tag: classicsdaughter of fortuneenglish 101isabel allendeisland beneath the sea

July 2008

Literary Shame!

LOVED this article in the Telegraph about great unread books. At the Ways with Words Festival, which the newspaper sponsors, they asked writers what classic books they are ashamed to not have read. There’s a video of several very proper-sounding British authors confessing their deepest shames; one guy even wrote an entire thesis on Wuthering Heights without ever having read it!

If you ask my boyfriend, my greatest flaw is never having read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, but I’m not sure what I’d say. Maybe Lolita? Commenters on the article are chiming in with their answers; the most shameful wins a prize. I’m just shocked (shocked!) at how many people have admitted they’ve never read any Shakespeare. Greatness aside, how did they manage to make it out of high school without it being forced upon them?

January 2010

english 101 #1: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


Welcome to English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

As I think I may have said in the introductory post, I resisted reading ATGIB for a long time, scowling in the face of anyone who suggested it to me by saying, “but it’s about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading! And you’re a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading!” But when I eventually read it, somewhere around age 13 or 14 (oh, how I wish GoodReads had been around to keep track of my reading back then!), I fell in love. I knew just how Francie felt, wanting to lose myself in the world of books because it was so much better than what was going on in the real world, though I was young enough that I don’ think I articulated it to myself that way. ATGIB was beautiful and sad (the scene where Katie lays her head on the table and sobs after the funeral stayed with me all these years), and I remembered it fondly.

I’m so glad I first read it when I did, because the most prominent thing about it this time for me was the all-consuming, unending poverty. Collecting junk to sell for pennies. Mixing old bread with water and other kitchen scraps to make meals. Feeling the concrete through the holes in your shoes. The Nolans are always cold; always hungry. They are barely surviving.

The first time I read ATGIB, the main thrust of the novel for me was Francie’s coming of age, becoming aware of herself as a woman and as a writer. This time, the main thrust was still Francie’s growing awareness—but rather, her awareness that the Nolans’ poverty is not acceptable, and, more importantly, not faultless, and that it is within her to live a better life.

Though, the main lesson of the book is still: Don’t marry a drunk! Seriously.

I’m dying to hear what other people thought, especially if they were reading it for a second time. Also, are there any ATGIB haters out there? It’s so universally beloved that I would LOVE to hear from someone who thought it was just “ehh.” Please discuss! Either here in the comments or on twitter (use hashtag #english101).

And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of Brave New World, next month’s book! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about ATGIB in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

And check out Roaring 20s on Monday for another perspective on ATGIB.

February 2010

english 101 #2: Brave New World

Hello and welcome to the second edition of English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is Brave New World.



(The first cover is our deluxe modern classics edition, and that jpg doesn’t do it justice. The second is the regular modern classics edition.)

Confession #1: I have never read Brave New World
Confession #2: I was not psyched to read it when Kayleigh suggested we put it on the list.
Confession #3: I was excited when I realized our new deluxe modern classics edition contained both Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, because it meant that I had much less to read than I thought.

So, with all that buildup, and after nearly falling asleep during the first chapter, I am pleased to report that I did not dislike Brave New World. A ringing endorsement, I know. But allegory is generally not my thing, and so I was relieved to grow attached to Lenina, Bernard, and John (the savage) while reading. I need that. All in all, though, it didn’t grip me, and I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had read it when I was in high school, at a time when there weren’t forty-seven other books clamoring for my attention.

I’d love to hear from people who are huge fans of Brave New World. What do you like about it? Is it similar or different from what you normally read? When did you first read it, and do you think that mattered?

Check out Kayleigh’s review (which will probably be more positive) on Monday on Roaring 20s! And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of The Poisonwood Bible, next month’s book (which I am very much looking forward to, seeing as how I have never read any Barbara Kingsolver)! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about Brave in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

April 2010

the classic books we haven’t read

The other day, the office was shocked (shocked!) to discover that Book Club Girl had not read Little Women. But we were also inspired to list the books we haven’t read on the office whiteboard (actually, it was Carrie’s idea. She inspired us.)


As you may or may not be able to see in the upper right hand corner, all participants are required to read these books over the summer and share a book report here on the olive reader. That may or may not happen (though I WILL read P&P). On the other side, there’s a quote from one of our cover designers, Milan:

“I’m an immigrant. I haven’t read any of these.”

Strange but true. I know this question gets asked a lot, but what classics have you never read? Bonus points if you explain why, like with Book Club Girl, it’s especially surprising that you in particular haven’t read that book.

May 2010

english 101 #4: daughter of fortune

Welcome to the fourth edition of English 101: The Harper Perennial Modern Classics Book Club. Today I’d like to talk about Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune.



I first picked up this book on Saturday afternoon. My boyfriend was at the other end of his apartment, watching Mad Men, and I was in his kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about this book. Nothing. When Kayleigh added it to our list, I was excited because I’d read Allende before, many many years ago, and liked her work, but that was as far as my awareness went. Upon reading the flap copy, I shouted down the apartment, “oh no! This takes place in 1849!”

Yes, I admit it, I do not generally like historical fiction (though what I like even less than historical fiction is fiction written in 1849, but that’s for another post.) But I grumbled and settled in with the book, and I am so, SO glad I did. Daughter of Fortune is an amazing book, beautifully written. I am still thinking about Eliza and Tao’chien days after I finished.

The story of a young woman’s life, from her abandonment as a child on the doorstep of a wealthy woman and her brother to her love for a rumored revolutionary amid the California gold rush, Daughter of Fortune completely transcended my wariness of historical fiction.

If you read Daughter of Fortune, what did you think of it? And what genre would you be hesitant to pick up?

(more info on next month’s pick on monday!)

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