Day 25 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge
I love reading. It’s one of my favourite things to do, and has been since I learned how to read. I suppose for such a bookworm, it only made sense that I decided to major in English in university and pursued a specialized honours in that subject. I read a lot. Each course had about fourteen books on the reading list, and I read all of them. I was in heaven to be honest.
Many of my courses, especially the ones I took in my first and second years, included many of the classics on the reading list, and I really enjoyed them, so much so that in my third and fourth year, I took many courses that included a lot of nineteenth century literature. So today I am going share with you some classics that I consider must reads.
Before I do so however, I want to talk a little about why we read novels. What we can learn from them. Novels allow us to explore the lives of others, and their experiences and choices encourage us to consider own choices and actions as we are engaged by the experiences and the complex moral issues explored. It strengthens our understanding of what is moral, and the decisions we make. Reading novels has also been shown through research to shape our brain and mould our social skills as well as make us more empathetic. Reading novels, in essence, makes us smarter socially and morally.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
We’ve all heard of Frankenstein, and many of us also know that he is a not a green monster created by a mad scientist. Frankenstein is a gothic novel, written in twelve chapters, and explores the question of creation. Frankenstein creates life from the remains of human bodies, and once his creation is alive, he is horrified at what he has done. Filled with regret, he abandons his creation which later leads the creature to exact revenge on him. Why do I think this is a must read? First of all, it’s a great story, written in a style that I think is still easy to read and also because Mary Shelley forces us to think about our own existence, how we came to be, and how far we should push science.
Pamela by Samuel Richardson
This is actually considered the first English novel in the traditional sense. It is written as a series of letters, and was an instant success, a “bestseller” of its day. The plot revolves around a young serving girl who is being sexually coerced by her employer’s son. Historically speaking, women of the lower classes who worked for the upper classes were at the mercy of the men in those households and frequently forced into their beds. Why do I think this is a must read? The novel is still highly entertaining, and it’s overall explorations of sex and power is still relevant to today and to women’s rights.
The Scarlett Letter By nathaniel Hawthorne
This novel is beautifully written, and relates a tale of a young woman who has a child out of wedlock. She is shunned in her Puritan town, forced to wear a giant red A on her bodice as a visual reminder to her and everyone else that is is an adulterer. The worst thing about this novel is that she alone bears the blame. No one knows who the father is, and he certainly isn’t treated like leper. Why do I think this is a must read? It strikes me as interesting that even today women still bear the burden of having children without a committed partner. Many do not receive support from the fathers of these children, and I have heard plenty of people say, “well, what was she thinking, getting pregnant?” Also, the novel explores the theme of imposing judgement on others, and is very thought provoking.
1984 by George Orwell
We should all know what is meant by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” but if you don’t, it’s a reminder of an all controlling government who monitors every action, every every thought you have. This novel was written after the second world war, at the beginning of the Cold War, when communist regimes were establishing footholds in Europe and Asia. Why do I think this is a must read? When I read this novel in the 1990s as a high school student, we thought we were beyond such a society. And yet today, I question whether we are.
The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hypnotically written, yet entirely linear, this novel just evokes the 1920s. Who is J. Gatsby? The novel explores the idea of the American dream, denounces the immorality at the heart of that dream, and leaves us disillusioned and questioning. In actuality, the film of the same name staring Leonardo Di Caprio does a wonderful job bringing this novel to life. Why do I think it’s a must read? A novel as devastating as this needs reading because it forces us to consider the narrative of the society we live in and to look at it not through rose coloured glasses, but through the lens of morality.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The ultimate Gothic novel, Wuthering Heights was controversial when it was published, and yet the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff is timeless and compelling. A story of unrequited love, of greed and even malice at times, it reminds us how flawed humans are. Why do I think it’s a must read? The writing is haunting, the characters speak to you through their actions, words and lack thereof. It’s like Romeo and Juliet, where none are right, and none are wrong and all is tragic.
Final Thoughts …
I could go on. There are so many wonderful classics that aren’t on this list, but should be. I think the themes are especially thought provoking in today’s society, and universal ones as well. In fact, I’m considering making this a mini series on for the blog. Reading is highly educational, instructional and enjoyable. One of the primary reasons we read is to be entertained. But we can also learn all about our world, ourselves and the greater human connections and existence through reading novels.
Have you read any of these novels? Share your thoughts in the comments below.