Book Review

Read This Before You’re Dead

My father is on this reading kick right now. He’s trying to read literature that’s considered “classic.” He called me yesterday after finishing Catcher in the Rye and asked, “Sara, why is this book considered a classic?” I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t remember why. I remember the book, of course. I remember Holden Caulfield (who my father found to be quite amusing). I remember the f-word. Other than that, I have forgotten why Catcher in the Rye is considered a “classic.”

Jake looked up the definition of “classic literature” yesterday after my conversation with good old Dad. According to

  • A classic usually expresses some artistic quality—an expression of life, truth, and beauty.
  • A classic stands the test of time.
  • A classic has universal appeal.

Sure, okay, makes sense, right? I looked up a list of “Classic Novels,” and BLECH! I read a bunch of them in college, and I hated them. For example, The Great Gatsby is the most overrated book on the planet, and To the Lighthouse … well, let’s be honest, I never finished it, I was so bored. I wrote an entire college paper based on Spark Notes.

There are others, like Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm that were great, but they weren’t my favorites. I guess this study of “classics” made me want to make my own list. So. I did …

Sara Dobie’s List of Books You Must Read Before You Are Dead

1. Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Zafon is the best writer on Earth right now. His books are set in Spain. They’re considered “gothic fiction,” which means they’re beautiful, creepy, and filled with ghostly happenings. Angel’s Game is my ultimate favorite book … and that’s saying something.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The book is mysterious, creepy, and highly entertaining. Plus it’ll scare you if you read it at night; I love when books do that.

3. Map of Time by Felix Palma
This is Palma’s first book translated into English, and I can’t wait for more. HG Wells is the lead character. Lots of time travel (but not too much as to be confusing). Extremely intelligent plot line and a quirky narrative voice.

4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Written for children (but not really). It’s a very adult book, in my opinion, about a boy named “Nobody” who’s raised in a cemetery by ghosts. I believe Gaiman is my generation’s version of Lewis Carroll.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
One of the only “classics” that I believe is “classic.”

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Everyone on the face of the planet should read Fahrenheit 451, several times. It’ll make you realize how close our culture really is to becoming a sci-fi book.

7. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
It’s not supernatural. It’s psychological. People in southern Ohio who are bad, bad people doing bad things. Beautiful in its brutality.

8. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I don’t usually like Palahniuk. I think he’s a pompous writer who overuses sentence fragments. That said Fight Club is his masterpiece. Chuck is a perfect example of modern American writing, and it’s not always a good thing … but Fight Club is spectacular.

9. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A woman slowly loses her mind while on bed rest. If you’re having an “off” day, don’t read this one. Wait until you feel stable, happy, and brave, and then, strap yourself in for an uncomfortable ride.

10. Everything’s Eventual (short story collection) by Stephen King
The best short story collection in the history of the world. At least, I think it is.

This list is not exhaustive. I could go on forever about good books. This list is a pretty good collection of my personal favorites, though. So now, it’s your turn. Tell me what else I need to be reading. What else should be considered “classic literature?” And not in the academic sense. What is classic—to you?

9 thoughts on “Read This Before You’re Dead

  1. Something that feels classic to ME are the Winnie-The-Pooh books, by A.A. Milne. Anyone who reads them will discover they are NOT just for children. There’s some subtle, hysterical adult humour in there that ONLY adults will get.

    ANYTHING by Diana Wynne Jones, and Brian Jacques, are classics… to me.

    1. You’re right about Winnie. I love “The Tao of Pooh” as well–a philosophical take on Pooh Bear. Thanks for the other author suggestions, too!

  2. Wow! I haven’t read one thing on your list. I’m not much into “dark” writing but you make some of it sound so irresistible. Hmmm. . . I think I’ll start with “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

    1. AH! It’s amazing. You must! Read some of the other ones, too! “Map of Time” isn’t too dark either. Enjoy 🙂

  3. Great topic!

    Two of my favorite books would have to be “Moby-Dick” and “The Brothers Karamazov.” Although, I admit, Moby-Dick can be tedious at times, and there are whole chapters in which one may completely skip over (such as the chapters devoted to nothing more than cetology). But still, the philosophical underpinnings to the novel make for an interesting read, and the anxiety-filled air continues to rise as the work reads on…Where the hell is Moby-Dick and how will Ahab handle the encounter? Oh, yeah, and Melville is a master of prose!

    “The Brothers Karamazov” is also a great philosophical novel. It deals with the subject of theodicy (how can a good God allow so much evil in the world?), and Dostoyevsky handles emotional scenes VERY well! You will be saddened upon reading it, but it is a novel that will get you to think; and, to be honest, what else can one hope for when picking up a book?

    One suggestion that I might offer is Max Beerbohm’s collection of five short stories, titled “Seven Men.” The most popular story in the collection is his “Enoch Soames” — and you MUST read it! Beerbohm has a way with humor (and with words), and I think you would enjoy it. The plot centers around a writer named Enoch Soames. Soames, obsessed with becoming one of the most praised writers of his age, must know how posterity has judged him. So, naturally, he makes a deal with the devil in order to travel 100 years in the future. It’s a good read.

    To be honest, the only books on your list that I’ve read are “The Yellow Wallpaper” (which is freaky!) and Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” But “Fahrenheit 451,” among other things, has been on the to-do list for a while…

  4. Deal! As it happens, I will be cutting a hasty figure about town tomorrow, and so I think I will have a quick (which is to say a prolonged) stop at my local bookstore. Fahrenheit I shall have!

    You can find Seven Men for free at Project Gutenberg; but, if you’re anything like me, you might prefer to read in the traditional book form. If that’s the case, the New York Books Review Classics volume is a superb one; John Updike offers up a wonderful little introduction to the text and to Beerbohm.

  5. I loved the book “To the Lighthouse…”!! Yeah, It was kind of depressing, but I was really intrigued in the meaning behind it all. I do agree with you about the generic list of ‘classic’ books we’re suppose to admire, which end up being mediocre by my own personal standards. Would it be a crime to think that Jane Austen was the Danielle Steel of her time? ( I think I just felt a bolt of lightening strike down). Have you ever read, “In the Lake of the Woods”? It’s not necessarily a classic, but it had such a different writing style, and the story line is intriguing. One of my favorites!:)

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