I’ve been wanting to to this challenge for a long time. Sometime last summer there’d been a discussion about the definition of a ‘classic’ and the creation of canon in one of my classes. This is not a new discussion and is one I’ve had many times in multiple classes over the course of my academic career.
The question of that is a ‘classic’ book is better thought of as ‘who decides what’s a classic book’. Historically that’s a question that’s been answered by white, straight, European men in positions of power. It also shapes what is considered ‘good’ writing, attributing positive characteristics to the work of those who are socially in power. There’s a reason why throughout history so many women published anonymously or under male pseudonyms.
But as I was mulling this all over, I came to the realization that although I know all this, I don’t really put it into practice. I primarily read books written by women, people of colour and Indigenous authors but rarely read ‘classics’. I can list tons of classics by men that I’ve never read but can only count the names of three women who wrote books that are considered classics by the Western literary canon, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters (which doesn’t even count since I don’t even know their first names!).
So this is a reading series aimed to rectify that, but also expand upon the notion of what is a ‘classic’ book, otherwise I’d read nothing but books by white British woman. Genres and time periods get awfully pedantic when categorizing books and often do more harm than good. At the slow pace of one book a month plus a review, I’m aiming to read books that are currently considered classics by women, classic books that were once popular but have fallen out of favour, modern classics, queer classics, classics by women of colour, translated classics, classics by Indigenous women, books that should have been classics but never were, and more. I’m also not just sticking to novels but am also opening the definition of classic up to poetry, journals, memoirs, short stories, correspondence and other pieces of writing that may not fit the Eurocentric definition of a classic.
This is more of a personal reading goal but anyone is welcome to join along. Please send any suggestions my way (particularly translated books) or check the list to see if they’re there. This challenge will start July 1st and the first book I’m going to tackle is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. A free ebook is available from the University of Adelaide both in epub and kindle format.