Friday, 25 July 2014

Recommendations: 10 Books to Read if You’re New to (Modern) Classics

A while ago, Lesley from WordsofaReader posted a video on her YouTube channel about how to start reading classics, where she made some relevant points. I personally think it’s sad that some people shy away from classics in their free time because they didn’t like the ones they read in school,  they think they generally wouldn’t enjoy them or because they’re intimidated by the “outdated language” they’re written in.
When a book has been around for centuries and is still getting reprinted, that’s remarkable, and it usually happens for a reason. Classics are timeless stories that deal with issues still relevant today, and they often feature outstanding characters that several generations of readers have rooted for, or have loved to hate. Sometimes they make us see how the views, morality and mentality of society evolved and changed over time, or they teach us important life lessons. Books from all kinds of genres can become classics, so I’m quite positive that, by investing some time, everyone can find classics that are appealing to one’s personal reading tastes.

I’d like to share some of the books that sparked my passion for classics. As you might know, I’m not a native English-speaker, so there’s no need to be afraid of the vocabulary of these books. If I can handle it, you can handle it! When I read classics, I often find myself needing a lot more time to get through them than I would with other books, because it requires my full attention to follow the stories. That’s why the majority of the books I chose are short and therefore quicker to get through, so you won’t get discouraged by them so easily.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This is my favourite novel of all time. It’s Gothic literature at its best, and it also features my favourite literary heroine. We follow the orphan Jane from her unhappy childhood with her spiteful aunt and cousins to her time in the Lowood boarding school through to her work as a governess at Thornfield Hall.
She is haunted by odd, inexplicable occurences in the house, which makes for a lot of suspense and gives the novel a mysterious touch. You just have to love Jane Eyre with her independent will, her passion for literature and her fearlessness to speak her mind. Also, there is the adorable Mr Rochester!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

All that needs to be said for this one is that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is my biggest fictional crush ever. This was actually the first classic I read for fun and it has remained one of my favourites. I really enjoy Jane Austen’s witty writing style, thus I plan on reading all of her published works. But as the lady is no longer among the living to provide for more reading material, I want to take my sweet time with it. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For the reason that it’s set during the glamorous jazz age alone, The Great Gatsby is alluring. Also, it contains wonderful, metaphorical writing. I cannot help feeling sorry for Gatsby, who clings to the hope that a life of wealth at Daisy Buchanan’s side will ultimately bring him happiness.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This is the only thing that I’ve read by Oscar Wilde, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t written more novels. I probably could’ve marked quotes on every second page because I got so much out of this book. While most people are familiar with the basic plot, it’s still rewarding to actually pick up the book, as it deals with vanity, transcience of beauty and the ugliness of the human mind. I’m sure there’s some stuff that I didn’t understand while reading it for the first time, because Wilde’s writing style and vocabulary were a bit more challenging to me; hence I want to reread this at some point.

Lord of the Flies by William Goldman

This is my favourite book that I had to read in school. Lord of the Flies follows a group of boys who find themselves stranded on a deserted island due to a plane crash.
It explores the gradual deterioration of civilized standards and rules, thus turning the children into ruthless savages succumbing to their instincts. Essentially, the book is a suspenseful study of the human psyche, which makes for some interesting (and disturbing) reading hours.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 

The nameless narrator of this novel, a former lady’s maid, gets married to the widower Maxim de Winter pretty much on the spur of the moment in the heat of Monte Carlo. But as soon as they arrive at his estate, the narrator gets haunted by her own insecurity and the ever-present shadow of Maxim’s dead wife, Rebecca. 
In many respects, this novel resembles Jane Eyre, which is why it appealed to me initially. I wanted to shake the narrator out of her apathy and self-doubts during most of the book, yet it was gripping to uncover the cause of Rebecca’s death. The story’s atmosphere is dark and mysterious, and Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper of Manderley, gave me the creeps!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar revolves around a young woman who moves to New York in order to start an internship on a fashion magazine, but then slowly starts falling into depression and losing the grip on her sanity. Sylvia Plath’s somewhat autobiographic novel left a deep impression on me, as the downward spiral of Esther Greenwood’s life is really touching, and I could relate to her struggles to find meaning and her own position in life.  
Needless to say, it also contains some of the most beautifully poetic writing, and I’ve even been tempted to buy Ariel, Plath’s collection of poems, despite the fact that the only poetry I own is by Rilke, so I’m not much into poetry. 

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

If you enjoy sci-fi, this one might be for you. After a large meteorite shower, most of the population turns blind. At the same time, there are the triffids, plants with the ability to walk and kill people with their sting. By losing their eyesight, humans have forfeited their advantage over the triffids, which makes them vulnerable and wandering around helplessly. Althoug it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, this terrifying post-apocalyptic scenario captured my imagination from the very first page.
[Truth be told, I’ve never finished this novel, but that’s only because I was very busy when reading it back in December (?), so I had to take a break and then didn’t pick it up again.] 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

There’s not much to be said about this. Apart from a few short stories, this was my first excursion into the world of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve loved Holmes since I was a child, because who doesn’t appreciate an intelligent (and British ) character? The novel is short, so I’d say it’s a good starting point for those who want to find out more about the world’s most famous detective. God, how much I wish to visit Baker Street ... 

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

I thought I’d do a bit of a highbrow thing and include a play in this list. In my entire life, I’ve only read two plays by my own accord. Some prejudices in my head that prevent me from reading them: Plays are too complicated to understand and enjoy them, and they are meant to be read out loud on stage.
So when I picked up this comedy by Shakespeare, I was surprised because it was not that difficult to understand, I was able to read it in one sitting and it was actually quite comical. It’s about these four lovers in the woods, and there’s a succession of mix-ups and misunderstandings, and it’s quite bizarre. This is by no means Shakespeare’s best work, but it’s fun.

Whether you like science fiction, mystery, romance or crime/detective novels, I hope there’s something on that list that aroused your interest. Feel free to share some classics recommendations for “beginners” in the comments, or tell me of your favourites. Have you read any of the aforementioned books?


  1. Brontë, Austen seem like a pre-requisite to introductory classics. I'm a fan of Austen's Persuasion more than anything. Many moons ago, I read quite a few du Maurier gothic novels all thanks to Rebecca. When it comes to Modern classics however, I'm still new. Margaret Atwood? Toni Morrison? My personal library is pretty limited. :)

    1. Any Maurier in particular you would recommend? I think I might pick up My Cousin Rachel next, but so far I couldn’t locate the edition that I like most.

      I’m also not well-read when it comes to modern classics. I suppose I just stick with Penguin Modern Classics authors or seek out recommendations on MercysBookishMusings’ YouTube channel. :P Atwood and Morrison are two authors I NEED to check out. I own Oryx and Crake, and I have high hopes for it!

  2. Day of the Triffids, davon habe ich doch schon gehört... Danke für den Tipp, das klingt genau nach meinem Geschmack und kommt definitiv auf den Wunschzettel :-)

  3. I'm ashamed that out of all the books you've listed here, I've only read one -- The Great Gatsby. And even then I can't remember much about it because it has been a couple of years already! Not much of a classics girl, as you can probably tell. ><

    1. Jane Eyre -- Okay, I have this one on my shelf (and it has illustrations, too!) but I haven't had the time to get to it yet. Such a shame, because I know plenty of people who loved, loved, loved it, and I've been dying for a good romance novel lately. It's good to know that JE is your favorite novel ever. I really hope I'll love it as much as you do when I get to it!

    2. Pride & Prejudice -- YET another well-known classic I want to read. It's one of my best friend's favorite books, and she even gave me a copy, like, four years ago, but again, haven't gotten around to reading it yet (oops). One thing that's putting me off is the amount of mixed reviews I've seen for it. For Jane Eyre, the reviews were mostly positive, but P&P seems to have equal numbers of mixed and positive reviews. But -- I can't NOT meet Mr. Darcy! I've just heard SO much about him, it's hard not to be curious. ;)

    3. The Great Gatsby -- I read this when I was fourteen, I think, and while it wasn't one of my favorite classics, I did enjoy it quite a bit. Gatsby was... I had a love-hate relationship with him, haha. I guess it was understandable how much he still loved Daisy, even though she was married and years had already gone by, but there were times when I wanted to slap him and tell him to get a move on, you know? But I haven't been in love before, so I probably shouldn't say things like that...

    5. The Lord of the Flies -- The main reason I want to read this book is because apparently The Hunger Games has a similar plot to it. I'm a huge THG fan and I love survival stories, so fingers crossed that I'll enjoy this one, too!

    10. A Midsummer's Night Dream -- I once watched a play about this and couldn't understand a damn thing. O_O I never realized that it was supposed to be a comedy, though, I thought it mainly focused on romance -- kind of like Romeo & Juliet, only less romance-heavy. It must be really good if you managed to read it all in one sitting! And I do need some fun stories in my life; most of the ones I've been reading have been pretty dark and depressing.

    Thanks for sharing, Lina! I'm definitely a classics newbie, so I'll be checking most if not all of these out, hopefully. :)

    1. I hope your friend didn’t give you her own copy of P&P, and you failed to give it back, that would be atrocious!! ;p
      I get why you’d want to slap Gatsby, I felt the same way at times.
      I wouldn’t necessarily say that THG and LotF have that much in common, but if you like survival stories, I’m pretty confident that you’d like it!
      You’re not far off with AMND, it’s a romantic comedy. On the one hand, there’s the four lovers and on the other hand, there’s the fairies (esp. Puck) who do some mischief in the forest. So it’s more of a comical attempt at romance that’s not to be taken too seriously. ^^ I think I powered through it because I knew I’d end up neglecting it when putting it down for a day. :)

      I’d be really glad if you picked up some of the books! Sometimes you just needs a little push, and then you’ll be wondering why you haven’t read it much sooner!

  4. If you enjoyed Dorian Gray, you really ought to read Oscar Wilde's plays! They'e so witty and I really found them enjoyable!

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I haven’t read any of them yet because I don’t usually don’t read plays, but they are definitely on my ever-growing reading list.

  5. This is a great list! I love classics — my favorites are Lolita, Wuthering Heights, and The Sound and the Fury. I still haven't read Jane Eyre, I really need to get on that! I already own Rebecca and I can't wait to read that one, too.

    1. I hope you’ll enjoy both of these books! Because they are kind of similar, I’d recommend you to read Jane Eyre first. That way, I think you’d appreciate both of them more.

      I started reading Wuthering Heights years ago, even before I’d read Jane Eyre, but somehow couldn’t get into it. I’ve often heard of people liking either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but seldomly both. Though I’m willing to give it another chance, because I feel like I’m missing out on something.
      I read about half of Lolita, but had some difficulties with Nabokov’s writing style – it’s beautiful, but I somehow couldn’t deal with the vocabulary. If I can get my hands on a German copy, I’ll start that one again! I was extremely fascinated and at the same time repelled by Humbert Humbert’s personality. Faulkner is also on my list of authors to read, so it’s reassuring to know that you like his work!

  6. I've only read one book on this list - Lord of the Flies - and I had to read it for my grade 10 English course. I wish I were one of those people who read classics just for fun, and of their own volition, but I'm not. I read classics when I have a reason to. I've been trying to get into more modern classics to ease myself into some of the heavier literary ones. I recently read The Virgin Suicides which is very modern and possibly not even a classic, but more of a cult classic. I really enjoyed it though. I also read Of Mice and Men before seeing the play on Broadway and although I didn't love it, it was short and easy to follow. You've definitely given me some ideas! I have Rebecca on my shelf so maybe I'll find the courage to pick it up soon and get over my fear of classics!

    1. No need for fear. I think reading some children’s classics could also be a good way to get more accustomed to reading classics. I for one have read hardly any children’s classics from English-speaking authors, because back when I was little, I mostly read stuff by German authors (Grimm fairy tales and such).
      You made me want to pick up The Virgin Suicides! It’s been on my shelf for a really long time and I never picked it up, the same goes for Eugenides’ other novel Middlesex.

      I hope you do end up reading Rebecca and hopefully you’ll like it as much as I did! If so, feel free to report back afterwards! :))


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