It was Mark Twain who once said, “Classic: a book which people praise and don’t read.” For most of my life, this was mostly absolutely applied to me. Unless it was assigned to me in school, I rarely picked up what could be considered classic literature, instead veering toward new fiction, historical fiction, fantasy or science fiction (usually in that order.) I read for the lovely escapism of a good book and classics felt like too much brain work. But, lately, I’ve decided that part of my reading education should include either re-reading or reading for the first time books that are considered to be classics.
Though the definition of what is considered a “classic” is debated, I think it’s safe to say in order for a book to be a classic it usually speaks to some ultimate truth that stands the test of time. Sometimes these truths are very, very long truths, so my first inclination is fear at the thought of tackling War and Peace. (Confession: I bought it months ago and I still haven’t read it yet. Which I know I need to do. In fact, I’m not allowing myself to buy another book (after I finish Thorn Birds and Sputnik Sweetheart) until I finish it). Not buying books is a very hard thing for me to do especially since I discovered a used book store in my town where you can get books for $2. I have 2 book shelves, double stacked with books on each shelf and loads of books under my bed. And I keep buying more. It’s a disease.
For those of you with your own book lover disease, I have complied a list here of my top 5 favorite classic books. It was really hard for me to narrow down to just 5 but these are the books that I read that make me feel like, aw yeah, I want to read that again. And again. Books that didn’t make the cut but that deserve an honorable mention: the inspiration for this blog, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Both books I’ve read multiple times and will do so again.
Top 5 Favorite Classics
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. You guys, this book was published in 1875 and I read it for the first time in 2010 and was like, whoa this is exactly what heartbreak feels like. It is so good, sad and true all at once. Being able to write a truth that resonates 200 years later qualifies Tolstoy for genius status in my opinion. At first, it seemed very long and the Russian names are similar so I was always confusing the characters. But, stick with it, you won’t regret it. If you want to cheat, you should totally see the movie that recently came out though Keira Knightly is just way too thin to be Anna and I hate Vronksy’s whispy mustache but it’s still a beautiful film worth seeing.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This is a book that I’m sure many of you have never read since the musical is a work of genius on it’s own. But seriously, you should read the book. It is truly a beautiful example of timeless writing. Especially Jean Valjean, who might be one of my all time favorite characters and who is just a beautiful soul. It is absolutely worth reading and another one that seems super long until you start it and then you’ll devour it in like 2 days like I did.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I’ve read this book multiple times and every time I remember all over again why I love it. Elizabeth Bennett is one of my all time heroines for many reasons but mostly her sass like her line about her sister being, “the most determined flirt to ever make her family ridiculous.” Best. Plus, this is a book that is unexpectedly hilarious–try reading the scenes with Mr. Collins without laughing, it’s basically impossible.
A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. A few years back I went through a serious Hemingway phase where I basically devoured his books back to back and loved all of them. Much like his character in Midnight in Paris says, (one of my fav movies, btw) his writing is very honest and true. I had a hard time choosing one of his books that was my favorite but this one captured the lost generation and my love for 1920’s Paris is strong. I also really loved The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. If you haven’t read Mr. Hemingway get on it, like now.
Little Women, by Lousia May Alcott. This was the first proper book I ever read at 13 and so it holds a special place in my heart. I suppose this book might be responsible for my lifelong love for reading because after I read it I was hooked. No matter how many times I’ve read it, I still cry and laugh and want to hug my sister when it’s all over. Truly required reading for everyone but especially all my ladies out there.
Okay, now that I’ve done the work of narrowing down my classics list, tell me some of yours! What classics could you read over and over again? Do tell.