Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Ten Literary Classics That Have Stayed With Me
1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I am reading this right now, with the seniors, for the fifteenth time. In recent years I've read through it completely with them, taking a significant amount of class time to do so, but feel like it's worth the time and trouble so that they get the benefit of the themes and intricately woven plot. This book has so many layers that I still uncover new ones every year. The story of Pip, his immaturity, his snobbery, and then his maturing gratitude, is very good.
I do wish sometimes that someone could take the works of an author like Dickens, and, without changing any of his basic storyline or characters, just simplify the language somewhat. The eighteenth-century style of fiction is so flowery and wordy, that today's high schoolers really struggle with getting something out of it - yet there is much depth there that they need to learn from.
2. Macbeth by Shakespeare. This play is the perfect literary interpretation of James 1:15 - "Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
3. Hamlet by Shakespeare. Another outstanding interpretation of a Biblical principle, that the sin of one man, in this case Claudius, sends out tentacles that end in consequences for many other people.
4. Works of Anne Bradstreet. This Puritan author, the first poet in America (not just the first female poet), writes beautiful work, very readable, and very uplifting. She was a Christian first, then a wife and mother. Some feminists have tried to appropriate her and her work, because she was the first poet and wrote of desiring to have her work acknowledged by men; however, she was very devoted to her family and did not espouse the independence desired by most in feminism. I wish I had paid more attention to my sister's graduate recital, about Bradstreet, a number of years ago!
5. Silas Marner by George Eliot. I dreaded teaching this for the first time, two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised, especially after supplementing this work with Focus on the Family CDs. Although Eliot has the layers of wordiness like Dickens does, she has crafted a deep, complex, and beautiful story with a great theme of redemption. I've really enjoyed reading this with sophomores.
6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Strong evidence that even authors who do not espouse godly principles in their lives, nevertheless have godly principles written on their hearts. You can't repeat the past. You can't find happiness in affairs or in huge parties. Gatsby's funeral is a stark reminder of what is left after a shallow life.
7. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Okay, I confess, I like the BBC film version of P&P, and the Ang Lee film version of S&S, better than the books themselves. But I could watch them repeatedly.
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Wow. In spite of the language, this should be required reading for all young people, who have no idea of what stark racism was like in the 1930s. Gripping and very heavy story, lightened by her device of telling it through the eyes of a humorous small child.
9. Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. I've only read two of them, "The Nun's Priest's Tale," and "The Pardoner's Tale," but we read most of the prologue about the characters. Chaucer was known for his understanding of people, his storytelling ability, and his humor. All that comes out in what I've read - and his style is very readable. He may be studied in depth on a higher level, but he is very enjoyable for regular people to study also.
10. Works by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It's easy to see why he was called "The People's Poet," because of his readable poems and narratives. He suffered greatly through the loss of his dear friend, and his poetry not only tells good stories, but also gives much food for thought. I especially like "Ulysses," "In Memoriam," and "Enoch Arden."
Other classic writings we read with more enthusiasm than some pieces, just not on the previous list: The Scarlet Letter, Julius Caesar, Ethan Frome, Huckleberry Finn, The Importance of Being Earnest, works by Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Burns, and many other poets!
My tastes do not run to fantasy or science fiction. I prefer realism in readable packages. And all of these have stayed with me for many years now.