When I was in high school I made it my mission to read as many classic books as possible. Some of them were read for class, but I was actually one of those dorks who was excited to crack open a new story. It's no surprise that I ended up majoring in English Literature!
The category of classic novels is obviously a hugely expansive one. There are plenty that I haven't read and are still on my list - a list that I will spend my entire life completing - but these are just a few that I felt lived up to my inflated expectations. Unfortunately, most of these picks are written by white men, so if you're on the lookout for some more ~diverse~ suggestions, feel free to check out the Five Feminist Reads that I discussed recently.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott FitzgeraldThe movies do not do this story justice. Not only is Fitzgerald's writing fantastic, but the story itself is a page-turner. I was so curious as to what would happen as the plot moved along that I managed to read this book in just a few days. I was in tears by the end. Gatsby has now managed to become one of my favorite novels, and I have since read it four or five times.
There are so many intelligent, relevant quotes littered throughout Fitzgerald's masterpiece. I love how some of them are important, making you stop to think, while others are simply aesthetically pleasing, such as, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Gatsby holds some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. Like always, the book is better than the movie.
I first read this book freshman year of high school, when I was only 14. It was the first classic I had ever picked up, and I was extremely nervous that the level would be too high or I wouldn't understand the meaning. This novel showed the complete opposite, however. I immediately fell in love with the characters' innocence and charm, especially through reading Scout's narrative. The coming-of-age element also makes Mockingbird a very relatable read for any age.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Additionally, To Kill a Mockingbird provides plenty of moral lessons that are important to follow. Yet, the book doesn't shove them in your face. They are woven throughout the plot perfectly, finding just the right amount of obvious and implicit. This story will always be one of my favorites.
Liking this novel was one of the most surprising moments of my literary history. I figured, just because it was an older novel, that it would be dry and boring. However, the story is exciting, interesting, and still relevant today. It can be quite confusing at times, so in this case, it might actually be helpful to read some articles about the plotline. There are doppelgangers, mistaken identities, and plenty of characters. But, if you make it through to the end, it's ridiculously rewarding.
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
You may also finally understand where the concept of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” had its origin. The very first page of this novel is slightly intimidating, but I love going back to it and rereading the very telling first paragraph, as well as the sentimental last quote. Another great pick for beautiful writing, A Tale of Two Cities is not to miss.
I don't quite know why, but I've always loved reading Hemingway's writing. He had an interesting way with words. This story is my favorite of his; it perfectly captures the disillusionment of the 1920s post-war era. If you've ever wanted to trot around Paris, Rome, or Venice, stopping at cafes and drinking wine, this novel will seriously heighten that desire. I love how there is a veneer of calm, collected manners on the outside of the characters as they sit and sip on drinks hour after hour, but underneath the exterior, there is pain and a whole lot of back story.
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
I completely love the ending of The Sun Also Rises. I had to do some research on the symbolism, but after thinking about the plot and analyzing it a bit, I realized how perfectly Hemingway capped it all off. There's also something about the title of the work that intrigues me. I can't peg exactly what it is, but it has some sort of allure to it. I would highly recommend picking up this novel.
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. SalingerLastly, Salinger's best work is one that I completely connected with while reading it in high school. I think everyone could relate to Holden, the protagonist, in some way. His wishy-washy tendencies and inability to follow a straight path are perfect characteristics to read about when you are going through a major change in your life, thinking about the crumminess of the world, or just feeling nostalgic.
Every time I look at this book, I am reminded of how fantastic the voice is. Salinger wrote Holden in such a true-to-life way, that reading the narrative feels like I'm chatting with a friend, or even hearing myself think. It's almost comforting, knowing that other people feel the same way you do. Catcher is also another easier read - I flew through it in about a week.
Classics may be daunting, but they are incredibly rewarding to finish. Start reading one today.
What are your favorite classics?