Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

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?

18 thoughts on “Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

  1. Wow. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read as many of those books as I should have (or as many as I thought I would have before clicking on the list). I own several of them though, waiting to be read (A Tale of Two Cities and Lolita, to start with as well as a collection of the Bronte sister's books). I think my favorite classics I'd recommend to anyone would be The Count of Monte Cristo and Crime and Punishment.

  2. I'm a bit surprised that I have read quite a few of the titles listed. Dracula is the most read out of that list. It holds one of the greatest chapters I have ever read. I try to add one classic a year to my reading list. This year I think it will be Les Miserables

  3. @Erin – I haven't read A Tale of Two Cities, Lolita, or The Count of Monte Cristo. Yikes! I'd better get busy.@Jeff – I love the idea of a classic a year. We should at least be able to manage that, right?

  4. Are Tennessee Williams's plays considered classics? I love those so much. To a great degree, they influenced how I write and what I write about. My favorite is probably Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I am haunted by Zola's Germinal. Very gritty and dark. Very disturbing at times.When I'm in the mood, I read Flannery O'Connor. Is she considered classic? "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is one of the best short stories I've ever read.Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is another favorite. I've thought about having the first line, "Ships as a distance have every man's wish on board" tattooed on me. It's so true. So much truth in Zora Neale's work.Thanks for the cool blog post. 😀

  5. I have read all of the listed books! Hello, my name is River Jordan and I'm a bibliophile. lol It truly is an addiction. One summer I read nothing but dentistry books! lol (not ashamed) But there are some classics that I want to re-read. Like books that were required reading in school: Odyssey, Iliad. But I would rather someone suggest some for me. 🙂 <–big smile.Thank you for your post! 🙂

  6. I'm sure many of us have read at least a few of these books but I have to say I don't remember the real content of them. Now I want to enjoy them again. I read the blurbs and I want to read 1984 again and perhaps a few others. Crime and Punishment was one of my most favorite books in college.Patti

  7. I just read an article about Gone with the Wind and how controversial it is now because of the way our perception/acceptance of the times has shifted since it was published 75 years ago. I think, like Huck Finn, if you look at a classic as you said, with an idea of the times, you'll have a much better experience, and a more fulfilling one in that you can actually learn something about how life was when these stories were written. When I bought my NOOK, several classics were pre-installed. Pride and Prejudice, and Dracula were among them. I've since discovered that many of them are 'free' for the NOOK. I often wonder why that is, but don't complain. I download all that I can, then share them with my daughter for our homeschool literature class. Can't beat the classics!

  8. I'm going to take your suggestions next time I head to the library, y'all! (@River – so impressive how much you've read.)And classics are often found for free online or through ebook readers because there is no one left to pay royalties to – no author, no estate to get their cut.

  9. I have read 6 of these. I haven't read Crime and Punishment, but I did read The Brothers Karamozov, which I loved. There's another classic that not many people seem to read or know about, and that is Lorna Doone. I absolutely adored that book.

  10. I love, love, love this post! I'm a big fan of classic literature…and I'm proud to say that I've read every single one of these!I'd also recommend in addition to any Shakespeare:Lord of the FliesTo Kill a MockingbirdWuthering HeightsLittle Women The Illiad and The Odyssey

  11. I love that Catie mentioned Germinal.To be added to anyone's list:The Gulag Archipelago.A Confederacy of Dunces.Jane Eyre was one of my earliest "big girl" books. My mom told me I could read it, but only if I looked up the definitions to a LIST of words she had written down from when she wrote it that she knew I wouldn't understand.I completed the list, then read the book. 🙂

  12. Jane Eyre – one of my favorites that I've never read. Ok I listened to it. Unabridged. And finally someone mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird. May I add something a bit more contemporary: Fried Green Tomatoes. I believe that to be a southern tale of love, love lost and the very best of BFFs, of which I am very fond. And then there's Winnie the Pooh. Yes, a child's tale but full of innocent wisdom.

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