Monday, April 18, 2016

Tristram Shandy

Of Charlottesville, this can be said: it's residents have eclectic reading taste. If you're a long-time reader, you may remember that I'm not as delighted with Charlottesville as most people seem to be. I moved here against my will and even after eighteen years, my homesickness for Buffalo is like a wolf ceaselessly clawing at my heart. However, one good thing about Charlottesville is that it is such a bookish town. I have long noticed that the "recently returned" cart at the library always holds books that are a cut above the dross that seems to entertain most Americans.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I tried to check out Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy from the public library and got this error message: THIS BOOK MAY NOT BE CHECKED OUT BECAUSE A HOLD REQUEST HAS BEEN PLACED FOR IT. Tristram Shandy (1759) on library hold. Only in Charlottesville. Fortunately, our library owns two copies, so I turned mine over to the desk clerk and checked out the other one. So everyone in Cville got their Laurence Sterne fix and we all lived happily ever after.

Why in the world was I even reading Tristram Shandy? I'd read it once before, many years ago, and didn't particularly enjoy it and now I can't remember what prompted me to add it to my book list to read again.

It's a lighthearted, comic novel, about the life of one Tristram Shandy, gentleman, but there are so many diversions and side tales that two hundred pages pass before he's even born. Which I believe was intended to be the point of this novel, if there is one. Mostly we hear about Tristram's parents and his uncle Toby, who suffered an unfortunate battle injury to his "groin." Indeed, some of the funnier moments in the book are when the woman that Uncle Toby is courting contrives to find out if, despite the groin injury, he is still able to shake a leg, as it were.  It's not a bad book, but the 21st century mind (or at least, my 21st century mind) has difficulty processing 18th century literature.

But not to worry, it was made into a movie in 2005, starring Steve Coogan as Tristram and Rob Bryden as Uncle Toby. The movie is not a straightforward re-telling of the book (there is nothing straightforward about Tristram Shandy) but is about making a movie of Tristram Shandy, in which sometimes the characters are in character and sometimes they play themselves. I enjoyed it, but it might not be to everyone's taste. My children objected to the many scenes in which Keeley Hawes is bellowing in childbirth agony.

Tristram Shandy is also one of the books on my Fifty Classics list. A few years ago, I joined a project in which bloggers agreed to each create their own list of fifty classic works of literature to read within five years. The original project is now defunct and the link to the blog post that started it is broken, but I'm sticking to it. I now have only ten months until my deadline and 18 books left to read.  Up until this point, I worked through the list at a rate of about eight books a year and now I need to read eighteen in ten months, a considerable stepping up in my fifty classics game. Luckily, I read most of the difficult books first and what's left (listed below) will mostly be fun, cozy reads. There's a lot of Anthony Trollope because I wanted to read the full series of his Barchester books, followed by his parliamentary books which spring from the Barchester series. (If you want to see the complete fifty classics list, go here.)

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Currently reading)
Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley
Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth
Framely Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (Currently reading)
The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell


  1. Congratulations on your book list progress. I haven't read Tristram Shandy but Coogan and Bryden are gold in that movie.

    I can't ever get a book when I want it from the local library. I'm always something like 79 out of 80 holds. By the time a book is available I can't remember why I wanted it.

  2. I've had great luck with the new book shelves, but I don't attempt to read classics. Although I may have read at least one of those books on your list and enjoyed it.
    The last few holds I've picked up have been large print readers - I didn't think I had put that particular version on hold, but I don't need my glasses to read them, so I think I'm starting to like them.

  3. I thought "Tristram Shandy" was fun, perhaps because of the stage of life I was in when I read it (some time after college, but before children). It has no point, and that's the point of it, I think. I wouldn't classify it as a novel, but it must have pretended to be a novel in its time. In my dim recollection, it doesn't seem to me that there would be a movie to be made out of that book. It's all 18th century literary silliness, yes?

    Enjoy the rest of your classics reading. And thank you for posting about them!