September 30, 2009

Fall in Love with the Classics by Amanda of The Zen Leaf

I am out of the country at my sister's wedding in India with a quick stop in London on the way back! While I am gone some lovely bloggers have stopped by with guest posts! Woohoo!

Today Amanda from The Zen Leaf shares with us how to turn trepidation towards the classics into a flat-out love affair. Take it away, Amanda!

Thank you, Rebecca, for this opportunity to guest-post!

So many people think of classics as boring. We think of classics as the books we were force-fed in high school, like The Scarlet Letter and Billy Budd.** But classics don't have to be the boring, difficult books that many of us were exposed to in school. There are so many wonderful (and easy!) classics out there to choose from. Today, I want to highlight some great examples of fun classics.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - As one of the first real feminist novels, The Awakening was not well received when it was published 100 years ago, but interest in it revived in the past few decades. The language is so modern and familiar that if I didn't know it was written circa 1900, I would guess this was modern historical fiction.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - This book is comedic satire in the same vein as M.A.S.H. It makes me laugh and cry every time I read it, and it truly is a book that can be reread multiple times. Just don't get caught up in trying to make sense of everything - it's meant to be nonsensical and absurd!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - RL Stevenson is the grandfather of horror! This is one of the original creepy books. It's short, fast, and very easy to read. Stevenson also wrote a bunch of adventure books: Treasure Island, Kidnapped, etc.

The Painted Veil by William Somerset Maugham - Nearly all of Maugham's books are written in easy, straightforward prose which didn't make him too popular among writers. His books are the reason I read classics today. I never knew classics could be easy until picking up his books.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - Pearl Buck was the daughter of white missionary parents in China. She drew on her experiences growing up in China for this historical fiction novel about a rags-to-riches family of farmers. I believe this book was featured on Oprah's book club list.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Okay, so maybe a lot of people have already read this, but as this novel is pretty much the mother of modern romance, I have to include it. Of course, there are plenty of other classic romances out there: Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, etc...

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett - Hammett wrote tons of detective and crime novels, many of which were later made into movies. Several of his books, including this one and The Thin Man, have now been classified as classics.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - If you like surreal, take a trip down Kafkaesque lane with this book, which opens with the pronouncement that Gregor Samsa has woken up as a giant bug. Literally. Kafka practically invented his own genre, and this novella is so short it's easy to read in a couple hours.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - Classic mystery novel. Collins is the grandfather of mystery, and his helped to popularize the epistolary style of writing. His books are long, but they rush by very fast.

This is just a small sampling of the many great classics there are out there. Yes, there are many boring, difficult classics. I'm a classics-lover, and I still think there are many boring, difficult classics! But not all of them. Some are very wonderful, and I hope more and more people will give them a chance.

**I'm not saying either of these books are bad or that anyone who enjoyed them has poor taste. These are just ones that many high school kids have to read and don't like.

Thanks, Amanda! I know I for one struggled with The Scarlet Letter in school. H-A-T-E-D it. Luckily I escaped unscathed by my disdain for Hawthorne's writing style and have found other classics to love. As a matter of fact, my senior year in high school is when I first fell in love with The Great Gatsby! Thanks for sharing with us!

Come back tomorrow for another fab guest post! See you soon!

Check out some reviews of well-liked classics:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding at The Zen Leaf
East of Eden by John Steinbeck at The Zen Leaf
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster at Lost in Books
Emma by Jane Austen at Things Mean a Lot
My Antonia by Willa Cather at Book Nut
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins at Trish's Reading Nook
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte at Bloody Bad Book Blog


  1. Thanks again for giving me the chance to post, Rebecca!

  2. What a fun list of favorites. I know there are a lot on there I haven't yet read! Thanks!

  3. Great post Amanda - I've been looking for a few good places to start with the classics.

  4. Fantastic! I love all of these books- but I haven't read A Woman in White yet...

  5. Great post, Amanda! Hooray for Jane Eyre! I think I'm really going to have read Metamorphosis--it sounds right up my alley. :)

  6. That's a wonderful list Amanda! Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorites!

  7. Let's see, I've reviewed Jane Eyre and Catch-22. I haven't read any of the others, but did just read and review The Trial by Kafka.

    Pretty good list. I think there's something on there for everyone!

  8. Great post! I am enjoying the recent (it seems to me) renewal of interest in reading classics.

    Here is my review of Great Expectations, if you want to add another to your list. Dickens can be thoroughly entertaining and very funny.

  9. I loved The Awakening and The Good Earth. Now I'm drawn to Maugham especially because you write that his books are written in an easy, straightforward prose...right up my alley!!

  10. I'm glad you all are enjoying the post. I was hoping it wouldn't be too silly...

  11. Interesting post! I think of those on the list (that I haven't read before) I'd like to try Maugham first.

  12. Great post Amanda! I see some classics on this list that I still haven't read. Catch-22 is one of these.

  13. Hey, I liked Billy Bud - are you saying I have POOR TASTE?! ;)

    Seriously, I want to read all the books you listed that I haven't read yet - especially The Awakening.

  14. I absolutely agree about W. Somerset Maugahm -- Of Human Bondage was one of the first classics I ever read for pleasure, and I absolutely loved it. But I managed to avoide The Scarlet Letter until a couple of years ago. I hated it as an adult, and I'm sure I would have hated it as a teenager too. My husband once told me "Just because something is a classic doesn't mean it's good." Well put.

    I've read and enjoyed all the books on your list except The Woman in White, which I've just started, and I can tell it's going to be another winner.

  15. Yet more books for my to-be-read pile...

    It's good to know that I am not the only one who didn't manage to "get" The Scarlett Letter. I love the classics in general though (usually they are really good if they have stood the test of time, some of them for more than one century), and Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books ever. The Woman in White is also a book that I re-read more often than I can remember :)

  16. Thank you for the fab list, Amanda.

  17. Thanks for the great post. I LOVE The Awakening and lots of other classics. There are a few on your list that sparked my interest that I had not yet read.

    I have not heard any mention of Henry James on any blogs I follow... Has anyone done any reviews of his work lately? Portrait of a Lady is one of my all time favorites.

  18. I majored in English at Simmons College and do not like to hear people say classics are "boring" or difficult or something they were forced to read in high school. I adore Willa Cather and Edith Wharton. I highly recommend O Pioneers, My Antonia, The Song of the Lark by Cather and The Glimpses of the Moon and Twilight Sleep by Wharton (most have read The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth.)
    For your post, I adore The Awakening. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is another must read. The Good Earth is one of my favorites. Also Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, the little known Bronte sister is just phenomenal and sheds light on working women in the 19th century. Phenomenal and it's a page turner. Really!

  19. Had to add one more thing. Love the painted veil [rent the devastating film too with the gorgeous Edward Norton and Naomi Watts] by W. Somerset Maugham but my absolute favorite by him is the Moon and Sixpence. It's well worth checking out.

  20. You know, the Moon and Sixpence was one of the only two Maugham books I didn't really like (the other being The Magician). I've read 15+ of his, and for some reason I just didn't like those. Maybe because they were both based on real people.


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