Talking about the Classics
I have a love-hate relationship with literary classics. Is that kind of the same for everyone? I love, love, LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird, but omg please do not even get me started on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Why are there people who like that book???? Just no. It’s not for me.
Ditto with Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. I just could not get into those. Sorry. I know they’re favorites of literary geniuses and other readers.
But my list of favorite classics is pretty long, and I almost never get to talk about them on the blog because there are so many amazing books coming out every week, I can’t even keep up with those. So today, as my post this Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, I’m jumping ship, away from current releases, and swimming on back to list a few of my favorite classics in honor of the whole Back-to-School season!
First, though… did you notice anything different about The Story Sanctuary today??? I have a brand new header image custom designed for me, and I LOVE it. Let me know what you think about it by leaving me a comment or finding me on Twitter (@story_sanctuary).
Okay, back to classics! If you’re headed back to school, I hope you get to read some of these in class this year, because reading great books for a grade is kind of like discovering a favorite food is actually good for you. Yay! Bonus. But even if these babies aren’t assigned or your school days are done (woo-hoo!), they’re worth checking out for the sheer enjoyment of the stories.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is without a doubt my number one favorite classic. I’ve probably read it five or six times, which for any book, isn’t that high a number for me, but is pretty huge for classics. I love the way Lee shows us everything that’s happening through Scout’s perspective. Often she’s totally unaware of the significance of events around her – like when she and Jem go visit Atticus at the jail and the mob approaches him. Scout has no idea how scary this should be. She only knows these are men who, in the daylight, are her classmates’ fathers who would never hurt her. But there are enough clues that we pick up on the bigger story and the drama or danger ourselves. So. Good.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I think one of my favorite things about this book is Fitzgerald’s goal that it be written so that anyone could read and understand it easily. I love that, and it makes this novel a quick read. I love the themes about true love and friendship and I’m always gripped by the destructiveness of the characters’ selfish behavior. (Okay, that sounds dark, but hopefully it makes sense.)
Watership Down by Richard by Richard Adams
I. Love. This. Book. It was a genre-defying book when it was published. A serious book about rabbits. Yes! And it’s amazing. Fierce, warrior rabbits and small oracle rabbits. Brilliant characters that I remember years after I’ve last read the book.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you know me, you’re only surprised this didn’t come earlier in the list. I’m not a huge Austen junkie. I love this book, but I somehow never manage to get around to reading her other novels. And actually– true story– I did not like Pride and Prejudice the first time I read it in high school. Mostly I think I hated the format in which we had to read it, but that’s another story. The synopsis is I felt like it cheapened my experience reading the book. Anyway, after I graduated and my sister fell in love with the book, I went back and read Pride and Prejudice again and found myself totally getting lost in the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. (And yes, I love the movie. ONLY the BBC version, though.)
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
This is another big favorite. I love that Sewell wrote this during a time when it was this big ground-breaking idea that horses have feelings. It’s one of those “this will never sell” kinds of stories that reminds us that heart and courage are pretty much always worth reading about.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I have kind of a love-hate relationship with this book, too. I love, love, love Francie and her family. I cried so hard at some of the tragic moments in the book. The writing is delicious. But I feel like I wanted a different ending. There’s a thing that happens toward the end, something that goes wrong, and she gets a letter that’s supposed to explain it. I kind of never really bought into that explanation. I needed there to be more. More backstory, more explaining, more reasons, more something. I don’t know. But other than that moment, I truly love this book and Betty Smith’s writing. In fact, I like another book of hers called Joy in the Morning even better than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so I probably should have swapped and focused on that one instead. It’s lesser known, but shorter and happier.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
This is another one I’ve read a bunch of times. It has kind of a circular thing going on where at the end of the book, Ponyboy (I love the wild names in the story) wrestles with all that’s happened and ends up writing it down for a school project (sounds more contrived than it feels in the book) and the last line of the story is the same as the opening line of the book, as if he’s beginning now to write the whole tale. The Outsiders is the first book that made me want to become a writer myself.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The way the story is formatted is a bit unusual. I went through a period of evangelical zeal about this book, trying to get everyone I knew to read it, and a couple people were so thrown by the way it’s written that they couldn’t get into it. (Dialogue is often not in quotes, for instance, but set apart after a colon.) I see authors bending those kinds of rules more now in other books, so I wonder if Cry would be more easily received now. At any rate, I loved the story and got completely lost in the South African landscape as we followed a man desperate to find his son in Johannesburg.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Forget the Disney movie version. It’s cute and all, but totally sells this story short. Kipling is a master storyteller and his way of describing things is so rich and fun. It’s a fairly quick read, too. Definitely on my list to read with my littlest when she gets a bit older.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I didn’t read this one until just a few years ago, but I really enjoyed it. The characters stuck with me– flawed as they are– and I can still picture some of the most climactic scenes in my mind. Plus, for some reason, I have a thing for stories about natural disasters. I don’t know. My family is the type to hole up during a hurricane and watch Twister. (True story. We did this last year during a big storm.)
So there you have it. Those are my top ten picks for classics to read this year. I hope at least some of them still find their way into classrooms. I’m hoping to read at least one with my older girl this year at home, too.
What are your favorite classics?
Did any of your favorites make the list? Any of mine that you just could not get through? Leave a comment and tell me about it!