Monday, May 25, 2015

Top 10 Recommendations for Classic Literature Beginners

Ever since discovering Frances Hodgson Burnett as a young girl, I have loved classics.  Though they can be dry and difficult to understand, I find them witty and intelligent, with themes that persist over time.

However, not everyone feels this way.  Many people struggle with classics, especially when forced to read them for class.  As someone who loathes being forced to read, I completely understand this.  Moreover, I think that many of the books chosen for curriculum are not selected for their enjoyability.

Yet, even with having a few horrible experiences in literature classes throughout my academic career, I think that classics can be entertaining, hilarious, thought-provoking, and tear-inducing.  So, if you're interested in trying out classics again (or even for the first time), here are ten that I would recommend.

Note: In this list, I am not including modern classics.  Therefore, I will only be including books written prior to the 1920's.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Although it's a children's book, I didn't read Anne of Green Gables until a few years ago, which speaks to how universal it is as far as age goes.  Anne Shirley is a wild, fun, passionate character, and her story is hilarious and heart-warming.  Once again, because it's written for children, it's very easy to read.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is one of my most beloved stories of all time.  I love the enchantment of Neverland and the adventures the characters have there.  As a child, I read it for the action and Peter's boyish charm; as an adult, I read it for its ability to wake up the child within every adult.  

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This is a great coming-of-age story about four sisters growing up in America in the late 1800's.  The characters are so relatable and lovable, and the reader becomes invested in their lives.  Moreover, the moral lessons and familial themes are still important for society today,

The Iliad by Homer

I read a fair bit of ancient literature in my Great Books courses at university, and The Iliad was one of my favorites.  I was surprised by this, though, because I didn't care for The Odyssey in high school.  The Iliad appealed to me because of its far more likeable characters, especially Achilles and Hector.  Of course, there are still characters to loathe (Paris, GAH!), as well.  Moreover, the plot really drew me in with its war and intrigue.  

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is difficult; I know this.  However, his literary merit cannot be argued.  I really enjoy the standards, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer's Night Dream, Hamlet, etc, but I started out with Julius Caesar, which I'm grateful for.  It's not as complicated as the others, with less characters and a straight-forward plot.  It's one of his shorter plays, as well, which makes it easier to follow.  But the political intrigue and the character of Brutus really drew me in.  Rather than diving into the longer, well-known works, I would recommend this play to anyone wanting to try out Shakespeare again or even for the first time.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

When it comes to classic romantic fiction, Pride and Prejudice is at the top of the list.  However, if you read it and didn't care for it, what should you move on to next?  I would recommend Wuthering Heights.  It's not as much of a commitment as Jane Eyre and, in my opinion, an easier read.  Some people hate this book, but I love the passion and treachery.  If you love drama and romance, this book is for you.

Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I really like to see the foundations of genres that I enjoy.  It's interesting to see shades of the classics in my modern favorites or how the genre has developed over time.  For mystery lovers, Sherlock Holmes is a great place to start with classic exploration.  The stories are short, often funny, suspenseful, and keep you guessing.  

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

As an introduction to the Gothic genre, I absolutely recommend this Oscar Wilde classic.  Rather than starting out with Frankenstein or Dracula, which are far more serious and dense, Dorian Gray is witty and hilarious, though still horrific.  Moreover, even though it was written during the Victorian era, its themes and social commentary are still relevant today.

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

It's difficult (for me, at least) to find a marker for fantasy pre-Tolkien.  There's, of course, Hans Christian Anderson and the Brother's Grimm, but I'd like to recommend this collection of Arthurian tales.  King Arthur is legend, and this collection is still the primary source for stories about him.  If you like epic fantasy, definitely check this out. 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

For those who love horror, this short story is a great one to introduce you to classic horror.  It may not be as graphic as modern day works, but it's still chilling.  This one is a very popular choice around Halloween, but it's appropriate to read at any time.

Those are my top 10 classic recommendations for beginners.  Do you have any that you would add to this list?  Share in the comments below.

To see my last recommendations post, click here.

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Happy reading!