Don’t know what to read? Pick up a “classic.”
There is a reason that some books survive the weathering of time and become classics. While we may not enjoy every read in that section of our library or bookstore, plenty of gems await those brave enough to read a work crafted by someone who lived 100 years or more before you spoke your first word.
Yes, the language is sometimes stilted or contains linguistic quirks of the day. You may also need a little historical information to provide context to the story (e.g., knowing about the Napoleonic Wars helps when reading War and Peace). It isn’t always as easy as picking up a contemporary work of fiction and breezing through it over a Starbucks’ coffee mug on the weekend. But a classic is often worth the effort. Classics, after all, are considered the best of the best.
Several years ago, Penguin Classics came out with its 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die List. Several others have compiled lists of recommended reads in the classic literature area. Library Booklists has a wonderful page linking to several of these. As for myself, here are a few I think just about everyone should pick up at one time or another:
1984 by George Orwell – Orwell expertly wrote this dystopian novel in which the totalitarian government has eyes and ears in the form of the Brotherhood and one man’s love affair comes at great personal cost. Because of this novel, I still shiver when I hear the words “Room 101.”
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This is the sprawling tale (as Tolstoy is wont to write) of Anna Karenina, a woman whose marriage is unsatisfying and whose affair has consequences. This novel also covers the politics of the day, while keeping readers engaged with the personal life of the protagonist.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Certainly one of my favorites of all time, this is a story of murder, love, choices, and consequences. Enough said.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Perhaps the most romantic character in literature, Don Quixote is half-mad and full of charm. An ardent believer of chivalry, he is in pursuit of adventure and Dulcinea – the object of his affection. So many quotable lines are in this book; I wish I had highlighted them all.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – The vampire book that started it all! Stoker’s rendition has a creepiness all its own, and the vampire on these pages is quite different from the Dracula portrayed in films – far more menacing, I think.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The best of the Brontë sisters is perhaps this novel in which Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Adéle, whose guardian is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Jane and Rochester fall in love, but Rochester has a secret that threatens their happiness.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Emma desires more than the boring life she leads with husband Charles Bovary, and she gets it. Two love affairs and her fluctuating financial status give her life an up-and-down experience that has an impact on the people around her as well.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s a toss-up for which Jane Austen book one should read, but this may be the most beloved. Austen’s writing is always witty and enlightening, and the story of the Bennett daughters and proud Mr. Darcy is engaging throughout.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – The scarlet letter is an “A”, and if you don’t know why, you need to find out. Hester Prynne’s pregnancy brings her shame and punishment in mid-17th century Boston, and the identity of the baby’s father overshadows her and the town.
What would be on your list of must-read classics? Do you have any goals to read classic literature? What classics have you not read yet but want to?