Chapter 6 - Minds Made For Stories
On a regular basis I have customers who want to read classics. They may have read or missed reading them in school or realize they might not have gotten enough out of a classic when they were younger. Although I was an English major and read my share of classics, even I will admit that they are much better to read when you don't have to. I recall that sometimes the reading workload was so onerous that I merely skimmed one or two of the assigned books and relied on Cliff notes to help me discuss the book in class.
As I've gotten older, have more time, and no expectations demanded of my comprehension skills, I've realized that classics are classics for a reason. They tell universal truths, showcase social mores and ills, and certainly can give us a clear understanding of well written books. Not all classics are for all people as we know. There are many classic authors I won't read because their writing style is not something I enjoy (the early 19th century Americans fall into this category for me). If you are just dipping your toe into the classics pool, here are some very approachable choices (mostly short in size, as well) as recommended by my English teacher daughter, Claire, and me.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Here is a short book to get your classic reading started. It is short but not without impact. Just barely coming off the great depression and published in 1937, Steinbeck's book not only reflects the helplessness of the working class but also the bond of friendship and shared dreams.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift - Originally written in 1726, the book parodies travelogues of the time while also satirizing human nature. Gulliver travels to lands unknown and experiences different societies with their strange customs and mores.
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway - Almost any Hemingway book is short, this is a compilation of a few of Hemingway's earliest short stories feature Nick Adams. Published in 1925, it showcases Hemingway's style of short, precise prose and crisp, direct description. It is a terrific "gateway drug" to his other writings.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Guy Montag is a fireman with a job to destroy the illegal printed word along with the buildings which house them. He doesn't question this job until he meets Clarisse, a neighbor who introduces him to a world where people didn't live in fear and books are neither banned or burned.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - I usually introduce new classic customers to Dickens through A Christmas Carol which everyone knows and loves. Great Expectations though is also very approachable. Young Pip, an orphan and apprentice to a blacksmith, suddenly has an anonymous benefactor who pays for his education. As Pip grows and is introduced to "society" he discovers who he is and how to manage his own "great expectations."
Do you have any favorite classics you'd recommend to a classic newbie? Please share!