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Challenge Update: Women’s Classic Literature Event

Challenge Update: Women’s Classic Literature Event

Women's Classic Literature Event

My first Challenge Update this year was my late halfway-into-2016 update on the Goodreads reading challenge. You can read more about that here!

One of my aims this year has been to read as many books written by women as possible. When I saw the Women’s Classic Literature Event hosted by The Classics Club, I didn’t have to think twice.

So here is what I have read so far:

  1. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
  2. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
  3. A Riot of Goldfish by Kanoko Okamoto
  4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  5. The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt
  6. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
  7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  8. A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
  9. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

And what a wonderful experience it has been so far! Not a single disappointment yet. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of these books. The Color Purple is my highlight of the year so far, but otherwise it’s hard to pick a favourite. Some of these authors I had read before, many of them had been on my list for forever, and then I am also glad to have tried new-to-me author Shirley Jackson.

I am definitely not going to stop reading classics by women, and recommendations are always welcome!

Challenge Update: The Classics Club Challenge

Challenge Update: The Classics Club Challenge

The Classics Club Challenge

The Classics Club is a challenge to read at least 50 classics within a maximum of 5 years. I joined this challenge on August 1st, 2012, meaning my deadline would be July 31, 2017.

Well, without realising, I already passed my challenge, with over a year left! It took me a little while to update my challenge stats, and when I did, it turned out I had already read 53 books! You can read all my challenge posts here.

So here is what I have read so far:

  1. Atwood, Margaret – A Handmaid’s Tale (read Nov 15, 2013)
  2. Austen, Jane – Lady Susan (read Aug 19, 2012) [review]
  3. Baldwin, James – Giovanni’s Room (read Oct 5, 2012) [review]
  4. Bradbury, Ray – Fahrenheit 451 (read Aug 19, 2013)
  5. Bradbury, Ray – The Martian Chronicles (read Jul 27, 2014)
  6. Burroughs, Edgar Rice – A Princess of Mars (read Jul 18, 2014)
  7. Capote, Truman – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (read Nov 2, 2012)
  8. Christie, Agatha – Murder on the Orient Express (read Oct 11, 2014)
  9. Doyle, Arthur Conan – A Study in Scarlet (read Jan 6, 2013)
  10. Fanu, Joseph Sheridan Le – Carmilla (read Apr 15, 2014)
  11. Forster, E.M. – Maurice (read Oct 22, 2014)
  12. Garden, Nancy – Annie on My Mind (read Oct 14, 2015)
  13. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins – Herland (read Jul 21, 2014)
  14. Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm – Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm (read Jun 8, 2014)
  15. Hall, Radclyffe – The Well of Loneliness (read Jan 17, 2016) [review]
  16. Highsmith, Patricia – Carol (read Dec 15, 2015)
  17. Homer – The Odyssey (read Mar 23, 2014)
  18. Isherwood, Christopher – Goodbye to Berlin (read Jul 09, 2016)
  19. Isherwood, Christopher – Mr Norris Changes Trains (read Jul 07, 2016)
  20. Jackson, Shirley – We Have Always Lived in the Castle (read May 22, 2016)
  21. Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird (read Dec 03, 2014)
  22. Lewis, Carroll – Alice in Wonderland (read Jun 13, 2014)
  23. Lewis, Carroll – Through the Looking Glass (read Jun 16, 2014)
  24. Maurier, Daphne du – Rebecca (read Feb 8, 2014)
  25. O’Brien, Robert C. – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (read Apr 23, 2015)
  26. Orwell, George – Animal Farm (read Aug 25, 2013)
  27. Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar (read Mar 09, 2015)
  28. Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein (read Jun 30, 2014)
  29. Stoker, Bram – Dracula (read Jun 21, 2014)
  30. Tolkien, J.R.R. – The Hobbit (read Dec 23, 2012)
  31. Voltaire – Candide (read Aug 15, 2012) [review]
  32. Vonnegut, Kurt – Slaughterhouse-Five (read May 31, 2015)
  33. Walker, Alice – The Color Purple (read Feb 14, 2016)
  34. Wells, H.G. – The Time Machine (read Mar 10, 2013)
  35. Wilde, Oscar – Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde (read Dec 11, 2012)
  36. Wilde, Oscar – The Importance of Being Earnest (read Dec 31, 2013)
  37. Winterson, Jeanette – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (read May 19, 2016)
  38. Woolf, Virginia – Haunted House (read Jul 02, 2016)
  39. Woolf, Virginia – Mrs Dalloway (read Jul 20, 2016)
  40. Woolf, Virginia – Orlando (read Apr 19, 2014)
  41. Zamyatin, Yevgeny – We (read Jan 08, 2016)

    Classics by Dutch authors:
  42. Dragt, Tonke – De Brief voor de Koning (The Letter for the King) (read Nov 22, 2015)
  43. Dragt, Tonke – Geheimen van het Wilde Woud (Secrets of the Wild Wood) (read May 05, 2016)

    Classics by Japanese authors:
  44. Abe, Kōbō – The Woman in the Dunes (read May 24, 2014) [review]
  45. Akutagawa, Ryūnosuke – Rashomon and Other Stories (read Jan 16, 2012)
  46. Edogawa, Ranpo – Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination (read Jan 7, 2014) [review]
  47. Enchi, Fumiko – Masks (read Jan 25, 2015)
  48. Enchi, Fumiko – The Waiting Years (read Jan 22, 2016) [review]
  49. Mishima, Yukio – Forbidden Colors (read May 18, 2014)
  50. Mori, Ogai – 山椒大夫 (read Apr 12, 2015)
  51. Okamoto, Kanoko – A Riot of Goldfish (read Jan 27, 2016) [review]
  52. Osamu, Dazai – No Longer Human (read Jun 24, 2013))
  53. Soseki, Natsume – Kokoro (read Mar 28, 2013)

I actually also gave up on two classics:

  • Heller, Joseph – Catch-22
  • Shikibu, Murasaki – The Tale of Genji

There were books I loved and books I frankly hated. See the two that I didn’t finish above 😉

So, now that I have technically finished the challenge, what does that mean? Not a lot! I will continue reading classics, and especially classics by women (also see the Women’s Classic Literature Event!). We’ll see where I am in a year, when the challenge is really ‘over’ (and of course, when it is, I am still not going to stop reading classics!).

When the (my) event has ended on July 31st 2017, I will wrap it up properly with a list of favourites, etc. 🙂

Two Japanese classics

Two Japanese classics

Two Japanese classicsThe Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
Published by Kodansha on 1980 (first published 1957)
Genres: Japanese literature, Classic
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780870114243

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo's real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another ... and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part.

So recently I read these two Japanese classics one after another, which frankly was a great decision! Both Fumiko Enchi (1905-1986) and Kanoko Okamoto (1889-1939) – the former more famous than the latter – were feminists and modern women in their time. Reading these two authors back to back was an interesting experience.

First, there was The Waiting Years. Last year I read Masks by Fumiko Enchi and wrote about her for January in Japan. My ultrashort review of Masks can be found here. Unfortunately that didn’t leave a very deep impression on me, so I didn’t expect to read anything else by Enchi. But The Waiting Years was the book club pick for the the Japanese Literature group on Goodreads so I decided to join in, and I’m so glad I did!

The Waiting Years was a very interesting and rather beautiful read. It describes life in the upper-class Shirakawa family in the late Meiji era. More specifically, it describes the lives and feelings of the women in the Shirakawa household. The women are central in this book. And while the Shirakawa household and everything about it is very traditional, and the women are forced into a position of submission, I think the way Enchi writes about them is surprisingly refreshing. The women have to endure a lot but the tone is never overly negative. The women are well rounded characters, developing throughout the novel, and they all deal with their situation in their own way.

Every aspect of this book focuses on the traditional, but Enchi gives it a (in my opinion) modern and feminist twist by not being afraid to point out unfairness through the voice of the characters. On the whole, the book was very nuanced. I don’t think it could have been written by anyone but a woman (at least, at the time it was written).

I also recommend checking out our book club discussion about the book here!

* * *

Two Japanese classicsA Riot of Goldfish by Kanoko Okamoto
Published by Hesperus Press on 2010
Genres: Japanese literature, Classic
Pages: 113
ISBN: 9781843918523

In early 20th-century Japan, the son of lower-class goldfish sellers falls in love with the beautiful daughter of his rich patron. After he is sent away to study the science of goldfish breeding, with strict orders to return and make his patron's fortune, he vows to devote his life to producing one ideal, perfect goldfish specimen to reflect his loved-one's beauty. This poignant and deft tale is presented along with the story of a pauper from Kyoto who teaches himself to be an accomplished chef.

Okamoto’s work is entirely different from Enchi’s. A Riot of Goldfish contains two novella’s where men are the main characters. Both A Riot of Goldfish and it’s companion The Food Demon are ‘small’ stories, they don’t have a real plot and they focus on just one specific theme.

In the first story, the adopted son of a goldfish breeder is completely enamoured by his classmate, the daughter of his rich patron. But she is out of his league, so instead he aims to create the perfect new breed of goldfish. And that despite the fact that he is really not all that interested in goldfish breeding.

In the second story we learn about Besshiro, his relationship with cooking food, and how he got to this point in his life.

Personally, I am a huge fan of these types of stories (is there a name for them?), that I only ever seem to encounter in Japanese literature. In this case, the first story was a bit too feverish for me, but I really enjoyed the second one. All in all, this thin book is a quick read and there’s no reason not to give it a try 😉

Women's Classic Literature Event

[Review] The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

[Review] The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

[Review] The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe HallThe Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Published by Wordsworth Editions on January 7th 2014 (first published January 1928)
Genres: Classic, LGBT+
Pages: 414
ISBN: 9781840224559

‘As a man loved a woman, that was how I loved…It was good, good, good…’
Stephen is an ideal child of aristocratic parents – a fencer, a horse rider and a keen scholar. Stephen grows to be a war hero, a bestselling writer and a loyal, protective lover. But Stephen is a woman, and her lovers are women. As her ambitions drive her, and society confines her, Stephen is forced into desperate actions.

I picked up this book nearly a year ago for the first time, but never read beyond the first few chapters (although I liked it back then). I picked it up again because it’s a perfect read for both the LGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge and the Women’s Classic Literature Event.

This is not a classic that is universally loved. Scanning through some of the reviews before I started reading, I was fully prepared to not like it much either. Hall was apparently not such a nice person, and this book is a ‘thinly disguised story of her own life’. But much to my surprise, I loved it.

The Well of Loneliness tells the life story of Stephen, an ‘invert’ (the word used for ‘lesbian’ – although we could argue about Stephen’s sexuality and gender identity). The book is really just that, a life story. Considering the time period, I was expecting a really dramatic and sad story. Instead, it was often full of hope. Stephen has to endure hardship and social stigma, but also has good people in her life who support her, and Stephen herself is not afraid to fight for her existence. It’s a realistic life story, not exclusively happy but not so sad either. Although I have to confess, the ending… 🙁

What surprised me furthermore was how completely unapologetic this book is. It’s absolutely no surprise that it was banned upon publication in 1928 (considering the time period). There is no explicit sex, but the book is also not hiding anything, everything is said outright and there is very little subtlety. And although Stephen occasionally struggles with her place in society, she is never sorry for what she is. Even in the final chapter, which was heart-wrenching, I believe she made the decision for a reason other than her being ashamed of herself. It was refreshing to say the least – I’ve read modern LGBT+ books that weren’t this unapologetic.

Finally, I have to mention Hall’s writing. It’s absolutely gorgeous, just the right level of lyrical without getting tiresome. The book on the whole was a relatively easy read. The end of my edition (a Wordsworth classic) had endnotes which were helpful, although many of them weren’t necessary.

Women's Classic Literature Event LGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge

Classics Club Spin #8

Classics Club Spin #8

The Classics clubI skipped the previous Classics Club Spin (I just completely missed it), but decided to participate again this time.

I also decided to give this spin’s list a twist. I realised my previous CC Spin list consisted of just 6 women versus 14 men, and my full Classics Club list was also mostly made up of men. You may remember I wrote about wanting to read more women earlier this year. That’s why I decided to dedicate this spin to female authors. It was surprisingly difficult to find (popular) classics written by women, which just made me more motivated to go through with this. I am disappointed I wasn’t able to find much (translated) classic literature by Japanese women, especially… Alas. But I am very happy with my spin list!

If you have any other suggestions for classics, let me know 🙂 I don’t mind changing around my list (before Monday, of course)

The rules:

  1. Go to your blog
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce
  5. The challenge is to read that book by January 5th

My list:

  1. Alcott, Louisa May – Little Women
  2. Austen, Jane – Sense and Sensibility
  3. Bronte, Anne – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  4. Bronte, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
  5. Bronte, Emily – Wuthering Heights
  6. Enchi, Fumiko – Masks
  7. Eliot, George – Middlemarch
  8. Frank, Anne – Het Dagboek van Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank)
  9. Gaskell, Elizabeth – North and South
  10. Haasse, Hella S. – De Heren van de Thee (The Tea Lords)
  11. Hall, Radclyffe – The Well of Loneliness
  12. Jackson, Shirley – The Haunting of Hill House
  13. Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird
  14. Le Guin, Ursula K. – The Left Hand of Darkness
  15. Maurier, Daphne du – The Birds
  16. Mitchell, Margaret – Gone with the Wind
  17. Path, Sylvia – The Bell Jar
  18. Potter, Beatrix – The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  19. Shōnagon, Sei – The Pillow Book
  20. Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth