In last week’s post on HG Wells‘ classic The War of the World, two commenters really made me stop and think. First was Mymatejoechip, who cautioned against feeling as though I had to read all of the classics. Then there was Joachim Boaz, who suggested that I try reading Wells other “classic” book, The Invisible Man.
Within these two comments, there are two different thoughts on the classics, I feel, and whether an author—or a reader—should feel pressed that he/she should read them.
There are some of the classics that I feel should be read by those wishing to pursue writing as a career, as these were the books that did it first. So, in no particular order, I give you Megan Hammer’s List of Classic Books Authors Should Read (or at least try):
Dracula, by Stoker, is first on this list. It really created the modern horror genre as we think of it today, not to mention that it began the vampire craze that has carried over to this day. It showcases three different writing styles—journalistic, narrative first person and narrative third on occasion—and truly reveals how it’s possible to have one story told from three or four different perspectives. The fact that Dracula is so rarely seen in the latter half makes him even more frightening, and truly puts forth the idea that horror is caused by the unknown, and that we, as readers, don’t need to know everything.
I also believe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein should be on this list. While not as horrific in the traditional sense as Dracula, it is excellent for seeing the nuances of human behavior through the eyes of what society deems a monster. And how, by naming something, we can often bring about its existence, simply because we see it is there. Frankenstein was also one of the first books in the “modern” world written by a woman, which really helped to, I think, pave the way for the rest of us woman writers out there.
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, in fact, anything by Jules Verne, is well worth a read, I think. Each of his books are well written, and explore ideas that were so far-fetched in their days but are brought to a level that makes sense. Travel around the world in eighty days? Impossible in the 1800s to even imagine. Now we can do it in 80 hours. Journey is brilliant for the fact that most of it is fantastical, a rather revolutionary idea at the time of writing, when most books weren’t involving strange creatures and places.
Lord of the Rings might be cliché, but it really did cement the place of Fantasy in the hearts of many, and was one of the first main-stream fantasies to be out there. Yes, it’s long and drawn out, but think of the fact that Tolkien was writing it while in the trenches in order to keep everyone amused and away from the horrors of war. They are well written, and every last loose end is accounted for. In terms of setting creation, there is no better book to come to than Lord of the Rings to watch a master at work.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is one I suggest reading if you have time and are willing to read it several times in order to make sense of it. The name has become a catchprase in our modern culture, which really shows its lasting power. I did a 20 page research paper on it back in High School, and even after spending that much time on it, there were things I was still discovering about and laughing at. This book takes the cake for a study in narrative and character creation.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a good series, and I think mystery writers especially should read at least one of them in their lifetime. It’s an exercise in clue-gathering, and wondering why you didn’t see that the Maid was actually the victim the entire time you were reading! Most of the books are rather short, and easy to get through in one afternoon or so.
So there is my list of classics I think people should read. What ones are on your list? Are they classics, modern contempories, or that one book you found just last week on the bargain shelf at the bookstore that you fell in love with?