I recently disappeared down a YouTube rabbit hole (much like Kate did last year). It’s pretty startling – one minute your innocently browsing the internet for pictures of bookish goodies, and suddenly you realized you’ve been watching the video archives of a booktuber for over an hour.
That’s about the moment when you debate what actually makes someone a stalker.
And how far exactly you are from that line…
One of the really unique things about Ashley’s channel is her emphasis on classics and literary fiction. A lot of the YouTube/BookTube space is jam packed with reviews and commentary on young adult fiction, so it was refreshing to watch someone rave about the classics I know and love.
One video in particular called Where To Begin: Classics, Literary Fiction and Memoirs got me thinking about how intimidating classics can be for the average reader. Not everyone drowned in classics in high school like I did! I know classics can seem insurmountable – particularly if you pull out one of the Russians and attempt to dissect complex existentialism layered with contextual socio-political idioms.
Don’t worry! Instead of going heavy handed – this little list includes 10 classics that can serve as a starting point. They’ll give you a solid foundation in books that are frequently referenced, but they’ll also keep you engaged.
1. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Start with the original dystopian novella. George Orwell’s incredibly famous allegorical story was first published in 1945, but the story of the Russian revolution and the Stalinist era are not only good historical references to have, but the allegory can be (and often is) applied to a wide variety of situations.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Now, this is one that I would assume that most people have probably read, but if you haven’t yet, definitely pick up Harper Lee’s classic. When TKAM was published in 1960, it immediately won the Pulitzer, and rocketed to the top of all future book recommendations. The novel deals with serious issues of rape and racial inequality, and the themes of social justice and heroism are strong in this Southern Gothic.
3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
For any sci-fi lovers, it’s essential to go back to Aldous Huxley. One of the essential sci-fi authors, reading Huxley should be central to any library. Written originally in 1931, the novel is a futuristic understanding of psychological manipulation, reproductive tech, sleep-learning and other techniques to change society. Ranked one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century, Brave New World gives a frightening vision of the future.
4. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
There is truly no avoiding the story of Dracula in modern fantasy. With all the vampires and werewolves out there today, everyone should take a step back to Bram Stoker’s original Gothic horror novel. Published in 1897, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England in search of new blood. Although Stoker didn’t invent the vampire, he certainly defined a lot of the genre in its modern form.
5. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
William Golding’s classic is pretty well known in American classrooms. The book is an exploration of human nature – taking on the issues of individual welfare versus the common good. Originally released in 1954, Lord of the Flies is a relatively simple allegory on civilization following a group of British boys stuck on a deserted island.
6. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
The only novel from writer and poet Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is a true classic. The semi-autobiographical story shows the protagonist’s descent into mental illness, and shows a quite authentic presentation of clinical depression. Plath’s death by suicide a month after it’s UK publication in 1963 only emphasized the importance of the message. You can read Austyn’s take on this classic here.
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the most referenced stories on this list, The Great Gatsby follows characters in East and West Egg navigating social and class divisions. The 1925 novel’s exploration of idealism, social upheaval, decadence, and excess is still an important understanding of how money and status divide populations. Today, The Great Gatsby is widely considered a contender for the title of “Great American Novel.”
8. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
If you’ve ever had a problem with who’s Frankenstein and who’s the monster, just go back to the classic that started it all. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly wrote the story of the abomination created by a young science student in a highly contentious scientific experiment. Easy applicable to modern medical and ethical debates, Shelley’s Gothic work published in 1818 is both spooky and one of the earliest examples of science fiction.
9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
In the political climate of the modern U.S., Ayn Rand gets referenced more often than many other classic writers. Of course, you’ll get a heavy dose of Ayn Rand’s philosophical views and objectivism, but Atlas Shrugged delivers a classic dystopian fiction and a beautiful mystery and romance. Rand is a firm advocate of reason, individualism, and capitalism, and reading her take is a great way to place modern political perspectives in context.
10. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Perhaps the most frequently made and re-made and written and re-written, Pride and Prejudice is one of the classics that can be a true gateway drug. At it’s heart, this 1813 book is a novel about manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage. Among the most popular of Austen’s books, Pride and Prejudice is a perfect presentation of how classics can be re-imagined thousands of times without losing their central messages. After you finish the original, pick up one of the countless modern takes (or just watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Bridget Jones’ Diary).
Those are our top 10 classics to get you going!
What did we miss? Share your suggestion in the comments below!
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