Rereading The Classics: My Top 5

Sara HabeinBooks19 Comments

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When I was young, under ten, my mom would try to get me to read certain classic books she had enjoyed as a child – Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and others. Hopelessly contrary kid that I was (and still am, to a certain degree), I groaned and rolled my eyes and went back to reading my R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books. Or Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. I wanted satisfying, modern shlock, Mom! Geez.

I’ve since quit reading cheap horror, but I still haven’t read Little Women or Sunnybrook Farm. Eight-year-old me is still rebelling on that front. (Now that I have an eight-year-old daughter, every time she is hopelessly contrary, my mom just laughs and laughs.) However, now that I’ve survived the mind-numbing ringer than can be high school and college literature courses, I’ve found that I am indeed woefully under-read when it comes to classic literature. Though I read a lot of current releases, I’m slowly making my way through those old books that adult-me finds potentially interesting.

cover of The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel HawthorneRecently, I read The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, as part of a book club I’m in with a few friends. In high school, I hated reading The Scarlet Letter, so I was a bit apprehensive starting another Hawthorne book, but the friend that suggested it has tastes that I more or less trust, so into the words I dove.

You know what? It was actually quite enjoyable, and surprisingly funny, in a bleak sort of way. The story concerns a large mansion in Puritan Boston that is passed through a family for over a century. The land on which the house sits used to be the land of another man, a carpenter who was hanged for being a wizard. A rich military man wanted the land for himself, so he expedited the man’s hanging. Before the man died, he placed a curse on the family, saying that they would “drink blood” for what they’d done. And indeed, the family does have a string of mysterious deaths over the years, and when we come into the current occupants of the home, the family is not quite so rich anymore. The book is a romance, in the sense that it is not intended to be entirely realistic, and every character is meant to be an archetype – the villain, the sweet innocent, the mysterious man, the damaged, etc.

The narrator is what I’ve heard librarians refer to as a “nosy narrator,” in that he speaks directly to the reader, and in that, the humor comes. He points out the ridiculousness of certain plot points and characters, and also the mindset of a Puritanical culture. This was, of course, a bit of a theme with Nathaniel Hawthorne – the dangers of hypocritical moralism. Though the older style of language required some acclimating on my part, I was glad that I read it. Does it inspire me to reread The Scarlet Letter? Absolutely not – my life is too short for that – but it’s good to know that the man’s legendary status is now more understandable for me.

This got me thinking about the books I read in school and what ones I enjoyed enough to want to look at them again as an adult. There were plenty of books that I just could not enjoy, no matter how much teachers and others went on about them – Huck Finn, Ordinary People, Heart of Darkness, I’m looking at you – but the curriculum did have its bright spots.

Here, then, are my Top 5 Classic Books I Should Reread:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (cover)Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– This was summer reading for my AP English class, before senior year. The language took some acclimating here as well, but once I got used to it, I could see why Jane Austen remained such a literary force. I’m a sucker for all of the film adaptations of her books, no matter how far they supposedly stray from the story, and I’d like to reread this. I’ve also never read any of her others, so they’re on the list too.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (cover)Frankenstein by Mary Shelley– I’ve tried to read this book three times. Once, on my own at some point in high school. The second, as part of AP English. The third, as part of a literature course in college. Each time, something foiled my efforts. Either I suddenly became very busy with something else, and all my reading suffered, or as is often the case, some terrible virus-plague befell me and I just didn’t care about anything that wasn’t sleeping. I don’t know that I’ve ever made it past the first third of the story. Eventually, I want to conquer this damn book.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – This was also an AP English book. My teacher – Angela Nagengast, may she rest in peace – gave us a lot of great reading material that year. I’ve only read it the one time, but I think I’ve read probably two books’ worth of analyzation on it, and I’ve even seen the E! True Hollywood Story for the Fitzgeralds. (Do they still run that? I can’t picture that channel’s Kurrent Kardashian Klimate allowing it.) Considering this is sort of the bible of literary excellence, I must give it another go. Plus, the new movie version comes out soon and it’s always worth doing a comparison of the two.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (cover)East of Eden by John Steinbeck – Actually, I’ve never read this book, but I’ve read other work by Steinbeck. 14-year-old me did not enjoy The Grapes of Wrath (“Sometimes a turtle crossing the road is just a turtle crossing the road!” I said in class), and it seemed like every standardized test we took included reading excerpts from Travels With Charlie (“Your dog acted out of character while in Montana. Whoopity-doo! Don’t care!”), but I did enjoy reading Of Mice and Men. Because of that, and because I’ve seen the movie East of Eden (James Dean, get in), I’m interested in giving him another chance.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe (cover)Anything by Edgar Allen Poe – Halloween 2011, I participated in a reading of Poe’s work at a local museum. I picked the story that was my favorite as a kid – “The Masque of The Red Death.” I have vague memories of reading an illustrated version of it at some point in my childhood, and I read bits and pieces of his work over time. My mom got me a hardcover collection of all his short stories and poetry last Christmas, and I keep meaning to dip back into it. He’s great, honestly one of my favorites.

 

So what about all of you? Tell me of the classics you loved, hated, or mean to get around to at some point in your reading life. Let us celebrate and commiserate together.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the editor of Electric City Creative.
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Sara HabeinRereading The Classics: My Top 5

19 Comments on “Rereading The Classics: My Top 5”

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  1. Profile photo of [E] Slay Belle
    [E] Slay Belle

    Great Gatsby is a book of conflict in my house. I love it, just love it, and I’ve read it several times, but Mini and Beau really hate it. Which I don’t understand. I mean, sure, no one is particularly nice in the book, but we don’t always have to like the protagonists, right?

  2. Profile photo of Juniper
    Juniper

    This was a wonderful read, and something I’m trying to do: read the classics. There are many I haven’t read but dearly want to because it annoys me horribly that I haven’t read them. Of the older classics, I want to get through the likes of Austen and Dickens; of the more modern classics, there’s Brave New World and Lord of the Flies, among others. I’m trying to do this by enforcing a “no new books in the house” rule. I can’t say I’m succeeding all that well.

    1. Profile photo of Sara Habein
      Sara Habein

      Yes, I’ve really only read Great Expectations from Dickens (which was a bit of a long slog, I’ll admit), but I’d like to read Bleak House at some point, since I watched the miniseries.

  3. Profile photo of Dormouse
    Dormouse

    Classics I’ve read, didn’t like, but intend to reread one day because I might like them now that I’m grown: The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I didn’t really hate any of them, I just thought “meh” on my first read through. Having developed my critical reading skills since high school, I would probably enjoy/understand them more now.

    I really liked Silas Marner when I read it even though I was expecting to hate it. Other classics I’ve enjoyed: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, the Anne Shirley books, 1984 (loved it!), and Fahrenheit 451.

    I have yet to read Steinbeck, Plath, Dostoevsky, or much Atwood, but I intend to change that. There are a lot of Russian authors that I want to read.

    Currently, I’m wading through Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo in French. I’ve been working on it for a few years now–that’s embarrassing to admit–but I have to use twice the brain power to get through it.

  4. Profile photo of Dr. Deah Schwartz
    Dr. Deah Schwartz

    I am not sure if this is old enough to be considered a classic, but William Wharton’s book, “Dad” is a fantastic read from the early 1980’s. It is fantastic! Perhaps more in the “classical classic” category one book that they made us read in school but that I really loved was, “Of Mice and Men.” And then of course…oh Sara, don’t even get me started! ;-)
    Warmly,
    Dr. Deah

  5. Profile photo of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    I can’t remember exactly when I started doing it, but it has been a few years now. I try to take at least one Classic a month from the library. Sometimes it’s a disappointment (I’m looking at you, Wuthering Heights), sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise (The Great Gatsby, P&P).

    I think I haven’t read anything of the Brönte sisters and want that to change, so that’s one thing. Same with Hemingway.

    1. Profile photo of Sara Habein
      Sara Habein

      Isn’t Wuthering Heights by one of the Brontes? I’m probably never going to read that one, as even my AP English teacher was like, “Be glad I gave you Pride and Prejudice instead.”

      I’ve read The Son Also Rises by Hemingway, but that’s it. But I also read it really quickly for a class, so while I liked it well enough, I didn’t really absorb it, you know?

  6. Profile photo of Yaz
    Yaz

    I love Jane Austen! I would recommend reading Persuasion, and then maybe watching the 1995 adaptation with Ciaran Hinds, if you can find it. It’s so perfect!

    I know I read The Great Gatsby in high school and still have the book, but I honestly don’t remember anything from it. I’ve never been overcome to re-read it, and I imagine that won’t change. Who knows though.

      1. Profile photo of Yaz
        Yaz

        Oh most definitely. The Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P is amazing, though I must say I’m quite enjoying “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” on youtube. It’s very ingenious, and I love the characterization of Charlotte in it. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you definitely should.

  7. Profile photo of Stephens
    Stephens

    Edgar Allan Poe’s work scared the bejesus out of me in high school, but I felt so lame I never said anything. Also, I’ve never read Frankenstein though it’s been on my t-read list forever.

    1. Profile photo of Sara Habein
      Sara Habein

      Yeah I don’t know why horror was ok with me when I was young, but then the older I got, the less I wanted to do with it. Maybe it’s because the nightmares I have on occasion were plenty?

      1. Profile photo of Stephens
        Stephens

        I can actually tolerate a bit more horror now. I’ve slowly built up an immunity.

        Still can’t watch some movies and TV shows. I got a quarter through the pilot of Walking Dead and had to quit.

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