5 Classic Books That Won't Put You To Sleep
Don't worry, almost no dead white men here.
After finishing their education, I would hazard a guess that most people never pick up a literature classic again, at least by choice. Even as an English major and someone who does read for fun, I mostly avoided classics that I did not have to read for my classes.
Despite being a Jane Austen fan, I have yet to read a full one of her books. It's not that it's necessarily difficult, it largely has to do with the language at the time. Today, writers value concise writing and enough flowery details to create the scene, but no more.
Writing trends of the past were not so. For example, Charles Dickens was famously paid by the word, so he would squeeze in as much detail as possible to stretch out the length of his books. Long strings of adjectives were common. Not to mention, language has changed drastically in the last century.
While many classics touch on universal topics, the language is simply not universal. Through my education and perseverance to find classics that I enjoy reading, I finally have a few recommendations for classics that I found gripping and/or fun and would recommend to others wanting to read classic literature, but who are intimidated or found it boring.
#1: Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
Sometimes stylized as Daddy-Long-Legs, this awkwardly titled book was published in 1912 by Jean Webster. An epistolary novel, it is written as a series of letters that an orphan girl is writing to the man who sponsored her ability to attend college.
Reminiscent of Anne of Gables, the novel is short, sweet, and adorable. A wholesome romance, a naive, yet intelligent protagonist combined with a small air of mystery, this is one that I think even teenagers would enjoy reading.
#2: Native Son by Richard Wright
Many people have probably read Richard Wright's slightly more famous novel, Black Boy. However, I personally found Native Son to be terrifyingly relevant to today's racial injustices. The book follows Bigger who gets a job as a driver for a rich white family. Originally meaning to and mostly succeeding at staying out of trouble, a night on the town with the daughter of the family and her friends ends in an accidental tragedy. This results in Bigger becoming a fugitive.
The book is hefty and definitely not for the faint of heart. It's intense and sad and heartbreaking. The first 100 pages or so go a little slow, but after you get past that, you'll likely forget you're reading.
#3: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
When compared to other genres, I have found that classic horror has stood up better than the others. Perhaps because what is scary to humans, never totally changes. This is actually a book I was assigned to read in high school, but still love to this day.
If a 16-year-old teenage girl can read and love this book, I feel like any adult can. Frankenstein is also often considered one of the first modern horror novels.
#4: No-No Boy by John Okada
A somewhat "new" classic, this book follows the story of an Asian American man and his family after he is released from an internment camp after he declined to fight in World War II. Called "no no boys", these men faced ostracization from both white Americans, as well as even their Japanese friends and family.
Taking place in Seattle after World War II, this book was lost for many years and not originally received well at the time of publication. After it was re-discovered in a used bookstore, it is now arguably one of the most important books in Asian American literature.
#5: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
I put this one at the end of the list because the style is somewhat unapproachable. Written entirely in the stream of consciousness of various characters, it can be hard and even boring to read at times. However, for those who do enjoy reading, history, or perhaps literature related history, this book may fascinate.
With hints of lesbian love and relationships, this book broke barriers in both subject matter and style. While this book was not always the most thrilling, it is subtly dark until the very end. It is also under 200 pages, so not too much to struggle through if you are trying to get used to the language.
Honorable Mention: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I get a lot of shit for actually having enjoyed this one when we were forced to read it in high school. I feel like it is always used as an example of the quintessential classic and boring book. However, the alternating chapters of the main narrative and then allegorical or zoomed out scenes made me absolutely love this book.
There is a lot to dive into in this book. It certainly is not the most uplifting narrative, but it is real and genuine, something I appreciate and look for in novels. While I understand this novel isn't for everyone, I certainly found it a worthwhile read.