Monday, May 23, 2011

Going to the Classics (Book Nerds Unite)

As #BookNerdsUnite continues, you might be tempted to look at today's category and run in the opposite direction.

We might associate the classics with feelings of dread leftover from high school English. We may have plowed through some jewel of literature and found it utterly boring. Or worse, it might have made us fall asleep in the first chapter. I'm not saying I ever wrote a paper on The Brothers Karamazov without having finished reading it. And yes, I am saying I should give that particular one another try.

But I'd rather have my eyes plucked out before reading The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man again. Kill. me. now.

I'm sure I'm not alone here. While the bad ones stand out in our minds, it's important that we pay homage to the good ones.  There's a reason the same books are hailed throughout the years- and it's not just so English majors can sound self-important as they discuss symbolism and the hidden meaning behind every nook and cranny.

I fully admit one man's literary trash is another man's literary treasure. Either way, classics still speak to us today.

I'm sure I'm forgetting many but here are my favorite classics:

The Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger The best book I read in 1997. Eye opening.

East of Eden- John Steinbeck Another Book Club read. The first 100 pages were torturously slow but my perseverance paid off.

A Farewell to Arms- Ernest Hemingway A love story set during the Great War, Hemingway does not offer easy answers or happy endings. It's Papa's way or the highway.

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald Loved everything about this, from the 1920s setting to our narrator who navigates the world of his opulent neighbors.

Hamlet- Shakespeare We memorized the "to be or not to be" speech in senior year English and it has stuck with me. You just can't go wrong with Shakespeare!

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte This Gothic romance had me enthralled with the brooding Mr. Rochester. I could not wait to find out what mysteries the house held for our heroine.

Les Miserables- Victor Hugo Whether you're familiar with the musical or not, you can't go wrong with this tale of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. Oh, Valjean.

Native Son- Richard Wright Bigger is held captive not only by his actions but the social and racial atmosphere of his time. Now that I reflect on it, I'm impressed that this was another high school English read.

Ordinary People- Judith Guest Portrait of the aftermath of grief in an everyday family and the splinters it leaves.

Persuasion- Jane Austen This was the last Austen novel I read and it turned out to be my favorite! I loved seeing the characters' lives intersect and how a misplaced or purposeful word here and there could alter the course of their lives.

The Picture of Dorian Gray- Oscar Wilde I was first exposed to this in a high school art class. We watched the movie- because hello, the painting is a central character! I later read the book, really a chilling moral tale.

Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen Mr. Darcy, need I say more?

Romeo and Juliet- Shakespeare I'm a sucker for a tragic love story. It probably didn't help that shortly after I read it, the movie starring DiCaprio and Danes came out. Also, I like to regularly wish my loud neighbors "a plague on both your houses." Someday they'll regret their ways, I'm just sure of it.

A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens Vive le France! Set during the French Revolution, Dickens paints a stark contrast between the haves and have nots.

Stay tuned for more reasons why Leigh Likes Books:

Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite classics?

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  1. Okay, nerd that I am (a deep and brooding one) I love the Russians, but hate the homeland's favorite son, Joyce. Worst ever. (gagging sounds)

    I love Catcher because everything is really about coming of age, isn't it? And Gatsby because class struggle is my most keen interest.

    I'm one of those mystical folks who can read 200 pages about a landscape and love every line, so Hardy and Michener are beloved to me.

    I like Shakespeare, but would rather see and hear it performed than read it.

    I know you are not from the south, you are gaining great grace in the love of things southern but alas you were no doubt nursed on other fare, but To KIll A Mockingbird is ( In my humble opinion) the finest piece of writing ever. It gets better every year and time I read it. Spend a little more time with me in Alabama and it will grow in and on you.

    This was fun. It's been way too long since I taught lit; loved it though.


  2. mmm, i like hardy, too, and to kill a mockingbird. my all time favorite is the sound and the fury, and othello is another great play.

    i tried to read portrait of an artist on my own and couldn't finish. same with on the road. not my bag.

  3. I don't have a lot of classics under my belt, there are a few I would love to read someday! I do love to kill a mockingbird.

    I had an amazing english teaching in high school that just brought literature to life for me and Catcher in the Rye was one of them, we did Lord of the Flies too.

    My goal in life before I die is to read Anna Karenina. I don't know why I just really want to say I've read Tolstoy. :)

  4. @Kim, Suzannah, and Jenn: I cannot believe I forgot To Kill a Mockingbird! That was a tragic oversight.

    @Kim, I'm not one of those people that likes 200 pages of scenery descriptions so I tend to skip Hardy. I'm not sure I've ever read Michener.

    @Suzannah, love Othello! I could probably list just about everything by Shakespeare. Thank you for feeling my pain about A Portrait.

    @Jenn, good English teachers make the biggest difference! Lord of the Flies is a great book but not great enough to make my favorites. I haven't read any Tolstoy yet but he's definitely on my list.

    @Shell, great book and great musical! You just can't go wrong.

  5. I love your list. The more I read Shakespeare (I teach English, so it's a lot), the more I love his words.

    I look at a crescent moon and think "like a silver bow, new bent to heaven." I leave something old for something new and think, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

    I also love Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.

    And I'm a massive fan of Middle Eastern literature. I love Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy (originally published in the 50s - in Arabic).

    Thanks for letting me gush.

  6. Seeing your list made me realize I've read more classics than I thought. It also made me think I need to read some of them again!

    One I would add to the list: The Good Earth


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