Back to the Classics 2018 wrap-up! OMG!

WOW… 2018 is coming to an end and this is my wrap-up post for the Back to Classics 2018 challenge.

This was my favorite challenge of the year and I’m planning to join for the next of course. I read (and re-read) so many amazing books. Thank you so, so much for this, Karen. I believe this is the most important book challenge around. We’re flooded with so many books each year, the bookstagram is always the same… Back to the Classics helps us diversify and take back all those books that inform our culture, that made us who we are. And that is priceless.

These are the books I read with their corresponding review:

  1. A 19thcentury classic: Oblomov (1859), by Ivan Goncharov.
  2. A 20thcentury classic: The Martian Chronicles (1950), by Ray Bradbury.
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Haunting of Hill House (1959), by Shirley Jackson.
  4. A classic in translation: Emma (1815), by Jane Austen, translated into Spanish by Sergio Pitol.
  5. A children’s classic: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), by Lewis Carroll.
  6. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: the Sherlock Holmes Canon (1887 – 1927), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction: Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), by Jules Verne.
  8. A classic with a single-word title: Middlemarch (1871-1872), by George Eliot.
  9. A classic with a color in the title: White Nights (1848), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  10. A classic by an author that’s new to you: The Dangerous Age (1910), by Karin Michaëlis.
  11. A classic that scares you: Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville.
  12. Re-read a favorite classic: Novela como nube (Novel as cloud, 1928), by Gilberto Owen.

8 male/4 female (I’ll correct that in 2019!)

 

I can’t wait for next year! 🙂

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My heart will always be Holmesian

Ever since I was a child Sherlock Holmes was part of my life. My dad has always been a fan and I remember the first time he travelled to London he brought me a magnet of 221B Baker St. I was very young and I hadn’t read Conan Doyle. My first reading came one summer. We were at an aunt’s sister’s beach house and I found a Sherlock Holmes anthology in my room. I started reading and couldn’t stop.

When we got back from vacation I told my dad and he lent me his copy of a Study in Scarlet. Oh, how was my young mind blown…!

Ever since, Sherlock Holmes has always been with me. But I had never read the canon in English. So I chose to read it for the prompt A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction for the Back to Classics 2018 challenge. I knew it would take me a while; I also didn’t want to rush it. And to achieve my goal I read and I also listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry.

I’m not sure when was the last time I read a Holmes’s story… It probably was more than ten years ago. And it made me so happy to have him back in my life. Stephen Fry’s performance is outstanding. I actually found myself listening to his voice whenever I was reading from my book (and not listening to the audiobook).

The canon of Sherlock Holmes includes 56 short stories and 4 novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

The four novels of the canon are:

  • A Study in Scarlet (1887)
  • The Sign of the Four (1890)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901–1902)
  • The Valley of Fear (1914–1915)

The 56 short stories of the canon are collected in five books:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
  • His Last Bow (1917)
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

 

I must say that the US version you can find in Audible doesn’t include The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes… it has to do with copyrights, because they’re not free in America yet. But you can get it from the Australian store (as I did).

Of course, there are better stories than others… I mean, the audiobook is almost 72 hours… but I would recommend reading all of them. One story here, one novel there… from year to year.

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As Ahab’s, my whale was Moby Dick…

There is no way you don’t know about Moby Dick. If you’re interested in books/culture/reading you have heard about it at least once in your life. This is one of those books that most people know about but don’t really know…

That was my case. I have a couple of whale plush toys, my third car (which was white) was called Moby, I have a baby edition of this book… but I had never read it. In school we read some fragments and I had read some more on my own, but I never got the chance to read it entirely. It was my white whale.

So, of course, Moby Dick was the book I chose for the A classic that scares you prompt of the Back to Classics 2018 challenge. Of course.

It was HARD. The language was definitely a challenge. Midway I decided I needed help and ran to the library to get the audiobook. I read while listening most of the time. But, oh, does it feels amazing…!

Moby-Dick, or The Whale, by Herman Melville was published in 1851. It’s impossible to say that it tells the story of something in particular. Of course, the plot tells the story of Ahab’s never ending quest for the whale Moby-Dick. But this book is so much more. From the bromance of Ishmael and Queequeg (should we call them Queeuael or Ishmaeg?), the minute description of the bloody whaling business (what’s up with Japan trying to revive it!? WTF!?), to the know metaphor of pursuing the unachievable.

I’m incredibly happy (and proud, fuck!) I finally got to read this book. It isn’t a book I’d recommend, though. There are a lot of problematic things with it (lack of female characters, violence, racism…), but I can see why it’s a classic. I’m just glad I could take it off my TBR.

 

PS. My library version of the audiobook was read by William Hootkins. He was great except when he narrated Ahab. How do you think he spoke? I mean… I know he’s angry, but… ugh… I don’t know… not thaaaat much.

Novel as Cloud: ¿A review?

For some reason, when I read the prompt Re-read a favorite classic for the Back to Classics 2018 challenge, I first thought of Novela como nube (I’ve seen it translated as Novel like a Cloud or The Novel as a Cloud; personally, I would translate it as simple as Novel as Cloud). This was one of my favorite books in school.

Novela como nube was published by Gilberto Owen in 1928. Owen was mainly known as a poet and diplomat, and he was one of the prominent figures of the poetic movement known as Los Contemporáneos, one of the most culturally active groups in the first half of the 20thcentury in Mexico.

Unfortunately there are no translations in English of this book… I can imagine it would be a gigantic endeavor. The title “novel” is not really accurate… or it is, but more in the sense of what Marcel Proust thinks of a novel. It’s actually inspired in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower/Within a Budding Grove, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (the second volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, published in 1919). Novela como nube is a lyric novel that in some way and through thousand of esthetic resources tells the story of Ernesto and his love interests.

It was actually hard to re-read this book. I absolutely love it, and I marked more things than I marked a decade ago. But I’m not in the mood for poetic works right now… I love poetry but I’m getting back to reading and this was definitely not what I needed. This is a book I adore, but also a book that I will keep to myshelf until I feel the actual *need* to recover it.

 

Son las cosas demasiado diáfanas las que no se ven, aire, cristal, poesía. Esta la sentimos en cómo nos humedece los ojos; el aire, en cómo nos los seca.

– Gilberto Owen, Novela como nube

The Dangerous Age: book review

Last year I discovered a Spanish publisher called Alba. They publish classics and they do it beautifully. When I saw the prompt of A classic by an author that’s new to you for the Back to Classics 2018 challenge, I knew I had to choose one from Alba’s catalogue. I wanted more women and more non-English works, so I found Karin Michaëlis. She was a prolific Danish author, whose most famous work was an epistolary novel called The Dangerous Age.

The Dangerous Age, published in 1910, tells the story of Elsie Lindtner, a woman in her forties who goes to a house she built for herself in a remote island after divorcing from her husband. She goes there pursuing a love interest, but things don’t go her way in the end.

This is a very intimate book, dealing with subjects that are still current: Divorce, pre-menopause, solitude, female friendships, social class and injustice… It is so beautifully written, with a wonderful metaphor of the house Elsie built (so bright, cozy, just the way she wanted) with the life she lead.

I love epistolary novels, I wish I had more on my bookshelf, and The Dangerous Age is an amazing example.

No one likes Emma, everybody loves Emma

I have a confession to make: I haven’t read Jane Austen. I mean… I have. But not much. I read Pride and Prejudice in Spanish when I was a teenager. And I just reread it in English last year. And this year I read Emma.

I chose this book for the prompt of a Classic in Translation of the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge. Emma was translated into Spanish by Sergio Pitol, one of the most important Mexican writers (he actually died in April) who has an amazing translation work. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Jane Austen in Spanish, but when I saw this book, I was instantly sold. Sergio Pitol has translated from Chinese, English, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Russian… so it had to be an amazing translation. And it definitely was.

There’s nothing much to say about Emma. There are academic careers based on this book (and Jane Austen’s work), so there’s really nothing I could say to add to the conversation.

Emma is a novel by Jane Austen, published in 1815 that tells the story of a not so likeable young lady who likes to read named Emma Woodhouse. She thinks she’s a good matchmaker, but she really isn’t. And she always confuses feelings and actions and tries to manipulate everyone around her. But in the end you can’t but love her.

I loved the journey Jane Austen made me take. Her portrayal of life in rural England with Highbury was just amazing. Centuries later you can actually *feel* you’re there. And the characters… woah… so complex and thick. Of course, something everyone talks about is Emma’s feminist views and agency. She doesn’t want to get married because she actually can… she can afford it. And that’s amazing.

I love Jane Austen and I will read all her books soon.

The Haunting of Hill House: A review

For my Classic by a woman author prompt for the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge I had planned to read The Dream, by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican writer. It’s probably the most important poem by a woman writer in the Spanish language, written in 1692. I actually started reading it, but I wanted to be more absorbed by it and I just wasn’t there. And then, The Haunting of Hill House came to Netflix, so I decided to go for that book instead.

I was incredibly surprised. I read the novel before watching the show. It was scary and surprising. I loved how Shirley Jackson built the characters and the setting. Of course it’s the foundation for so many books and films…

The Haunting of Hill House, written by Shirley Jackson in 1959, is a gothic horror novel. It tells the story of four main characters —Dr. John Montague, Eleanor Vance, Theodora, and Luke Sanderson—who go to Hill House, a supposedly haunted mansion, to investigate supernatural occurrences.

What I loved the most about this amazing book was how the terror is built within you, the reader. Everything that happens is so, so subtle. You don’t actually know anything for real. Everything could be a ghost, a possession, or just inside the minds of the characters. But in the end it is YOU who construct everything.

This was definitely one of my favorite books of the year and I’m so happy I changed it.

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Bonus: Netflix’s show review.

If you are one of the few people who haven’t watched  on Netflix, and if you enjoy horror films and/or Shirley Jackson, go watch it. It isn’t a direct adaptation. It actually takes some of the most important elements of the book (names, events, character traits…) and mixes them into a very well constructed mini series. I loved it. Especially after reading the book.

What is a gift? Book review

 

I’ve always been fan of zombies… but I especially like the “unconventional” ones. I’m thinking of Fido or Black Sheep. And I have to say I haven’t read many zombie books before, just The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, I think.

The September Monthly Motif Challenge was: Don’t Turn Out the Light! A horror novel! And I started researching early in the year. I wanted a horror audiobook. I don’t think I have read many things that actually scare me. I can only think of The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, really. And I wanted to take this opportunity to get really scared, and what better than having someone creepily whispering into your ear?

I couldn’t find books that seemed enticing. All the lists of horror audiobooks I found had things that just didn’t catch my attention. So when September arrived and I hadn’t made my mind, I made a list with all the books I have gathered as interesting and compiled their Goodreads rating.

In the end I decided to go for The Girl with all the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. It is actually the first book of a series (that I probably won’t be reading). It tells the story of Melanie, a “little genius” who lives in a cell and is taken to class every morning strapped to wheelchair and with a gun pointed to her head. Melanie is a zombie (a “hungry”), but she doesn’t know. She’s a sweet girl avid for knowledge and love, and isn’t able to understand why the personnel that manage her is so scared of her and her classmates. Everyone but her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but things go south very early in the book, and Melanie discovers her real place in the world.

I liked The Girl With All the Gifts very much. It’s a beautiful book. The first chapters are amazing, with all the descriptions of Melanie’s life and the post-apocalyptic reality. I still can’t point out what made me give it only 3 stars. It was well written, amazingly narrated by Finty Williams, the plot was very very original, the characters are deep enough… But it didn’t scare me. Not even a little bit. There are harrowing parts, of course. The mad doctor scenes, especially, the deaths. But I don’t know. I will watch the movie, though.

Do you like zombie movies/books? Has any zombie book actually scared you?

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Melanie, una novela de zombis (uy, ¿no se quemaron las pestañas con ese título, editores?) fue mi elección para el reto de septiembre de Monthly Motif, que tenía que ser una novela de terror.

Tenía muchas ganas de asustarme, así que pensé en buscar un audiolibro, pero la verdad es que no encontré ninguno que me llamara la atención. Busqué listas y listas, comparé calificaciones en Goodreads, y la que finalmente decidí fue Melanie, una novela de zombis, de M. R Carey. Siempre me han gustado los zombis, especialmente las historias poco convencionales, así que esta novela dio en el clavo.

Me encantó el libro. La historia es buenísima, los personajes son increíbles, la narración de Finty Williams es extraordinaria, hasta la explicación “científica” es original y creíble. Es un libro hermoso. Pero no me asustó. Por supuesto que hay escenas terroríficas, especialmente las de la científica loca, las matanzas… pero no hubo ningún momento en que me diera miedo apagar la luz.

The Martian Chronicles, book review

For August Monthly Motif Challenge we were supposed to read a book that has won a literary award or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community. And I chose The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury, who won dozens of awards and prizes.

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I love Ray Bradbury. The first time I read him I was probably 11 or 12 years old. It was one of those amazing literary moments. In my English Literature class, with my favorite teacher, we read “By the Waters of Babylon”, by Stephen Vincent Benét. Our book was amazing, and I wanted to read everything, especially from that section of the book called “Setting”. After the shock that was “By the Waters of Babylon” we read “There Will Come Soft Rains”, by Ray Bradbury. It was like an intellectual slap. I had read all my life, but right then and there I was having one of my first real literary discussions. And it was too much.

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Over the years I read a lot of Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451(on of my favoritest books of all time), The Mummies of Guanajuato, The Sound of Thunder, The Illustrated Man, and a bunch of other short stories for school… but for some reason I had never read The Martian Chronicles. I actually didn’t know my beloved “There Will Come Soft Rains” was part of it.

So when I had to chose a 20thCentury classic and I saw The Martian Chronicles, ―published in 1950― in my shelf, crying in darkness, I decided to give it a shot. My edition has a stamp that says “National Book Award, Distinguished Contribution for American Letters”, so it also fit in the Monthly Motif Challenge.

I’m so glad I finally decided to read this book… I love science fiction, and I need to read more.

This is a book that narrates in loosely connected and chronological short stories the colonization of Mars. It starts in January, 1999, with a beautiful beautiful depiction of the “Rocket Summer”. How it was winter when all the rockets took-off, so —because of the engines—it felt as hot as summer. Then we go directly to Mars, we meet the Martians, with their remarkable powers of telepathy and their civilization.

The earth expeditions start arriving and failing, but in the end, they actually succeed. It’s terrible to see the colonization thirst of the white man. Destroying everything. Appropriating everything. Erasing everything. But things start going worse on Earth, so the settlers actually have to come back, leaving a few behind. But back on Earth there are others who, seeing the nuclear devastation, had other plans.

The Martian Chronicles is a fantastic book. One of my favorites now. There are so many beautiful and harrowing passages… It’s scary. We actually already passed the date of the nuclear war (2005), and we are very close to the end of the book 2026, thankfully we’re not close to those events. But the truth is we are closer. One could think that human race evolves, but reading this and knowing what’s happening in our world (Trump, Kim Jong-un, Putin, Elon Musk…) there’s no way I can’t believe this is a possible future. Terrible and sad.

There are quite a few jewels in The Martian Chronicles. “Night Meeting” and “Usher II” come to mind immediately. There are so many things I underlined and marked… It is definitely a book that will be with me forever.

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Para el reto de Monthly Motif de agosto teníamos que leer un libro o un autor premiado. Así que decidí leer Crónicas marcianas de Ray Bradbury, quien ganó muchísimos premios y reconocimientos.

La primera vez que leí a Ray Bradbury estaba en la secundaria, tendría 11 o 12 años y leímos “By the Waters of Babylon”, de Stephen Vincent Benét. Recuerdo muchísimo ese capítulo de mi libro, de mi clase de Literatura en inglés, con mi maestra favorita. Además de esa increíble historia, que me hizo tener una de mis primeras experiencias realmente literarias, estaba también “There Will Come Soft Rains”, que se convertiría en uno de mis cuentos favoritos, sin saber que formaba parte de Crónicas marcianas.

Como tenía que escoger un clásico del siglo XX también, para el reto de Back to Classics, decidí finalmente hacerle caso a mis Crónicas marcianas, que estaba guardando polvo en mi librero. Y como mi edición tiene un sello de “National Book Award, Distinguished Contribution for American Letters”, también valía para el reto de Monthly Motif.

Este libro narra la colonización de Marte a través de cuentos ligeramente conectados y en orden cronológico. Todo empieza con uno que es más bien una imagen hermosa, “El verano del cohete”, donde se describe cómo el invierno se convirtió en verano por un momento, debido a los motores de los cohetes de la primera expedición.

Después conocemos a los marcianos y su avanzadísima civilización y luego, a las siguientes expediciones, que fracasan hasta que los marcianos se contagian de varicela y su población se acaba, prácticamente. Por supuesto que muy temprano en la narración, deja de ser esperanzador. Todas las características de la humanidad, terribles y dolorosas, siguen en Marte…

Todo el libro es maravilloso, aunque hay algunas joyas que merece la pena resaltar. Por supuesto, “Usher II”, una oda a Edgar Allan Poe que no tiene parangón; “Encuentro nocturno”; “Un camino a través del aire”, que en una edición subsecuente lo sacaron, por alguna razón que no entiendo (probablemente por el uso de la palabra “negro”); y, por supuesto “Vendrán lluvias suaves”.