My Favourite Things!

  1. Love the updates! Your list of favorites is deliciously eclectic- so varied on the different styles! I’m not familiar with all of them, but I just need to agree with you wholeheartedly on Anna Karenina. I never expected to enjoy that experience as much as I did… just wonderful!

  2. Great choices! If I didn’t have such a soft spot for P&P, I would also pick Persuasion as my favorite Austen book. I am going to re-read The Great Gatsby before the movie comes out since it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve read it. I tried reading Mrs. Dalloway and couldn’t get through it, but that could be because it was for school and life was chaos at the time. I’ll try it again … eventually … maybe. As for the other two, I haven’t read them. Anna Karenina is on my list, though. Regardless of my choices, it’s a rather collective list, and I like it. :)

    1. Thanks lostgenerationreader :)
      I’m due for a Gatsby re-read as well (incidentally, Gatsby is the only book I read for school that I actually genuinely enjoyed). Mrs Dalloway took me a few goes as well – I think the key really is to read it when you have nothing else going on, because it does require some concentration! (there were countless moments where I’d drift off and find myself in the middle of a page-long sentence and have to start all over again haha)

  3. That’s a great list. I have yet to read most of the books in that list. I loved Great Gatsby, but Mrs. Dalloway was a bit of a struggle for me.

    I have another book by her To The Lighthouse on my TBR and am a little apprehensive. Have you read that one? Do you recommend it?

    1. Hello Nishita! :)
      To be completely honest with you, yes I have attempted To the Lighthouse (multiple times, in fact), but no – I’ve never been able to finish it………….!!

      I do really like the idea of it, because I think (from memory) it’s the novel that Woolf herself considered to be her best work, in the stream-of-consciousness form. But it is a little hard to get through.

      I’m sure a lot of people have it on their TBR list – maybe a read-a-long could be organised?

  4. Mrs Dalloway is on my list. I usually have a hard time with Virginia Woolf, but people keep telling me it’s great so I hope it will be. A readalong of it would be great though, because I really disliked To The Lighthouse, so I’m a bit scared to start it!

    I read The Great Gatsby in college and loved it, and generally adore Fitzgerald so I think I’ll have to re-read before the movie comes out!

    1. Yeah I’m liking the idea of a readalong – I didn’t particularly like To the Lighthouse as well (found it a bit pompous/long-winded – didn’t really ‘get it’ either – whereas Dalloway was succint yet had incredible flow)

      Haha I’m going to try fit in a Gatsby re-read before the film as well – it looks amazing! Gotta love Baz, despite what people say ; )

    1. Brona – sounds good! If we really are going to do this, should we ask the mods to make an official readalong on the Classics Club website, or keep it an informal sort of thing? :D

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