Updated: Aug 21
'Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.' - Virginia Woolf
When I properly got back into reading, the classics were an intimidating genre for me. I remember being in secondary school and attempting to read a Charles Dickens book. It certainly wasn't my kind of thing back then.
However, I've challenged myself in 2021 to branch out and return to the classics. Some have been brilliant and others...well let's just say I would not have missed out if I never got to them. If someone tries to tell you that every single classic is "wonderful", or a "must-read", then that is just silly. Certain classics are better than others and I thought I would make a little list of books for novices of the genre.
This is coming from someone who didn't understand the appeal of these dusty, old texts. I've picked ones that I found genuinely enjoyable to read - it didn't feel like homework.
Classics...that is worth the read!
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
'Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.'
I was tempted to try out Wilde's work but, worried that I wouldn't like it, managed to get a cheap second-hand copy. I'm someone that doesn't have the best attention span so when the pace of the book gets too slow, I'm very likely to DNF it.
However, with this Wilde novel, the writing style kept me hooked because of how eerie and intriguing I found characters like Dorian Gray. I started this book knowing nothing about the plot and it honestly blew me away. I enjoyed watching the development of Gray across the book. When people tell me they hate classics, I can sympathise. However, I will always suggest this particular book before they cut off the genre altogether.
Everything changed after the exquisite portrait of Dorian Gray was completed. Gray is willing to hand over everything for the idea of eternal beauty. He appears to be a gentleman. In reality, Gray is slipping into his dark desires.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
'Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.'
I remember seeing this classic as a play when I was younger. I didn't remember the outcome but I heard so many people recommend this particular book on GoodReads and Instagram. I decided to give it a go.
A classic thriller seemed like the best way for me to get back into the genre. I'm pretty sure they have recently made this book into a film on Netflix if you are intrigued. However, I would strongly recommend reading the book first as it does not disappoint.
What's interesting about his book is that it keeps the reader intrigued from the very beginning. You want to unearth more of the characters, excited to see what will be revealed. Rebecca is certainly not a novel with long, endless descriptions of different sceneries. If you like genres such as mysteries, romance with a bit of suspense, I think Rebecca is a brilliant choice.
A sudden marriage proposal in Monte Carlo changes the life of a young woman forever. The widow, Maxim de Winter, seems like someone from a fairytale. A handsome young man with his large country estate? It's perfect. Little does our heroine know how much of a dark shadow Winter's dead wife will cast. Despite her passing, Rebecca is everywhere.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'
I couldn't make a blog post on classics and not talk about Jane Austen. I felt a bit intimidating trying out this book so I listened to the story as an audiobook, narrated by Rosamund Pike (who played Jane Bennet in the 2005 film adaptation).
As a side note, I think audiobooks are the best way to approach classics. It's sometimes so much easier to digest and enjoy a story when it's being read to you. The audiobook was a great introduction to Austen's work and encouraged me to read more such as Emma and Persuasion.
Austen's work can be a little bit heavy if you are very new to classics but I think they are worth a go. The amount of subtle sass you can pick up whilst reading these books are really fun.
I haven't read all of Austen's books yet but Pride and Prejudice remain a favourite. I'm always going to love how awkward Mr Darcy is.
There's also a fun edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies if you want to try that one out first!
Elizabeth Bennett is the star of this novel, exploring her thoughts on the shy, awkward, Mr Darcy. (If you have no idea what this book is about...where have you been?)
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
'We are all insects. Groping towards something terrible or divine.'
Here we have more of a modern classic. If you like counterfactuals and the whole "what would have happened?" - I recommend you check out this book. The concept of this alternative world is certainly disturbing but that, for me, is what makes it such an important classic. It does make you think.
I'm also sure this book was made into a series on Amazon Prime so it's always worth reading the book as you're watching the show.
In a frightening alternate world, the Allies lost The Second World War. The Nazis have taken over New York and the Japanese now control California with the African continent virtually wiped out. However, a book exists in the neutral buffer zone that offers a better world. A vision of hope is sparked by this book.
1984 by George Orwell
'Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.'
Many pop-culture references link back to this classic - the whole 'Big Brother' for instance. As this book was published in 1949, it is remarkable to see how much of the story you can relate to. I would argue that this is a very important piece of political fiction that people should try to make time to read.
I've yet to read more of Orwell's work. This particular post will likely be edited to add all the other classics I've read that I think are worth the read. I would understand why people may class this book as horror. I think after reading this book, you realise how much we take our basic rights and liberties for granted.
A bureaucratic and totalitarian world is the reality of life in 1984 - suppressing any kind of form of individuality. Big Brother is everywhere. No one can hide.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
'I am haunted by humans.'
I think it's safe to say that this historical fiction can be regarded as a classic. This was worth all of the hype and praise it's received. It's not every story you read where the main narrator is Death. I think the author took a very unique approach with this World War Two story. Like 1984, I think The Book Thief is a very beneficial and important book to add to your bookshelf.
I found the writing style simply beautiful and I felt quite attached to many of the characters.
1939. Nazi Germany. Death has simply never been busier. After the death of her brother, Liesel finds a book. Her habit of stealing books is one thing but taking such items before they can be burned is just dangerous. Her foster family also carry out risky acts of disobedience and the cost will become hard for Liesel to avoid.
This is by no means a complete list. The more classics I discover, the longer the list will grow!
If you're curious to know my current reads and recent reviews, feel free to go to @readwithmims on Instagram.
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