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Chances are, since you came across this blog post, that you have probably read your fair share of classics. Or you have at least thought about it, started some, or have seen several movies based off of classics.
Most likely if you have read a lot of classics, a good portion of them were read during your school years, either middle, high, or college. You may remember the plots, the characters, and some of the questions you had to answer about the novel on a test but reading a piece of literature for an assignment and reading it for the joy of reading it are two very different things.
I had an argument once with someone I worked with at a library (you know who you are) that said we shouldn’t even keep the classics, that they aren’t “that great”. His argument was the only reason they were read over and over again was that there was not a whole lot else to choose from so there wasn’t much competition for people’s time and interest. I obviously disagree wholeheartedly and made it one of my first tasks when working there to create a “Classics” section to make them easier to find.
Rereading these stories will not only awaken things you already know like the plot and overall story but might also introduce you to things you did not pick up on the first time. Tone, metaphors, symbolism, certain quotes or descriptions that strike you now that may not have affected you ten or twenty years ago. Even revisiting some of your childhood favorites is a good idea now and again. It can bring you a sense of nostalgia while at the same time open your eyes to new things.
Classics to Reread that Aren’t on Every List
Usually East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath are the books that make it to these lists. While both are great reads I have to go with Of Mice and Men for no other reason than it’s my favorite. I get something new out of this short novel every time I read it. Steinbeck is so good at character development that it’s impossible to not get sucked into his stories. Reading this book for me is like watching the Lion King over and over, I know Mufasa is going to fall off the cliff but maybe, just maybe this time…That’s what it’s like rereading Of Mice and Men.
I’m not even sure if this qualifies as a “classic” yet but to me it is. I have not seen the movie because I’m terrified to watch them destroy this amazing story. If you haven’t actually read The Giver since middle school, read it again as an adult. I could read the part where the Giver shows Jonas the memory of Christmas morning over and over. It makes me feel emotions in a way most books and movies just can’t or haven’t. I guess that’s the whole point of it though.
The Bell Jar
I know I said books that weren’t on every list but some of these are going to be. This was one of the first books that made me think I could be a writer (yes I know how token that sounds but whatever I said it). I actually avoided this book at first because I had so many people asking me “Oh my God have you read The Bell Jar?” when I was in high school. I thought it was just a book girls read to seem deeper than they actually were. Well, I owe them and Plath an apology because damn if this isn’t one of my favorites now. Rereading it just brings me back to that original feeling, it’s definitely a nostalgic read and just such an amazing novel from beginning to end.
I don’t always Bronte, but when I do, I Emily.
No? Okay…anyhoo I was just challenged by another homeschool mom to reread Wuthering Heights so we could discuss it at a later date. This was one I lied about reading in high school (I skimmed it) and had to read again in college. After reading it for a Women’s Literature class this became one of my favorite classics. The characters are so tormented and the scenery is beautifully haunting it’s hard to not get lost in it. Even though it’s hard to like anyone in this story, like anyone. Not one person.
Since I’m on a feminist kick, I’ll just go ahead and add The Awakening in there. Another one I had to read in college but it’s one that stuck with me more than others. I had a very…passionate teacher? We’ll call her passionate. We read a lot. The Awakening was one of the novels I could recall almost all the nooks and crannies of years after graduating. I reread it a few years ago and was just in awe all over again. I appreciate the historical context of the novel as well it makes it all the more appealing to me when I’m reading it.
This may be one of the only times I’ll say sometimes I can watch the movie or read the book/play. Not because it’s super accurate, I mean it’s pretty close, but I just love the cast in the movie. However, I love reading the play well. If you weren’t forced to read it in high school give it a try. Don’t be scared off by the whole “play” thing. I have a weird obsession with witch history for whatever reason and the Salem Witch Trials, though small in numbers in the grand scheme of things is just a fascinating study into the human psyche. That mixed with Miller’s character building makes a great read.
One of the first horror novels I ever read (followed shortly by The Shinning so quite the left turn there), Dracula is actually a wonderful novel to read if you have only experienced the story via tv and movies. Bram Stoker uses beautiful imagery and gothic elements to create almost a romantic medical drama mixed with gore. The alternating viewpoints are also something I also admire in fiction. Upon rereading I became more aware of the differences of the movie and book which I was not as able to pick up on the first time. Is that super important? No, but I can be that guy now with another movie that annoys everyone else just trying to enjoy themselves.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
I was assigned this book in college and had to read it quickly thanks to my procrastination setting in and my assignment sneaking up on me. I appreciated the story when I first read it even when hurried but I appreciated it, even more, reading it a second time when I could read it slower. The descriptions of the middle passage and the horrendous conditions that Equiano survives is nothing short of amazing. What’s really interesting though if you reread it is to reread it as if you were the intended audience. You will notice mixed in with these revelations is a lot almost casual talk.
Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer’s Night Dream
I couldn’t decide which Shakespeare to put so either one will do. Reread him though. Get over the speaking in riddles fear (they have online Shakespeare translators now if you’re so inclined) and just remember how many great sayings we have thanks to him. Like “break the ice”, “as good luck would have it”, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind”, and of course “knock, knock who’s there?”
Both of these stories deserve a second read. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is so layered with so many different characters and different stories happening all at once I guarantee if you read it just in high school you missed a lot. Romeo and Juliet has so much more going than just a tragic love story. The subplots that coexist with the dueling families and torn friendships is just as tormenting.
I’m just as much of a fan of short stories as I am of novels, maybe more. So, some short stories to reread if you haven’t read them since being a student:
The Yellow Wallpaper
The Count of Monte Cristo