Friday, March 18, 2016

Must-read classical literature

One of you asked me to name the “10 greatest books ever”.

But I’m afraid that I can’t give you a neat “top 10” list.

It’s the apples and oranges thing. The criteria used to evaluate a work of crime fiction, for example, is considerably distinct from the criteria used to evaluate a work of science fiction, or a mainstream literary novel. (Genre fiction, in particular, is often evaluated by standards unique to that particular genre.)

Michael Connelly’s The Closers is a great book; but it’s nothing at all like The Count of Monte Cristo, which is great in an entirely different way. Which one is “better”? Well, that depends: The Closers is a compact, gritty crime novel set in twenty-first century Los Angeles. The Count of Monte Cristo is a vast, sweeping panorama of a tale set in post-Napoleonic France.

These two books are apples and oranges, quite literally. More like apples and cucumbers, in fact.

And then there is the vast world of nonfiction—which requires yet another set of criteria.

So we’re going to stick with examining books by category. For today, I’m going to give you the greatest works of classical literature. These are the books that—in the Dictatorship of Ed—every high school student would be required to read prior to being issued a diploma.

And really, I think that the list below could be fit into a four-year high school curricula plan. But that’s another topic for another day. If you’re currently a freshman in high school, you can breathe easy for now; the Dictatorship of Ed doesn't seem imminent.

This is my personal list. Though there is substantial overlap between my list and the list that an academic would compile, I didn't include anything below that I haven’t actually read, at one time or another. This is why I didn't even consider Middlemarch, Emma, or The Brothers Karamazov for inclusion.

I’ve also omitted a handful of works that I thought—for one reason or another—to be overrated. So you won’t find James Joyce’s Ulysses or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 below. I didn't like either of these books, so I can’t honestly recommend them to you.

I’ve gone beyond books to include short stories, plays, and poetry. The categories should be self-explanatory.

Modern novels (published after 1800)

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas
For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
1984, George Orwell
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
A New Life, Bernard Malamud
Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
The Pearl, John Steinbeck
White Fang Jack London
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper

Short Fiction:

F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“Winter Dreams”
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
“The Ice Palace”
“A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”
“Babylon Revisited”
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Ernest Hemingway:
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
“Big Two-Hearted River”
“My Old Man”
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

Edgar Allan Poe:
“The Fall of the House of Usher”
“The Black Cat”
“The Masque of Red Death”
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

“To Build a Fire” Jack London
“The Monkey’s Paw” WW Jacobs
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Washington Irving
“Bartleby the Scrivener” Herman Melville
“The Minister's Black Veil” Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Veldt” Ray Bradbury
“Young Goodman Brown” Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Sorrows of Gin” John Cheever


William Shakespeare:
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Romeo and Juliet
Henry V
The Taming of the Shrew
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Taming of the Shrew

Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand
Arms and the Man, George Bernard Shaw
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
Our Town, Thornton Wilder
Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller


“Kubla Khan” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Annabel Lee” Edgar Allan Poe
“The Raven” Edgar Allan Poe
“I Hear America Singing” Walt Whitman
“If” Rudyard Kipling
“The Tyger” William Blake
“Death Be Not Proud” John Donne
“Sonnet 18” William Shakespeare
"Because I Could Not Stop for Death" Emily Dickinson
"Musée des Beaux Arts" WH Auden
“The Road Not Taken” Robert Frost
“Advice to a Prophet” Richard Wilbur