A 'Classic' stands the test of time and outweighs its rivals with cultural and systemic longevity. So how come with nearly every list of 'Classics' you find,the same famous titles always crop up time and time again (I'm looking at you Jane bloody Eyre...)
And why are the titles always such long, onerous stories with inbuilt sexism, racism or class-prejudice, presented in a largely inaccessible way? I felt it was time to devise 'My Own Kind Of Classics' list, varied in length, style, subject-matter and age; coming from someone who has previously had such an aversion to reading altogether, let alone the 'Classics', these books are my 'Spice Kit' reads; the prescribed basics for a hearty, well-rounded breadth of stories, rich in humour, emotion and genre.
Getting into the traditional, typical Classics can seem very over-whelming; I read my first at 17 and only then because it was on the syllabus. It can also seem like a bit of an elite club - 'So how many Classics have you read?'; my first A-level Literature lesson was particularly painful (with nearly everyone citing Shakespeare, Austen or Capote as their favourites, whilst I feebly had to say that 'I'm a fan of Man and Boy by Tony Parsons'). What I will say is that, by the end of the year, I was well into enjoying the Classics, and managed to find a way to approach them where I understood what was happening. And whilst I was arguably exposed late, with the terribly drab and predictable introduction that is Jane Eyre, they have only enriched my life further. I now own Hardy books for fun, Steinbeck is on my to read list and I thoroughly believe Orwell is a seminal writer for our time as well as his (I know I know, what a pretentious bookworm I've become).
As a small disclaimer I don't pretend to be any expert on 'what makes a Classic', even the ones I'm not keen on (*cough* Jane) I can still appreciate in the context they were written, and I am yet to venture into the worlds of Greene, Woolf, Joyce or Huxley, so this list is by no means exhaustive. Whilst there were many more titles I could put on this list (Defoe's 'Journey of a Plague Year' and Golding's 'Lord Of The Flies', of course, spring to mind) these are the titles that stand out to me, and have done really since I've read them. Please let me know if you think I have missed out any major Classics, if you want me to update this at any time or if you have your own books and stories (or even your own Classics) that I have left off this list.
The 'Classics'; the heavy-hitters you're likely to find on any decent 'Classics' list, because these titles really are pretty incredible, and do make up the backbone of My Kind Of Classics:
- Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
- The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
- The Turn Of The Screw, Henry James
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Outsider, Albert Camus
Drama; for when you fancy reading the story through dialogue and having to do little to set the scene yourself - a lazier, more comfortable read I find sometimes:
- The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
- The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
- The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams
'Childrens'; purposely in adverted commas because these stories are still applicable to our 'adult' lives for their moral messages and allowing us to value the joy in the everyday:
- The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- Peter Pan and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
- Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Poetry; try finding a Classics list where there's any poetry, or any other poetry than Plath's 'The Bell Jar'. I really struggled cutting this section down, because I think my fantasy Classics lists is all of Heaney's collections (plus his translation of Beowulf)...so here are a very select few poetry books for My Kind Of Classics:
- Station Island, Seamus Heaney
- Dart, Alice Oswald
- The Whitsun Weddings, Phillip Larkin
- Paradise Lost, John Milton
Short Stories; equally as valid and enjoyable as long-form fiction:
- To Esme With Love And Squalor, J.D. Salinger
Biography; my favourite kind of non-fiction, and another bit of variety to add to your 'to-read list':
- The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank; I only read this last year and felt ashamed that I hadn't read it earlier. Anne's life reads as fiction and I had to keep telling myself throughout that this really happened, this was the reality of life for her, and for others, during the war. the fact she was thirteen-fifteen when writing this show her maturity and talent taken from the world too soon. a must read before you die, do yourself a favour and be ready to be awed by the human spirit.
- Shout, Laurie Halse Handerson; a tough but necessary and pivotal read, Handerson sheds light on some of the darkest intentioned people in this world in the most poetic and delicately respectful manner to, not only those discussed, but to all victims of sexual abuse and assault the world over.
Modern fiction; probably the section you'll be most interested in, some up-to-date, soon-to-be Classics that better represent our generation:
- Normal People, Sally Rooney
- Us, David Nicholls
- High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
- Vox, Christina Dalcher
- Naive. Super, Erlend Lowe
Thriller/Mystery; I feel everyone should experience a gripping read that isn't 'The Girl On The Train' (a great book in its own right and one I would recommend), there are more complex mysteries ready for new readers to untangle:
- I Know Who You Are, Alice Feeney
- The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Until next time, H.M.
References and Further Reading:
- Definition of 'Classic': https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/classic
- Thought Co's 'What Makes A Book A Classic?': https://www.thoughtco.com/concept-of-classics-in-literature-739770
Brief Summaries of 'My Kind Of Classics' (listed in the order they appear):
- The Divine Comedy Penguin do a neat little version (here) with ten cantos from Inferno if you're not wanting to commit to the whole epic (which I'll admit I'm still slowly making my way through). I think his work underpins so many other writers and poets, that some exposure to his style and clever manipulation of language is key - but I would say that as a bias Dante fan, so...
- Paradise Lost Everyone will say that Books 9 and 10 are the 'action' books - and in some ways they are, but for rich poetry and Milton at his finest, I would recommend books 3 and 5 if you aren't wanting to settle into all 12.
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