What better time than summer to catch up on the classics you’ve missed, or to re-experience those you haven’t read since high school? Here’s a list of some classics I’ve recently read and enjoyed.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when the New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Ann Shirley is skinny, red-haired and never stops talking – and she is a girl. The Cuthberts, who had meant to adopt a boy to help on the farm, are both exasperated and entertained by her constant chatter and romantic imaginings, and don’t know what to make of Anne. But they soon find it hard to remember what Green Gables was like without her.
Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter. Out of these elements, Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. A terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor — these form a series of events that change the orphaned Pip’s life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble origins to begin a new life as a gentleman. Some people find Dickens a little long-winded, but I think his writing is colorful and hilarious, making him one of my favorite authors.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. A poverty-stricken New England farmer, his ailing wife and a youthful housekeeper are drawn relentlessly into a deep-rooted domestic struggle in this hauntingly grim tale of thwarted love. Maybe a bit depressing for the summer, but short and easy to read.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. In this classic satire of small-town America, beautiful young Carol Kennicott comes to Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, with dreams of transforming the provincial old town into a place of beauty and culture. But she runs into a wall of bigotry, hypocrisy and complacency. The first popular bestseller to attack conventional ideas about marriage, gender roles, and small town life, Main Street established Lewis as a major American novelist.
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life. (And don’t miss the fantastic BBC adaptation.)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This timeless classic is a poignant tale of Mary, a lonely orphaned girl sent to a Yorkshire mansion at the edge of a vast lonely moor. At first, she is frightened by this gloomy place until she meets a local boy, Dickon, who’s earned the trust of the moor’s wild animals, the invalid Colin, an unhappy boy terrified of life, and a mysterious, abandoned garden…I also loved her adult novel, The Shuttle. It’s out of print but available to request from other libraries.
What are your favorite classics?