Last week, Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub posted Classically Cool- Let’s Talk Classics!, and it got me a-thinkin’, what Classics would I mention as faves?
Dickens doesn’t do anything for me, ditto for the overwhelming amount of Shakespeare I’ve read, Hawthorne makes me angry, I don’t get Melville’s appeal (but I also kind of do…I just don’t want to put in the effort)…but by and large “The Classics” (aka the Canon) are Classics for a reason (not because some nameless, faceless group of (now-)Dead, White Males exercised hegemonic powers to impose their tastes, either).
Still, there are some favorites:
Starting with The Oresteia (for chronology’s sake), this is the only existing example we have of a Greek dramatic trilogy. This series showing the fall-out of the Trojan War for Agamemnon and his family/kingdom and is pretty impressive.
Call me silly, but Beowulf has always really worked for me. I don’t know how to rank the various translations, I’ve read a handful and don’t think I ever knew a single translator’s name. I’ve meant to try the Haney translation since it came out, but haven’t gotten to it yet—the same goes for Tolkein’s. From about the same time (a little later, I believe, but I’m not going to check because if I start researching this post, it’ll never get finished) is The Dream of the Rood, a handly evangelistic tool (one of the better written ones) in Old English.
Moving ahead a couple of centuries (I’ll pick up the pace, don’t worry, the post won’t be that long) and we get Gawain and the Green Knight, which is fun, exciting and teaches a great lesson. Similarly, we have that poet’s Pearl, Patience, and Purity. I don’t remember much about the latter two, beyond that I liked them, but the Pearl—a tale of a father mourning a dead child and being comforted/challenged in a dream to devotion—is one of the more moving works I can remember ever reading.
I want to throw in Tom Jones (technically, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling) by Henry Fielding here, but I’ve never actually completed it. Which says more about my patience and how distracted I can get than the book—which is an impressive work. I’ve gotta get around to actually finishing it at some point.
I can’t remember the titles for most of the Robert Burns poems I’ve read—”A Red, Red Rose” and “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” (one of the best titles in history) are the exceptions—but most of them were pretty good. And I’m not a poetry guy.
Skipping a few centuries and we get to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. If all you know is the story from movies, you’re in for a treat when you actually read this thing. I’ve read it a few times, and each time, I’m caught off-guard at how fast-moving it really is, how entertaining and exciting it can be. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that the book about Dumas’ father, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is a must-read for any fan of Dumas.
I don’t remember how Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott ended up on my bookshelf (I think whatever relative took me to the bookstore said I could get something silly and trashy (in their view) if I got a Classic, too). But a few years later, I finally got around to reading it at about the same time that another kid in my class (we were High School sophomores) was reading it—both of us talked about how it was pretty good, but too much work. Until we got to a point somewhere in the middle (he got there a day before I did, I think) and something clicked—maybe we’d read enough of it that we could really get what was going on, maybe Scott got into a different gear, I’m not sure—and it became just about the most satisfying thing I’d read up to that point in my life.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of my favorite books, probably belonging in the Top 3. Go ahead and roll your eyes at the idea of me saying that about a romance novel, that just means you’ve misread the book. This tale about integrity, about staying true to what one holds dear, what one believes and to what is right despite everything and everyone around you is exciting, inspiring, fantastically-written, and so-memorable. And, yeah, there’s a nice love story to go along with that 🙂
Speaking of love stories, we now get to my favorite, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I steadfastly refuse to learn anything about the actual figure, because I don’t want anything to ruin this for me. When I first read the play in junior high, I considered the best parts the lead-up to the duel in Act I, and Christian’s trying to pick a fight with Cyrano the next day. Now I know the best parts are Christian’s realization in Act IV and Cyrano’s reaction to it and then, of course, Cyrano’s death (I’m fighting the impulse to go read that now instead of finishing this post). And don’t get me started about how this play’s balcony scene leaves any other romantic balcony scene in the dust.
I can’t pass up an opportunity to praise, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s tour de force. Satire, social commentary, general goofiness and some real heart. This book has it all.
I’m not sure that Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictdionary is technically a “Classic.” But I’m counting it as one. It’s hilarious, it’s incisive, it’s a great time for those who like to subtly (and not-so-subtly) play with words. Yeah, it’s cynical—but it’s idealistic, too (as the best cynics are). If you haven’t sampled it yet, what’s wrong with you?
I feel strange dubbing anything from the Twentieth Century as a Classic, so I won’t talk much about The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, Winesburg, Ohio or Our Town (the best way short of having a dog die to make me cry is get me to read/watch Act III). But I do feel safe mentioning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the ground-breaking, thought-shaping, moving, inspiring, and (frequently) just plain fun look at a childhood in the south.
When I started this, I figured I’d get 4-5 paragraphs out of the idea. I guess I overshot a little. Anyway, that’s what came to mind when I read W&S’ post—maybe other works would come to mind if I did this another time, but for now, those are my favorite Classics. What about you?