Hello, my name is Anna Campbell, and I’m a reading addict.
I’ll read anything, even, in the absence of other candidates, the back of the milk carton. Often the times I have amazed my friends into catatonia with something I read on a label.
My preferred method of intake is books. I’ve always loved books, right from the moment my parents read to me from the beautiful Oxford fairy tales editions when I was a mere toddler. An addiction to the glories of extravagant historical costume might have started then too, but that’s another story. I read all sorts of books from anywhere – books on my shelves, books belonging to other people, library books (Cleveland library was an early enabler).
Among those books were a large number that are considered classics. Many of those stories have stayed with me, subject to multiple re-reads. I believe one of the definitions of a classic is that it can stand up to return visits and show you something new each time.
These days I write romance for a living, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my favourite classics involve a heartfelt love story or two, even if a happy ending isn’t guaranteed (although I think it’s noteworthy that the greats of the past weren’t at all afraid of happy endings!). So I thought I might share a few of my favourite 19th century novels that double as great romances.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It’s really sad that W&P has this awful reputation as an unreadable behemoth when it’s a string of fabulous stories in one luscious whole. Even the bits of book where Tolstoy tells you his theories of history and war are interesting – although perhaps not quite as interesting as Natasha and Prince Andrei at her first ball or the wonderful ride through the snow with Masha and Nikolai. The characters in this epic tale are unforgettable, and so real, you can imagine that the Russian aristocracy might turn up for a picnic in the park across the road. I made the mistake of reading the death of Prince Andrei on a bus and made a complete fool of myself by dissolving into floods of tears. It’s just so perfectly written and it cuts straight to the heart. One of the many lovely things about War and Peace is that while it’s about great historical events, Tolstoy never loses sight of the effect these events have on the human level. Don’t be frightened off by the length – there are some wonderful romances, happy and sad, in this book. And Prince Andrei has to be one of the great romantic heroes!
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This one wears its heart on its sleeve. There are stages in my life when I think it’s my favourite book in the world. I’ve read it more times than I can count. If you’re looking for a ripsnorter of a romance novel, this one has it all – intrepid heroine doing it hard; Cinderella plotline; brooding, mysterious, aristocratic hero; a huge character arc for the hero and heroine so they’re more fulfilled, better people after all the drama; more gothic madness than you can poke a stick at; and a wonderful happy ending (I remember how much I loved “Reader, I married him” the first time I read it!).
Middlemarch by George Eliot
What does a dedicated reader study at university? English literature of course! Imagine a place where they actually want you to plough through several thousand pages a week – my idea of Nirvana. One of the wonderful things about someone else setting the reading list is discovering things that you probably wouldn’t have picked up off your own bat. Middlemarch is just such a book. This portrait of a small 19th century town is as epic in its own way as War and Peace. There is a cast of thousands and most of them pair up either happily or unhappily, so there are romances galore to gladden or sadden the heart. The heroine Dorothea Brooke is a gloriously ardent creation – intelligent and generous and so misguided. I love it when a character has a lot to learn before they get their happy ending. Most of the critics feel that the romance between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw is a bit of a fizzer, but when I read this book, I remember my powerful reaction when they finally got together. Guess that’s why I’m a romance writer and not a literary critic. Just as an aside, one of the most brilliantly written characters in this book is Dorothea’s repressive first husband, the Reverend Edward Casaubon, a man who gives vampires a run in terms of blood sucking. The first husband of my heroine Grace in Untouched was written as a homage to him in all his awfulness.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
I’m currently re-reading all the Austens (although I have a feeling Mansfield Park might wait a while). Northanger Abbey is the next one off the cab rank. Like most people, I adore Pride and Prejudice. The whole world loves watching Darcy and Lizzie struggle through the errors of their first impressions (First Impressions was Austen’s original title for the novel) and find love. But if I had to pick a favourite, I think I’d go for Persuasion which is much quieter but so heartfelt. The reunion romance is a staple of the romance genre and this one’s a corker. The heroine, quiet, gallant, perceptive Anne Elliot, knows she’s missed her chance when as a young, easily persuaded girl, she rejects the dashing Frederick Wentworth. What a bitter pill she has to swallow when Wentworth returns years later as a captain, a hero and, even more significantly, rich, to find a wife in the neighbourhood. He hasn’t forgiven Anne for turning her back on their love—but gradually her qualities win him back again from much flashier candidates. The scene toward the end when she proclaims the steadfastness of her love and he writes her a letter expressing his feelings always makes me cry. Definitely a lovely romance!
So there you have it – four great classics with wonderful love stories. Perfect for the romantic in all of us!
Anna Campbell is a Sunshine Coast writer who writes Regency-era historical romances for Grand Central Forever (USA), Harlequin Mills and Boon (UK) and HarperCollins Australia. Her latest release is WHAT A DUKE DARES (August 2014) and her website is www.annacampbell.info
This Indigenous Literacy Day, I want to share a few of my favourite Aboriginal authored “classic reads”.
Of course the definition of a classic is one that can be argued ad nauseam, and it’s difficult to argue against a title that the academy has decided is a “classic”. Trust me, I have tried!
So my personal classic reads are works by those I think were / are pioneers and change makers. These are the works I believe continue to make an impact on readers today, even though they may be decades old. These are works that I think all Australians should read to grasp a better understanding of our history, political landscape and the relationship of Australia’s First Nation peoples with the rest of the country.
I’ve decided to choose just a few works across genres and one anthology to make it slightly easier on myself, and to ensure there is something for every reading taste.
Why not add your classic to the list, and then take it to your local library or book club!
- Poetry – Kath Walker’s We Are Going (Jacaranda Press, 1964) was the first collection of poetry published by an Aboriginal person. It includes the “Aboriginal Charter of Rights” which calls for equality on all levels.
- Play – Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers written in 1968, it was first performed in 1988 as a protest against the bicentenary. Its also been performed by the Sydney Theatre Company under direction of Wesley Enoch.
- Fiction – Kim Scott’s Benang: from the heart (FACP, 2000) It was joint winner of the 2000 Miles Franklin Award and the QLD and WA Premiers’s Literary awards in the same year. The work has been translated into French and Indian, and in past few years has been taught on 21 separate university courses.
- Children’s – The Papunya School Book of Country and History (Allen & Unwin, 2003) – this multi-award winning book should be in every home and school library. It crosses genres: history, art, geography and more.
- The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature (Allen & Unwin, 2008) This ground-breaking work has 81 authors from Bennelong’s first letter in English in 1976 right through to Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air in 2007. It brings back into print works that show the evolution of Aboriginal writing over time, but also the themes and issues that remain to Aboriginal writers across genres.
Find more recommendations for reading by Anita here:
Join the discussion this month about #classicread. We will be focusing on all things classic in this discussion. Mark Twain defined a classic as a book which people praise but don’t read. There are plenty of books thought to be classics that we wish we had read, but don’t ever seem to actually get around to reading; books like Moby Dick, Ulysses and In Search of Lost Time often end up on that list. Classics have a bit of a reputation as dull, long or simply hard work, but this is a reputation that needs testing! Try this list.
Great British classics like Bleak House, Persuasion and North and South not only make the most delightful BBC miniseries, and don’t even get me started on the endless joy that is reading and watching Jane Eyre, but they are surprisingly wonderful reads as well. How many of today’s popular books will still be inspiring people in 200 years?
Not everyone enjoys the language of older classics, or can cope with the amount of description in classic novels (remember that without television or easy travel, how would you know what the world looked, smelt or tasted like?). Graphic novel versions can be a great way in for reluctant readers of classics and just another way to enjoy beloved tales for the rest of us. Then there are even more innovative versions such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries , telling the familiar story of Pride and Prejudice using Tumblr, Twitter and You Tube.
You might like to try some classic non-fiction such as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat or The Diary of Anne Frank, or children’s classics, which are surely those that we loved as a child, Dr Seuss, May Gibbs and Beatrix Potter books and also those more recent books that have been read over and over such as Hairy Maclary and Possum Magic.
The classics can take you back much further than Mr Darcy’s time, too. Find the origin of many of our English sayings, and stories so familiar, in Shakespeare. Experience medieval times in the enduring Icelandic sagas or discover the strong influences in our modern culture and society found in the literature of ancient Greece.
There is plenty of classic television available on DVD, as well as classic films; how about some Hitchcock? Then there are classic games to play – Ludo, Monopoly, Space Invaders or the properly old-school, I Spy! You may prefer to drool over some classic cars.
A classic for me is not necessarily a classic for you, so we’ll have a great discussion about the nature of a classic. What makes a modern classic? Is the Harry Potter series a classic because it has been so widely read, or are there other criteria that are more important? What modern books would you call classics?
While you are reading, playing or watching your #classicread, you might like to tweet about it using #classicread #rwpchat so that other people can have a conversation with you about your #classicread. You can add to the discussion on Pinterest too. You might like to post your photographs to Instagram or Flickr and use #classicread #rwpchat so others can share in your reading, watching and playing.
There will be a twitter discussion on 30 September starting at 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. 9.00pm New Zealand Time, 6.00pm Singapore Standard Time, 12.00 noon Central European Summer Time, 9am – 11am; 2pm – 4pm; 6pm – 8pm BST. Note this is a staggered discussion.
If you missed our discussion on Tuesday you can catch up with the tweets about #spaceread on Storify.
Thanks to everyone who joined this discussion, comments ranged from outer-space, television shows from the 1960s, the Apollo moon landing in 1969, gardening, architecture, spaces we like to read in and many many more.
What does #spaceread make you think about? Do you think about the space you are in, or the space which is faraway? Is it outerspace, space around you, or your inner world
There will be a twitter discussion, today, on 26 August starting at 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. 9.00pm New Zealand Time, 6.00pm Singapore Standard Time, 12.00 noon Central European Summer Time, 9am – 11am; 2pm – 4pm; 6pm – 8pm BST. Note this is a staggered discussion.
Use the tags #spaceread and #rwpchat as you discuss the reading, watching playing that is your experience of spaceread, so others can join in the conversation too.
The theme this month is #spaceread, so it would be great if you could photograph a space you enjoy reading, watching or playing in.
It can be the space, it could be with you reading, watching or playing in the space.
It would be great if you could share the photograph online. Please tag it with #spaceread #rwpchat so we can see where people like to read, watch or play.
January – #wellread
February – #shortread
March – #poetryread
April – #reflectread
May – #migrantread
June – #legalread
July – #chillread
August – #watchread
September – #localread
October – #darkread
November – #technoread
December – #sweetread
I am really looking forward to these themes and to experiencing the different ways Libraries around the world express and share them – books, movies, music, games.
A big thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion and to building the theme descriptions.
@CatyJ on behalf of the Read Watch Play twitter reading group and the NSW Readers Advisory group.