I understand that everyone reading this won’t be an English Literature student, and that for most reading is far less important than, say, their jobs (pesky, pesky jobs.) Allow me, the girl who has done an extensive amount of legwork in this area, to inform you of the classics that are actually a pleasure to read. Not all of us want to scour our way through War and Peace in the original Russian (hollah my mother,) so here are some lovely and easy-to-read options for your morning commute. And then casually talk about with your parents and/ or elderly relatives over slightly distasteful glasses of wine.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
You might be lucky with this one and have read it at school, but this wonderful story from the point of view of the young Scout is a classic for a reason. It tackles big themes from the point of view of a child so that even, well, a child could read it. It also has the added benefit of being wildly popular at the moment thanks to the highly anticipated release of the sequel.
- Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen.
This classic is –GASP—better than Pride and Prejudice, if you ask me. If you’re a busy person, stick to the Colin Firth film version of that particular favourite and give Northanger Abbey a read. It’s Jane Austen satirising herself, and is much more charming than its more famous sisters.
- Brave New World, Alduous Huxley.
I could also have included 1984, by George Orwell, but they’re incredibly similar and I prefer this little baby. A must-read for any fans of Dystopia, Science Fiction, or even just science. Or if you’re just a little bit pessimistic. Or if you like… humans. Set in an obscure future where humankind has been reduced to a simply designed cattle; a world where foetuses are treated to belong to different classes and the word ‘mother’ is a swear word.
- The History Boys, Alan Bennett.
An unorthodox one, but, if you ask me, one of the most well-written and important plays of the 21st century. It confronts the old attitudes to children and their incompatibility with the future of parenting, methods of education, intellectualism and homosexuality, all with a coming-of-age feel that will appeal to anyone. Also it will take you about an hour to read. (hurray!)
- The Odyssey, Homer.
Okay, this will take you slightly longer than your average copy of The Week, but as one of the earliest pieces of literature in the world, full of fun adventures and recognisable stories, it’s worth it. Following Odysseus trying to get home after the Trojan war, he has sex with half of Greece (not all humans), and kills the other half. The style might be a little archaic, but it’s several thousand years old so be forgiving.
- Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.
Virginia Woolf has gained fame as the ultimate feminist and a lesbian icon but remember that all of this power comes from her writing. She is a wonderfully strange author, with a mind that works in a way that holds the attention for far more than this short little novel. She is a master of the character. Set in just a day, it packs in themes of gender expectations, life, death and madness.
- The Hobbit, R.R. Tolkein.
Yes, it’s a children’s book. Yes, the films are more famous and WEREN’T the Lord of the Rings films better etc. The fact of the matter is that The Hobbit, to me, is a much better written story with much less waffle than Tolkein’s more famous sequel. It’s fun, it’s heartful, and there’s something particularly satisfying about embarking on an old-school adventure with a wizard while sitting in the middle of Fife.
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding.
This, and American Psycho, are the two novels which have disturbed enough that I have had to put them down to stop scaring myself. Lord of the Flies is a horrible, horrible book that will psychologically disturb you. What happens when a group of children are left on an island with no rules and no hope for survival? Death. Death is what happens.
- Great Expectations, Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens is one the most famous English writers in the literary canon, but have you actually read anything by him? You probably have a vague idea of skinny kids holding food bowls and dancing with handkerchiefs. Great Expectations is full of wonderful characters and a clever plot that shows Dickens as the ahead-of-his-time genius he really is.
10. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.
IT’S…. ALIIIIIIIVE. No. It isn’t a crazy man in a white coat with a hunchbacked assistant called Igor. Also, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster. Anyway. This is the ultimate in Gothic literature, full of smoky workshops and storm tossed seas, death and peril with a beautiful glimmer of humanity.
Happy reading, one and all, and happy boasting. None of us are judging you.