#87- Read 5 classics I should have read but have never got around to

As an English major, there is an endless list of classic novels I feel I should have read by now. For my 101 Things list, I made it my goal to tackle five of them. Here are the ones I chose.

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell

This was the first new-to-me classic I read during my 1001 day challenge, back in early 2014. I selected it for a few reasons: 1) I loved 1984, another Orwell classic, and wanted to read more of his work, 2) I'd heard that Animal Farm is a creepy, dystopian tale (and if you know me, you know I enjoy a good creepy, dystopian tale), and, perhaps most significantly here, 3) Animal Farm is short; barely 100 pages. 

I think most people out there, like me, haven't read the classics they should have read because typically, these books are extremely long and packed with heavy, thought-provoking, headache-inducing material. Though Animal Farm is heavily political and satirical, the fact that it's only 100 pages makes it also digestible. 

So, Animal Farm is where I started. 

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This book gripped me unexpectedly. I went into it hoping for a quick read to check off my list and found myself entranced by the metaphors and social parallels that make this allegorical tale the classic that it is. Though I knew what was coming (as any reader will, thanks to Orwell's foreshadowing skills), the ending deeply disturbed me. Honestly, I got chills. I've never had the last line of book stick with me for such a long time. 

I don't want to spoil it if you haven't read it, so...go read it. It's an easy read for a classic novel, and given the unsteadiness of our current political state, it might need to be required reading. 

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

For my final senior project in my English Capstone course, we were allowed to select one of our favorite literary pieces to analyze through the lens of any literary theory we desired. I chose "The Lottery", a short story by Shirley Jackson. I read it for the first time at community college, in English 102, when I was a business management major. "The Lottery" was the piece that initially sucked me into literature and sorta changed my life. 

But back to my senior project in 2015. During my research, I learned that Shirley Jackson was pretty cool. I also discovered that she had written novels. And, lo and behold, one of those novels was a ghost story called The Haunting of Hill House.  

Right up my alley. But it gets better. As I dug deeper, I realized that Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House was the novel upon which the 1963 film The Haunting was based. My sister and I fell in love with this creepy classic film when we stumbled upon it on TCM a few years ago. 

When I learned all this, I had to read the novel. I mean, come on. The story revolves around a group of people who go ghost-hunting inside an allegedly haunted Gothic mansion. It doesn't get much juicier than that. 

Shirley didn't let me down. The story is written in first person narrative and told by Eleanor Vance, a young woman stuck in a gloomy, humdrum existence. She's invited to Hill House by Dr. Montague, an anthropologist who is conducting a scientific experiment to hopefully prove the existence of the paranormal within the walls of the eerie mansion. 

Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Long story short, I loved it. I suppose it's a bit spoilery to say it, but Eleanor proved to be a great example of an unreliable narrator, and that always makes for a good time. If you, like me, enjoy ghost stories, Gothic mansions, and mentally unstable characters, you must give this one a go (and check out the movie when you're finished; they did a pretty good job sticking to the book).

3. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Growing in my faith is something that's important to me, and I've heard so many things about this Christian classic over the years, I thought I needed to read it. And let me tell you, the more I learn about C.S. Lewis, the more intrigued I am by his life. I didn't know until I read this that, before he was an influential Christian leader, he was an atheist. How powerful that is. Lewis was an educated guy, a deep thinker, and an atheist; and he ended up choosing to follow Jesus. 

That's essentially what Mere Christianity is- Lewis's thoughtful exploration of the fundamentals of Christianity. He approaches doctrine logically and investigates the faith from a notably unbiased point-of-view. 

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?

Though it's a reasonably short book, I did struggle to get through this one, and I am sorry to say I gave it the lowest rating of all the classics I read for this challenge (3/5 stars). While I deeply appreciated Lewis's writing, I didn't feel as impacted by it as I felt I should have. I definitely want to learn more about him, though, and I may read more of his writings like this in the future.

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Okay, the situation with this one is a lot like The Haunting of Hill House. I discovered the 1940 movie Rebecca on TCM years ago, went crazy over it, found out it was based on a novel, then had to read said novel. 

Let me just rant about the film for a minute, though. It's one of my favorites. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine were perfect. And umm...I guess I missed the opening credits when I saw this movie for the first time, because much to my delighted surprise, I later learned that it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock! So the whole thing gets tons of awesome points from me.  

As did the novel by Daphne du Maurier. It's been a long time since I've given a book a full 5 stars, but this one did it for me. It's kind of a modern (well, modernishJane Eyre, but it's also nothing like Jane Eyre. It has all of my favorite story ingredients: a haunted mansion in the misty English countryside (and to make it even better, it borders the sea), a cast of mysterious characters (a few of which are mentally unstable!), and an overall sense of foreboding. There's even a romance and an inspirational rags-to-riches storyline, but it's not cheesy. It's great. 

Perhaps I am mad. It wouldn't make for sanity would it, living with the devil.

Quick summary: the protagonist is a young woman who works as a paid companion to a horrible, stuck-up old bag named Mrs. Van Hopper. The story begins while Mrs. Van Hopper is vacationing in Monte Carlo, her paid companion at her side. They run into Maxim de Winter, a rich, handsome Englishman who's been recently widowed and is in Monte Carlo to clear his mind; our companion falls in love with him, he unexpectedly proposes, then whisks her away back to his mansion in England as his wife. Then things get creepy. 

Even though I'd seen the movie, and I knew what was going to happen, I read this book obsessively. OBSESSIVELY. I don't know why, but I connected to it so deeply. I found the protagonist immensely relatable. She's awkward, timid, unsure of herself, and incredibly sensitive, but she's strong and she matures visibly as the story progresses. The way she views the world, her surroundings, and particularly her relationship with her new husband clicked with me so disturbingly well. 

One of the coolest things about this book is that the main character is not named. Rebecca, the title character, is the deceased wife of our protagonist's new husband, and throughout the story, the heroine is constantly living in Rebecca's shadow. The fact that the book is Rebecca while the heroine remains nameless...I just thought it was brilliant.  

Yeah, so, Rebecca goes in my Top 5. Actually, Top 3. This book redefines ghost story. I loved it. 

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I can't believe that, until this month, I've never read Tolkien. At all. In fact, it's pretty surprising that I've never jumped on the Lord of the Rings bandwagon in the first place, given my taste in entertainment. But I've just never gotten into it. 

I would say that probably every book I've read on writing references Tolkien and his world-building prowess, so I've felt for a while that I needed to read him for myself. The Hobbit seemed like the most logical place to start, especially with all the hype around the new movies right now. As a fan of Sherlock, I had to see Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch working together on a totally different project, but I wanted to read the book first. 

That might have been a mistake. 

See, I really, really enjoyed the book. Tolkien's witty writing style entertained me and made me giggle aloud a few times. I loved the character of Bilbo Baggins, and his adventures kept my attention. But I've gotta be that person and say that the movies changed sooooo much stuff that I'm struggling to get through them. (Matt and I watched The Desolation of Smaug last night, and, while I liked it far better than the first, all the characters and plotlines they've added are driving me nuts. I understand omitting various things due to time constraints, but when you're turning one book into three movies and adding elements in order to do so WHILE leaving out other things...ugh, just don't get me started.) 

Anyway, I'd been putting off reading Tolkien for a while because I expected the writing to be dry and overly prosaic. I wish I hadn't. I would have adored The Hobbit had I read it a decade or two earlier. I'm thinking now about setting a new goal to read the trilogy, or at least the first of the three. 

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

So that makes five! Five classics I should have read but never got around to. I'm sure I'll put another classic-novel-related goal on my next 101 Things list. Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Any suggestions for future classic reads?


Jessica said...

I knew you'd love Rebecca! It was fantastic, huh?? I have the Hobbit, but I've never started it. Do you think I could follow it? lol. C.S. Lewis was a very intriguing man, as was Tolkien. I read a biography of him (read a biography was on my 101 list, lols). You should look into his personal life as well.

Anna Marie Schaefer said...

Awesome post. I'm glad you liked The Hobbit. I completely agree with your opinion of the movies too. They were very disappointing to me for those exact reasons. I'm trying to get back into reading for enjoyment instead of watching as much TV. So I might try a few things from your list!