Monday, July 27, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those really long classics that's been on my to-read list forever. I'd always been intimidated by the sheer length of it -- it's more than 1200 pages long! Originally, I had planned to read something by Zola for Paris in July, but then a couple of months ago I started listening to an audiobook called The Black Count by Tom Reiss, a biography of Alexandre Dumas' father, Alex Dumas. That story is pretty amazing. Alex Dumas was born the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a Caribbean slave yet became a General in the French Army. Dumas's father inspired his swashbuckling tales, and I couldn't help wishing I'd actually gotten around to read The Count of Monte Cristo and was worried about spoilers. So, I stopped listening to the audio and checked out Monte Cristo instead -- all 37 discs of the audiobook! It took me more than a month, but I finally finished it and I'm counting it as my Classic in Translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge

I'm sure most people already know the set-up of the story, so here's the short version: young Edmond Dantes, a French sailor, spends fourteen years imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d'If after being unjustly accused of treason. His three anonymous accusers are jealous of him for various reasons, and unfortunately, the prosecutor covers up the truth to hide his dirty little secret. Poor Edmond is the victim and they essentially lock him up and throw away the key. Naturally, he is despondent, and after four years of solitary confinement, he's ready to end his own life when he receives an unexpected visitor -- another prisoner accidentally tunnels into Edmond's cell.  

This mysterious prisoner is Abbe Faria, an Italian priest who becomes Edmond's friend, mentor, and father figure. Over the next ten years, he teaches Edmond languages and sciences and gives Edmond hope. He also gives Edmond the means to plot the perfect revenge on the four men who have ruined Edmond's life. It takes years, but Edmond eventually gets justice. 

This book is one of those great epic tales -- it has daring escapes, murders, duels, romance, villains, buried treasure, vengeance, and more. There are a lot of characters (which I sometimes confused -- why are two of the main characters named Morrel and Morcerf? Why are the names so similar? Maybe I missed something in translation). I was really impressed by how Dumas kept my interest in such a long and complicated story. I had a few quibbles with some of the amazing coincidences, but that's really just a product of its time. I was also a little bothered at the end with some of the fallout from Edmond's vengeance. Yes, he deserved justice, but at what price? 

The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted and abridged many times, but it's really worth taking the time to read (or listen to) the original version. I listened to a lot of it on audio but also read parts of it in the excellent Penguin translation. The audiobook was good -- I will listen to pretty much anything narrated by John Lee. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this and I definitely want to read more books by Dumas. The Man in the Iron Mask is still on my Classics Club list, and I think I might also have the courage now to tackle another whopping French epic, Les Miserables, though I think I'll put it off for next summer. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Very Long Books

I'm beginning to feel like it's been to long since I actually wrote a book review -- summer is generally the time when I get a lot of reading done, but lately, I've been obsessed with really long books. Specifically, The Count of Monte Cristo and the Outlander series.

Monte Cristo, unabridged, is more than 1,200 pages long, so it definitely qualifies as one of the longest books I've ever read (disclosure: I am also listening to it on audio on my commute to work, which is only 15 minutes each way). Each of the Outlander books have page counts of more than 800 pages, probably closer to 900 -- and the series gets longer as it progresses.  So far, I've read about 900 pages of Monte Cristo and have now read half of the Outlanders. This is definitely going to impact my end-of-year book count -- I normally shoot for around 100 books, but I don't even think I'll hit 90 if I continue with all the doorstoppers (I still have half of Trollope's Pallisers series on the horizon.

So it made me think about the other really long books I've enjoyed -- there's something just so wonderful about getting really engrossed in a long novel or series, and knowing that you get to settle in with these characters and stories for a good long time. As I look through my Goodreads list of my favorite long books, I noticed a lot of them are historicals and fantasy novels -- makes sense when you think of all the world-building they pack in. And of course there are quite a few Victorians! Here are some of my favorite really long books:

1.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. (1013 pages). I first read this when I was in the sixth grade, and I've reread it many times. The underlying racism does make me uncomfortable, but I'll always love Scarlett O'Hara and her spunk. I wouldn't want to be her friend, but she's one tough chick.

2.  Bleak House by Charles Dickens. (989 pages). By far my favorite of all of Dickens' works -- it has everything! Mystery, satire, humor, a great love story -- and one of the first literary detectives in the English language, the wonderful Inspector Bucket. There's also a great miniseries adapted by the BBC in 2005.

3.  The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. The first book by Trollope that I ever read, and still one of my favorites. It's a great satire about politics and a pyramid scheme (amazingly timely when I read it in 2009) -- great drama, great characters. It's more than 780 pages and 100 chapters, and I could hardly stop reading it. I would seriously sneak away to read just one more chapter.

4. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. A charming, delightful Victorian romance novel about two families. Very Jane Austen-esque without being a complete ripoff.

5.  Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. (611 pages). One of the first classics I ever read for pleasure. I reread it a couple of years ago and loved it just as much the second time around.

6.  The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt. Great story about artistic families around the turn of the century in England. It's long with lots of plot and fascinating characters, just the thing for a lazy summer read.

7.  Middlemarch by George Eliot. Big and sprawling with a long list of characters living in a provincial town in 1830s England. Starts out a little dry but well worth sticking with the entire 800 pages.

8. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Great neo-Victorian about a pickpocket who gets involved in long con to fleece an heiress out of her inheritance. I think Sarah Waters is one of the best writers of historical fiction around, and this book includes one of the best plot twists I've ever read.

9. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (838 pages). Another neo-Victorian, about a prostitute named Sugar and her relationship with a perfume magnate.

10. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. (782 pages). Imagine if Jane Austen and Charles Dickens got together and wrote their own version of Harry Potter. The wonderful BBC TV adaptation is airing now in the U.S. If you're scared by the length, maybe watching it on TV will get you hooked. I loved every page of it!

What are your favorite long books to read during the summer months? And what are the longest books you've ever read?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Back to the Classics Mid-Year Giveaway: The Winner!

And the winner of the Back to the Classics Challenge Mid-Year Giveaway is. . . .

Cat from Tell Me A Story!!!

Congratulations, Cat, you've won your choice of any Penguin Clothbound Classic valued under $20 (US). I've sent you an email notifying you of your prize.

And thanks to everyone else who entered the giveaway, and to everyone who's signed up for the 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge! Keep reading those classics!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Mid-Year Check-In and Giveaway!

2015 is halfway over! How's everyone doing with the Back to the Classics Challenge?

I'm pleased to report that I've already finished eight of of the twelve categories, and I'm making good progress on #9!  Here's what I've read so far:
  • 19th Century Classic: Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
  • Classic by a Woman Author: Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  • Very Long Classic: The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • Classic Novella: Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Classic With a Name in the Title: Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
  • Humorous or Satirical Classic: Frozen Assets by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Forgotten Classic: The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley
  • Children's Classic: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
I think my favorites were Lady Anna  and Mary Poppins, and of course Wodehouse is always a hoot. I did find Pickwick to be a bit of a slog, but I mostly listened to the audiobook. I'm also about a third of the way through my Classic in Translation, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, just in time for Paris in July!

I'm so pleased with my progress. And how is everyone else doing? As a little incentive, I'm having a giveaway! Just like last year, one lucky winner will receive a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic of his or her choice (up to US $20).  

Here are the rules for the Giveaway:

Updated: Since it is a holiday weekend here in the U.S., the deadline has been extended to July 10. 

1.  To enter, you must already have been signed up for the challenge (sorry, the cutoff date was back in March.) If you have not already on the list, YOU ARE NOT ELIGIBLE.

2.  Challenge participants must have already linked at least one review to one of the twelve categories in the 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge. If you've signed up but haven't posted any reviews, the cutoff date to post is July 10. 

3.  Any new links to the Challenge must follow the original parameters for the Challenge.

4.  Challenge participants must leave a comment below, letting me know which book they've most enjoyed reading for the challenge. If you like, you can also tell me which Penguin Clothbound Classic you would choose if you won (you can change your mind if you're the winner). Include an link or an email address so I can let you know if you've won. 

5. One lucky winner, drawn at random, will receive his or her choice of Penguin Clothbound Classic valued up to $20 (US) from either OR The Book Depository. The winner must live in a country where they can receive delivery from or The Book Depository. If you're not sure, click here to see if The Book Depository delivers to your country. 

6.  Comments and links must be posted no later than July 10, 2015 at 11:59 p.m., U.S. Central Standard Time. On July 11, 2015, I'll post the name of the winner. 

7.  The winner must contact me with a good address by July 16, 2015, at 11:59 p.m., or I'll choose another winner. 

So what are you waiting for?  Post some reviews, tell me which books you liked best, and let me know which Penguin Classic you'd pick if you won!