Monday, June 17, 2013

Classic Books Everyone Should Read

When I was an actual young adult (between the ages of 14 and 18), I mostly read classic literature. The longer, the more ponderous, and the more pretentious the tome, the likelier it was I would love it. Seriously, give fifteen-year-old me a nineteenth-century, five-hundred page Russian snoozefest full of winter and wheat and guilt (lots and lots of guilt), and I was perfectly happy. Now that I'm an actual adult (shudder), I read almost nothing but YA. I guess that's a bit backwards, but... WHATEVER.

But I still love me some classics. Even though a lot of classics? They actually SUCK. They're old fashioned. They need editing. They're slow. And a lot of the time they're actually kind of racist and sexist and stuff. Because, obviously, they were written way back in ye olden times, before air conditioning and toothpaste and freedom, and things sucked a lot back then. Except for the clothes.

I'm friends with a LOT of reluctanct readers, sadly. Most of my friends are also young adult snobs who poo poo the "tween" reads (THEIR LOSS, OBVIOUSLY, AND THEY SHALL BE SUMMARILY KEELHAULED AS SOON AS I GET MYSELF A PIRATE SHIP.) So what do I recommend to them when they need to increase their reading repertoire? Some good, healthy classics, of course. These are the ones I love most dearly--not only for being famous, not only because they're necessary reads for being a well-informed indivudual, but because they're just plain GOOD.

Books I recommend to the Classically Challenged But Romantically Inclined:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you didn't see this coming, you don't know me. I love all of Jane Austen's work (even parts of Mansfield Park... ish), but the one that's easiest for people who aren't used to reading classics is P&P. It's funny, chatty, sparkly, and bright. There are romantical misunderstandings and zero imagery, plus, you know, Mr. Darcy. So.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I almost put A Christmas Carol on here instead, because it's super short and the first Dickens I read (in second grade, and I didn't understand a word of it, but IT HAD PICTURES), but I couldn't leave Sydney Carton off this list. This book is AWESOME. It's about the French revolution and mistaken identies and super hot misunderstood men and, yes, a bland heroine, but so many THINGS are happening. Definitely one of Dickens' most entertaining reads, for sure. The final scene is a thing of BEAUTY. I could talk about it all day.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
A love story about class and high society, set in New York city at the end of the nineteenth century. It's gorgeous and romantic and wonderful. I also recommend The Custom of the Country, which is probably a more fun book, and advise you to stay as far away from the depressing and dour Ethan Frome as you can get.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Nobody ever remembers poor Anne--of the three writerly Bronte sisters, she is by far the least famous--but I actually like her best. Well, almost. I love Charlotte a whole bunch (read Villette, you guys!), but the less said about my feelings for Wuthering Heights, the better. (Even though it's partially Charlotte's fault Tenant isn't more famous but WE WON'T GET INTO THAT NOW). Anyway, Tenant is an absolutely wonderful book, and it was my conversation with Renae about Gilbert Markham (mmm) that inspired this post. He's definitely one of my book boyfriends.

Classics for the weird people who cannot stand romances between women in petticoats and hot men in breeches, even though that is my favorite genre of things:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
I have never laughed harder at a war book in my life. I mean, it's a satire, so you're supposed to laugh at it. It's good fun and makes you think at the same time.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The best war book I have EVER READ. It's about the Vietnam War and is told in vignettes that will shatter your little heart to smithereens. We read it in my eleventh grade English class and I've loved it ever since. It captures the randomness and brutality and ugliness and heart of war so well.

Classics with completely awesome movie/TV adaptations:

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
THIS BOOK. Don't get me started on the swoon-worthy awesome that is this book. A cultured girl from the south of England moves to a dirty factory city in the north and of course all kinds of THINGS happen, like hot mill owners called John Thornton who happen to have Richard Armitage's face.

I'm so hot and handsome and rich, won't someone please marry me?

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
I put this book on my last Top Ten Tuesday (books about travel) because it's one of my favorites ever. It's cutely romantic, which is rare for a classic and even rarer for Forster. So many "great" books think it's deep to end on this horribly depressing note just to be depressing, but ARWaV is invigorating, romantic, and insightful. Bonus: you get to travel to Florence! And fall in love with hot boys! And the movie is glorious.

Serious Ph.D level classics that will change your life (but require PATIENCE and FOCUS):

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I love Russian literature, but I can see why it's tough. A bad translation can kill you, they are VERY long and dour and full of suffering, and they talk about their suffering and Christ's agony and the saints a whole bunch. But I like that. C&P starts off with a murder and zooms off from there. It's probably my favorite Russian novel (except for the epilogue. Do yourself a favor and skip it).

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The most beautifully written book in the history of Planet Earth. Yes, the subject matter is a little squicky (it's about a grown man in love with a twelve-year-old girl), but it's a fabulous book. Pedophilia is OBVIOUSLY NOT CONDONED by Nabokov, nor is this book trying to make you condone it. It's just a fantastic book about a messed up guy, a complicated girl, and the most complex language there is. I recommend the annotated version, by the way. It should clear up all confusion on the rich but daunting text.

Books I didn't bother to put on here but that you should read if you haven't because THEY'RE GOOD: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1984 by George Orwell, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (not a blueprint for a healthy romantic relationship, but Jane herself is awesome).

I have so many other favorites I just can't get to right now, obviously. What are some of your favorite classic novels? Which do you recommend to people? Why ones do you want to get to?


  1. Ohh I like this post! There's actually quite a few classics I love. P&P is seriously one of my personal favs, I've read it so many times! And Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? Umm yes, please. Tale of Two Cities, OMG. I don't like much of Dickens actually but I absolutely loooved tale of two cities. I named my goldfish Darnay back in the day. (I wanted to name him Carton but I thought Carton was a weird name for a fish.) I'm not a huuge fan of the Brontes but that's me. I've also never read North & South, just watched the mini series (holy crap, richard armitage, I love you). I feel like I should check out the book sometime though!!

    1. Darnay! That's such a cute name for a fish! I feel like a fish could also pull off Carton, but that is a kind of a strange name! Check out Anne! She's nothing like the other Brontes at all. BUT NORTH & SOUTH. I actually love the mini series a teeny bit more, but having watched and loved it, you should love the book too!

  2. North and South! I don't think I've ever rooted so much for a couple as with Margaret and Thornton. The moment he brings her sick mother that fruit basket ... He's completely adorable and perfect but of course Margaret does NOTHING until the absolute last pages. I really should get on The Age of Innocence but The House of Mirth has been on-hold for over a year, which is weird because I really liked it. Oh, and I'm pretty mad at myself that I still haven't read Lolita but soon! Yup yup I like this post.

    1. YES! Ugh, Margaret, you frustrate me. John Thornton is obviously perfection personified. Ooh, I love The House of Mirth! I could have easily put that on this list.

  3. Look at all the bothers I give! Bahahahaha

    Also, pop culture twin, I also read adult books until I became an adult. Winning. This clearly produces excellent people.

    LOL at your description of classics. Oh, Gillian. I love you.

    P&P = best book ever. Also, I need to reread this, because LOVE.

    Bleh, did not care much for AToTC or TAoI though, ngl. Must read Anne Bronte.

    Catch 22 = one of my favorites. Haven't read O'Brien yet, but I do love me some Vietnam War fiction and nonfiction. Random, I know.

    Also, the book of North & South wasn't really my thing as much but I live for this miniseries, which we will watch soonishly.

    A ROOM WITH A VIEW. YES YES YES. SO MUCH YES. After the eternal why there is a yes and a yes and a yes.

    C&P was good, but so slow. Like, no matter how much you love it, SLOW.

    Too lazy to list my faves. Sorry bud.

    1. POP CULTURE TWIN. P&P, obviously. I too need a reread.

      Aww, this saddens me that you don't like AToTC. But we can't be the SAME IN EVERYTHING, or I'd worry. TAoI...I understand why that doesn't work for some people. But I like it!

      YES CATCH 22. And oh my God. The Things They Carried. You absolutely HAVE to read that! It's sort of fiction-non-ficiton bled, drawn from his own experiences in Vietname. Mindblowing.

      The miniseries IS better, actually (TRAIN STAAAAATION), but I still love it. And yes, we will watch soon!


      Haha, I love how apologetic you are about disagreeing with me. It's really okay. C&P IS slow, and there's a lot of wandering around St. Petersburg thinking about Jesus, but I'm a nutter, and I like that.

  4. I, too, used to read Adult books, but then you know, became an adult and went back to YA and children's books. THEY ARE JUST SO MUCH FUN.

    I couldn't get into the book North and South, but man, that mini-series owns my heart to no end.

    1. See, this seems completely normal to me too!

  5. I'm reading 'A Tale of Two Cities' right now! It's great.

    And your little description of 'North and South', complete with the 'look back at me!!!' gif has my sister and me in tears. Seriously, we are laughing so hard. That's the best period drama ever. We volunteer too.

  6. What a fantastic post! I am completely illiterate when it comes to classical reads and I HATE IT. Serious, out of all the books on your list I've only read Lolita. And I only read it this past year. Nope, I haven't even read Pride and Prejudice. In your little short list I actually have read The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 (which 1984 is one of my all-time favs ever) so at least there's that. I have plans to read The Count of Monte Cristo soon but we'll see. :)

  7. Oh, I'm a huge lover of classics too! I spent one whole summer when I was a teen getting through all 1000 pages of Gone With The Wind! I need to read a book by Anne, people keep telling me she's awesome! And some of the others on your list I haven't read either. Oh, you know what book you need to read "Jubilee Trail" by Gwen Bristow. You're welcome!

  8. I think this is a wonderful post, Gilly, especially because a lot of people think those of us who love the classics are snobs. NOT TRUE!

    Many of my favourites are more gothic, such as: Dracula (love me some Bram, don't read the sequel!), Frankenstein, and pretty much anything by Poe. I also dig Animal Farm (as a child loved it for the animals, as an adult loved it for the Commies) and Lord of the Flies (the original dystopia). And I can't forget Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. You just gotta laugh sometimes.

  9. Love this post! I love to read Classics, I've read all Jane Austen books and they are definitely not boring. I know how you feel, most people my age I know don't even read, let alone read classics. I will check out the book I have not read from your recommendations:)
    If you love dystopian books, you should also read Brave New World and Lord of the Flies!

  10. There are surprisingly a few on here that I haven't read. I actually just read Jane Eyre and loved it! Also, I think Gone with the Wind is another must read. As well as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Oh and Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. I could just go on and on.

  11. Great list. One of my favs is Captain Blood by Sabitini.

  12. On this list, I've only read Pride & Prejudice (which I loved), but I just can't muster up the excitement to read a classic when the new hotness' are staring at me in the bookstores! Haha

    I need to find a challenge, or set myself a classics goal, so encourage more classic reading.

  13. Okay, I am NOT a fan of classics, but I agree with you about Lolita. One of my favorite books I've ever read. Funny, I guess I never really considered it a classic, for whatever reason. Which may be why I am more inclined to read it in the first place. :P

  14. Well, I really enjoyed reading Gone With the Wind, Frankenstein (my favorites), Jane Eyre and one other that I'm totally forgetting right now. Oh well.

    I already own Crime and Punishment so I think I should get to it like, real soon. Also, The Great Gatsby because I want to watch that movie!

  15. Clearly I need to explore your blog more as I've just come across this post. You are not alone in the classics reading department haha...I was one of those weird kids that LIKED most classic literature. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite novels of all time, as is 1984. Doing this week's TTT for book pairings reminded me how outdated our "classic literature" is, so I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way!


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