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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Favourite literary classics I've read

While I prefer modern books, I have a read a fair few classics and enjoyed most of them. Classic books address topics that are universally understood and can be replicated in modern literature. The Catcher in the Rye deals with teen angst and finding yourself, whilst The Bell Jar deals with mental illness. When you read a classic you realize that it doesn't matter what time period the story is set in; people in the 19th and 20th centuries still dealt with the same sorts of problems that us lot around today deal with. Fears, wishes, and the stuff that makes us human can be found within the pages of classic and modern books.

1984. This is one of my favourite classics for sure. Read it at 16 and it freaked me out, particularly the part when Winston is stuck in Room 101 and has to confront The Worst Thing in The World. The story is simple and easy to follow and get stuck in to. Only part I thought was a little unnecessary and went on too long was when Winston was reading about the History of their world and the wars between Eurasia and Eastasia. The ending is bleak and the overall story is brilliant.

Fahrenheit 451. I did like this book, however I didn't 'love' it. Its a tiny book so I read it quite quickly, in the space of a couple days. I think its premise is frightening - living in a world where books are being burned and no one is allowed to read. The ending is hopeful and I did like the character of Montag and the teenage girl he meets at the beginning.

The Bell Jar. I love this book because it resonates with me a lot. It's based on Plath's own struggles with depression which I relate to. The only thing that annoyed me when reading this book, funnily enough, is that I felt there weren't enough semi-colons. I know, a bit dumb but I do LOVE semi-colons, they're my favourite type of punctuation. (Damn I'm nerdy).

Brave New World. When I first read this book I liked it but didn't 'love' it; found it a bit confusing. I struggled to finish it. I'm currently re-reading it and still find all the sciencey-stuff hard to understand. BNW and 1984 are often compared to one another, due to exploring dystopian societies in different ways. The premise of BNW is interesting because instead of the government using fear, control and cruelty to keep people down, they over-indulge people in hedonistic pleasures. Promiscuity is encouraged to the point where no one is allowed to have meaningful monogamous relationships. Babies are grown in test tubes. Everyone is encouraged to take 'soma', a drug that keeps them happy. But what's really great about this book is its core message - humans aren't supposed to be mindlessly cheerful all the time; to feel human we're supposed to feel sad, angry, confused and hurt as well. No one in that world knows true happiness, because true happiness isn't constant pleasure, it's being content with your life and what you have and being able to sit with whatever emotions you're feeling.

The Catcher in the Rye. For some reason when I first read this I only read half of it and didn't finish it - not cos I didn't like it but because it was a bad habit I had that I've hopefully overcome. Anyway, I read this properly the other day and LOVED it. Related to Holden a lot. I can't believe this book was banned; in today's climate it seems tame and funny in parts, but I guess in the piety of the 40s/50s a young boy cursing, smoking, drinking and hiring a prostitute was horrific. (Man, how we have progressed). This book is a brilliant exploration of isolation, fear of growing up, teen angst and depression, loneliness, but also love and empathy (as shown between Holden and his sister Phoebe).

Lord of the Flies. Really good book with a clever premise. The characters in this book are greatly woven; my favourite was poor Piggy. I think its a good exploration of how little kids' imaginations can mess with them, and represents our childhood fears like 'monsters under the bed.' (Or a pig's head on a stick). It also comments on the need for balance - fun and games is good, but we need order as well. (I wrote a short story inspired by LOTF called 'Jimmy Doogooder and the Piranha Kids, check it out here if interested:

The Great Gatsby. Enjoyed this a lot; related to Nick and his disillusionment with those around him. Really hated Daisy and couldn't understand Gatsby's obsessive love for her. The title is also brilliant, because it has a double meaning - Gatsby appears great to everyone around him, yet it is also sarcastic because he isn't really that 'great' at all. I found the prose and descriptions in this story really beautiful and well-written.

Jane Eyre. Liked it but wasn't that crazy about it. Didn't finish it; I'm not really big on romance novels. (Never read any Jane Austen). I liked Jane a lot and found her kind and intelligent, however I didn't really like Mr Rochester. Thought he was creepy, full of himself and cruel for locking up his ex-wife rather than getting her help. (But representative of the times and the sick way in which people with mental illness were treated). Can't really understand what all the fuss is about those two, to be honest. I preferred Jane when she left Rochester and went to become a teacher. I think she's an inspiring character because despite her horrible childhood she pulls through and makes something of herself.

Lolita. One of my favourite books ever. It's beautifully written, and the story is great and unique. If you can get past the 'oh my god it's about a pedophile!' bit and appreciate the story for what it is, then you find that it's rather enjoyable and interesting. Yes, Humbert is a nasty monster, obviously; he is sick in the head and perverse. Lolita isn't all that likeable herself, but one does feel sorry for her. There isn't really a book as good as this one that deals with its subject matter so well. I've seen both movie adaptations too.

To Kill A Mockingbird. A simply brilliant book. Atticus Finch is one of the best characters in fiction and I loved Scout too. This is funny - it took me three chapters to realize that Scout was a girl and her real name was Jean Louise. I love this book because it deals with serious topics of racism, rape and poverty whilst retaining a sense of warmth and humour about it. Doubtlessly this is because its told in first-person from Scout's point of view, letting us experience the cruelty of the South through a child's innocent yet mature and intelligent eyes.

Some classic books I read as a child:

Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Treasure Island, Animal Farm, Black Beauty, Of Mice and Men (studied in school), Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (studied in school).

I've also read about a third of Native Son, and did read the first few chapters of Dracula once but found it hard to get into. Read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in my late teens even though they're children's books. Actually found those stories kind of sad, particularly the latter - felt like the characters were pretty mean to poor Alice.

Do you like the classics? What ones are your favourites? Let me know!

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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