Hey Classics Challengers: I’m heading off to ‘Bleak House’

OK. The first category was easy. Really. Even after leading me to this path.

Now, I’m getting serious. Perhaps it’s the cold, perhaps it’s the snow, but I kind of want to be someplace different right now, so the second category is a classic with the name of a place in the title.

bleak house.jpegIt should be easy to find something that fits this category. Off the top of my head I came up with the following: “A Passage to India,” “Mansfield Park,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Cold Comfort Farm,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” “Out of Africa,” “Middlemarch,” “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “A Death in Venice,” “Death on the Nile,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” (a train is a place, no?) “Little House on the Prairie” (a prairie is a place, too), “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Winesburg, Ohio.” The list goes on.

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A new novel offers a stranger ‘Stranger’

Re-reading Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” for the Classics Challenge 2016 led me to one of the most talked-about books of last year: “The Meursault Investigation.” Written by Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud, the novel takes a new look at “The Stranger,” humanizing and politicizing and the people and actions in it.

“Interesting” is the word my mother uses to describe a book or a movie she didn’t enjoy or perhaps fully understand, but in which she sees some merit. It’s the word I’ll use to describe “Investigation.” Yes, it’s damning with faint praise, and perhaps a cop out, but it’s also what you say about something that works in theory but not in practice.


Of course, that puts me out of step with the mainstream of literary criticism. This book has received praise around the world, being named to several “Best Books of 2015” lists. Still, it’s not all that satisfying: As a writing exercise, sure, but as a story, it’s not compelling.

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Hey Classics Challengers: Meeting ‘The Stranger’ again

I have been finished with Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” for a week or so now, but have been unwilling to post about it because I’m not sure what to say about it. I think most of what I wanted to say is here. It is the first category (a book you read in high school) in our Classics Challenge 2016. I’m going to tell you this post has spoiler after spoiler, so don’t read if you don’t want the entire book ruined.

This is the cover of the version I read in high school. It’s bizarre at best, and has nothing to do with the novel at all. What’s up with that?

I know there should be more that I want to say, because the book has left me oddly unsettled. There is much more to this novel than I remember. So I wonder why I can’t put my thoughts into words.

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Would it kill you to punctuate properly?

Regular readers will know I complain about bad copy editing in books.

I mean, really, people. If you’re going to put something on paper and between two hard covers and expect me to cough up $25 for it run it through a goddamn spellcheck. It’s free with Microsoft Word.

At work, we don’t send anything to anyone without overediting. “It wouldn’t hurt to get another pair of eyes on that,” I hear after the fifth round of proofing—and that’s just for the sign-up sheet for the holiday potluck.

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Classics Challengers: The first category is a re-read

High school English class is a strange and sad place.

Because every student had to take the early survey courses, where 500 years of English literature are covered in a school year, you got a wide variety of student interest in the subject. People like me, who loved it, couldn’t express our love for particular books or poems without being ridiculed, but those who hated it had no problem complaining loudly. In fact, they were usually encouraged. Then there were those who liked some of it — the Romantic authors, say — and not others, like the realists. It wasn’t until you were an upper classman and took an elective devoted to, say, Shakespeare or the art of the novel, when you got a class with most of the students on the same page. (That’s a pun, people.)

I don’t remember what class it was or what year, though I remember Miss Washington was the teacher, but we had to read Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” I’ve thought about this little novel with such big ideas a lot since then, which is why I’ve chosen it for the Classics Challenge 2016 category: A book you were forced to read in high school.

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