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Chapter 16 - A Hundred Books You Must Read Before You Die

I just finished The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. One of the characters in the story, which takes place during World War II, is following the guide, 100 Classics To Be Read By Ladies to supplement her sketchy, lower class education. She has read Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery, and many others on this self-development quest. Of course, this started me to think about my own classics experience which started in high school and continued for me as an English major in college.

I started to Google 100 Classics To be Read By Ladies and, of course, it doesn't really exist but there must be hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs, articles, and websites devoted to this subject. There is even a book, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die which seems pretty intimidating to me. Like all books, all classics are not meant for everyone. There are authors I can't stand (Washington Irving and Herman Melville come to mind), authors I love with books I can't stand (Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, for example) and some are just so tedious to me (Madame Bovary), I would not recommend them to anyone.

Yet there are other authors who I really think you should sample at least once in a lifetime. Thankfully many of their books are short but meaningful.

So instead of 1000 or even 100 classics you should read before you die, here are my top 7. I don't think you will find these intimidating or tedious at all.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - This is a good way to get to know the brilliance and humor of Dickens. The characters are richly written and vivid in every way. It helps that you probably know the story but it is a delightful story and may serve as your gateway drug into his other works.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - I fell in love with Wilde in high school and have never fallen out of love with him. This book is about a man who sells his soul to enable the picture to age instead of himself and then, sets about to enjoy a life of evil. The only novel written by Wilde, it is social commentary and wit in one complete package.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe - My favorite of all her books, Mrs. Dalloway tells the story of Clarissa Dalloway, a woman in post-World War I England. It runs parallel stories of Clarissa getting ready to host a dinner party and Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran, delving into both of their pasts. There are a lot of layers to this book.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Dracula by Bram Stoker - I usually dust both of these books off in October and settle in for a Halloween read. These are two wonderful examples of Gothic literature and nothing like the films.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith - I don't remember how old I was when I first read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn but it is a book I reread periodically. The story is a coming of age tale, now so popular, of a poor but ambitious adolescent girl growing up in Brooklyn during the early 20th century.

My Antonia by Willa Cather - If you enjoyed the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child, you would probably enjoy the Pioneers series by Cather. My Antonia (pronounced An-toe-NEE-ah) is about a boy Jim Burden and a young immigrant Czech girl he meets, Antonia. The third of the series and considered Cather's masterpiece, the book tells of hardship on the prairie, family, friendship and love.

Do you have any favorite classics to share? Please let me know.


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