Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read Classics
Now, classics have a pretty bad rap. As the common thing that many students are forced to swallow in school, to the exclusion of all other types of literature, it's often associated by the YA audience as something boring and irrelevant and too dense for modern times. Therefore, I feel lucky to have been able to encounter a fair share of amazing classics, whether through required reading or self-discovery, and would like to share some of them with you, to see if you would be inspired to pick it up and see if you enjoy it as well!
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This classic is a tome at over a thousand pages, but it might be one of the most awe-inspiring tomes about revenge you'll ever read. The amount of detail Dumas writes into describing Dantes calculated, decade-long vengeance on a dozen high-status society members is completely amazing compared to some of the mysteries and revenge plots written today. I blazed through all 1300 pages of this in a little less than week, it was that engrossing. Get the unabridged Penguin Classics edition translated by Robin Buss and read read read.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What classics list of mine would be complete without this book? Austen effortlessly infuses her writing with the sort of "British parlor" humor (read: superficially pleasant but actually quite biting) that many contemporary authors don't quite seem to pull off. This 200-year-old love story still rings as passionately today as it did then--and maybe even more so.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The precursor to contemporary novels written in diary format. Also, in some ways, the precursor to the present-day YA novel, what with teenage Cassandra being the witty narrator--kind of like an early-twentieth-century British version of Jessica Darling (yes, that's right, that Jessica Darling)--and us seeing the unfolding of this book's events through her diary entries. There is quite a bit of giggle-inducing romance in here too.
4. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Another writer with the gift of a type of humor that is not as prevalent in today's writings. This collection of award-winning short stories is chock-full of hypocritical, ridiculous, and self-deluded characters. Now normally, I hate reading about whining and delusional characters, but O'Connor's "distant narration" makes it so that you're never supposed to empathize with the characters, and instead can gawk at them as specimens of the horrid potentials of humanity. My favorite story is "A Good Man is Hard to Find." That grandmother! That ending!
The Rebel of the Family by Eliza Lynn Linton
This strange Victorian novel may no longer be published outside of academic presses, it's still worth checking out if you're interested in Victorian novels, the New Woman movement in Victorian England, and the kind of odd writing that results in no characters we can connect with or really even admire, not even the protagonist. That may sound unappealing, but The Rebel of the Family is also quite amusingly sharp in its satire, in the style of Austen. There are definitely plenty of things to wonder about regarding the author's stance on women's rights, etc. I read this twice for two different English classes in college and found it a fascinating read each time.
6. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Eliot may be more well known for Middlemarch, but I like this one a little more, because of its slightly more accessible narration (as opposed to Middlemarch's often stifling "omniscient narration"). It's not every day that an author can make me both like a character yet want to throttle her at the same time. I also think that this novel contains one of the most romantic love letters I've ever read. But I won't spoil anything else for you. :)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
I don't know how to describe this novel. It's an expose on the scary lingering effects of the Vietnam War. It's poetry. It's a groundbreaking exploration of the capacity of the written language. It's so, so, so good.
8. The Complete Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales
Like fairy tale retellings but never read the originals? Nearly every single freaking fairy tale you can think of is in this ridiculous collection. Ridiculous because it is quite flabbergasting how morbid the Grimm Brothers were. Daughters willingly amputating themselves and villains pulled apart by horses and evil trolls stealing babies!
9. Sula by Toni Morrison
This is such an interesting take on female friendship by a stylistic powerhouse author. Morrison is a beautiful writer, and many parts of this will ring true to those who ever questioned the veracity and strength of their friendships.
10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I somehow managed to skip this growing up, but even reading it just a few years ago, I became utterly engrossed in the March women's lives. I tore through this book in two nights. It has the kind of familial and sisterly charm that I feel like anyone at any age can love.
What classics do you love and would recommend to other readers, like me?