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You may consider yourself a voracious reader but if I asked you if you’ve read Tom Sawyer, how would you respond? What about Shakespeare, Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? It’s not enough to be a keen reader, you also need to appreciate the literary classics.
Generally, young readers have the most prejudice towards classic books, more because of ignorance than reluctance. If that were not enough, because they are forced to read these books in schools and college, many teens start to resent and reject the classic, which is precisely the opposite of the educational system’s intention.
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 Ranking: The best classic books on the U.S. market
- 3 Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about classic books
- 3.1 What characterizes a true literary classic?
- 3.2 What classic books should you read before you die?
- 3.3 What are classic books for teenagers?
- 3.4 Are there classic books for children?
- 3.5 What classic books have been adapted for film?
- 3.6 Classic, Greek or Latin books?
- 3.7 Are there short classic books?
- 3.8 What are some classic horror books?
- 4 Shopping Criteria
- 5 Summary
- Traditionally, classic books were those written by Greek and Roman authors. These days, in contrast, this genre has been expanded to include titles published up to the 20th century. An important part of Western culture, they are the least read of all books because of their poor reputation among some readers, particularly young people.
- There is not a consensus on the definition of a “classic” although generally, scholars agree that they address issues which are important and timeless. The are usually fundamental tales for intellectual development, and many feature on the lists of books that you should read before you die.
- Despite their importance, it can be difficult to get into certain classics. For this reason it is recommendable to follow certain rules before starting to read them, like researching online, following experts’ recommendations, choosing classics from your favorite genres and joining a book club.
Ranking: The best classic books on the U.S. market
Although some may be reluctant to read them, classic books continue to occupy the top spots on best-seller lists. Often when a title from the 19th or 20th century slips on to the best-sellers, it is because they have been made into a film. Below are four classic books which are found among the best-sellers.
Best Modern Classic Book
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury has been internationally acclaimed as one of the key masterpieces of 20th-century fiction. Set in a bleak, dystopian world of the future, the novel deals with many dark but important themes which are even more relevant today than when it was written.
Best Young-Adult Classic Book
The Lord of The Flies by William Golding has been compulsory reading in schools and educational institutions for many decades and with good reason. It delves into the very nature of the human soul, discussing what can happen when the normal rules of society and our regular day-to-day lives are taken away, and the worst sides of human nature are revealed. It is important reading for young adults as it discusses important issues of development, but adults will be equally absorbed.
Best American Classic Book
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a true American classic. It centers around the character of Holden Caulfield, who is 16 years old. Dealing with themes of the transition to adulthood, the nature of humanity, and set in the backdrop of the underground of New York City, this classic book should be on everyone’s “read before you die” list.
Best Ancient Classic Book
For some scholars and die-hard literature fans, for a book to be considered a classic it must be a piece of ancient Greek or Roman classic literature. The Odyssey By Homer certainly fits this description and would make anyone’s list of the best classic books. Although written thousands of years ago, this story, now available in handy paperback, is as relatable as ever.
Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about classic books
According to the writer Ítalo Calvino (1923-1985), “a classic is a book which has never stopped telling what it has to tell”. Perhaps this is the best definition is a type of book, however, not without a few qualifications. Are there contemporary classic books? What makes a book a classic? Here we’ll try to clear up these matters.
What characterizes a true literary classic?
First of all, classic books usually leave a deeper mark on the reader, no matter if they are old or young. These works center around widely known concepts, which forms an immediate connection for the reader. Additionally, their setting is not as important as the story itself, which remains the same even when the time and place where it takes place is changed.
A classic novel tends to focus on the central character, their feeling, interests and most basic desires. In this way we can connect equally with works written in the first century, those from the Renaissance, or those written in the twentieth century. In short, they enrich the spirit of the reader no matter what time they live in.
A classic book is one which transcends the century it was written in. Its message will be felt by readers from any culture and any historical period. They are also stories which truly reflect the essence of what it is to be a certain kind of person, a group or a society.
What classic books should you read before you die?
There are certain classic books which are considered essential reading. Some are studied by students in colleges and schools, like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; while others are less well-known. We would encourage you to explore some of the latter category.
If you think of yourself as a competent reader, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is certainly essential reading. Also significant is Lolita from Vladimir Nabokob, a thoughtful and provocative work. We also recommend pretty much anything by Jules Verne, but above all else Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Edgar Allan Poe is another writer who must be read, in particular, his Extraordinary Tales which is a masterpiece of Gothic literature.
What are classic books for teenagers?
One strength of classic books is that they help teenagers and adolescents to accurately describe their thoughts and emotions, something which is key at that age. In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the main character is a 17-year-old boy and the book explore themes such as discovering sexuality and the angst of adolescence.
The Three Musketeers by Alejandre Dumas is a masterpiece of the adventure genre and centers around a 18-year-old boy. It deals with the journey from childhood to adulthood perfectly, exploring important themes such as loyalty, duty and friendship. The consequences of obsession is the central theme in another classic book, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Published in 1954, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is compulsory reading in many schools. It deals with the degeneration of people in extreme circumstances. On the other hand, the value of friendship is the central theme in Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, another universal classic which all young people should read.
Are there classic books for children?
There are classic books especially recommended for children, such as the marvellous novel Matilda by Roald Dahl, which is about a girl who loves reading. Another children’s classic is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry which is a novel short in length, but makes up for this with valuable teachings for kids.
On the other hand, some classic books are so long and complex that they are not suitable for children. To make them more accessible to little ones, some of these have been adapted, often with illustrations, such as The Odyssey by Homer.
What classic books have been adapted for film?
The list of film adaptations of literary classics could fill hundreds of articles like this. Obviously, not all of these movies do justice to the original book. The recent musical adaptation of Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman in 2012 is an excellent example of a well-adapted classic.
Another great adaptation of a classic is Fahrenheit 451, by the Frenchman François Truffaut, a film that moves the immortal novel by the American writer Ray Bradbury to the cinema. The author who has the most adaptations by far is William Shakespeare, with films of almost all his works. From Hamlet, for example, more than 50 versions have been made on film to date.
Classic, Greek or Latin books?
According to some scholars, the only works that can be considered classic are those written by Greek and Latin authors. It is, therefore, a definition that would only encompass those books written in centuries prior to the fall of the Roman Empire. Homer, with his epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, would be the first great Greek author in history.
From the Greek Sophocles (495 – 405 BC), only seven tragedies are preserved, notably Oedipus and Antigone. To the Roman poet Publio Virgilio (70 – 19 BC), we owe La Eneida, considered one of the most beautiful and perfect poems in history. From Plutarch we recommend Parallel Lives, a biographical work that compared the lives of the most relevant Greeks and Romans.
Are there short classic books?
Not all classic books are very long; in fact, there are some short works that can be read in just one afternoon. A good example is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, a novel that, depending on the edition, barely exceeds 160 pages. Nor does Alien, by Albert Camus, a masterwork of existentialism.
Inspiring films like Revelation Now (1979), The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is a short novel of just 130 pages based on the author’s own experiences in Congo. Also at just over 140 pages is The Eternal Dream, one of the best detective novels by the American writer Raymond Chandler.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of the shortest classics, with just 70 pages depending on the edition. Even shorter is Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, with only around 55 pages. Another couple of short titles that we recommend are The Colonel has No one to Write, by Gabriel García Márquez and Another Twist, by Henry James.
What are some classic horror books?
H. P. Lovecraft stands out in the pantheon of classic authors of horror literature. A great exponent of the so-called cosmic horror, his work encompasses numerous stories and several short novels, all considered horror masterpieces. Another essential horror classic is I am Legend, by the American author Richard Matheson, which has been made into three movies to date.
Dracula, from Irishman Bram Stoker, is another terrifying book that has transcended the barriers of the genre to take its place among the classics of literature. His narrative style (it is written in the form of a series of letters), the extraordinary charisma of its main character and the substantive themes that he addresses make this novel a true classic of the genre.
We close our recommendations with the book The White People, by Arthur Machen. Fascinated by the occult, this Welsh writer and journalist had a great influence on later authors, such as Lovecraft who we covered earlier.
Choosing a classic book is not easy, as this depends largely on your individual tastes and interests, among other factors. You also need to overcome any pre-conceived ideas you may have about these kinds of books, which can often result from being forced to read them at school or college. Here are the key things to consider when buying classic books:
- Start with the classics of your favorite genres
- If you liked the movie or series, you’ll love the book
- Choose similar books
- Seek opinions and reviews
- Join a book club
Start with the classics of your favorite genres
It would be a mistake to advise you to start reading classics with the work of Homer or Flaubert, unless it is an adaptation. Start with the classics of genres that you love, such as horror or adventure. There are numerous classic titles in every genre, so you will not have trouble finding a book that best suits your tastes.
If you liked the movie or series, you’ll love the book
Classic books have been the source of inspiration for countless films and TV series. If you look into it, you’ll be surprised how many film and TV works are based on classic books. With only a few exceptions, when readers read the original book that was the inspiration for their favorite TV series or movies, they are not disappointed.
Choose similar books
You have already read several classics, but you don’t know which one to read next. Why not try similar titles? If you have enjoyed a certain topic or author, look for other similar books. Normally, writers belonging to a particular literary movement share themes and styles, so this is a good way to expand your literary tastes.
Seek opinions and reviews
These days, given the amount of information we have at our disposal, it is difficult to understand why someone would buy a book without reading reviews. Literary publications, comments from other readers in forums and online bookstores, as well as recommendations from family and friends, are all extremely useful to know in advance if we will like a classic book.
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Join a book club
Contrary to what you might think, book clubs are not an outdated idea from another century, but groups that can help you expand your literary tastes in a fun way. Join one and meet other people who share your passion for reading, and you are sure to discover classic titles that you would never have thought about reading.
With this article, we have tried to address the prejudices that some people have when it comes to classic books. This is why many people who consider themselves avid readers never read some of the most important classic books. Although reading anything is a good thing, any reading habit should at least touch on the classics, if only briefly.
Paying attention to experts’ recommendations, we have addressed a series of questions about classic books, such as their characteristics, those that must be read at least once in a lifetime or those that have been adapted to other media. Finally, we have advised you how to choose your next book, as a suitable introduction to this exciting kind of literature, that can sometimes be dense and complex.
If you think you can contribute something to our article, such as a title that we may have missed, leave us your comments below. And if you found our article interesting, don’t forget to share it on social media.
(Source of the featured image: Donatas1205: 23335515/ 123rf.com)