Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Things – The Classics Book Tag

Subtitle: Yes I watch too much Booktube and read too many classics.

For those of you who don’t know what “Booktube” is, it’s pretty much Youtube videos for/about books. A lot of reviewers seem to be using vlogs nowadays to talk about books, and I am a big fan of this. However, like many bookish people out there I am much better at written communication than verbal communication. Besides that, I am also somewhat afraid of technology (or perhaps it is afraid of me, which is probably why it always breaks whenever I go near it), and my internet existence has only fairly recently stretched to an understanding of what on earth hashtags are for. So I think I’ll stick to blogging.

However, this morning I watched a tag video by the Booktuber Jen Campbell, who is also the author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and other such glorious books. This tag video was ‘The Classics Book Tag’ (again, if you don’t know what tag videos are, it’s basically a series of questions, and you ‘tag’ other people to answer them; often with Booktube tags it’s picking a book or two for each question). So, as I read a lot of classics and don’t talk about them that much on this blog of mine, I thought I’d have some fun and answer the questions myself.

So, without further ado, here is the classics book tag:

1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like

I have two answers for this. The first is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I absolutely love Victorian literature but I just found Middlemarch a bit slow. I did eventually get into it after the first four-hundred pages, but even for an-thousand-and-something page novel that’s a bit of a slow start.

The second is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I am very used to gender stereotyping and the subordination of women in Victorian literature, but Dracula takes this to a whole new level. I studied it for A Level and got rather angry at the book quite a lot.

2. Favourite time period to read about

The nineteenth century. Always. I need say no more.

3. Favourite fairy tale

In all honesty I read a lot more rewrites of fairy tales than original tales themselves. I’ve spent more reading Angela Carter than the Brothers Grimm. However, my favourite fairy tales to read reworked versions of are definitely Little Red Riding Hood and The Beauty and the Beast. In fact I went through a phase a couple of years ago of writing lots of short stories/novellas loosely based on The Beauty and the Beast. (Such as this one, if you are at all interested.)

4. What is the classic you’re most embarrassed about having not read

Despite the fact that I have read and studied Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Road to Wigan Pier, that I love George Orwell in general, and that I studied the Russian Revolution for two years in sixth form, I still haven’t read Animal Farm. I am ashamed.

5. Top 5 classics you would like to read (soon)

Next on my list of classics to read are:
1.      Animal Farm, by George Orwell (because it really is time already)
2.      New Grub Street, by George Gissing (because The Nether World is an amazing book and I want to read more.)
3.      One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey (because it has been recommended to me and I have been meaning to read it for ages)
4.      Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell (because North and South is utterly brilliant and I want to read more by Gaskell)
5.      Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (because I’ve owned the book for about six years and I should probably read it at some point)

6.      Favourite modern book/series based on a classic

A few months ago I read (and reviewed) an amazing collection of short stories based on the works of the Brontës, called The Red Room. However, I also really like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which takes Jane Eyre from Bertha Mason’s perspective, and I was very impressed by Foe by J. M. Coetzee, which actually manages to make Robinson Crusoe interesting. Having studied Robinson Crusoe at university I assure you that is a pretty impressive feat.

7. Favourite movie version/TV series based on a classic

There are so many that I love, but my favourite is probably the 2004 mini-series of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. It’s just brilliant. Richard Armitage, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lesley Manville, Daniela Denby-Ashe – they’re all perfect. It looks brilliant, and I love that the writer Sandy Welch kept so much of the actual dialogue from the original novel.

(For more about my favourite book to screen adaptations, click here.)

8. Worst classic to movie adaptation

I was very disappointed with the 2012 Great Expectations TV series. With such a brilliant cast it should have been so much better that it was. (With Gillian Anderson and Ralph Fiennes it should have been incredible!) However, they messed with the plot in ways I don’t approve of. For one thing it always angers me when they take the humour out of Dickens’s novels when adapting them; Dickens’s books are – and are supposed to be – very funny, as well as at times bleak. Besides that, the series presented a very odd interpretation of Estella. They implied throughout that she truly loved Pip but was just repressing her feelings, which is not the case in the book at all: Estella is supposed to be heartless. Besides that, they messed with various significant details in the relationship between Pip and Magwitch – but I could happily grumble about this all day…

9. Favourite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from

I absolutely love the Collector’s Library editions. They’re small with thin pages, so although they’re hardback they’re very light – which is practical, especially when you’re reading large Dickens books. They’re also gorgeous, especially without their covers, and a lot of their editions of nineteenth century books having original illustrations in, which pleases me.

 I also think last yearPenguin Random House Vintage editions of Austen are rather beautiful:

10. An underhyped classic you’d recommend to everyone

Ah so many. I think I’ll go for two brilliant books by two authors that everyone has heard of but associates with other books.

First off, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. It is incredible and fascinating novel, in my opinion better than Jane Eyre. If you like Jane Eyre, especially if you’re interested in gender roles and the place of women in it, you will certainly like Villette. It’s fascinating and unpredictable and so, so good. (Although, I warn you now: do read it with a French dictionary / the internet nearby. Some of the dialogue is in French.)

My second recommendation is Lady Susan, by Jane Austen. I don’t know quite how this one has managed to pass everybody by. Even as a big Jane Austen fan I hadn’t heard of it myself until about six months ago. It’s a completed novella, written in epistolary form. It’s a bit different from her other works: rather than the heroine being a young woman, Lady Susan is a widow in her thirties, who already has a sixteen-year-old daughter. And she’s perhaps rather more of an anti-heroine than a heroine. However, if you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s less pleasant characters (Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Elton from Emma, the Crawfords from Mansfield Park, etc), you’re bound to like this. Plus, extra bonus Austen that you may have not known existed – always something to be exciting about. Apparently they’re also currently making a film adaptation of it, which I am very, very excited about.

And there we have it. I am so much of a bookworm that I did a Youtube tag in written form. Happy reading.

There’ll be another book review up as normal tomorrow.

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