Classics are classic for a reason. Whether it be because they have timeless stories, epic characters, or are just classically awful (and that does happen!), we continue to read the “classics”. They have something to tell us about ourselves, because really, we’re still the same people at heart that our ancestors were one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago.
I run the classics book club here at the Cheshire Public Library, and from the moment it started, it was an instant hit. To this day, almost three years later, it’s still my most popular book group. If you run a book club, consider adding in a classic once a year. Just about anyone can read Gone Girl (and let me tell you – they have, ad nauseum), but it’s more of a challenge to read classics. And you sound smarter, too.
So here’s a list of my top ten classics for book club:
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. See my post about why this is my favorite book – it explains everything!
- Persuasion by Jane Austen. Some people will argue with me about this, but Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen book. Austen is at her best in her final completed
novel with a story of love lost and love regained. Second chances are possible in this memorable book. And while you’re at it, watch the recent Masterpiece Classics movie they did several years back. All I can say is: yummy!
- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read this book first in high school and thought it was *ok*. Both of my parents loved this book, and at the time, as a junior in high school, I couldn’t appreciate it. Having a little more life experience as a sophomore in college, re-reading it, I could finally see why they loved this book so much.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. During this 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, this book is especially appropriate for book clubs to entertain. I heard grumblings from some members about how “depressing” they thought this book was, but as a group we had excellent conversations on mental illness, gender roles, and the 1950’s Read my review of the book.
- The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I read this for the mystery book club I used to run here at the library and it
would definitely count as a classic. If you’re looking for something that’s full of ambiance, setting, and great characters, Maltese Falcon is perfect. Short, easy to read, and a good mystery to boot. Hammett set the standard for noir fiction and mysteries. And how can you think of Sam Spade without thinking of Humphrey Bogart???
- My Antonia by Willa Cather. For everyone who has ever read or watched Little House on the Prairie before, you’ll love this book. My Antonia is beautiful in its descriptions of the people, the time, and especially the land. A majority of Americans can say that somewhere in their history is an immigrant story, and My Antonia speaks to our shared history on being newcomers in the “New World.”
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Now, this is an ambitious book for a book club, not meant to be read over a period of just one month. You’d have to
give this at least three months or meetings for everyone to get through this lengthy, but well worth-it epic. This is the ultimate read on revenge. Dumas weaves an intricate story that by the end, will leave you going, “Holy smokes!”. For being a book written in the 1800’s, The Count of Monte Cristo is readable, especially compared to some of his other works. Like the show Revenge? It’s the Count of Monte Cristo updated.
- 1984 by George Orwell. It’s been years (10!) since I read this for senior year summer reading in high school, and I can still remember the impact this book had on me. Who hasn’t heard of the term “Big Brother”? Yup, it came from 1984. Orwell was a man ahead of his time, correctly guessing how we as a society would develop, as well as the implications of Communism. This book has garnered a lot of press time recently with the whole Snowden/NSA episode, so if just for curiosity, this book is well worth your time.
- Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. Ok, so you’re probably wondering, “What about Wuthering Heights? Or Jane Eyre?”. Wuthering Heights, frankly, is terrible. And Jane Eyre is scores better, and would definitely make another “Top 10 Classics List” were I to write another. Agnes Grey is a gem, a diamond in the rough. So much time is spent reading her sister’s books, that Anne is often overlooked. And I would argue that she is the true heroine of the Bronte sisters. What takes Emily and Charlotte more than 400 pages to describe, Anne takes less than 300 hundred to tell a fabulous story of perseverance and responsibility.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Ok, so admittedly I’m not a Hemingway fan. He, along with so many other male writers of his time, writes women one dimensionally and usually with obvious disdain and dislike. However… of the three Hemingway books I’ve read is the most tolerable, and therefore, the only one I’d recommend. Some of the comments in classics club were that it was just a bunch of people sitting around, doing nothing with their lives. And in truth, yes, that’s what they were doing. However, I thought The Sun Also Rises had a lot more to say about the period and the consequences of World War I than anything else. With the 100th anniversary of WWI next year, The Sun Also Rises is a treatise on how war changes everything.