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GUEST POST: Why we should read classic novels by Melissa Chan

Sunday, October 21, 2018



Why We Should Read Classic Novels by Melissa Chan

Before answering the question of why we should read classics novels, we must first define or at least distinguish what a classic novel is. Classic literature is a key aspect of history and culture. Well known authors are some of the most famed individuals remembered throughout time. But what exactly defines a classic novel? A book or story that has been around for a while? Does it have to be famous, old, celebrated? Every reader has a general sense of what defines classic literature, that a title such as The Iliad by Homer is a classic, while a more recently published and lesser known title is not as classic, or perhaps not even considered literature at all.

Indeed, what is considered a classic in one reader would not be considered a classic to another another. For the purpose of this argument on why we should read them, I will define classic novels as any work of literature, whether it is book, collection of stories, or poem, that is in the general sense, noteworthy, well-regarded, and considered by most individual readers, news outlets, and the general public as a classic.

Why should we read classic novels? I would like to discuss just what exactly makes them so special, and why we go out of our way to read them. I expect this question is many readers ask themselves when considering any new read. Here are a few reasons why you should consider adding a classics to your ever growing future to-be-read pile.

There is no denying it, some of our best loved stories are everywhere. Told, and retold, translated, adapted for younger readers, older readers, and readers of different genres. And as a result these treasured tales are passed onto future generations. We see them everywhere, in movies, TV, and even in music. One should read classic novels because it better helps us see and understand the variations and re-tellings.

Take the case of the vampire, although the idea of the vampire has been crafted, rewritten, and retold countless times especially in the recent years, Bram Stoker's Dracula is still one of the most recognized stories about vampires. I enjoyed reading Stoker's novel immensely, not only for it's suspense and horror, but as an in-depth understanding of the general concept of a vampire. Reading it has helped me to understand and appreciate the recent renditions more than if I had not read it beforehand.

Many readers are also writers. Classics are not only treasured for their quality of writing, but also for the fact that they represent paradigmatic and iconic instances of these stories. In case of Cinderella, it is a tale still very much enjoyed to this day. One of the most well known re-tellings was that of the Brothers Grimm in Grimms' Fairy Tales in 1812. Reading and understanding these paradigms, can help strengthen your writing as an author.

Most classics were written such as long time ago that their copyrights have long expired. While this is great for the distribution and sharing of the works, it also means that fewer or in many cases no one has anything to gain by promoting by these works. Especially in the sea of brand new books with all the hype and advertisement that goes along with them. Classics should be read, or at least given a try alongside these newer options. They have been enjoyed by so many other readers in the past, that perhaps you might enjoy reading them as well.

The books we still know about and read are the ones that have lasted through the ages. They are not necessarily better but worth a look to see why they may have weathered the test of time.

It was my love of reading classic literature that led me to start Literary Book Gifts. I design each and every piece to suit the characters, themes, and stories in each particular novel. In the case of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, I designed it to capture not only the idea of childhood exploration but the feeling of flight. It has been a joy to recreate some of my favorite books into artwork for shirts and totes. I started this company because I believe that classic literature deserves a place in modern day society, that it should be appreciated and ultimately shared with others. Perhaps the Pride and Prejudice T-Shirt will help spark a conversation about Jane Austen's classic, and maybe a new reader will pick up a copy.

For Kate Forsyth's readers use the exclusive code KATEFORSYTH20 at checkout to receive 20% off on your order! There is no minimum and this coupon code does not expire.

Do you read classics? Share your favorites.

BOOK REVIEW: Butterfly on A Pin by Alannah Hill

Friday, October 19, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Unflinching, funny, shocking, inspiring and tender: this is a story like no other.

Alannah Hill, one of Australia’s most successful fashion designers, created an international fashion brand that defied trends with ornamental, sophisticated elegance, beads, bows and vintage florals. But growing up in a milk bar in Tasmania, Alannah’s childhood was one of hardship, fear and abuse. At an early age she ran away from home with eight suitcases of costumes and a fierce determination to succeed, haunted by her mother’s refrain of ‘You’ll never amount to anything, you can’t sew, nobody likes you and you’re going to end up in a shallow grave, dear!’

At the height of her success, Alannah walked the razor’s edge between two identities – the ‘good’ Alannah and the ‘mongrel bastard’ Alannah. Who was the real Alannah Hill? Reprieve came in the form of a baby boy and the realisation that becoming a mother not only changes your life, but completely refurbishes it, forever.

Yet 'having it all' turned out to be another illusion. In 2013 Alannah walked away from her eponymous brand, a departure that left her coming apart at the seams. She slowly came to understand the only way she could move forward was to go back. At the heart of it all was her mother, whose loveless marriage and disappointment in life had a powerful and long-lasting effect on her daughter. It was finally time to call a truce with the past.


My Thoughts:

I always loved Alannah Hill’s clothes. Gorgeous velvets, silks and lace, embroidered and embellished with flowers, put together with humour and whimsy and bravado. As a young journalist and writer, I could rarely afford these alluring, fantastical creations, but I used to rummage in the sales bins or buy second-hand, and throw them together with other op-shop finds and a pair of red dancing shoes.

I have a fine collection of vintage Alannah now, most of which I can’t fit into anymore. I’m hoping my daughter will inherit them and create her own unique look (probably with jeans and sneakers). I still like to hunt through the Alannah Hill sales rack for a pink silk cami, a red lace dress, or a flamboyant rose hairpin. A dash of Alannah can make any woman feel glamorous.

I met Alannah Hill a few times, when I worked in fashion magazines, and she was always funny, raucous, and dressed to the nines. She made every other woman look drab and dull. And then, about five years ago, Alannah walked away from the fashion industry, leaving her brand to be designed and managed by Factory X, the name behind such brands as Dangerfied, Gorman and Princess Highway. There were rumours of bitter infighting, but neither Alannah or Factory X has revealed what really went on behind the scenes.

When I saw Alannah had written a memoir and was a guest at the Sydney Writers Festival, I went along to hear her speak and then bought the book and asked her to sign it for me. Her story, Butterfly On A Pin: A Memoir of Love, Despair and Reinvention, tells the story of her poverty-stricken abusive childhood, her wild adolescence, her search for love and meaning, and the creation and loss of the iconic Alannah Hill brand. The writing is raw, honest, heartfelt, and poignant. I was deeply moved at times, discovering the hurt and heartbreak behind her manic energy and edgy flamboyance. It really is an astonishing story of survival and transformation, and makes my vintage fashion collection so much more meaningful to me now.

For another great memoir, check out Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved he Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by Deborah Cadbury

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

  

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In 1793, when Marie-Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting the throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared the young Louis XVII dead, prompting rumors of murder. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Soon thereafter, the theory circulated that the prince had in fact escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been killed, his heart preserved as a relic. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century when, thanks to DNA testing, a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery.

A fascinating blend of royalist plots, palace intrigue, and modern science, The Lost King of France is a moving and dramatic tale that interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story.


My Thoughts:

I have spent the last two years reading every book I could find on the French Revolution, as that is the setting of my novel-in-progress, The Blue Rose. It is such a fascinating period of history, I’ve really loved being deeply immersed in it.

Most people know the broad outlines of the story: the opulent royal court at Versailles, the uprising of the starving peasants, the storming of the Bastille, and the tragic deaths of King Louis XVI and his flamboyant queen Marie-Antoinette under the merciless blade of the guillotine.

Many people do not know that the royal prince, known as the Dauphin in France, automatically inherited the throne of his father upon his execution. Only eight years old, Louis XVII was kept imprisoned in a dank old medieval prison called the Temple tower. Two years later, he was declared dead. Some believed he had been murdered, others that he had died from abuse and neglect. Still others whispered that he had been rescued, smuggled out from his prison and a dying beggar-boy left in his place.

As time passed, it was these whispers that began to grow. There was no grave, no monument. And when the monarchy was restored in France, several young men stepped forward and claimed to be the true heir. The reigning monarch, Louis XVIII, the brother of the guillotined king, dismissed such claims but pretenders to the throne continued to win supporters. Almost one hundred years after the Dauphin is said to have died, Mark Twain has a con-man in Huckleberry Finn claiming he is the missing ‘dolphin’.

And two hundred years later, scientists have tested an old mummified heart – said to have been cut from the Dauphin’s chest by the doctor conducting the autopsy in the Temple tower – to try and prove, once and for all, if the boy-king died in his filthy prison or escaped, as so many people believed.

It’s an utterly intriguing account of a tempestuous period in human history, and how modern-day science can be used to solve ancient mysteries. I loved it. 

You might also be interested in my review of Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, you can read it here. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!


BOOK REVIEW: Verity Sparks, Lost and Found by Susan Green

Friday, October 12, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Melbourne. 1879. Verity Sparks has found her father. But she has lost her gift - the ability to find lost things. Papa Savinov, eager for Verity to become a proper lady, sends her to the exclusive boarding school Hilltop House. But Verity is more interested in solving the case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. As the investigation deepens, danger and intrigue grow closer. Will Verity's gift return before it's too late?


My Thoughts:


I have had this lovely book on my shelves for quite some time, but had never managed to find the time to read it. Being on a panel with Susan Green at the Bendigo Writers Festival gave me the impetus I needed (I always like to read the novels of people I share a stage with).

It is clear from the opening pages that I had begun reading the second in a series, which I never like to do. Susan Green does a great job of explaining back story without losing pace, however, and so I soon discovered that Verity Sparks had been abandoned as a baby on the steps of a church in London, had survived the mean streets of Victoiran London, and had a special pyschic gift called teleagtivism (the ability to find lost things) which had helped her find her father.

I was soon transported to Melbourne in 1879, where Verity Sparks is sent to a boarding school so that she can learn to become a lady. But her gift has deserted her, and some of the girls at the school are unkind to her. She misses her father, and the school has hidden secrets that Verity must uncover, not to mention the intriguing case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. Murders and mysteries abound, but luckily Verity’s gifts of observation and deduction are as sharp as ever.

This is a charming tale, a kind of psychic-detective-historical-melodrama mashup for younger readers, with a really engaging heroine.

You might also be interested in my review of A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

John Flanagan returns to the world of Ranger’s Apprentice to find out what happens when Ranger apprentice Maddie returns home to Castle Araluen. The Kingdom may have been at peace for a number of years, but there are always those who would commit treason to take power for themselves. Could there be a plot against the crown?


My Thoughts:

For a long time, John Flanagan was one of my son’s favourite authors and I read him book after book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series each night at bedtime. I enjoyed them as much as he did (which was not at all generally true of all our bedtime read-a-thons). Often I’d find myself choked up at the end as Will, the small but indomitable hero, once again triumphed against the bad guys. An irresistible mix of action, adventure, and humour, the Ranger’s Apprentice series has sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide which makes John Flanagan one of Australia’s most successful children’s authors.

The Royal Ranger is the first in a new series which begins when Will must take on a new apprentice of his own, and train them in the mysterious skills of a ranger. His new apprentice is going to be a challenge, however. Not only is she rebellious and spoiled, but she’s a princess! The first girl to ever be apprenticed as a Ranger, Maddie has a lot to learn, and a lot to prove.

I was on a panel with John Flanagan at the Bendigo Writers Festival, and so read this latest offering in preparation to sharing a stage with him. I loved revisiting the word of Araluen, and particularly loved seeing a girl in the role of a Ranger. She was tough, determined, and made a great sidekick to Will. Long may the Rangers rule!


Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, October 05, 2018

 


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past...until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.


My Thoughts:

When Julia Beckett was a little girl, she pointed at an old house in an English village and said, with great conviction, ‘that’s my house.’ Twenty-five years later, she buys the house and moves to live there. Almost immediately, she finds herself slipping back in time and into the life of Mariana, a young woman in the Restoration era. The slippages are involuntary, astoundingly vivid, and dangerous. Julia is not aware of what her body is doing in her own time, and her life as Mariana becomes increasingly urgent and important to her. She falls in love with the 16th century lord of the manor, Richard de Mornay, and is haunted by the conviction that something terrible happened to him. Gradually, her two lives begin to mesh and Julia discovers why she was drawn to live her past life over again.

A gentle and beguiling story of romance, betrayal, and reincarnation, Mariana has an old-fashioned feeling to it. At one point, a character says, ‘What rot!’ which is what characters always say in my beloved old schoolgirl books from the 1930s. Julia’s brother is a vicar, which somehow adds to the Agatha-Christie-type atmosphere of this small English village, and the only sex scene happens offstage. The book was published in 1994, which is after the invention of the internet, but Julia’s brother must go to the library to dig up tales of reincarnation and past life flashbacks. So it’s difficult to pinpoint when the modern-day sections are set. I don’t mind this at all. I love books written in, or set during, the 1930s and 40s, and the book reminds me of time travel books I loved as a child, like Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pierce and A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley.

In a way, the timelessness of the story makes it even more enjoyable. And I can’t help wishing I could buy an old house in an English village, and discover I once lived there before …

You might also be interested in my review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 





BOOK REVIEW: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Set in a fading family estate nestled within the Chiltern Hills, this is the story of two summers, sixty years apart, woven together to reveal one dramatic family story.


My Thoughts:

I’ve been waiting for a new novel from Hannah Richell for a long time, having absolutely adored her two earlier novels, The Shadow Year and Secrets of the Tides. I got a real stomach flip of excitement when I saw this book with its gorgeous cover and intriguing title.

Like her earlier books, The Peacock Summer is a parallel narrative that moves between the stories of two women. It begins in Sydney in contemporary times, when Maggie learns of the illness of her beloved grandmother Lillian. Maggie goes back home to Cloudesley, her grandmother’s home in the Chiltern Hills, only to find the old manor house falling into ruin. Lillian is not strong, and there is no money left for the upkeep of the estate. To make matters worse, Maggie needs to face up to the consequences of actions in her past which have made her an outcast in the village.

Hannah Richell’s writing is swift and elegant and a pleasure to read, and she is masterful at lacing the narrative with atmosphere and suspense:

“She runs a hand over the huge, faded tapestry hanging across the wall – then turns to climb the curved staircase to her own room. Halfway up she stops and listens. There is no scrabble of dog paws on the tiled floor, no shuffle of newspaper pages from the library, no distant murmur from her grandmother’s radio. There is nothing; not even the glug of water moving through old pipes. This house, that has witnessed so much throughout the years – dinner parties and laughter, conversation and arguments, dancing and music – a house that had seen so much life, had so many people pass through its doors, stands utterly silent. It is unnerving to be its only occupant. What echoes would she hear – what stirrings from the past – if she only knew what to listen for?

Her eyes fall upon the grandfather clock in the hall and she turns and heads back down the stairs, blowing dust from the cabinet to wind it the way Lillian once showed her. She watches with a certain satisfaction as the pendulum begins to sway, a steady tick rising up out of the old clock like a resuscitated heart beating in a chest. One small thing corrected.
She doesn’t want to think yet of all the the wrongs she still needs to set right.”

The story then moves to her grandmother’s point-of-view. Lillian is in her mid-20s and married to the lord of the manor, a handsome powerful man named Charles Oberon. Yet she feels stifled and unhappy. One day her husband hires a talented young artist to paint the walls of a room in Cloudesley. His name is Jack, and he and Lillian fall in love. Yet it’s an impossible dream. Lillian is tapped by duty and obligation, and Charles is not a man to let go of what he holds.

Back and forth the two stories weave, touching lightly across the decades as Maggie begins to learn her grandmother’s long-held secrets as she struggles to save the house she loves. It’s a story of Maggie’s personal growth and change, as well as a story of mysteries and revelations, and I adored it just as much as I had hoped.

I was lucky enough to interview Hannah Richell back in 2012, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.



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