Now that my 50 book Classics Club challenge is over it feels like time to step back and reflect.
Overall I enjoyed the challenge and am glad I did it. It certainly got me reading more classics than I had been, led me to be more intentional about my reading in general, and exposed me to many works I might never have got to otherwise. Some books were more difficult than others - either for reasons of language and writing style, or due to the subject matter. But challenge is not a bad thing, I feel richer for having read them and don't regret any of them, even though I can't imagine wanting to read some of them again. The pacing of one book every four to six weeks felt doable, without forcing me to give up other reading. I wanted to read more classics but I didn't want to give up more contemporary titles. I ended up completing the challenge more quickly than planned but I wouldn't have wanted to commit to that in advance, if that makes sense.
Not wanting to commit too far in advance relates to the one aspect of the challenge that I didn't enjoy - having to select all 50 titles at the outset. I picked 50 at the outset but stated even then that I doubted I'd actually read all of them. In fact 13 of my original titles have not yet been completed, even though I say I've completed the challenge. I ended up reading 13 other classics instead. There are several reasons for this. One of them is tied to the fact that I homeschool. If Miss 16 read a classic I read it too so we could discuss it together. I also got bogged down part way through, then discovered another classics challenge - Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge which has you read up to 12 classics per year in a variety of sub categories. This was just the reset I needed, but not all of my original picks could fit into the categories over there so I substituted freely. I was more committed to the idea of 50 classics than any particular title. And not all of the 13 unread titles will remain unread. I've actually already completed The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but have yet to post a review; I'm going to collect Crime and Punishment from the library this evening and have The Handmaids Tale on hold - although there is a lengthy waiting list. I also plan to tackle Heart of Darkness or Dante's Inferno before year's end. Others probably won't be read. My experience with Emily Dickinson taught me that I don't enjoy reading large poetry collections in one chunk. I may well read some poems by Robert Frost but definitely not his complete works. And right now Birdsong doesn't appeal to me. That may change of course.
As for the books I did read, two titles I'd never even heard of before tackling the challenge - The Dollmaker and The Makioka Sisters - turned out to be among my favourites. Some books I appreciated without necessarily enjoying (Mrs Dalloway) while some I simply didn't like at all (sorry Moby Dick). Most of course were somewhere in between. Some of the classics felt a little dated to me (The Martian Chronicles, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) but still had something to offer even though I wasn't getting the full experience of reading them soon after they'd been published. Others, sadly, were still all too relevant today ( A Raisin in the Sun). I discovered I normally enjoyed strong female characters ( The Woman in White's Marian and Mina from Dracula), while I struggled to engage with works dominated by passive women (Lucy in Villette) or unpleasant, rather than merely flawed, men (The Odyssey). Sometimes I felt overly long descriptive or discursive sections interrupted the narrative flow and interrupted my enjoyment (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) but other times they added positively to my reading experience (Charles Dickens - mostly!). Beautiful, lyrical writing always appealed (Rebecca) but I could also appreciate the more spartan style in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.
Now that I've finished this 50 book challenge I intend to keep classics as a regular part of my reading diet. I doubt I'll complete another 50 book Classics Club challenge though - too difficult to have to select another 50 titles upfront! I've still got some Shakespeare that I want to tackle - can't believe I haven't got to King Lear yet - and more Dickens is definitely on the cards as well. Other than that we shall see what turns up. This blog has serendipity in its title for a reason!