Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading – Classic Edition

CarpeLibrumIf you’ve ever read Stephen King’s On Writing – part memoir, part writing advice, and completely entertaining – then you’ve seen this piece of advice:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot.”

So this week we’re taking a break from talking about writing and publishing to talk about reading.  Conveniently, I’ve spent the last two weeks doing little else besides reading and talking about books.  Since I’m currently studying Victorian sensation and detective fiction, my reading selections have had a distinct “blast from the past” flavour.

So, here are the last three books I read:

A new author

First up was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  Have you ever heard of it?  I certainly hadn’t, but it was the bestselling novel of the 1860s and the author was referred to as the “Queen of the Circulating Library” because of the book’s popularity with the book-borrowing public.  Considered a “sensation” novel because of elements like intrigue, murder, bigamy, and a few other things, it is really the story of a woman who does whatever she needs to do in order to survive and the man who tries to uncover her secrets.  It is set against the backdrop of Victorian society with its anxieties about the domestic sphere, gender, and social class.  It’s a little slower moving than the contemporary stories that we’re used to, but it was an enjoyable read and I’ll be reading more by this author.

A New Book by a Favourite Author

Next up was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  A few years back I read Collins’ The Woman in White and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I had high expectations for this story.  It is a detective tale that deals with the theft of a priceless diamond known as The Moonstone.   Presented by a series of narrators all telling / showing us what happened in the parts of the story where they were involved, it’s almost like testimony in a court case, if testimony was presented in a meandering conversational way.  Some of the narrators are trustworthy, some are unreliable, and no one knows the entire story.  The only annoyance I had with the book is that as a reader, there is no way I could have figured out the ending.  I find detective stories far more enjoyable when clues are woven throughout so that there is a chance of solving it.  Written almost 150 years ago, the story includes elements that are still very applicable today, like concerns about immigrants and people with unfamiliar religious beliefs.

Something I can’t believe I never read before

The last book on the list was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read any Doyle before.  Though I’ve enjoyed many a Sherlock Holmes television show and movie (the 2009 movie with Robert Downey Jr. is my favourite), I’d never read any of the books they’re based on.  Fortunately, I was able to remedy that situation fairly easily.  Set largely in Dartmoor in Devon, The Hound of the Baskervilles tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the “legend of a fearsome, diabolical hound of supernatural origin.”   Though this is the third novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, it is apparently considered the top Holmes novel by Sherlockian scholars (really, there is such a thing?).    I actually picked this particular story because it was the first title I saw when I queried books by Doyle.  It is both a short book and a quick read, though the story differed widely from television episodes of the same name that I’ve seen.  Interestingly enough, I ran across an actual interview with Doyle on YouTube, believed to be his only filmed interview.  If you’re a fan, give it a look.

So, what have you been reading (or starting to read) recently?  Any recommendations to add to my queue (classics or not)?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading – Classic Edition

  1. Ooh, I *love* The Moonstone and The Woman in White. I haven’t read any Mary Elizabeth Braddon, but that sounds great! The nice thing about doing such old classics is that they’re free on Kindle… 🙂

    One classic that I adored was Vanity Fair–it’s long but the characters are so real that I wanted to reach into the pages and slap a couple of them at times (the mark of good character development, right?).

    A non-classic that I just finished is MOB PRINCESS: Stolen Kisses, Secrets, and Lies, by Todd Strasser, which was pretty hilarious and enjoyable as a light read. It’s the second of three and I’m waiting for the library to give me the finale! Not literary, per se, but a fun quick read.

    I also just read DC’s New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke, a comic epic set in the 1950s that reimagines many of DC’s heroes (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Superman) in a unified world. I liked it, but I struggled a bit because many of the characters weren’t familiar to me.

    • Hi Peggy, great to hear from another Collins fan. Vanity Fair is definitely in my queue. I’ll have to move it a little closer to the top. Haven’t heard of the rest of the books you noted; I’ll have to check them out.

      You are also right about the “free on kindle” feature of the classics. That makes it much more appealing to give them a try.

  2. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, was published in 1794, so it’s not exactly Victorian, but you might find it interesting as you look at period literature. I found it to be rather heavy going (plus, depending on the edition, more than 700 pages!), but it’s the first gothic novel, all full of counts and crumbling castles and ghosts and whatnot. Jane Austen references it in Northanger Abbey, so I had to read it.

    I liked Vanity Fair when I read it, too, although I was pretty young at the time and I think I missed a lot of the jokes. And finally, I haven’t read The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, but it has come very highly recommended to me. Also very long—it was published in serial form, and it has 100 chapters, so I’m told.

    I’m reading something lighter—a mystery by Ann Cleeves called The Crow Trap. So far, excellent.

    • Kay, yes to The Mysteries of Udolpho. I read it a while ago, but have forgotten most of it. Should definitely re-read it. I’ve never read any Trollope, but it has been recommended several times. Will need to remedy that lack.

    • Oh lordy! I agree that Mysteries of Udolpho is a must-read — but it’s also a must-take-notes so you never have to re-read the thing! Soooooo much travelling through scenery. All I remember at this point is the lute, and a vague feeling of disappointment that the plot never really gelled together.

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: Industrial Strength Writer’s Block – Eight Ladies Writing

  4. I want to re-read The Great Gatsby — it’s suddenly popping up on my radar everywhere, and I think the last time I read it was in high school. (-: I have a feeling that it’s one of those books that benefit from some life experience.

    The Scarlett Letter, which I re-read a few months ago, was another one that benefitted from life experience, too. Plus, it’s a short book and relatively free of a lot of garbage that older books often deemed necessary.

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