Sunday, 1 March 2015

5 Classic Novels to Read


Although I love blogging about fashion, internet and lifestyle things, it's always nice to go back to my blog's roots with a good old book-related post.

Classic novels and I have and always have had a love/hate relationship. As someone who loves reading, English and all things literary, I feel like I ought to have read a fair number of the classics, but in reality I just have several stacks of unread ones sitting on my bookshelves. I've read a fair number for school, over the years (Jane Eyre, To Kill A Mockingbird, Moonfleet, Kidnapped, Silas Marner and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to name a few) but when it comes to leisure reading I have an overwhelming tendency to go for less heavy-duty books and just pick up some Tudor historical fiction (haha). As I only really have time to read late at night I find ploughing through a densely-written classic is often too taxing for my poor brain, which that is the main reason why I still haven't got round to reading great literary works such as Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights.

I'm sure a lot of people share this opinion, and so I've decided to list and briefly review a few novels I've read which are classic enough to sound 'impressive' when you say you've read them, but in my opinion are actually quite enjoyable too!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite classic novels of all time. Last year I chose the book and two of the many films that have been made of it as the topic for an extended essay in my advanced English class, after which I ended up more of an expert on the differences between the 1974 and 2013 films than I ever wanted to be. I have two copies of Gatsby - one is gorgeous and covered with gold shiny leaf, while the other is only just over a hundred pages (thanks to the small print), scribbled in and highlighted in about 6 different colours as I used it as a reference for my essay. It's really very short, and I think I managed to read it in a couple of days the first time round, after which I ended up feeling highly cultured and generally a lot more educated when it comes to American literature. The story is set in 1922 and told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, a young man who rents a house on Long Island. He lives next door to the lavish mansion of the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant parties which everyone goes to despite not really knowing who he is. Nick's cousin, Daisy, lives on the other side of the bay, and over the course of the summer Nick, Daisy, Daisy's husband Tom, her friend Jordan and eventually Gatsby himself spend the days together and Nick gets to know Gatsby. I won't give away too many spoilers, but lets just say if you like the roaring twenties, New York, an atmosphere of opulent decadence and unreliable narrators then Gatsby is for you.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I read The Catcher in the Rye a few years ago for school, and it remains my favourite school reading book of all time. Although considered a classic, it's really easy to read as the language is simple. The story is relatively straightforward, but it can be understood at so many levels - probably depending on the age you are when you read it. The main character is Holden Caulfield, who gets expelled from his posh boarding school and makes his way home to New York - along the way he has various encounters with people and thinks most of them are phonies. The plot is simple, but the reason why The Catcher in the Rye is so popular is because it deals with so many themes relevant to teenagers, such as identity, loss, alienation, depression and rebellion. In my opinion there is really no excuse for not having read it, as it's just so wonderfully quirky and totally accessible - if you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower then I'd really suggest you read it, as Perks has been described as a modern version of Catcher.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Stop. Stop thinking what you're thinking, because there's a high chance you have totally the wrong impression of this book. Which is fair enough, thanks to society's self-righteous condemnation of Lolita that meant it was banned in the UK when it was published in 1956. It's definitely one of those books which you have to read before passing judgement on it, so forget what you've heard and give it a try. The story is narrated by Humbert Humbert, a literature professor in his late 30s who has an obsession with 12-year-old Dolores Haze, the daughter of the woman whose house he's lodging in. After her mothers death they travel around the US as father and daughter, but someone is following them - and the plot thickens... Now if anyone ever objects to you reading Lolita or having an interest in it, just remind them that 1) it's considered by many to be one of the finest novels written in the 20th century and 2) there is really nothing in it that can be considered erotic - immoral yes, in terms of themes, but it's not nearly as lewd as people like to make out. What I especially love about Lolita is Nabokov's absolutely beautiful prose, and I also fell in love with the picture it paints of America in 1949. I actually did a (fairly amateur) film review of the 1962 film here on my blog a while back, so to see that click here.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Although I said these books would as a rule be easy to read, Nineteen Eighty-Four is possibly the exception to this. I first tried reading it when I was about 11, but gave up after a couple of chapters and since then I have read it a few times. Despite the effort, I do think it's very much worth it, as it really is one of the best-known classics of the 20th century and you can find references to it everywhere. It's probably the bets known of all dystopian novels, which is why I was so keen to read it when I was going through my sci-fi/dystopian fiction phase a few years back. Anyway, the book was written in 1949, and is set in the year 1984 in a country formerly known as Great Britain. The world is one of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a totalitarian political system under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as "thoughtcrimes" - alright so that last bit was from Wikipedia but I haven't read it in a while! What I actually love most about 1984 is the invented language they have going on, called Newspeak - the aim is basically to reduce the English language's vocabulary, for example by negating words instead of using a totally different word to express the opposite of something. I found that utterly fascinating, which is probably why it's stuck in my mind so much! I'd really recommend 1984, for its status as such an iconic 20th novel as much as anything else.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Funnily enough, this year I'm writing my advanced English extended essay on the origins of vampire literature (Twilight will at no point be mentioned, I can assure you), with a wider look at gothic horror fiction and its traditions. I'm planning for Dracula to be my main text that I'm focusing on, but I'm also going to refer to Polidori's The Vampyre and Le Fanu's Carmilla, as they were essentially the precursors to Dracula. I don't think there's too much of a need to explain what this novel is about, as the character of Count Dracula has passed into our culture to the extent that everyone instantly has an image of a cloaked figure with fangs (and possibly dripping blood) - but the reason why I decided to read it in the first place was really to get to the bottom of the whole myth of the vampire and find out exactly how much of the 'traditional' aspects of vampires that make their way into modern novels are true. If you (even secretly) liked Twilight, House of Night, the Morganville Vampires and so many more vampire novels that have sprung up these past few years, I really suggest giving it a go as it might interest you in the same way it interested me!

Thanks for reading, and I hope I inspired you to pick up a classic!


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