Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jill's Favorite Forgotten Classics

Though the Time's 100 Greatest Novels List has some of the classics we know and love, it also contains a few drawbacks. Firstly, it only includes novels from 1923 to the present, leaving out a large chunk of great classics that are "too old," and I believe we need to remember some of the great novels that came before 1923! Secondly, great authors usually are not solo acts; they usually have written other works that might be less read, but have astounding merit nonetheless. And lastly, sometimes there are some classics that I feel were completely and unfairly forgotten.

As for novels that were "too old" to make the list, there are two I am particularly fond of, Anna Karenina and Les Miserables. Both written in the late 1800's, these two gems serve as examples of great prose. Anna Karenina, a novel composed of 8-part installments by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, portrays the high-class society of Russian society with timeless romance and themes of jealousy, family, society and faith. Though it may be one of the longest novels you will ever read, Anna Karenina is worth it. The timeless characters and story still have a lot to offer in today's society, where many of the issues run rampant. We will shift our attention now to one of Victor Hugo's most important novels, Les Miserables. It is the story of strife and heartbreak of the poor in France experienced during the French Revolution. Following characters that experience love, death, prostitution, war and revolution, Les Miserables still stands today as a hallmark for human emotion. Les Miserables and Anna Karenina are similar in that they both examine the human condition, though in different extremes. The themes remain the same though one is in high society and the other in the gutters of the streets. Timeless works like these are proof that we are all essentially the same, and that feeling emotions of doubt, love, jealousy are all part of this world we all inhabit.

Many famous authors usually have one book that makes their fame worldwide. But what about the other works they wrote? For two of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I actually love the books that aren't their most famous. J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey is a favorite of mine, and one I think goes underrated most of the time. A compilation of two stories both published in the New Yorker, it centers on the youngest two children of the Glass family, the main subject for the majority of Salinger's work. The precocious Glass children who were once famous for their stint on It's a Wise Child (a radio show where children answered difficult questions) work through issues of society, religion and dealing with their eldest brother's suicide. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, everyone knows him for The Great Gatsby. However, I thoroughly enjoyed his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, which launched him into fame in the 1920's. This Side of Paradise focuses on Amory Blaine, a pretentious young man looking to climb the ranks of society. An interesting look at society's flaws, This Side of Paradise is definitely worth a read, as Fitzgerald's first novel is just as profound as his last.

There were also some books that I felt were unfairly left off Time's list, as they are classics in their own right. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Bell Jar are both widely read classics that I felt deserved to make the cut. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a wonderful coming-of-age novel featuring the timeless heroine Francie Nolan and her dysfunctional, if loving, family. Almost a century old, Francie's tale still rings true with women and girls everywhere. And then there is Sylvia Plath, a figurehead for feminists everywhere who was also lobbed off the list with her first (and last) novel The Bell Jar. The story follows Esther Greenwood, a successful young woman completing an internship at a fancy magazine in New York City. The Bell Jar follows Esther's spiral into madness as she falls out of touch with society and the people who surround her. Profound and illuminating, it leaves readers questioning. Both of these novels prominently feature strong heroines and beautiful writing. Though written decades apart, they both still explore the human experience and open doors into different realms of possibility.

Don't forget to stop by on April 15th at 7:00pm for our "Revival of the Classics" event, featuring author Erin Blakemore!

Recommendations made by Jill, the Spring Intern at the Boulder Book Store. Need more recommendations? Find me on Twitter at @JillLovesCoffee!

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