Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 Classics: The Contenders

At the beginning of 2014, I decided to read one classic novel each month:

    JANUARY: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller.
    FEBRUARY: Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
    MARCH: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.
    APRIL: A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster.
    MAY: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.
    JUNE: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz.
    JULY: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
    AUGUST: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.
    SEPTEMBER: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.
    OCTOBER: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
    NOVEMBER: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne.
    **NOVEMBER BONUS READ**: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka.
    DECEMBER: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
    **DECEMBER BONUS READ**: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

I hadn't necessarily intended to continue the project, but a lot of the classics I read last year that I'd been avoiding for so long had turned out to be pretty great, so I'm thinking about doing it again this year. (Sure, a lot of them weren't really up my alley, but at least I know.)

The hardest thing last year was narrowing it down to 12 (in fact I actually only got it down to 14), and there are still way more classic books out there that I'd like to plow through before I die. Here are the current contenders:

    The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Started this in college but never finished it & don't remember much about it.

    Death Is a Lonely Business, by Ray Bradbury. I love Ray Bradbury.

    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. This strikes me as a parlor book, but it also kind of strikes me as a mysterious mystery, & I luvs me a good mystery.

    The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Recommended by someone.

    The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. Recommended by lots of people.

    Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. This one seems like kind of a big deal & I should really just read it, especially since the only Dickens I've ever read is A Christmas Carol.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Gushed over by so many people, including several of you.

    Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. See above.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. People keep telling me to read this.

    Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Gushed over by several good friends.

    Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Heartily lobbied for by several of you last year.

    The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. See "mysterious mystery."

    Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. I like to read one or two sci fi classics per year & sort of can't believe I haven't read this.

    The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Everyone says this is great, plus it's like 300 pages.

    The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. This one just sounds intriguing. Bonus points for a female author.

    A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. This one was a pinch hitter last year but I didn't get around to it.

    The World According to Garp, by John Irving. Another one lots of friends have recommended.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce. I should probably be terrified of this one but I'm oddly intrigued.

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. I liked the movie.

    The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Another sci fi classic; Don read it last year & loved it.

    Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. After One Hundred Years of Solitude, I feel the need to try another GMM.

    The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. I adored Beloved last year. (Or the year before? Can't remember.)

    The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Recommended by a couple of you, I think.

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Keeps showing up on lists of "Most Influential Books Written by Women."

    East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Several friends have been telling me for years to read this one. I haven't been big on Steinbeck in the past but I'm willing to give it a shot.

    Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. See sci fi classics. Also Journey to the Center of the Earth was unsatisfying.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five is one of my favorites.

    All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. I find the summary intriguing.

    The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. Recommended by several of you last year.

    The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. Was talking about this book with friends recently (can't remember who) & it sounded like I should read it.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. See above.

    A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. I've never read any Tennessee Williams & feel kind of ashamed about it.

    The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. See above.

So what say you, readers of classics? If I only choose 12, which must definitely make my list and why? Which would you skip? Where I've listed more than one book by the same author, which would you choose? Any favorites of yours I've missed?


  1. I love all things Oscar Wilde (although Dorian Gray is not my favorite), and I can't recommend Wilkie collins enough, either. Dostoyevsky - another favorite. Hard to go wrong with that list, but I will say that Dumas can sometimes read like a dime novel.

  2. Jane Eyre: Read it in HS and thought it was OK, re-read it again a few months ago and loved it. Do it!
    Middlemarch and Tess of the D'Urbervilles: Read these for a college course and remember liking them but can't remember anything about them now...
    The World According to Garp: I loved it. You should also read The Cider House Rules and The Hotel New Hampshire (also by Irving).
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Book and movie are both really good.
    The Jungle: A bit of a slog, though I think it's worth reading given its historical importance. (I read it for US history in HS).
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: I was obsessed with this book between the ages of 10 and 15.

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    1. I loved Dorian Grey and Jane Eyre. Not so much a fan of Stranger in a Strange Land. I never read the Maltese Falcon, but the movie with Bogie is one of my al-time faves.

  4. Jane Eyre was way better than I expected. I don't think the Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen get enough credit for writing such interesting, strong female characters at the time they were writing. Speaking of interesting, strong female characters written in the 19th century, Middlemarch was one of my favorites in college, but I haven't reread it recently. I just remember it having a big impact on me then.

    I can't stand Hemingway but I'm probably letting my distaste for him and his views of women cloud my judgment. His writing is different but I think he's overrated. I'm sure you could bust through Old Man and the Sea in an afternoon, though, so wouldn't be a huge time investment.

    The Importance of Being Earnest is a favorite of mine. It's just a lot of fun. And I'd recommend the Colin Firth film after you watch it. It's a bit anachronistic but, like the book, is a lot of fun.

    Finally, re: Dickens. I've read a fair amount of his work (I went on an early 19th century British literature binge the summer between freshman and sophomore years) and liked David Copperfield much more than Oliver Twist. I think Oliver Twist was near the end of my binge though so there was likely a fatigue issue. But I'd recommend David Copperfield or Great Expectations more than Twist. At least there the child protagonists grow up.

  5. I agree with Jen, Oliver Twist is not Dickens' best book. I really enjoyed Great Expectations and The Pickwick Papers.

    The God of Small Things is one of my favourite books as is The Importance of Being Earnest. Both are pretty short which must go in their favour!

    I would definitely go for A Prayer for Owen Meany - very worthy of being on a classics list.

  6. This is a great list of books. I've read several on your 2014 list. I should follow your lead and throw some classics in on a regular basis instead of every now and then. I know I read The God of Small Things in college too, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was about. Maybe the caste system in India? Unless I'm mixing it up with something else. I've read The Glass Menagerie several times. It's just a play, so it won't take you long to read that at all.

  7. I wrote a long comment and it got swallowed but basically:
    The God of Small Things is probably my favourite novel ever. SO beautiful. SO dark and heartbreaking but so beautiful. Tess was my favourite novel as a teenager as it's set so close to where I grew up. If you come at it with your modern mindset you'll probably hate it but if you try and read it as a product of its time, with the appropriate social views, you'll love it. The language is beautiful.

    Owen Meany beats Garp. Great vacation reading. And Dorian Grey CRUSHES Earnest. DG is world-view changing, in my opinion.

    Great post. I love how people get so passionate about reading.

  8. Count of Monte Cristo was the first book I was assigned to read (in 6th or 7th grade) that I actually enjoyed. Not sure if it would have the same impact on me today, but I was blown away back then. Either way, it should be a quick read.

    I've read and would recommend One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Jungle. For the Jungle, I agree with the above comment that it can be quite a slog but is pretty important historically.

    I've never read Importance of Being Earnest, but I've seen the play and really enjoyed it. Seems like it wouldn't take very long to read at all.

    I was sort of "meh" about Love in the Time of Cholera, and doubly "meh" over The World According to Garp. Having read Garp and Cider House Rules, I've decided that I'm not a fan of John Irving.

  9. My votes go for those I've read and enjoyed:

    Stranger in a Strange Land -- (but my reading skews heavily towards Sci-Fi and fantasy, so take that into account for my endorsement)
    Old Man and the Sea -- agreed that it is short, so even if you don't like it, it will be over quickly
    Love in the Time of Cholera -- if you like GMM, this one is another great offering in his style
    House of Mirth -- So great.
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- one of my childhood compulsive re-reads
    Left Hand of Darkness -- on my list for this year, haven't read it.
    Prayer for Owen Meany -- my favorite John Irving book

  10. I really liked East of Eden. Though, caution, it's weirdly moralistic and I may have liked it because of when I read it and where I was in life, you know. Dumas is great -- Three Musketeers is one of my favorite books ever, but I haven't finished Count of Monte Cristo. And, John Irving is great. Owen Meaney was good. Left Hand of Darkness is also pretty good and I think Oscar Wilde is hilarious.

  11. All the King's Men! I read it in high school and called it my favorite book for maybe the next 8+ years. And actually, I'm not sure what would replace it on my current list, though I should probably reread it before I say that for sure.