Tackling books that have been labeled as classics, or are required reading in school, can be a daunting or even dreaded task. However, many of these books are classics because so many people enjoyed reading them, not just because of their literary value or the statements they make about humanity or the time in which they took place. Here are some of the classics, or assigned reading, that I have come to love, either when they were assigned to me or as I picked them up on my own.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was originally published in 1953, and seems to be even more relevant today than we might want to admit. Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman that used to enjoy his job but is beginning to have some doubts. The boring life he leads with his wife contrasts drastically with that of his young neighbor Clarisse. This young girl inspires Guy’s doubts through her interest in books. When Clarisse mysteriously disappears, he decides to make some changes and begins hiding books in his home. When his wife turns him in, he is expected to burn his secret cache of books. Guy runs from authorities and winds up joining a group of outlaw scholars who keep the contents of books in their heads, hoping society will once again desire the wisdom of literature.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was originally published in 1960, and remains on my list of favorite books. We are introduced to the Finch family in the summer before Scout’s first year at school. Scout, her brother Jem, and Dill Harris,spend their days reenacting scenes from Dracula and trying to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley. The alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, has no impart on the children. But when their father Atticus defends the accused, Tom Robinson, they find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding. As the trial progresses the good and bad of human nature is clearly exposed with the key aspects being the heroism of Atticus Finch, who stands up for what he knows is right, and in Scout’s learning to see that most people are essentially kind. To Kill a Mockingbird is funny, wise, and heartbreaking, and deserves to be reread often.
1984 was written by George Orwell in 1948, and still stands as chilling prophecy about the future. This novel is set in a future world which is dominated by three warring totalitarian police states. Winston Smith’s longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. Smith has a love affair with a like-minded woman, but they are both arrested by the Thought Police. The resulting imprisonment, torture, and reeducation of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to destroy independent thought and spiritual dignity.
Dracula, Silas Marner, War of the Worlds, Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Stranger in a Strange Land are some of my other favorite classic or assigned reads. Do you have a favorite book that you were required to read in school, or one you read afterwards that you wished you had been assigned to read?