I am no book snob in the sense that all genres are enjoyable to me. My love for “Enron:The Smartest Guys in the Room” equals that of my love for “Marie Antoinette” by Antonia Fraser, AND that of “Cinder”, the first of the Lunar Chronicles. I am no respecter of genres. They all have something to give. (I think it helps that I have Learner in my top ten strengths.)
However, there is something to be said for reading classics – the ones you were supposed to read in high school and then shamelessly read Cliffs Notes and watched movies to get the grade (Cs get degrees, people). And I mean, reading them for fun and enjoyment. I remember the first time I did this… I read “Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton a year after I graduated high school, and I felt so proud of myself, as though I had rewritten history and was not middle of the pack anymore, but a bonafide academic. Let’s be clear, I was not, but it was fun to pretend for a brief moment. The book is about a guy who falls in love with a ‘scandalous’ woman who is not his fiancee, in the dreamy Edith Wharton New York era. I mean, what’s not to love about a classic NYC scandal in beautiful clothes, dreamy mansions, and horse-drawn carriages?! Love triangles always make for an exciting read (hello, Team Edward/Jacob – Eclipse – tent scene.. you know what I’m talking about). I would never have guessed an unrequired, old book would have been so enjoyable and gripping. It completely changed my mind and ever since then, I have made it a point to always include some old greats in my reading rotation.
If you have been cautious of classics, please do yourself a favor and give them a shot. I promise you will walk a little taller having finished.
Let me give you some favorites, some cautionary tales, and maybe one or two “just-don’ts”. Of course, your taste may completely differ from mine, so my “just-dont” may be your “please do”! In which case, take my heeding with a grain of salt, and try them all for yourself! Let me also encourage you to download the app, Serial Reader. This app allows you access to tons of free classics, and then downloads them to you in daily portions. This way you can digest them a little easier, and the basic purchase doesn’t even allow you to read ahead, so you can feel a healthy closure in only reading your allotment.
Pride and Prejudice. (Big sigh and an eye roll…) This is so obvious as to possibly make you want to disregard my entire post, but, as cliche as it is, this love story is absolute beauty, with quite a bit of humor. And truthfully, if you are to be a Reader, this is almost a given. It must be read. To go through your literary life without being able to understand a reference to Darcy or Elizabeth Bennett, to miss out on the clever banter Mr. Bennett throws around, is to be left wanting. Also, if you join a fancy pants book club, you need to be able to make an inside joke about Mary’s awful piano playing. (I assume that’s the kind of jokes fancy pants book clubs make… My book club dictates books be 300 pages or less, there must be mini quiches, and it’s a given that we wear clothes that can easily travel right into bed with us.)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I’m not sure if this surprises you, but it definitely surprised me when I finally gave it a shot! All I could think of was the old Disney movies we used to watch when it was raining and we couldn’t go out for recess. It just seemed so boring! But because of Serial Reader (and the self-righteous Amazon “100 Books You Must Read” list that hovers over my reading life tauntingly) I gave it a go, and took it in one bit at a time, until I got the app upgrade so I could actually read ahead! As a mother of my own precocious, strong-willed boy, this book pulled on my proverbial heart strings and made laugh outright and even cry at the end! Tom’s adventures are a little over the top at times, but so charming and endearing, you can’t help but want to squeeze his guts.
Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I have said already how much I adore this book. If you read it and hate it, you might break my heart just a little. As I mentioned, the basic premise of this book is quite scandalous, especially for the 1870’s. Newland Archer is a successful young man in NYC society, newly engaged. All is well until Ellen Olenska enters the picture and blows up the scene with her rebuffs to everything conventional, all of which is wildly attractive to the one guy who should absolutely NOT be paying attention. If you love the beautiful, dreamy NYC scene where you had to leave a calling card before you entered the drawing room, and you have a taste for some drama, this one is for you.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Oh man this book made me laugh. The writing is absolutely brilliant. The characters are completely excellent, and I could not stop thinking of who I would cast in the movie version of this book. If Leonardo diCaprio were still 19 years old, he would be the perfect Holden Caulfield. I only read this book earlier this year on a whim, and breezed through it. Holden is completely naive, self-righteous, entitled in this bizarre way, and downright hilarious. As a real human he would be a complete reprobate and not very likable, but J.D. Salinger somehow makes him someone you wish you knew but didn’t have to be related to or responsible for.
I included my cautionary tales in another post you can check out.
So, actually, I decided against this. I can’t put any classics in this category. Although I will tell you that I have tried so many times to read Oliver Twist and oh my gosh it is killing me. That would be the closest I could come. But, I mean, it’s Dickens… I can’t in good conscience just write off one of the highest-respected writers of all time. But man I could really sit down and tell him what I think about depressing little Oliver. Yikes.
OTHER FAVORITES… (click on the image for details)
I would love to hear if you take a chance on any of these! But not if you hate them…