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.

The thing about naming a book after a place is that the author has to imbue everything about that place with meaning. A reader has to believe what happens in John Irving’s “The Hotel New Hampshire,” say, couldn’t have happened anywhere else.


The thing about naming a book after a place is that the author has to imbue everything about that place with earning. You have to believe that what happens at this place is universal, and that what happens in John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” is happening everywhere.

For instance, here is the opening paragraph of “Cannery Row,” shared because it is such beautiful writing, and a fine example of setting a place that is both unique and universal:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

Well, I follow the blog  Interesting Literature and came across this and thought: It’s time to get back to Dickens, but which one? See, I have been intrigued by my ninth-grade son’s fascination with “Great Expectations.” He is an avowed non-reader, yet eagerly does his daily reading for class because he likes it so much: “Dad, don’t tell me, but is so-and-so really the convict?”  So I thought I’d dip back into Dickens and read about a place he created.

I know nothing about “Bleak House,” and wasn’t even sure it fit the category until I decided, “Hey, it’s my challenge, I can interpret the rules the way I see fit. So that’s what I’ll be reading. I will confess, I started it already and find I’m feeling the same excitement I see in my kid’s eyes when he discusses “Great Expectations.”

So I’m off to a stay at “Bleak House;” where will you be going?


3 thoughts on “Hey Classics Challengers: I’m heading off to ‘Bleak House’

  1. Pingback: In ‘Lucy Barton,” a woman tries to figure herself out – Shelf Improvement

  2. Jenni Clark

    Dear Ron,
    I visited End House with Hercule Poirot and discovered the Peril there. I began reading Agatha Christie as a pre-teen and never stopped. The writing is clever and keeps me interested. I tend to prefer Poirot to Miss Marple tales though. Since I finished rather quickly, I’m taking a turn around Hill House, which is also very engaging and well-written. Hoping to make it out safely with my sanity in check.


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