When I created this reading challenge, I made this classics category with my friend Lauren McHugh in mind. Girl has read more classics than anyone I know, and she has helped reignite my love for them! I knew I wanted her to write this recommendation post today, because she can give you the BEST ideas for what to read for your “classic you didn’t read in school.” (ps— follow her bookstagram!)
Here’s more from Lauren:
Classics. That word alone will probably give you one of two feelings.
Complete and utter joy for eloquent words, descriptive prose, and books of yesteryear.
Complete and utter fear or distaste for difficult words, weird phrases, and books that mean nothing to you today.
I am VERY much in the first camp. But I have learned throughout the years that I am probably the minority.
For me, it started in late elementary/early middle school. I went to a very small school (how small? I graduated with 23 kids…). Because of this, I got to know all of my teachers very well and they knew me very well. It wasn’t very hard to decipher that I was a voracious reader. I skipped a lot of the “typical” kids books. I never read Series of Unfortunate Events or Babysitters Club, etc. Although I did read a lot of the “Dear Diary” series. But this was due to my teachers pushing me from a very young age.
At the end of sixth grade, Mrs. Kolberg handed me The Lord of the Rings, all three books in one big ole book. She challenged me to read it that summer. I think I read it in maybe a few weeks. I devoured it. I contacted her for more ideas.
Then she recommended a book that would launch me into the world of classics.
Here’s a clue: I think lots of women would say this was their first classic.
No, not Pride & Prejudice.
Oh Jane. You poor creature. But you strong woman. Your life was hard, the love felt true, you were betrayed….I won’t say by what in case you haven’t read it.
But Charlotte Bronte opened up a whole genre of books that sincerely changed my reading life forever.
So, thanks to the wonderful Rachel, I am going to share some classics! Ones that I’ve read & loved and ones that I’ve read & thought they were good to read and didn’t necessarily love.
Because I think that’s important to remember with classics. They take a bit to get into. The writing style can be different. The focuses on society were different. The gender roles, racial equality, and many other societal issues are addressed differently. Or not at all. Which sucks.
I also want to say that I wasn’t very wise in reading diversely in my younger years. It’s something I am now working on more actively as I get older. I tried to only recommend books that I’ve read, therefore, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of diversity in the recommended books.
If you have recommendation on diverse classics you’ve read, I would love to hear!
So here we go…
IF YOU WANT A LONG BOOK:
Let’s start with the one (if you know me at all) you will expect me to recommend:
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Yes it is a doorstop. But totally worth it.
Drama. Revenge. Intrigue. Romance. Treasure.
If you even BRING UP THE MOVIE I will have a 20 minute Ted Talk prepared to unleash on its awfulness. They took the concept and completely changed it to be more of a fairytale. I have feelings if you can’t tell.
*hot tip: if you want to make it easier, two things 1. Notebook to write down characters. There are a lot 2. French dictionary. It is a translation. I did this on my second of four rereads (yes, you read that right) and it was a game changer.
Middlemarch by George Elliot
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
IF YOU WANT ONE THAT ISN’T PRAISED ENOUGH:
Tenant of Wildfell Hall by ANNE Bronte
Not Charlotte, not Emily. Anne.
Disclaimer: not the easiest book to read content-wise. This book starts out about a woman and her son that move into Wildfell Hall. Without a man.
That didn’t happen back then. One of the families in town befriends them mostly out of curiosity. But one of the guys starts to have feelings for good ole Helen. She said, “Hey, here’s my diary. Read this and you won’t love me.” So most of it is her memories of her life before Wildfell and they aren’t pretty.
But the reason this is such an important book is that Anne talks about domestic violence, marriage, income as a woman, and being a single mom in the 19th century. While it might not be a page turner, this book is important culturally. Also, this argument is cemented in The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society so I feel validated. I also did a paper on it in high school that I now wish I kept.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Grimm Brothers
IF YOU LIKE THRILLERS:
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism. Think that sounds very official? Yeah that’s because I stole it from goodreads. I couldn’t put it any better so I stole it.
If you like The Wife Between Us, It’s Always the Husband, anything by Tana French, The Woman in the Window, Something in the Water, etc., you can thank Collins.
A lot of current thrillers are great because they are easy to read and get sucked into. This is not that. Woman in White was published in 1859. But as soon as you get into the language, you will get enraptured by what the heck is going on with this mysterious woman in white people keep seeing.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dracula by Bram Stoker
IF YOU WANT A SMALL BOOK JUST SO YOU CAN CROSS “CLASSIC” OFF:
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Set in the beginning of the French Revolution, someone is rescuing people before they are sent to die via the guillotine and leaving a card that has a flower on it- a scarlet pimpernel. It quickly becomes the talk of society. A French agent makes it his mission to discover the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel and stop their efforts.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forrester
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
IF YOU WANT SOME DRAMA IN YOUR LIFE:
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Set in Salinas Valley, East of Eden follows two brothers, their interaction with a woman who I consider to be one of the worst villains ever written, and her giving birth to two brothers. Tied to the book of Genesis in the Bible, this book details themes like depravity, love, familial ties, self-destruction, and guilt and shame. It’s a hard read- like I said, the woman, Cathy, is straight up evil. But she’s fascating and so is the way that each character reacts to the things that life hands them.
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert