Sunday, May 22, 2016

My Classic Books List

For a couple of months, I have been working on a list of classic books that I want to read or reread. Primarily I was aiming at works of fiction that were published over 50 years ago that have "stood the test of time." Since part of the idea was to occasionally step out of my usual reading patterns, I only include a few books from the crime fiction, fantasy, and science fiction genres and from those genres, only books that I have wanted to read for a long time but have put off reading.

Here is my list:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (short stories )
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Mildred Pierce by James Cain
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
My Ántonia by Willa Cather    
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Nebuly Coat by John Meade Falkner
Giant by Edna Ferber
Show Boat by Edna Ferber
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
The Third Man by Graham Greene
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Passing by Nella Larsen
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Flush by Virginia Woolf


I was frustrated by the fact that there is no real definition of what makes a book a classic. I understand why. It is a subject for endless argument anyway, and the definition probably changes over time. This post talks about the evolution of memorable fiction. I recently found this list of 14 definitions of what makes a classic by Italo Calvino, which is interesting but did not help me any.

Since I am putting this list together in 2016 and limiting it to books that are over 50 years since publication, anything published since 1966 did not make the list. Originally I intended to have an addendum of books published later than 1966, but I only came up with a few so I dropped that idea.

The plan is for this to be a fluid list to which I can add (and subtract) books if I want. One example is Shakespeare. I definitely want to read some plays by William Shakespeare, but I only have one on the list. If I get through that one successfully, I will add more. And I am sure I will remember books I wanted to add after I post the list.

I have no goal for how many books from this list to read in a year or when I will finish the list. There is a very nice group called The Classics Club that has a challenge and related events. The idea is to list at least 50 books and have a goal to read them in five years or less.  I think it is a great idea but I know myself and there is no way I would stick to that goal, even if I wanted to at this point. So for me this is just an open-ended personal project to expand my reading to some of the classics.

Some sources of inspiration for me:

  • Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School by Kevin Smokler
  • The New Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major
  • Suggestions from my husband and son
  • Nancy's blog: Ipsofactodotme
  • Moira's blog: Clothes in Books
  • Katrina's blog: Pining for the West



26 comments:

  1. Looks like a good list. I've read a number of the books and some of the others have been on my TBR forever.

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    1. Me too. A few are ones I have read but long ago, and want to read. But many will be new to me and a new experience.

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  2. I dropped out of college after about three weeks. It was just not what I needed or wanted at that time of my life. I never went back and I've done very well without it, thank you. But I have to admit that I've always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I have no degree. I read tons of classics when in was in my teens and twenties. A set of the Harvard Classics and Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan bolstered my confidence, even though I haven't read through either of them. All this to say that I once wrote to Clifton Fadiman, raving about his book and the enthusiasm he has for the classics. And he wrote back, a lovely note of appreciation. What a fine man he was. Good luck with your list.

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    1. Joan, That is a lovely story of writing to Clifton Fadiman. A lot of his list is way beyond me in understanding or desire, but his book did convince me to try a few I would not have otherwise. I am sure I will enjoy dipping into the list and maybe even one day finishing it.

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  3. You've got such a nice list here, Tracy! I admit I've not read each one; but of the ones I have read, you've got a nice balance and variety here. I'll look forward to your reviews.

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    1. Thanks, Margot. I am excited about reading these, over time. My first goal is the Shakespeare play, who knows where I will go from there?

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  4. Glad to say I have read most of these and would agree with nearly all, though I re-read MILDRED PIERCE and decided I MUCH preferred the movie - and I just bought I CAPTURE THE CASTLE as I've never read it - cool!

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    1. Sergio, I am sure I will find Mildred Pierce much different than I would have expected, but I am looking forward to it, having seen the movie so many times. It will be interesting to note the differences.

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  5. A wonderful goal, Tracy. I've read some of these and of course, I agree that they should be on your list. :) In fact, my first, second and third favorite books of all time are on your list: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, THE GREAT GATSBY and EMMA. I would only add WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams which is my fourth favorite book of all time.

    Have fun. Because if you don't enjoy the reading, then what's the point?

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    1. Yvette, I honestly don't remember if I have read Watership Down or not. I would say so, but no specific memories of when. I definitely should read it. I have read some Jane Austen but it is definitely time to reread them.

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    2. I goofed. EMMA is not my second favorite Austen of all time - it's PERSUASION that I adore. Jeez, old lady memory strikes again.

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    3. That is interesting, Yvette. I don't have a copy of Persuasion but I can get one easily enough. I will definitely start with Pride and Prejudice though. Move on from there to other Austen books.

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  6. I love this list, Tracy - and the number one reason is that you haven't limited yourself to pre-20th century literature.

    I've read many of your titles, but have just as many on my TBR list. Here's to great reading!

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    1. Debbie, I did want to mix it up between older titles and more recent ones. I was more open to shorter titles than the longer ones. I think the books will be very interesting.

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  7. Tracy, this could well be my list too. So many books I haven't read yet. I spotted a few new-to-me authors as well. When I look at the list, I want to read them all at once. Paper books only.

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    1. I look forward to trying some of these authors that I have never read, Prashant. I too prefer paper books, especially with a new author, but some of these I may have to read in e-book format.

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  8. Nice list. I can't say I'm drawn to "classics" however you define them. A few on your list I've read......Achebe, Bradbury, Thompson, Vonnegut, Cain, Steinbeck, Salinger, Highsmith. A few more on the pile to get to - Graham Greene and Hammett.

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    1. I do like older books more than newer books, Col, but generally of course I am drawn to crime fiction more. I have been thinking about adding a few from the classics for a while.

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  9. Great list, and it's big enough that you have lots of options if some book just isn't your thing. And you can tons of movie versions if you need motivation!

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    1. Rebecca, that is one of my favorite things about the list, realizing that so many of the books have been adapted to film. I always enjoy combining the two.

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  10. That's a really good list, I love the way it's so varied. In a minute I'm going to count how many of them I have read, and see which ones I need to add to my own lists. Look forward to seeing the reviews. And thanks for the shoutout!

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    1. Thanks, Moira. I probably could have added more from from your blog but I just had to stop and I can always add more later.

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  11. Great list....and thanks so much for the 'shout-out' !
    One of my very favorites is still The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne).
    13 Clocks is filled with 'language fun'.
    On the Beach...chilling.
    Dracula...better than Frankenstien!

    Enjoy your 'classic' journey....and I'll get crackin' with some crime fiction!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. You were the inspiration for putting 13 Clocks on the list. I remember your post on that. I also am going to try reading a Shakespearean play for the first time (since school?) because of some of your posts on the plays. I am looking forward to On the Beach (and many others on the list).

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  12. I'm still following your list...
    Starting: The Postman Always Rings Twice today!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. Now I am motivated to read The Postman Always Rings Twice too, and then I can watch the movie.

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