Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top 5 Tuesday: Favorite Classics

Classics. Usually we here this term and think "Ugh... boring." This could stem from the forced reading of classic novels in high school and college and having to write papers and take tests on books that you just didn't find interesting. One of those classics for me was Jane Eyre. While I can appreciate the writing, its feminist themes and what not, I just didn't like the story or the characters for that matter. So, this list is going to be comprised of classic novels that were probably not a part of that forced high school reading list and were actually interesting to read.

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Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Paul Dombey is a wealthy merchant with a daughter named, Florence. He doesn't see the value in a daughter and thus basically ignores her existence. Florence is very lonely and one day meets a young working class boy that helps her to see her value, only Dombey doesn't approve of the relationship and gets him sent off to America aboard his merchant ship. Only it and his past relationships with his other family members eventually come back to haunt him.

So, I have a huge problem with Charles Dickens' writing. He is too verbose. I mean A Tale of Two Cities gives pages upon pages of description of city blocks and factories that it was literally painful for me to read. So when I was assigned to read Dombey and Son in a Victorian Lit class, I almost cried especially since my copy was close to 1000 pages. But I was surprised. Very surprised actually because this story is much more character driven. There are several plot lines with different characters and the farther along in the story the more connections you see in these seemingly unconnected stories. Sure there are slow sections, but for the most part, Dickens' keeps this story going with secrets and cliff hangers and unique character POVs. He's really commenting on society and how we have changed to capitalist jerks only caring about money instead of caring about people and family. Which is still very relevant today. If you are interested in Dickens, I would check this one out. Its my absolute favorite Victorian work.

Summer by Edith Wharton

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Charity is a young aristocrat brought to live with her uncle in a small town in rural New England. Charity hopes by moving in with her wealthy uncle she will find a husband that will look past her parent's money issues. She ends up meeting a handsome young man who sweeps her off her feet and she falls desperately in love. Doing things she wouldn't normally have done, she winds up in a bad place and the story follows her decent from grace.

I read this short novel in one day. It was that good. AND it didn't feel like a classic, it felt like reading a contemporary. Charity is a very compelling and very flawed character, and her story really begins to tug at your heart because it is a story that could happen to any young girl in love. This story is about the power of lust, hope and also redemption. If you want a classic that is still just as relevant as it was in 1917, I would suggest Summer to top that list.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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Billy Pilgrim's story starts when he is an elderly man ready to retire from his dental practice. But he keeps returning to the battlefields of World War II where he witnessed and survived some of the most gruesome attacks seen from the Nazis. His experience in war has left him scarred and unable to cope with many other events that occur later in his life. He becomes tired at his retirement party and escapes to his room to uncover the meaning behind these past events.

So this book absolutely blew my freaking mind. There is so much the reader doesn't understand about Billy but it is so vivid and so interesting that there is no way to put it down. You will have to know what happens to Billy; its surreal. Vonnegut wrote this book as a way to explore what happens to the mind after war. Billy is screwed up. That is apparent from the first page, but as the story goes on it gets more outlandish and trippy. Then it dawns on you that Billy is suffering from mental issues stemming from the war. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator because his story is so compelling. I recommend this book for everyone because there are so many messages that can be taken from Billy's story that it is sure to mean something to everyone. It's a book that has stuck with me for years.

Emma by Jane Austen

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Emma Woodhouse is a young socialite excited by the prospect of love and marriage. Only she is interested in other peoples' relationships rather than her own. Emma tries to set up friends with prospective husbands only to make a fool of herself and her friends. She is clueless but her heart is in the right place. The rest follows Emma's attempts to correct her mistakes and eventually find love herself.

This is my favorite Jane Austen novel because it is so cute. Emma is such a lighthearted character that really is just trying to help her friends. This book is much more humorous than Pride and Prejudice, which everyone seems to have deemed Austen's greatest work. I would have to disagree because while Emma is much less romantic in a traditional sense, it speaks more about how society can influence romantic relationships reeking havoc on the lives of the participants. The old adage is "you can't choose who you love" but yet we try to control our feelings and force feelings on people who are not right for us just because society says we should. And the movie Clueless is based on Emma, need I say more? 

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
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Addie Bundren has died and her family decides she needs to be buried in her hometown several states away. With no money, no food, no lodging and several deep family secrets, the Bundren's set off to bury their mother. Anse Bundren, Addie's widower, is too proud too accept help from many of the passerby characters they encounter on their journey of sadness and regrets. The Bundren's are trying to get through this burial while trying to keep their secrets and their emotions from their family members.

What makes this book so great is the stream of consciousness embedded in the switching POVs. You read from every family member including all of Addie's children, Anse and even Addie herself in the casket. It's incredible to see each character's perspective on the death and how they are trying to hide some devastating secrets. Each character has such a unique voice and the stream of consciousness portion is actually like being inside their heads. Faulkner was a pioneer with this style and the result is pretty much a soap opera on paper. Enjoy it because you won't be able to look away from this train wreck.  

Let me know what your favorite classics are and what you thought of these books!