I remember making the decision to study English Literature and Creative Writing at uni. It was an obvious choice, and there was another glaringly obvious fact that I couldn't overlook - certain books were deemed to be classics, and if I were to behave like a proper literary lady (this is more of an opinion than a fact) then I'd need to read certain books in order to have intelligent conversations with my fellow bookish classmates.
It does help to have read some classics before going to uni, but in all honesty, you're exposed to such a wide range of authors, narratives and theories that sometimes the classics sort of get pushed to one side. There are a lot more contemporary texts that warrant rich conversation, and I've always been partial to these than to books written by stuffy old men in the nineteenth century.
I learnt that it was okay not to have read all the classics.
Having said that, classics aren't deemed classics for no good reason, and I've decided that it might be worth poring over their pages now that I'm a bit more mature at my ripe old age of twenty-six. Here are a few books that I've never read, but which I probably should.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Have I watched the film? Certainly. Do I know the story? Pretty sure everyone does. Despite this, ya girl has never picked up this classic Austen book and read it all the way through. Now, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Jane Austen. I know she was a woman of her time, and quite the perceptive woman, too, but I've never been drawn to the idea of reading about the British landed gentry and what a pain it was trying to find the right husband. Even so, if I'm going to read an Austen novel it's this one. The character development of Elizabeth Bennett is notoriously dynamic, and the impact it's had on subsequent works of literature and TV has been pretty major.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Joyce is Ireland's national pride and joy, and this book is considered to be a literary masterpiece. It's also considered to be very hard to read, which is why perhaps I've never taken the plunge and given it a go. Modernist novels kind of scare the crap out of me (think I'm perpetually scarred by the ridiculous complexity of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land) but I am intrigued by Ulysses purely because of its stream-of-consciousness form. Apparently, before Joyce no author had attempted this process of thinking. I suppose this fact renders it a pioneering text of the field, and therefore one that I probably should attempt at some point in life (probably when I've got a lot of time on my hands.)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This was the young adult fiction girls would have been reading way back when, and I probably would have read this, too, had I lived a hundred years ago. I know people who read Little Women as a teenager, but I just never got round to it, though I'm sure I would have appreciated the fact that it focuses on four young sisters and their passage from childhood to womanhood. Perhaps I'll buy this for my daughter one day.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Ahh, the Russian writers of the nineteenth century. How I have strategically managed to avoid them! I remember perusing a section of my college library and ogling at the thickness of books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. How anyone managed to get through these books I had no idea. I'm pretty sure my Mum used to read these types of books when she was younger, and highly recommended them, though to me they sound very complicated and depressing. War and Peace is said to be an internationally praised classic of world literature, and for this reason I feel like I'm missing out, but...1225 pages?! I'm not sure I can handle it.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
This is a book I could definitely get my teeth into. I watched the first series of the television adaptation and thought it was poignant, terrifying and gripping, which makes me think - what on earth is the book like?! The novel explores themes of subjugated women in a patriarchal society, and this is always relevant. It's relevant because the world that Atwood creates is one that, at first glance, seems completely unrealistic and fabricated, but when you think a little deeper about it actually doesn't seem so irrational. I think this is an important book and I'm set on reading it someday.
Are there any classics you'd recommend?