Joining the Classics Club

Another year, another new reading project; but this one is for the long term. The Classics Club is a blogging initiative that works like this: make a list of at least fifty classic books (in this case, ‘classic’ means at least 25 years old; the rest is up to the selector); set yourself a deadline of up to five years; read and blog about those books in that timeframe. I first caught on to the idea when JacquiWine announced last month that she would be joining in. It sounded fun, but I was a bit reticent about taking the plunge myself: not that I couldn’t make that big a list, or read that many books in five years; it was just the idea of ‘pinning down’ my reading to that extent.

But then I started thinking about all the books I might choose; and I realised that, if I selected books in the right way, I wouldn’t be able to resist. There would be no point in (say) filling a list with all the 19th century novels I didn’t read at school, because that simply isn’t the direction I want to read in. So my list leans more heavily towards the twentieth century.

I set myself three rules: no authors I’d read before; no more than one title per author; and at least half of the books would be by women. I put the list together from books I already had; books in the local library; lists found online and elsewhere; names I’d heard recommended by trusted sources; specific recommendations from Twitter. Thanks to everyone who helped me compile this list, whether they know it or not:

  1. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  2. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  3. Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard
  4. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  5. Go When You See the Green Man Walking by Christine Brooke-Rose
  6. The Snow Ball by Brigid Brophy
  7. The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú
  8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  9. The Square by Choi In-hun
  10. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
  11. The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras
  12. The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
  13. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
  14. Sphinx by Anne Garréta
  15. Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke
  16. The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower
  17. When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head
  18. Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain
  19. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  21. Ice by Anna Kavan
  22. Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
  23. Tainaron by Leena Krohn
  24. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  25. Nada by Carmen Laforet
  26. Passing by Nella Larsen
  27. Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  28. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  29. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  30. The Shiralee by D’Arcy Niland
  31. The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain
  32. A Void by Georges Perec
  33. Berg by Ann Quin
  34. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
  35. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
  36. Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
  37. Transit by Anna Seghers
  38. Moses Ascending by Sam Selvon
  39. Leg Over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq
  40. The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa
  41. The Palace by Claude Simon
  42. A School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov
  43. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
  44. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  45. The Door by Magda Szabó
  46. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor
  47. The Dark Philosophers by Gwyn Thomas
  48. Kaalam by M.T. Vasudevan Nair
  49. Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch
  50. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I’m going to give myself the full five years to work through these (so that’s 31 December 2020); but could still finish sooner. My  plan is to choose one at random to read each month, with the option of reading more if I wish. This month will be an exception, because I already know that I’m going to start with Mrs Dalloway (and that’s because of a different project, which I’ll go into when the time comes).

I’ve created a separate page on the blog here to keep track of my progress. My hope is that this list will become a seed which enables my reading to sprout off in many fruitful directions, and I look forward to sharing the results with you in the months and years ahead.


  1. I really feel that I should do the Classics Club too, especially since you and Jaqui have joined and I do read and review a lot of classics. You have a great list. I read and loved Villette, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, The Door and The Dirty Dust. Good luck with your list!

  2. Oh, that’s a good idea, a good criterion for putting books your list. I have to say I had assumed that any list in this challenge would be full of books not read from school, so it’s good to see this take on it.

  3. Great list! If I was in any way successful with challenges I would join up for this, but I fail every time. Look forward to following your progress!

  4. You are making me feel very old! 25 years ago I was 30, so I remember some of these when they were brand new. How depressing. Best of luck, you have garnered quite a nice diverse list here.

  5. Darn it, you’ve been far more thoughtful with making your list than I was. So now I’m feeling I could have made better choices. I have made a few small changes but since I’m half way through the list it’s too late for a wholesale rethink now.

    • Hi, Karen. I guess people just choose books that feel right to them at the time. Certainly there are some titles that I would have liked to include but left out, because I wanted to keep my list to 50 – and I’m sure there will be more in future that I’ll wish I’d thought of earlier.

  6. This is a really eclectic and interesting list – I’ve only read 11.
    Have you read Christine Brooke-Rose before? I’m keen to hear what you think.

    • Thanks, Grant – I can’t wait to get stuck into it. No, I haven’t read Brooke-Rose before; but I have wanted to read her for a while, so here is my pretext. There are quite a few other authors on the list for that same reason!

  7. I’m so glad you’ve decided to join in, David – and thanks for the mention, very kind. That’s a terrific list of books you’ve put together. I’ve only read 9 of them, but they were all remarkable in some way. Anna Kavan’s Ice is amazing – that book blew me away when I read it a few years ago. I loved Nada and Transit, too.

    Best of luck with the project – I’ll be following your progress with interest.

  8. Well, you’ve certainly chosen some beaut books there. I’m pleased to see Christina Stead, Elizabeth Harrower and D’Arcy Niland, and I look forward to seeing your reviews:)

  9. As I said when I wrote about it David, Don Quixote is actually two separate novels (published a decade apart) that for some reason not particularly clear to me are now always packaged as a single mammoth novel so making it much more daunting than it has any need to be. I took a year’s gap between the first and second novel, and it really helped in approaching it. I genuinely think you’ll love it when you get to it, particularly the second novel which cures all of the faults of the first (I think it was my novel of the year in one of the recent years).

    Oranges of course I love. Odd to think of it as a classic.

    Anyway, great list, but five years? I have never in my life been confident of living so long. I struggle to plan for five months (which probably explains a lot about my life…) Five years is famously the length of the Starship Enterprise’s mission – I don’t think I could have a reading plan stretching over that kind of duration.

    • Thanks for the comment, Max. That’s interesting to know about Don Quixote – I may well read it as two books when I get to it.

      To be honest, it felt strange to me to list some of these books as classics, even though I haven’t read them, because I don’t think of thirty-year-old books (or forty- or even fifty-) as ‘old’. But, if they meet the Classics Club criteria and fit with what I want my list to be, I’m happy to be pragmatic… 🙂

      Five years: I know! It’s not normally like me at all to go in for something as structured as this. I felt I could only do it if it didn’t feel like a reading plan, and actually the length of time helps me with that, To read these in (say) two years would be a plan; five years feels more like a habit I want to get into, or a hobby-within-a-hobby.

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