Let’s be honest, classics don’t enjoy the best reputation. Most people think they’re boring, outdated, or difficult to understand. Back in high school, I wasn’t the biggest fan of classics either. I always wondered why we had to read such ‘old’ books, why we couldn’t just read something more contemporary. However, the older I get, the more I understand why classics are so important. Part of what I’m trying to do on my blog is to make literature accessible, to show why reading it helps us better understand the world we live in. Classics don’t have to be boring, it’s what you make of them. Read the right way, you’ll see that they’re challenging, insightful and full of meaning. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at my 5 favourite classic books.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”To Kill a Mockingbird
This book falls into the category easy to read and difficult to forget. The story’s set in the U.S. during the Great Depression and follows the perspective of Scout and her brother Jem as they’re trying to make sense of the world they grow up in. We see how they enjoy the innocent side of childhood through their games and little pranks, but also how they witness of the harsh reality of their time—racism, the economic crisis, gender inequality. What I like about the novel is that although it does discuss some of the historical events of its time, you don’t have to be a history student to understand the story and its meaning. In essence, Lee explores themes of good vs. evil, prejudice and social equality. These themes are universal and continue to be relevant in today’s society. In a world where hate and anger are stirred up by even the most powerful leaders, innocent lives are taken and prejudice rules, the book’s central message becomes important once more: it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”Brave New World
What could happen if the government takes advantage of the scientific and technological advances of its time? This is one of the questions Huxley discusses in this novel. The “Brave New World” he envisions is in fact everything but brave: this is a world in which the state is in control of everything and everyone, humans become commodities that are produced and preconditioned, and freedom of thought does no longer exist. Reading this book in 2019 — 87 years after it has been published — it’s interesting to explore in how far Huxley’s vision has become reality. Are we already living in a Brave New World or are we on the verge of becoming one? Or is all of this just a big exaggeration? In my opinion, this book is a must-read as it teaches us valuable lessons about what it means to be human.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
“For never was a story of more woeRomeo and Juliet
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Who doesn’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet? Well, I didn’t until a year ago and I’m genuinely upset I haven’t picked up the play sooner. As in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, this play has all elements a captivating story needs: a tragic hero, romance, comedy, murder and death. One of the best things about Shakespeare is that his plays are timeless. Transform the language to a modern vernacular and you’ve got a perfect blockbuster. No wonder this play has been adopted so many times-it’s just a great story.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”Things Fall Apart
In his book, Achebe gives an impressive insight into Igbo society prior to and during the first decades of British colonialism in Nigeria. Although this is a fictional story, we still learn a lot about the spiritual world and religious beliefs, the social order, the system of justice, the traditions and customs that have been deeply rooted in Igbo society before the first colonizers appeared. I think this is one of the best parts about reading literature. It gives us insights into other cultures and helps us see things from different perspectives. This book presents us to a society which, despite having its flaws, is complex and ordered. It reminds us that there is always more than one side to a story and that—to get the full picture—all of them should be heard. As Achebe once explained: “The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
“’But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’”
Virginia Woolf once said about Lewis Carroll: “since childhood remained in him entire, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do—he could return to that world; he could re-create it, so that we too become children again.” I think this perfectly describes why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is still read and loved today. The book captures brilliantly what it feels like to be a child, when the adult world yet appears to be weird and arbitrary. It comments on how, as we grow older, we lose our innocent and curious nature. As we follow Alice through Wonderland, we are reminded time and again how important it is to keep questioning things, to see things from different perspectives—in other words, to keep the inner child within us alive. I loved the book as child and continue to love it as adult. This is a classic that is easy to read yet full of meaning, leaving its adult readers with a great deal to think about (for an in-depth analysis read my post on the story behind Alice’s Adventures).
What are your favourite classics? Let me know in the comments section below!