Respect for the Classics

I don’t know about you, but 2024 has been a crazy year so far (are we seriously not even a month in?) After a very mild welcome to winter, it doesn’t feel fair that we have had to deal with being plunged into freezing temperatures, right at the point where we are starting to dare to hope for spring.

When the weather starts to turn sour, and even when life seems to be a blur, I still make a point to read at least a little every day because the problems on the pages take my mind off grades, deadlines, and long days rushing between classes and work. 

Winter, for some reason, is my favorite time to pull out a few of the classics. They’re cozy and simple and seem to give me “curled in front of the fireplace while there’s a blizzard outside” vibes.

My confession is that there are the classics that I just can’t read the entire novel. I will read the condensed children’s version because, as stated before, life is busy and sometimes the easy read is just as enjoyable and requires less mental translation from old English. 

If you are looking to get into classic reading, or just reading in general, I would like to introduce you to my top favorite classic books. There are choices, in no particular order, with a few from the required high school English classes, a few I only know of from their condensed and modern English-ized version and some that I read in their entirety on my own time.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis

They are children’s books. They are movies. It was even a British TV series in the late 1980s. Mostly, they are really, really amazing.

C.S. Lewis authored seven books set in Narnia, with the main focus being on Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, four siblings who stumble into Narnia in the second book in the series, and the most famous of the seven complete novels. The four become Kings and Queens in their magic world, and the stories following book two deal with their adventures all the way to the end of the Narnian world, as well as that of the friends they make along the way. (Book one describes how Narnia was created).

Lewis wrote the series with the story of the Bible in mind, and some patterns can be traced throughout the series. For me, the books hold a lot of memories of reading them when I was younger, and also enjoying the relationship between the four siblings. 

“Robin Hood” by William Langland

I never read the real “Robin Hood” until about a year ago, but I have seen the Disney movie several times, and I have to say that both are equally amazing.

During the reign of Prince John (the phony king of England–there’s a very catchy tune in the movie by that title), Robin, after becoming an outlaw, sets out with his Merry Men to live in Sherwood Forest. The novel describes their escapades of stealing money from the rich to aid the poor.

“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott

I discovered “Ivanhoe” after it was mentioned in another book I was reading (real book lovers get book recommendations from other books they’ve read). Out of curiosity, I tracked down the condensed version at the library. I actually surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it, despite the frequent plot twists and numerous characters that led to some mild confusion. It has similar vibes to “Robin Hood,” which was inspired by this novel.

The basics of the book revolve around a wealthy family in the Anglo-Saxon era of England following the failed Third Crusade of King Richard the Lionheart. The protagonists, Ivanhoe and Rowena, have fallen in love, much to the dismay of their parents.

Through a wild turn of events, these two, along with their companions, survive everything from bandits to duels in an effort for all the pieces to fall together.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It started as assigned reading for high school English, but it ended up with me loving the book.

Backtrack: my junior year of high school fell during the pandemic, and with everything around us going crazy, my English class wasn’t able to keep up with all the typical lesson plans.

That was the year we were set to read “The Great Gatsby” but ran out of time by the end of the year. Out of curiosity, I picked up a copy at the library for some summer reading.

By senior year, my new English teacher decided to have us catch up a bit on what we missed the previous year, thus we ended up reading “Gatsby” in class. It was the second time that stuck with me. 

I’m sure a lot of high school students also have this novel on their required reading list. Still, in case you haven’t read it or have forgotten the plot, Fitzgerald writes about the friendship between Nick Carraway and his millionaire friend, Jay Gatsby, during the 1920s, and Gatsby’s obsession with his past girlfriend, Daisy.

“Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

A basic, yet sweet, reading choice. I have always enjoyed Anne Shirley and her many (many) wild adventures, and it makes for an easy read without the headache of too many characters or too many plot twists.

Anne is an orphan who is adopted by a middle-aged brother and sister duo, who find that raising an overly enthusiastic and trouble-prone eleven-year-old is not as peaceful and simple as it may sound.

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

I’m not exactly sure how or why Jane Austen came up on my radar, but I did start reading “Pride and Prejudice” outside of English class. I feel it deserves a bit more love, to be honest, since it happens to be a different sort of love story.

The plot focuses on Elizabeth Bennett, whose parents are worried about how their five daughters will be provided for, as there is no family fortune for anyone other than a male heir (keep in mind that this is England in the early 1800s, so women did not legally own possessions). The parents only want one of their daughters to marry well to take care of their sisters, which basically drives the whole plot.

A feminist story it is not, but Elizabeth, who holds many strong opinions, finds out that all her first assumed prejudices of the people she has met are seldom correct, which is also influenced by her love interest, Mr. Darcy, learning to let go of his pride (see how cleverly Austen titled her novel?)

“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

I don’t care how basic it is, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott will forever be my favorite classic, and also just one of my favorite books in general. I own at least four versions of this book.

If you have never read it (or seen one of the half-a-dozen movies made in its honor), Alcott based the story on herself and her three sisters growing up during the Civil War. The lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and their friends and family are laid back and often full of life lessons. 

Classics are typically a take ‘em or leave ‘em, and there are plenty that I don’t care for. The older language and the different periods in history can be difficult, not to mention that they can feel like homework from classes past. Still, they can be enjoyable if you know what you like and you take the time to comprehend what you’re reading. 

I won’t advocate for every classic novel, but I can say that I can recommend picking up reading real books of all kinds.

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