An On-Topic Post: My Reading List

Woo, a post that actually relates to the blog!

One of the things I really wanted to do on my year off was finishing a pile of books I had been longing to read. (Isn’t that on everyone’s “to do” list when they have a chunk of free time?) I’ve always wanted to tackle a few classics, since for some reason my high school chose to negate famous authors such as Jane Austen,  Charles Dickens and Mark Twain in the curriculum. I don’t know how I obtained a high school diploma without touching a book by any of these people, but I did. (We did cover a few Shakespeare plays, Lord of the Flies and Frankenstein*, so all hope is not lost on public education in Canada.)

*We spent two weeks in class listening to horrible audio tapes of this book. Just thought you should know.

Note: When I think of “classics,” I’m really just relating it to “well-known books that come up in conversation and everyone should know what they are.” 

Probably the easiest thing I’ve ever googled.

Of course, not all goes to plan. I did finish The Great Gatsby. It was wonderful. I breezed through 1984 and then Animal Farm. I even regretfully finished The English Patient!

Pride and Prejudice didn’t make for very good beach reading, as I was on vacation in PEI at the time, so I switched over to–are you ready?–The Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin. Her more well-known work is Something Borrowed, which I believe has been made into a movie starring Kate Hudson. I feel guilty just typing this.

I'm sorry, Jane Austen.

My next check-out from the library was Great Expectations. I don’t know what it was, I really enjoyed the book but I just didn’t finish it before it had to go back. I tried! I really did! I tried to the tune of nearly $5 in late fees. I did record the page number I was on, so all hope isn’t lost!

At one point I even downloaded a Kindle app onto my iPhone and tried reading the free A Tale of Two Cities on my breaks. That lasted about…15 minutes? You try reading that on an iPhone!

I’m not doing too well at this point, am I?

I keep going to the library with “classics” on my mind, and then I wind up getting side-tracked by the pretty pastel covers on the shelf where they keep all the popular books. Dammit.

Right now I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love, which is a lovely story of a woman’s journey–oh, hell, you’ve all seen the movie. Not a classic. I’ve also got Lisa See’s Peony in Love to read afterward. Also not a classic. (If you are curious about China and have a thing for mid-20th century historical fiction, please get your hands on Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by See. Those were two stories that stuck with me for a while.)

Other off-track books I’ve finished include The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, My Sister’s Keeper, Water for Elephants, and The Help.

Oh, my god. These are all books recently made into movies. Who am I? I actually didn’t even realize that until I listed them here. This is turning about to be a more self-deprecating post than I thought.

(I suppose I don’t know why there’s a certain…elitism…against people who flock to a certain book when word gets out about a movie being made. It’s a way that the book is thrust into the spotlight, a book that the reader may have never heard of before all the movie-talk.)

If you have a Goodreads account, please do me a favour and make sure I stay on track! I’d like to read Moby Dick and finish Great Expectations before I dive back into the world of pastel covers.

Although, that may have to wait. Looks like I’ve put a hold on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at the library. It was an accident, I swear!

Tom Hanks is judging me. (Although this is a shot from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so yeah, lets think about that.)

Oh and please share any of your favourite classic novels! I would like some suggestions, of course.

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28 responses to “An On-Topic Post: My Reading List

  1. My school in Australia failed at this too…we didn’t even cover Shakespeare. I recently bought a Kindle with the hope of tackling more classics but was immediately side tracked by Harry Potter.

    I recommend Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird and Journey to the Centre of the Earth 🙂

    • The worst part about learning Shakespeare in class is that the teacher would always assign us parts to read aloud. Wasn’t that the most anxiety-ridden activity ever? Haha

      Thank you for your suggestions!

  2. I will forever tout Great Expectations!
    It is highly regarded as, arguably, the greatest novel ever written. Dickens was a master at the novel. Definitely finish it; it is worth is. Estella is my favor female literary character ever, the epitome of an enigma.

    But I will tell you what, save Moby Dick for when your old and physically unable to accomplish anything else in life. Then you will be forced to read it. I loathe that book! However, if you DO in fact read it, one thing is certain. You will become an expert in whaling, as two-thirds of that book is about nothing but whaling.

  3. I didn’t read any of the true “classics” in high school either other than Shakespeare so don’t feel cheated. I also was an advanced reader as a kid so it wasn’t until I was an adult that I picked up books like Bridge to Terabithia and The Giver – both well worth the read as an adult.

    If you end up finishing Great Expectation, I’d recommend Dombey & Son. I wanted to kill my teacher for assigning it (we had two weeks to read it and I was taking 4 other lit courses) but it was absolutely amazing. There are so many books on my “to read when I have time which is never because I’m restoring my house and editing dissertations on the side to pay for paint but one day I’ll get to it” list. I’d be happy to share!

  4. If you have trouble getting through some of the classics (some are pretty dense), try audiobooks. I have found listening to classics a very enjoyable way to pass time in the car or in the gym. Some that I’ve listened to over the past several years and loved: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (modern classic), Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Diary of Anne Frank, Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (very long), On the Road by Jack Kerouac (modern classic), The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    I am currently listening to A Death in the Family by James Agee, and it is fantastic. I’ve completely fallen in love with it.

    You’re welcome to check out my reviews on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/346637-laura) and Bookish Nerd (http://bookishnerd.com/). This is a great project, and there is A LOT to love out there.

  5. Jonathan Safran Foer = not my fave. He’s funny in Everything is Illuminated but too convoluted for me to fully enjoy.

    As for the classics, university made me grip into them, me being an English major and all. I have managed to stay away from Great Expectations, Beowolf, and a few others that I should have read though, miraculously. I’m not too worried by it. Classics are great if you’re trying to decipher some sort of literary history, but modern books can be equally emotion-inducing and equally great. That, and they use our language, which, for me, is a giant plus. If I wanted to read a book in Greek, I would learn greek. Or latin.

    • Very true, I’m trying to find a balance between modern and classic books, since both categories have wonderful things to offer. Beowulf is an…acquired taste? Maybe just to me, but you’re not missing too much, don’t worry!

  6. some classics youve listed i have read them enjoyed them too ..i did have plenty of time though. Goodluck on your effort

  7. thebitchybride

    It sounds like you’ve been reading a lot, so I wouldn’t beat yourself up about them not all being classics. I think it’s good to have a basic knowledge of the classics because they tend to inform a lot of other work, but remember it’s okay to dislike some of them along the way. I forced myself to read a lot of stuff before I realised I wouldn’t get shot for saying I prefered 20th century novels. Plus, it’s far more exciting to discover a new modern author, because they’re probably still writing.

    I have to disagree with Kharlamovaa, because I absolutely loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The film looks pants, though. Classics wise, you’ve probably just got to dip into one from each author and see what stands out for you, but if you’re looking for modern authors that haven’t just received a bump in sales from films, I’d recommend: Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. Also The Book Thief, that made me cry.

    I kinda want to spend the whole day in the bath with a book now 🙂

    • I forgot to mention that I actually got about halfway into The Book Thief before I needed to return it to the library. I’m pretty bad at checking out a heap of books and never finishing the last one. I’ll put another hold on that and finish it for sure! It was lovely, the part I read anyways.

      Thank you for the suggestions, I find it almost overwhelming to pick new, modern books sometimes.

      • thebitchybride

        I woke up this morning to realise I have two books overdue at the library. 😦 I seem to read library books way more slowly than my own, even if I’m enjoying them.

        I know what you mean about picking modern books. I walk into book shops and grow a little angry that so much rubbish gets published and I’ve no idea how to sort through the trash to find something good. I tend to only buy things that have been recommended and only take recommendations from people whose taste I really trust, but I must be missing out on some great books that way.

        Happy reading! xx

  8. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Just a thought…

  9. I never got to read the great classics in high school either but that was because I went to school in Germany and trying to force a basic english class to focus on a whole classic novel would have been too much to ask for although we took a look at the obligatory Shakespeare but didn’t even read a whole play. Shameful, I know. No wonder I was my teachers favorite student when I wanted to write about Virginia Woolf.

    Oh boy, Moby Dick. I tried reading it last year but I never finished because it was just so boring and long and mostly about ships and whales and not much happening than the obsession of an old man.
    Jane Austen for me is always a great pick, she never disappoints me. Little Women was great, too!!! And Jane Eyre, P.G. Wodehouse, Henry James…someone stop me, please! I need more time to read. Great Expectations is still waiting for me to finish the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Enjoy your reading!!

    • That’s the second strike against Moby Dick here! Maybe I’ll bump it a little further down my list for the time being. Thanks, and good luck getting through your list!

  10. Good luck staying on track!

  11. We had to read Great Expectations in high school and I hated it. In fact, I skipped over large sections that seemed unnecessarily wordy. I did the same with The Great Gatsby. (What did I have against “Great” books?) I wonder if the fact that they were assigned reading made them so unpalatable at the time. I intend to try Gatbsy again on my own before the movie comes out in December. We’ll see how it is when nobody is forcing me to read it!

    • Oh yes, I always found that being force-fed books was awful. Reading two chapters a night really wasn’t an option for me, since I would be the type to devour an entire book in a day if it caught my interest. I would recommend re-reading The Great Gatsby. It wasn’t too hard to get through compared to other classics, I found. Hope you like it!

  12. I loved Great Expectations, but it was also the Great Illustrated Classics version which apparently has less extraneous detail in it. Still, fantastic story. Loved The Great Gatsby , Brave New World, 1984…I’ve been on a stint of classic novels that were “banned”…that might help with the motivation to read them. Who doesn’t want to read a book more when people have said you shouldn’t? *mischievous grin*

    • I think being “banned” is the only reason some people are inclined to pick up a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. (It was for me, anyway.)
      Brave New World should be on my list, thanks for the reminder!

  13. Don’t bump Moby Dick!!! It’s about ships, and captains, and a big whale. One of my favourites, in spite of the somewhat archaic language. Love John Steinbeck – start with Tortilla Flat, its hilarious, before moving on to The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, or Travels with Charlie.
    In highschool, beyond the obligatory Shakespeare, we also read The Lord of the Flies, Catch 22, Animal Farm, The Last of the Mohicans (now THAT was a boring book), The Catcher in the Rye, Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath, A Tale of Two Cities. In University we were assigned Thomas King’s (Canadian) Medicine River, not a classic, but I am confident it will be. His Green Grass, Running Water is also a heap of fun. It has the most fascinating/hilarious mixed up First Nations/Christian Creation story that literally had me LOL. (And so did my Hebrew Bible Professor when I gave her a copy). Another excellent Canadian author is Valgardson, Blood Flowers (short stories) – another highschool read.
    So many books, so little time.

  14. You can just be a hipster and claim you’ve read all of those film-adpated book BEFORE the movies were going to come out. 😉

  15. I think most of have listed what really contributes as a reading of classing literature, but here is my two bits for what it’s worth – The Man in the Iron Mask, The Portrait of the artist, Tristram Shandy, Gulliver’s Travels, Dangerous Liaisons, Vanity Fair and then my favourites – The Moonstone, Scoop and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you are really ambitious or (a nerd like me!) try and don’t raise your eyebrows – War and Peace. It’s really awesome if the bulk of the book does not intimidate you (my advice don’t worry about the bulk, just read some pages everyday and soon you will be hooked!)