As a recovering English major, I'm tickled by my recent, rekindled love for the classics after some serious post-college burnout. I'm enjoying both the stories themselves and thinking about what might have made them hit home with contemporary audiences. Here's three pieces of ye olde classic literature I've read over the last few months—plus a nonfiction book I couldn't put down.
See if any pique your interest:
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Silas’ tale of woe pulled me into this story about hurt, greed, selfishness, friendship, and hope, but George Eliot’s witty storytelling and strong characters kept me entertained throughout. I’d recommend this simple, comforting story to people who have retreated from community in the past and might be interested in a good sentimental cry.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
I fully endorse summoning your book club or other fun-loving friends to read Shakespeare’s plays together. Sure, if you’re a beginner you might not always be 100% sure what you’re saying, but it’s definitely a group bonding experience (and usually an enjoyable one)! Just read a quick synopsis of the plot before you start so you basically know what's going on, or check out a copy that has a "translation" in plain English next to the original text—and you're good to go! A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of magic and drama and hijinks, so think of it as your new favorite rom-com sprinkled with characters' melodramatic insights about life and love. I just dig Shakespeare, okay? He always gives me lots to talk about.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
No Fear Shakespeare edition with the modern English side-by-side text:
Billy Budd by Herman Melville
After reading this one, I decided that I did not much care for the short and tragic tale of Billy Budd, extremely attractive sailor. However, I enjoyed Melville’s writing spectacularly (imagine an unexpectedly cool uncle right next to you, bouncing off the walls with overabundant enthusiasm about boats), leading to the surprising realization that I might actually enjoy reading Moby Dick! To the fiction section!
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
Hochschild’s scathing and meticulous account of Belgian King Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo hit me hard. Why do I know so much about the Holocaust, but so little about the incredible cruelty dealt out along the Congo River by colonizers relentlessly consuming ivory and rubber? I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but readers with an interest in history might find themselves most absorbed. I personally read it for some background information on author Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I’m hoping to read soon, but I'm so glad I read this first. Hochschild dedicates an entire chapter to Conrad’s experiences in the Congo and possible inspiration for the villain Kurtz.