Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is, "Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read X," and I have chosen to write about...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!

1. 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.

3. 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!

5. 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. :)

7. 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?


  1. Great choices! I'd also recommend East of Eden by John Steinbeck (a surprising page-turner), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

  2. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my FAVORITE BOOKS EVER. I will absolutely second your recommendation of the Robin Buss edition, that's the one I read and it has a place on my literal favorites shelf. I love love love that it made your list!

    And Little Women is pretty much my perfect dead of winter book - mainly because I read it in the dead of winter and I just like thinking about those March girls and how they sacrifice their Christmas breakfast for the poor. Sigh.

    Love this list and love that YOU have turned the notion of classics are boring on it's head with your rocking list.

  3. Great list! I have not read a few of these that I probably should have read already. Little Women is one of my all time favorites.

  4. I LOVED Little Women, and I have the Count of Monte Cristo sitting in my Kindle waiting to be read, so I'm super-excited that more than one person thinks it's amazing. Bring on the classic 1000-page tomes!

  5. I'm really not a big classics reader, mainly because I have to read so many for school and that's just enough for me..

    My Tuesday Postsd

  6. I agree with Pride and Prejudice, but I also liked Emma.

    I would recommend Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, and The Great Gatsby (if you didn't read it for school).

  7. I think Anne of Green Gables can win anyone over, Anne Shirley is just too endearing :) I adored lIttle Women and P&P as well, awesome list!

  8. Steph, I'm honestly SO surprised you didn't put Anne of Green Gables on here. Arguably (in my opinion) the best example of a young adult novel that is a "classic". I think about it and mentally sigh. *sigh*

    1. John, it was on my longlist. Then I decided I needed to have a combination of more well-known classics and less well-known, for older audiences and younger.

  9. Oh, The Things They Carried! This has been an object of total fascination for me for ages. I've never read it, but I'm totally going to soon.
    Little Women, too. I feel so bad that I've never read it! I'm named after one of the characters and I've never read it. The shame.
    I love that you made this list though. Classics always get a bad rap.

  10. One of my favorite under-loved classics is Lorna Doone. Kind of unaccessible language, but I was laughing my way through that entire thing. Good stuff!

  11. And, of course, I meant inaccessible.

  12. I can't believe that I forgot to put Tim O'Brien on my list this week. The Things They Carried is one of my all-time favorite books. I know I need to read some Dumas, because everyone loves it, but it is just so big...

  13. I read a fair number of classics but I am embarrassed to admit that I haven't read any on this list except P&P!

  14. Rebel of the Family just went on the list for research purposes. Sounds like something I would adore.

  15. So happy to see The Things They Carried on your list! The others are great as well, but I feel like this particular book isn't appreciated enough for how awesome it is. I loved it!

  16. Yes to Pride and Prejudice and Little Women! :) Also Jane Eyre? I only read it last year before I read April Lindner's retelling. I already have a copy of I Capture the Castle, should bump it up the TBR pile.

  17. Fantastic list! love that you included I Capture the Castle! one of my favortites!

  18. I Capture The Castle is amazing and easily one of my favorite classics, too! I'd actually never heard of it until a few years back, when I read a book blogger's review (Nymeth, I think!) and promptly bought a copy. I waited to take it on my trip through the UK last year, and that proved to be an awesome move on my part. Yay for Dodie Smith!

  19. I love your list - and I'm definitely checking out the ones I haven't read yet. Thanks for the awesome suggestions!

  20. It really is creepy how we can be on the same wavelength, Steph. I have one book in your list on my wish list (Grimm's fairy tales), and another I just purchased last year (The Things They Carried). And just having these two on your list make me feel like we're some sort of bookish soul mates. Your love of classics, contemporary, fantasy and basically your eclectic collection/love of books is what I love about your reading tastes! You always surprise me!


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