For the longest time, I felt extremely intimidated by classic literature. I think it started when I was between 8 and 10 and tried to start a few different classics. I was far too young, but for years and years I just thought that I wasn’t smart enough to read them. I thought classics could really only be enjoyed by PhD literature students. Or some such thing. (I don’t think I knew what a PhD was at the time, but it gives you the gist.)
However, as I started reading classics in school and then finally on my own, I realized that (for the most part), there is a reason that certain pieces of literature continue to be read, even after hundreds of years.
That is not to say that every literary classic is equally accessible. If you’re new to the world of classics, these are the ones I would recommend as great places to start!
- The Picture of Dorian Gray–I only read this book last year, but I wish I’d read it sooner. It has beautiful writing and interesting ideas, but at no point does it become convoluted or dull. The themes are easy to understand without being boring, and it is quite a gripping read. (Something which admittedly can’t be said about every piece of classic literature.)
- To Kill a Mockingbird–I have many feelings about this book (which I also finally read last year…embarrassingly late, I know). In my opinion, it is the single most important book published in the twentieth century. It is also as relevant as literature can get (meaning extremely relevant) and is absolutely beautiful.
- Macbeth–This play is extremely close to my heart. I have a number of favorite Shakespeare plays, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be Macbeth. Happily, I think it’s also a great introduction to Shakespeare. People often seem intimidated by Shakespeare, thinking that his works are exceptionally difficult and hard to understand. I have read a large number of his plays and this has not been my experience. My suggestion would be to a) aim for the big picture, not the details, and b) watch or listen to it if you’re still feeling intimidated.
- Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility–Ah, Jane Austen. The biggest surprise it seems people often have when reading Jane Austen is how easy her books are to read and how funny she is. I know that Pride and Prejudice is an utterly uncreative beginner classic, but it’s a great one to start with. And Sense and Sensibility is very close to that in my estimation.
- A Christmas Carol—Great Expectations was the first classic I ever read on my own. It worked well for me, and Dickens is now one of my favorite writers, but I don’t think I would recommend most of his work to someone just starting to get into classics.
- Pygmalion–This is a delightful play by George Bernard Shaw that was one of the first true classics I read in school. It is the source material for the musical My Fair Lady.
I really look forward to reading more classics. If you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments or let me know on Twitter!