Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


  • Author: Lewis Carroll ( 1832 – 1898) pen name  for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson  
  • Ttile: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Cover: Alice and the Queen of Hearts by Sir John Tenniel (1890)
  • Genre:   nonsense literature
  • PublisherPenguin Classics
  • Published:  1865
  • Table of contents: 12 chapters, 102 pages
  • Dedication: none
  • Quotation: a poem by  L. Carroll  “A Golden Afternoon”
  • Theme:   logical reason  vs confusing nonsense
  • Setting: England and Wonderland
  • Trivia: The character of Alice was inspired by Alice Liddell, the second daughter of the growing family who came to live in the Deanery, Christ Church, the college where Charles Dodgson was a fellow.
  • Trivia: Carroll never resolve himself to move to the next stage of his life: he never took holy orders, never rose in the college hierarchy, never married. He was happy only in the company of children.
  • TriviaAlice Through the Looking Glass is now in production. This film by Tim Burton will be released in 2016!  Burton’s version of Alice’s Advertures in Wonderland was filmed in 2010.


  • This a book that is a  ‘story within a story’  (frame story).
  • Carroll introduces the main narrative with the  (frame) poem “Golden Afternoon”.
  • He tells the reader about the origins of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his friendship with the Liddell children.
  • In the poem  Prima, Secunda and Tertia  are references  to the three Liddell children.


  1. This story  begins with  Alice’s unthinking, irrational, and heedless jumping down the rabbit-hole.
  2. Confusion begins almost immediately because Alice tries to use her  knowledge in order to understand this new and terrifying world.
  3. Alice is confronted with the problem of shifting identity, as well as the cruelty of Wonderland.
  4. The creatures act as though their madness is normal and not at all unusual.  It is the logical Alice who is the queer one.
  5. Alice is often in tears over something that the adult reader finds comical.
  6. She shrinks then  ballons to an enormous size or spurts a ´giraffe´ long neck that scares everybody.
  7. Again she is uncertain who she is. As is the case with most children.
  8. Alice’s outgrows nonsense. In response to the Queen’s cry at the Knave’s trial: “sentence first — verdict afterward,” Alice responds: “Stuff and nonsense!
  9. At last, Alice takes control of her life and her growth toward maturity.
  10. When Alice wakes up from her nightmare, she realizes that reason can oppose nonsense. The chaos is over.

Character list: ( see list at the end of the review)

  • This book has  more characters than a Dickens novel!
  • I had to make  list as a  guide while reading  the book to remind me if the character was surly, contemptuous, friendly,  mad or just stupid.

Chesire Cat:

  • His role in the story is to explain to Alice what Wonderland is…. a place where everything is illogical and nonsense.
  • “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
    “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
    You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
  • Appears in the story:   in the kitchen with the Duchess –  Alice finds the Cat on a tree limb –  chapter 11 confrontation with Queen of Hearts.
  • Characteristics:    always  grinning –  speaks in nonsense question and answers –  vanishes and reappears showing only his grin or only his head.
  • Best character in the story:   I found the Chesire Cat the best character in the story.  He is the wise philosopher.
  • He reminds me of the following quote: : Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.  (Plato)
  • The cat comes and he goeshe’s is and he isn’the’s there then he’s not.
  • When the queen tries to behead the cat, he disappears, but his head remains and he asks, “can something that does not have a body be beheaded?” (ch 11) ( “off with his head”- allusion to  Shakespeare’s Richard III (III, iv, 76)
  • The cat outsmarts them all  with his logic in this nonsense world of Wonderland!

The Chesire Cat  grin: I had to do some googling  to find something about the grinning cat in the book.


  1. Croft church has a sedilia – a seat for the clergy built into the wall – at one end of which is a carved stone face of a cat or lion.
  2. Could this have been the original Cheshire Cat? Seen from a pew it has a smile as wide as that famous cat’s.
  3. But if you stand up, the grin seems to disappear, just as it eventually does in “Alice in Wonderland”.

Voice of Lewis Carroll:       After 149 years  we can still relate to this….my favorite  quote:


  • I am amazed how much there is to discover in this book simple children’s book.
  • The novel is composed of twelve brief chapters.
  • Strong point: it can be read in an afternoon,
  • Weak point:   it took me hours to do some research about the author and the book in general. The list of characters is long!
  • Weak point: parodies of popular  Victorian  songs or verse were lost on me. I had to depend on the notes to make any kind of connection..
  • Weak point: If you don’t take the time to ‘study’ the book before you read it, you will  miss so much! I can’t imagine a child could understand this story!
  • Strong point: The  pictures and illustrations  are an integral part of the book. A visual pun (pg 28 ) is a very long mouse’s  tail…tale!
  • Strong point:   I learned a new literary device. An antimetabole is the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in opposite order. Alice and the Mad Hatter have a strange conversation at the tea table using several examples ( ch 7, pg 61 ).  “I see what I eat…I eat what I see”;  “I like what I get…and  get what I like.”
  • I found The 13 Clocks a much lighter and more playful children’s book.  This is probably a reflection of the author’s state of mind.
  • Last thoughts:  this was the most difficult children’s book I have yet to read. The issues seem childlike but actually it verges on an adult book!
  • I plan to watch  both film versions ( 1951, W. Disney)  and ( Tim Burton, 2010).
  • I want to enjoy them with the knowledge I have learned about this great classic.

Score: 4


  • Alice -  She believes that the world is orderly and stable.
  • The White Rabbit –  The frantic, harried, timid and at times aggressive.
  • The Queen of Hearts – Queen is severe and domineering, screaming for her subjects to be beheaded.
  • The King of Hearts –  Coruler is ineffectual and generally unlikeable.
  • The Cheshire Cat -  Grinning cat who explains with logic Wonderland’s madness to Alice.
  •  Duchess - Duchess behaves rudely to Alice at first, but later  so affectionately.
  • The Caterpillar – Caterpillar sits on a mushroom, smokes a waterpipe and treats Alice with contempt.
  • The Mad Hatter –  Impolite hatter who lives in perpetual tea-time. He is  happy to be different  (looking at the world from outside in or inside out)
  • The March Hare –  The Mad Hatter’s tea-time companion.
  • The Dormouse –  The Dormouse sits at the tea table and drifts in and out of sleep.
  • The Gryphon –  A servant  to the Queen who befriends Alice.
  • The Mock Turtle – Turtle with the head of a calf. He is friendly  but  exceedingly sentimental and self-absorbed.
  •  Alice’s sister –  Alice’s sister daydreams about Alice’s adventures as the story closes.
  • The Knave of Hearts -  An attendant to the King and Queen.  He has been accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts.
  • The Mouse –  Mouse is initially frightened of Alice and her talk about her pet cat.
  • The Dodo –  Dodo tends to use big words, and others accuse him of not knowing their meanings.
  • The Duck, the Lory, and the Eaglet –  Creatures who participate in the Caucus race.
  • The Cook -  She is ill-tempered, throwing objects and refusing to give evidence at the trial.
  • The Pigeon –  Believes Alice is a serpent. The pigeon is sulky and angry and thinks Alice is after her eggs.
  • Two, Five, and Seven –  The playing-card gardeners are fearful and fumbling, especially in the presence of the Queen.
  • Bill -  A lizard (servant of the White Rabbit) is stupid and ineffectual.
  • The Frog-Footman - Duchess’s footman is stupid and accustomed to the fact that nothing makes sense in Wonderland.

Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Writer at War


  • Author: Vasily Grossman (1905 – 1964)
  • Ttile: A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945
  • Cover: Vasily Grossman on German territory, February 2, 1945
  • Genre: eye-witness-account  (history)
  • Publisher: Random House/Pimlico
  • Published: 2005
  • Table of contents: 27 chapters,  350 pg, introduction, glossary source notes
  • Dedication: none
  • Quotation: none
  • Setting: 1941 – 1945  Eastern Front WW II
  • Trivia: Grossman  died  50  years  ago on September 14, 1964.


  • A Writer at War is based on the wartime  notebooks of Grossman.
  • It depicts as never before the crushing conditions on the Eastern Front and the lives and deaths of infantrymen, tank drivers, pilots, snipers and civilians alike.
  • Grossman became a special correspondent for Red Star, the Red Army newspaper.
  • He spent three of the following four years at the front observing with a writer’s eye the most pitiless fighting ever known.
  • In August 1942 he was posted to Stalingrad where he remained during four months of brutal street-fighting. It was a turning point for Grossman. (pg224)
  • He was present at the battle of Kursk, the largest tank engagement in history.
  • A Jew himself, he undertook the faithful recording of Holocaust atrocities..
  • His supremely powerful report ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ was used in evidence at the Nuremberg tribunal.
  • A Writer at War offers the one outstanding eye-witness account of the war on the Eastern Front and perhaps the best descriptions ever of what Grossman called ‘the ruthless truth of war’.


  1. Grossman was able to report the war as journalism but excelled while conveying his thoughts and feelings in fictional form. His book Life and Fate is said to be the best 20th C Russian novel.  I have added it to my Classic list !
  2. Stalin hated Grossman ( pg 61). Grossman never bowed to the personality cult of the tyrant. (pg xv). The wartime notebooks were filled with examples of desertion and insubordination by Red Army soldiers.  If these notes had fallen into the hands of  the military agents of counter-intelligence, Grossman would have been in serious trouble. (pg71)
  3. Interviews were Grossman’s strong point. He would never takes notes during the conversation which helped him win people’s confidance. He was interested in specialist arms. Fighter pilots, snipers and tank troops. Usually the soldier stuck to party line but Grossman was able to discover minor contradictions  in their accounts. (pg 80-82)

Best chapters:  13 – 17

  • These chapters  give the reader a glimpse into the 5 month battle for Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943).
  • Anthony  Beevor who studied Grossman’s  the wartime notes  to produce this book  is a British historian. He has won many awards for his book Stalingrad  (1998).
  • Breevor has added excerpts from  Grossman’s notes to his  own knowledge of this epic battle.
  • Rattenkrieg: to wear the Germans down by small-scale night attacks, to prevent them from sleeping, and  playing on their fear of darkness…”(pg 154).
  • An interview with the famous sniper Vasily Zaitsev is compelling reading! (pg 155 – 158)   (trivia:  played by Jude Law in the film Enemy at the Gate)

Best chapter: 21

  • Grossman writes to his mother on the  9th and 20th anniversary of her death.  She was killed by the Germans in Berdichev.  Grossman cannot escape the heart wrenching pain of her death. (pg 259-261)
  • Grossman’s inability to save his mother from the Holocaust became a nightmare he relived everyday. Now I can understand what he was trying to forget. This is a quote I discovered in An Armenian Sketchbook  that expresses more than the reader realises:
  • “the unquenchable anguish in our souls. You want to force yourself into Paradise by drinking to escape the clutches of despair. The doors of Paradise are closed to you, you still drink more.”

Chapter 22: 

  • No words to describe how Grossman was able to sketch what he saw at …. Treblinka.


  • mobile defence –  withdrawal, retreat
  • he has covered himself up –  he has been killed  (referring to  the cover placed on a coffin and sealed)


  • Germans built  fireplaces in the bunkers  to make their positons homely. This was unexpect from  an army which belived in martial qualities and Blitzkrieg! (pg 69)


  • Grossman is a professional journalist. He describes the who, what where, when and why and jolts the reader with a ‘pay-off’ ending.
  • His writing style reflects all the  golden rules  of his trade:
  1. lively language
  2. short, sharp, clear sentences
  3. word choices made for the maximum  amount of understanding with the minimum of risk of confusion
  • I noticed  that Grossman uses  one or two words in a sentence.  It must be  news-style writing  to capture the readers attention because I always keep ‘looking  for a verb’! It is very effective. Here is an example (pg 54) : The Gate. Bare walls. Piles of boxes. Tolstoy’s grave.  All used in a descripton of Grossman’s visit to the Tolstoy estate while fleeing from the Germans. Here is another example: “Night. Snowstorm. Vehicles.  Artillery. They are all moving in silence.”
  • I am impressed by Grossman’s writing because I found in  An Armenian Sketchbook a different writer, He is reflective and his writing is powerful because it is an emotional reaction to Aremnia and its people. His journalism  remains objective while describing a war zone.
  • My WW II reading tends to gravitate around The Netherlands, France and Germany. It was time I learned more about the Eastern Front.
  • I was stunned by the heroism. Grossman reports on red-cheeked high-school girls from Siberia who volunteerd as medics, clerks or signallers. There were 18 girls and 3 surivived. (pg 182 – 185)
  • Last Thoughts: While reading Grossman’s descriptions of the Ukraine during September 1941 – October 1943 I was reminded of a  quote  by Spinoza:   “If you want the present to be different from the past….study the past.  Grossman has so much to teach us.

Score: 5



Posted by on August 16, 2014 in Uncategorized



manet_nana1 2

  • Author:  Emile Zola
  • Genre: roman à clef ( a novel about real life overlaid with a facade of fiction)
  • Title:  Nana
  • Published:  (1880)
  • Table of Contents:  14  chapters, 492 pages — The book includes list of the scene(s) of each chapter which was very helpful.
  • Book: Published by  Le Livre de Poche
  • Language: French
  • Cover:  Nana,  Edouard Manet (1877)
  • Dedication:  None
  • Quote: None
  • Timeline:  April 1867 – July 1870
  • Setting:  Paris, boulevard de Haussmann; rue Véron (à Montmartre); avenue de Villiers; country estate (La Mignotte)
  • Themes: critique of Second Empire society,  prostitution (truly an industry during 2nd Empire), the world of  le théâtre
  • Trivia: Nana was published in 1880 and was  sold out (55.000 copies)  in 1 day!

Characters: ( divided into social classes)

  • haute-bourgeoisie: Count Muffat, De Vandeuvres, Marquis de Chouad, Countess Sabine
  • bourgeoisie: Steiner (banker), Rose Mignon, Auguste Mignon
  • writers and artists: Léon Fauchery (journalist) and actresses 
  • courtisanes: Nana, Satin, Laure
  • Némirovsky did the same thing in Suite française. I’m sure she read all of Zola’s books!


  • Zola takes the reader into the world of the famous  ‘les cocottes’. Also known as les biches, les lorettes they are part of   ‘les demi-mondaines’  (disreputable women)  who were kept (faire entretenir)  by the rich bourgeois.
  • Zola kept files on the most famous  cocottes. All of Nana’s friends  (i.e. Lucy Stewart introduced on pg 28) were based on the most celebrated cocottes of Paris.
  • Flexing her charms,  Nana would  seduce artists and influential men.
  • She would ruin her wealthy lovers through  lavish spending or drive the vulnerable lovers to suicide after her refusal to marry them.
  • Nana was ambitious but she was never able to rise above her lower social class. This  is in sharp contrast with Duroy in Bel-Ami who was  a very  successful social climber!

Here are a few of her victims:

  1. Count Muffat de Beuville: member of the French government;  very pious Catholic.
  2. Monsieur Steiner: wealthy German-Jew banker; spends fortunes on actresses;  one of his fortunes is spent on  ‘l’étoile nouvelle’.
  3. Hector de la Faloise: naive young man in society.
  4. Georges Hugon:  17 yr. boy who was Nana’s lover for a week.
  5. Philippe Hugon  elder brother of Georges who steals money and lands in prision.
  6. Count Xavier de Vandeuvres :  gentleman whose fortune is ruined by gambling on horses/ shady deals in order to supply Nana with luxuries.
  7. De Foucarmont: naval officier who is also ruined by Nana.

La naissance de Nana Vénus ( A. Gill, 1879)

caricature 103 Zola par Gill



  1. The story of Nana is so well known and reviewed by many readers, I  wanted to add some information about   the women who were  like Nana.
  2. Honoré de Balzac wrote  Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, Dumas, le fils  wrote La Dame aux Camélias about  the world of courtisanes,  beautiful young women who survive by their wits and charms “kept” in luxury by a succession of rich lovers.
  3. What I did not know was that there was ‘demi-mondaine’ hierarchy.
  4. The lorettes were debutant courtisanes coming out of the world of prostitution. They took shelter in the church  Léglise Notre-Dame-de-Lorette hence the name.
  5. As one rises in the world of  ‘les demi-mondaines’ you have the  cocodettes.  They wore a mask of respectability and  virture which concealed their vices.
  6. The cocottes were the next level. The mask is off!
  7. The lionnes were  well established courtisanes who lived in extreme luxury in their own ‘hôtel particulier’.
  8. A lionne had to to take up fashionable male activities like horseracing, hunting, or cigar smoking. Some lionnes were suspected of taking these masculine behaviors even farther by gambling and indulging in extramarital affairs.


  • The characters that are part of the upper classes  should behave better than the lower classes. Ironically they  do no!
  • Silent irony:   Mme Robert  explains  that the bourgeoise accept immoral behavior as normal !An honorable woman who has a lover, nothing more…” (ch 1)
  • Mme Hugon is so blind that she suspects certain people of ‘visiting’ her new neighbor Nana. She does not see that her son (George) and comte Muffat are Nana’s best clients! (chapter 6)
  • Nana is a  prostitute  that   ‘praises  a novel’  that  lifts the soul! ( ch 10, pg 353)
  • Zola  explains  that the public theater has NOT  wallowed in nonsense, stupidity and idiocy.  Zola adds an ironic last sentence to indicate that society usually DOES  wallow in nonsense, stupidity and idiocy, ” Well, that will be a welcome change  ” Cela le reposait” (chapter 1)
  • Nana plans an extravagant dinner because she wants to be talked about. She does not realize people are already talking her but not for her acting talents! (ch 4)

Chapter 5:  ‘complicated’

  • This chapter was difficult to understand.
  • Zola wants to use  ‘parody’  to riducle the morals of the Second Empire.
  • The parody is just there for the laughs and not meant to bring about any social change as satire is meant to do.
  • After the 1st act of La Blond Vénus members  of high-society rush to Nana’s loge to congratulate her and drink some champagne.
  • It turns out that the men come only for one thing: Nana’s irresistable body.
  • The behavoir of  le count Muffat,  le  marquis Chouard, Le Prince  and Nana’s  almost animal sensuality both represent the failure of the Second Empire.
  • The men want only one thing to enjoy themselves even if it includes immoral behavoir.
  • Nana’s animimal sensuality: ( pg 56)  A wave of lust flowed from her, as from an animal in heat. (le rut qui montait d’elle, ainsi que d’une bête en folie….)
  • Zola explored this  ‘animal sensuality‘ in La Curée  in the character of Renée.
  • Zola was interested in observation (almost scientific) because he wanted to see, know and say everything. This was the primary aim of his ‘naturalism’.

Sharp contrasts:

  • Sabine before:  In the first chapters she is modest, pious and reservered
  • Sabine after:  In later chapters she becomes as passionate as Nana
  • Beginning of the book:  empty theater room where Nana will soon appear
  • End of the book:   empty bedroom where Nana will soon leave…

Connecting the dots:

  1. If you don’t  read all the books in the series than you miss some reading pleasure: ‘connecting the dots’!
  2. Gardens: Zola is famous for his use  of gardens as symbols in his books.
  3. In books situated in Paris he often refers to  aristocratic ‘jardins ou cours’  (courtyards) associated with private mansions (hotel particuiler) in the city.
  4. They are usually dark quiet places where the awnings are practically always closed. This reflects the people who live there…brooding, secretive and often unhappy.
  5. Nana: –  home of Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville
  6. L’Argent – home of  de ladies de Beauvilliers
  7. La Curée – home of René  and Astride (Rougon) Saccard


  • Mise-en-abyme  is a type of image that  contains a smaller copy of itself.
  • Zola uses this technique in many of his books.
  • In Nana there are several examples but the one I liked most was that of the journalist Fauchery.
  • He  writes a scathing review of Nana  <<La Mouche d’Or>>  who is corrupting the Second Empire society with her thighs as white a snow.
  • At the same time Fauchery is the voice of Zola who is also writing a series of books  criticizing the same society.

Who was the real Nana?

  • Zola describes Nana :  “without workers, machines invented by engineers,  she ( Nana) knew how to upset Paris and amass a fortune in which the dead sleep,…”
  • “sans ouvriers, sans machines inventées par des ingénieurs, elle a su ébranler Paris et bâtir une fortune où dorment des cadavres…” (ch 13, pg 470)
  • Zola based the character of Nana on  Lucie Emilie Delabigne aka Valtesse de La Bigne (1848-1910) french demimondaine.



  • A great cast of characters of the theater, demi-monde, bourgeosie and aristocracy  who will hold your attention  from start to finish.
  • I enjoyed  this book so much.  I think  it is  one of the best books of the Rougon-Macquart series.
  • I can see why this book was sold out in one day after publication!
  • If you read the Rougon-Macquart series according to Zola’s preferred selection, you will have to wait until you get to number  17but is wel worth it!

Score: 5


2014-03-31-Emil_Zola 2


Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


Praise of Folly


* I started this book while waiting for the # 7  spin number for The Classics Club!  Surprise….nr 17 = Praise of  Folly !!


  • Author: Erasmus, Desiderius (1466 – 1536 )
  • Cover: Typical brightly coloured  pattern as jesters wore in medieval times. I choose another image that really brings a smile to my face!
  • Genre: satire
  • Publisher: Athenaeum Amsterdam
  • Published: 1511 
  • Language: Dutch
  • Table of contents: letter to Sir Thomas More as preface, 68,  107 pages, footnotes and register of important Greek and Roman names.
  • Theme: satire of hypocrisy; the claim of holding beliefs, standards, opinions or virtues that one does not really have.
  • Time:  written in 1509
  • Trivia (personal): The book arrived just as I was to travel on the train. I took the book with me and read it in one sitting. Wonderful!


You cannot live in or visit The Netherlands without bumping into Desiderius Erasmus. Be it a bridge in Rotterdam, Erasmus University or Erasmus Medical Center. He is everywhere! But why has it taken me so long to discover his writings?  Thanks to the Classics Club List I have found Praise of Folly and it is a joy to read!

Strong point: While reading I felt the Dutch philosopher sitting right next to me. He was smiling at his own jokes,  blurting out  mid-sentence  something that he just had to say. Erasmus knew who his reading public  was,  a select few of his intellictual circle.  The author played with language making up new words like ‘ idiotosofen’ .  People who are complete idiots but want to seem as clever as Thales one of the seven sages of Greece! Erasmus and his friends probably knew their fare share of these people!

Strong point:  Erasmus writes about situations the reader can easily  relate  to without letting his text become blurred or fuzzy with difficult philosophical ideas.  I think we all know or have known people who want to show how brilliant they are. Erasmus explained it this way:  people who insert Greek words as mosaic stones in their Latin speeches. (pg 14)

Strong point: Erasmus’s writing style is direct and expressive. Several times I had to muffle my laughter while reading the book on the train! The Dutch humanist knows so much about human nature!  Who has not listened to someone talking and as Erasmus describes it:  we laugh, applaud and move our ears as donkeys do so that the speaker will think you understand what he is saying!  (pg 14)  Believe me, I’ve been to one too many meetings at work where my ears were flapping back and forth!


Erasmus subtly uses irony . He prefers to remain silent fading behind his speaker ” Folly” (Dwaasheid). In this way he can freely state his thoughts and opinions without it being directly attributed to the author.


1 – 9      ‘Folly’ introduces himself.

10 – 22  ‘Folly’  explains all that is good in the world is due to ‘Folly’

23 – 68  In the longest part ‘ Folly’ s  tone is less jovial and more critical.  ‘Folly’  (Erasmus)  does not just give the reader a very entertaining summation of ‘ what is folly’  but  ridicules  with his  razor sharp satire the intellectuals who ” stand in the whiff of intelligence”  he explains:  ‘ mensen die staan in een geur van wijshed”  (pg 64) . Teachers, poets, judges, fellow philosophers, theologians none are spared his biting original wit!

  • Erasmus wrote this satire for a few learned friends in 1509 . He was not going to publish it but some of his friends had the book printed in 1511 in Paris.
  • Erasmus is such an interesting person and I would like to find a good biography about him and add it to my Classic List!
  • This is a great book if you are looking for a a classic book in the Middle Ages – Renaissance period. (400 – 1600 AD)
  • I would highly recommend  this book and give it my first score  higher than a 5!
  • Last thoughts: Philosophy  tastes like straw….but not this book!

Score: 5 +




Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Classics Club Spin #7


  • This will be my first spin. What better way to start a  new Classic Book list!
  • My cat  and I wlll wait to see what we have to read!

Here are 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 October 6th.

Books on my classic list are:

  1. Sophocles – Opedius Rex
  2. Zola, Emile – Nana (french)
  3. Gorra, M.   Portrait of a Novel, Henry James and the making of an American masterpiece
  4. Blackmore, R.D. – Lorna Doone ( 1869 )
  5. Bennett, A. – The Old Wives’ Tale
  6. Bronte, C. – Jane Eyre
  7. Schiller, Freidrich – Wallenstein
  8. Molière – Le Tartuffe (french)
  9. Shakespeare, W – Merchant of Venice
  10. Joyce, James – Dubliners
  11. Gogh, Vincent v. – The letters of Vincent van Gogh
  12. Thurber, J. – The White Deer ( 1945 )
  13. Steinbeck, John – East of Eden
  14. Couperus, Louis – Eline Vere ( read in dutch….Book is translated into english)
  15. Brown, F. Flaubert, A Life
  16. Shelley, M – Frankenstein
  17. Erasmus, Praise of Folly, (read in Dutch)
  18. Fontane, Theodor – Effi Breist
  19. Levi, Primo – The Periodic Table
  20. Lawrence, D.H. – Sons and Lovers

5  books I  want to read….

  • Gogh, Vincent v. – The letters of Vincent van Gogh
  • Bronte, C. – Jane Eyre
  • Joyce, James – Dubliners
  • Zola, Emile – Nana (french)
  • Fontane, Theodor – Effi Breist
  1. Fell in love with Vincent van Gogh ever since I saw the movie ‘Lust for life’ with Kirk Douglas. It wlll be wonderful to read his letters.
  2. Since Villette  was such a great book, Jane Eyre will probably be even better!
  3. Joyce left Ireland and lived abroad for his adult life…..but his writing was still about the  ‘Dubliners’.
  4. ‘Effi Breist’  is a  German literature ‘topper’ ( I am told….), I want to know why!
  5. Zola:   I’m anxious to read the last few books in Rougon-Macquart series.

5 books I’m  dreading….

  • Sophocles – Opedius Rex
  • Lawrence, D.H. – Sons and Lovers
  • Shelley, M – Frankenstein
  • Praise of Folly, Erasmus ( English first ….and will try to read it in Dutch)
  • Schiller, Freidrich – Wallenstein
  1. Sophocles and Erasmus  are  out of my comfort zone.
  2. Schiller and Shelley are  ‘well if I must’  reads.
  3. D.H. Lawerence, that book has been  in my library for at least 20 years and I never touch it. Why?



Posted by on August 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


New Classic Book List


Here is my second classic book list.

  • I will read 60 classics in five years.  That puts my end date at  August 05, 2019.
  1. I have included some biographies of classic writers  to give me  and idea about the ‘man’ behind the books. This is a great idea I noticed on Behold the Stars second classic list.
  2. Letters are always revealing and I  choose to read about one of our greatest treasures:  Vincent van Gogh
  3. Short stories have made their debut on my classic list. I have no idea how to review them and it will be a learning process. I was inspired by a few selections I found on  Book Musings,
  4. Ancients are not my speciality  but as a ‘chapeau’  to  Classic Carousel  I will attempt  some plays by Sophocles.
  5. 400 – 1600  AD:  I feel obligated to read some of  our  great Dutch philosophers. Perhaps I can organize a day trip to some part of The Netherlands to visit places connected to Erasmus and Spinoza. The three plays by Shakspeare were selections from my high school days.  I’m sure I did not appreciate them as I should have. They all get another chance!
  6. 17th C:  Molière is a true classic French writer.  He must be on the list
  7. 18th C: Selections are taken from England, Germany and France.. I’ve only read novels and modern books  in French, so I will be curious how I react to Rousseau.
  8. 19th C: This is the most ambitions section. I will finish the Rougon-Macquart series by Zola an added a Flaubert, I feel yet again obligated to read some Dutch classics. These two selections have been translated into English. I am NOT looking forward to J.F. Cooper, T. Hardy or D.H. Lawerence.  They deserve to be on a classic list and I hope they will surprise me.  I am venturing into  German literature with T. Fontane and G. Hauptmann. This is a new world for me.
  9. 20th C: Conrad, Steinbeck and also Grossman are some of my favorites in this period. Life and Fate is said to be the best 20th C Russian novel! There are two Germans  T. Mann and  E. Kastner who I have never read.  A. Bennett, and P. Levi  were in my bookcase so I decided it was time I read them.
  10. Children’s Classic Books:  I’m including 10 selections I would like to read. It is refreshing to read children’s literature as a welcome change to the rest of my list.  There is a wonderful  ‘master list’ of children’s books  at Children’s Classic Book Carousel


  1. Brown, F. Flaubert, A Life
  2. Tomalin, C. Dickens, A Life
  3. Damrosch, L. Jonathan Swift, His Life and His World
  4. Gorra, M.   Portrait of a Novel, Henry James and the making of an American masterpiece


  1. Coyle, A.C. – The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  2. Lovecraft, H.P. – The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories
  3. Joyce, James – Dubliners
  4. Updike, John – The Early Stories
  5. Saikaku, Ihara – Five Women Who Loved Love
  6. Chekhov, A. – The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories


  1. Gogh, Vincent v. – The letters of Vincent van Gogh

Ancients ( 5000 BC – 400 AD)

  1. Sophocles – Opedius Rex
  2. Sophocles – Opedius at Colonus
  3. Sophocles – Antigone

Middel Ages – Early Renaissance ( 400 AD – 1600 AD)

  1. Praise of Folly, Erasmus ( read  in Dutch)
  2. Ethics, Spinoza   (read  in Dutch)
  3. Shakespeare, W – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  4. Shakespeare, W – Othello
  5. Shakespeare, W – Merchant of Venice

17th C

  1. Molière – Le Misanthrope (french)
  2. Molière – Le Tartuffe (french)

18th C

  1. Schiller, Freidrich – Wallenstein
  2. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques – Émile ou De l’éducation ( French….will be a challenge)

19th C

  1. Zola, Emile – Nana (french)
  2. Zola, Emile – La Terre (french)
  3. Zola, Emile – Le Debacle (french)
  4. Zola, Emile – Dr. Pascal (french)
  5. James, Henry – Portrait of a Lady
  6. Dickens, Charles – David Copperfield
  7. Hardy, T. – Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  8. Fontane, Theodor – Effi Breist
  9. Hauptmann, Gerhart – The Plays ( Before Daybreak, The Weavers and The Beaver Coat)
  10. Cooper, James Fenimore – the Last of the Mohicans
  11. Couperus, Louis – Eline Vere ( dutch….is translated into english)
  12. Multatuli ( Dekker, E.) – Max Havelaar ( dutch… translated into english)
  13. Flaubert, Gustave – Bouvard et Pécuchet (french)
  14. Bronte, C. – Jane Eyre
  15. Dostoevsky, F. – The Brothers Karamazov
  16. Eliot, G – The Mill on the Floss
  17. Shelley, M – Frankenstein
  18. Lawrence, D.H. – Sons and Lovers
  19. Scott, Sir Walter – Ivanhoe

20th C

  1. Grossman, V. — Life and Fate
  2. Steinbeck, John – East of Eden
  3. Mann, Thomas – Buddenbrooks
  4. Levi, Primo – The Periodic Table
  5. Bennett, A. – The Old Wives’ Tale
  6. Grossman, V. – A Writer at War ( non-fiction)
  7. Conrad, J. – Nostromo
  8. Kastner, E. – Fabian, the Story of a Moralist

Children’s Classic Books:

  1. Swift, J. – Gulliver’s Travels ( 1726)
  2. Irving, W. – Legend of Sleepy Hollow ( 1819 )
  3. Dodge, M.M. – Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates ( 1865)
  4. Blackmore, R.D. – Lorna Doone ( 1869 )
  5. Carroll, L – Alice in Wonderland (1865)
  6. Stevenson, R.L. – Kidnapped ( 1893 )
  7. Kipling, R. – Captians Courageous ( 1897 )
  8. Forbes, E. – Johnny Tremain ( 1941 )
  9. Thurber, J. – The White Deer ( 1945 )
  10. Buck, Pearl S. – The Big Wave ( 1948 )
  • I have cleared all my other books  out of my reading area so I they  will not catch my eye while I’m  drinking my coffee.
  • I want to concentrate all my time on this list.
  • I want to thank other bloggers for helping me with my choices. Your lists were a great help.

Posted by on August 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


Classics Club 50 Books finished!



When I read the blogpost on ‘Behold the Stars’  that the blogger had completed her impressive classic booklist, I wondered if I would ever do the same.

Finally this day has come.…I completed my  50 books on the Classics Club list!  ( links  for reviews are at the end of this blogpost)

I am beyond happy….overjoyed!

I started on March 22 2012 with Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens and I ended the challenge with Rabbit, Run by John Updike on 03 Augustus 2014.

During this challenge I decided to read some classic books in French. I wanted to learn the a third language. I can now read a French book as easily as I do a book in English! I was at times dejected, low in spirits because my reading speed was sharply reduced. It took me 3 months to read Mme Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Yet I persevered and treated myself to a cold glass of Heineken after every completed French book!

My list contains some classic books in my second language, Dutch. Not many people will recognize the titles but in The Netherlands they are considered classics. I borrowed the template from “Behold the Stars” because I am terrible at organizing my thoughts.

Here are the books I read:

16th Century

  • De Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
  • De Lafayette, Mme – Princesse de Clèves (french)

Don Quixote was a challenge to read. It is a classic, but a very long one. Princesse de Clèves: I had to first understand the French history that is an important part of the book. That took some time and effort.

18th Century

 None! I had no idea I had forgotten this century. I’ll have to put some of these books on my second classic list!

 19th Century: 

A – C

  • Alcott, Louisa May – Little Women
  • Austen, Jane – Persuasion
  • Brontë, Charlotte – Villette
  • Conrad, Joseph – Lord Jim

My favorite was Villette by C. Bronte. The book had been on my TBR shelf for years. Little Women is not my kind of book. The only redemptive quality was the fact that it led me to a biography about L.M. Alcott, Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson. That was an excellent book! I read Persuasion as a gesture towards Brona’s Books blog. It is one of her favorites. I read Lord Jim because I admire Joseph Conrad, Polish by birth  yet he learned English and wrote some  great literature classics. That is quite an accomplishment!

D – E

  • Daudet, Alphonse – Lettres de mon Moulin (french)
  • Dickens, Charles – Little Dorrit
  • Dumas, Alexandre –  La tulipe noire (french)

I was reading Little Dorrit by Dickens when I started the classic list. I should read more of his books but got carried away reading in French. Dickens will be on the second list, I promise. Daudet is an author often overlooked. Lettres de mon Moulin would be an excellent choice to read in French if you wanted to practice your language skills. La tulipe noire is set in The Netherlands… I had to read it! I ended planting 80 tulips as a gesture to Dumas!

F – H

  • Flaubert, Gustave – Mme Bovary (french)
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter 
  • Hugo, Victor – Notre-Dame de Paris (french)

Mme Bovary  was my first French classic for my “read French for a year’ challenge. It took me three months to finish the book. Somedays I could just read 6 pages! At times I would take a deep breath and ask myself …is it worth the effort? I did not give up and have kept on reading French. Notre-Dame de Paris was a surprise. I was impressed by the characterization of the Hunchback.  The Scarlet Letter was a book I read in high school. I’m glad I re-read it because I just did not understand all this book had to offer as a teen.

J – S

  • Maupassant, G. de – Bel-Ami (french)

Maupassant’s Bel-ami  was my second French classic. In comparison with Mme Bovary I felt I was reading faster than the speed of light! This was my first reward for all my effort while reading Flaubert. I still had to look op 1140 words and 394 verbs.

Z(ola) ( all in french)

  • Zola, Émile – La Fortune des Rougons
  • Zola, Émile – La Curée
  • Zola, Émile – Le Ventre de Paris
  • Zola, Émile – La Conquête de Plassans
  • Zola, Émile – La Faute de l’Abbé de Mouret
  • Zola, Émile – Son Excellence de Eugène Rougon
  • Zola, Émile  – L’Assommoir
  • Zola, Émile – Une Page d’Amour
  • Zola, Émile – Le Rêve 
  • Zola, Émile – Pot-Bouille
  • Zola, Émile – Au Bonheur des Dames
  • Zola, Émile – La Joie de Vivre
  • Zola, Émile – La Bête Humaine 
  • Zola, Émile – L’ Œuvre
  • Zola, Émile – L’Argent
  • Zola, Émile – Lourdes

  This was the basis for ‘my read French for a year’ challenge. I had read Germinal and could not forget that book. I decided to read the Rougon-Macquart series. I will have to read the last ones on my second Classic book list. There are so many books on this list, if you want to know more I suggest you have a look at the individual reviews.

20th – 21th Century:

 A – F

  • Bolano, Roberto – 2666 
  • Cheever, John – The Wapshot Chronicle

2666 It was a chore to read from start to finish, but I gave the book a “chance to prove itself”. Bolano’s 2666  took me to new ‘reading limits’ and no regets. It was the first book  that I ever read that was  physically exhausting. The Wapshot Chronicle: I wanted to read one of the most famous  American writers who sufferd from alcoholism. Cheever drank chronically for 40 years and yet was able  to produce great works of literature despite  the  addiction.  

G – L

  • Gide, André – I’immoraliste (french)
  • Grossman, Vasily – An Armenian Sketchbook
  • Llosa, Mario Vargas – Feast of the Goat
  • Londres, Albert – Au Bagne (french)

L’immoraliste sat on my bookshelf for years. I finally noticed it due to a blogpost  by Word by Word.  I wanted to read this book and discover André Gide. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature 1947, yet rarely do you see his books on classic lists. An Armenian Sketchbook was one of my ‘surprise’ books this year. I never heard of the writer and feel in love with his writing. I plan to read more of his books. Feast of the Goat was historical fiction.  M. V. Llosa exposed the world of a Central American dictator. Au Bagne was a big disappointment. Londres’s writing style is choppy and dull. I have 2 more of his books on the shelf, they may stay there.

M – P

  • Némirovsky, Irène – Suite française ( french)
  • Némirovsky, Irène – Le vin de solitude (french)
  • Nooteboom, Cees – Rituals (dutch)
  • Pasternak, Boris – Doctor Zhivago

Némirovsky’s books are a pleasere to read in French. Her style is simple and it just flows. I expect she has read Zola because she wrote crowd scenes and described gardens (Suite française) as he did. Némirovsky can sometimes get carried away with the ‘poetic’.  Too much of a good thing can be tiresome in the end. Doctor Zhivago was one of my first classic reads in 2012. It was familiar due to the film. I knew what to expect. I want to read more Russian literature, but not Pasternak. Rituals by Nooteboom was awful. This is not a cut and dry story, I had the feeling  Nooteboom had read Satre, Proust, Meister Eckhart and the teachings of Chang Zu and wasn’t going to let the reader  forget it! Welcome to exisitential Holland!

R – W

  • Simenon, George – La neige était sale (french)
  • Shute, Nevil – On the beach
  • Slauerhoff, Jan – Alle verhalen (dutch)
  • Thurber, James – The 13 clocks 
  • Tillion, Germaine – Ravenbruck (french)
  • Updike, John – Rabbit, Run
  • Vestdijk, Simon – Terug naar Ina Dammen (dutch)
  • Vestdijk, Simon – Pastorale 1943 (dutch)
  • Wiesel,  Elie -Night
  • Williams, Tennessee – Cat on a hot tin roof
  • White, E.B. – Stuart Little

I went from the best to the worst with some of these books. I’ll start with the bad news. La neige était sale was awful. Simenon is not looking for  “le mot juste”.  I rarely found a metaphor  or a simile to give the story some polish. Anything that makes other novels into literature is missing here. The rest of the books were all good news! The Dutch selections are classics in The Netherlands, you probably don’t recognize them. American classics were powerful, Cat on a hot tin roof and Rabbit, Run. I was able to enjoy these books after reading about T. Williams in Trip to Echo Spring, writers and drinking by O. Laing and J. Updike in ‘Updike’ by A. Begley. I would recommend reading both of these books for essential information. WW II is the backround for Night and Ravensbruck. Sometimes difficult to read, but one must know the truth. On the beach: I did not know what to expect from this book.  I discovered that Shute’s  writing  style is calm and without the ‘shock effects’ one would expect in apocalyptic fiction. Still, the narrative is chilling to read.  I needed some relaxation after all the  intense reading and choose some children’s classics that have a whiff of literature about them: Stuart Little and The 13 Clocks. They were great reads for young and old!

My classic list pales in comparison to Behold the Stars and ‘Classic Carousel’ blogs. I suggest you have a look! Two years ago I started with just the books that were in the house, Little Dorrit and ended with Rabbit, Run. I’ve run the gamut from unfortunate occupants of Bleeding Heart Yard in 1850’s to American society in Mt Judge Penn. 1950’s.

I progressed as did my template for the reviews. My thoughts started to get in line and I wanted to write and add that ‘bit of magic’ (as John Updike would say) to let my reviews sparkle. I learned French, what irony is and how to give a book a ‘chance’ and not to judge it by its cover. Through the community of bloggers I also decided to read a book they loved….just to show them that I care about their choices. Now I am relaxing, my Heineken is cold and I’m trying to decide where the next booklist will take me!

I remember when I sat down to start a blog. All I needed was a glass of Chardonnay, some determination and a desire to start an incredible journey through some classic books. One on my first bloggers who inspired me along the way was  Amy by Book Musings. Her blog blog started in December 2011 and if you have a chance have a look at her book choices.  It is a wonderful selection!

Don’t waste your time….. here is the link for The Classics Club. Start your journey because there are so many good books just waiting for you!

Wonderful message  from the author  Adam Begley!  ( he should win Pulitzer 2014 for his biography of John Updike!)




Here is the list  of  classic  books I  will commit to read  between  April 2012  –  April 2017:




The Netherlands

France  ( all books were read in French)


Latin America




Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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