In my 2020 Reading Goals post, I said I wanted to read more classics. In order to accomplish this, I decided to pull together a list of the classics that 1.) I already own and have not read and 2.) interest me the most. Now, this list will be my list of pre-1900 classics. I have many more “modern classics” that I want to read. Because I don’t want to make this post go on forever, I will post a separate list for post-1900 classic books.
A Note About “Classics…”
“Classic” is a bit of a weighty word. What even is a classic? Who determine what is and isn’t a classic? These are great questions that I don’t have the answers to. As Mark Twain once said: “′Classic′ – a book which people praise and don’t read.” I don’t have a true working definition of a classics. However, when I’m talking about classics here, I’m going to be talking about the books that constitute the traditional literary canon. Now, who determines “the literary canon”? Great question again–still no answer. But when I think of canon novels, I think about the books taught in many high school English classes in America. Primarily, this is because I’m American. If you know of more diverse classics (diverse in race, ethnicity culture, gender, etc.), please let me know in the comments because I would love a more inclusive list. As I said, these are just the books I happen to already own and will begin with this year.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This is a classic I want to read, I confess, after reading The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. The trilogy is a very loose re-telling of A Tale of Two Cities, which has intrigued me for a while. The classic opening line is enough to pique my interest (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”). More than that, though, this seems like a classic that is dark and impactful set against a background of political turmoil and intrigue. All ingredients for a great novel for me.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
I’ve had this book for years. My significant other gifted me the movie-tie in cover edition right after the movie came out because I kept talking about wanting to read it. I really did want to read it, and I still really do. In fact, I started it about four years ago but never made it very far. Not anymore. This is the year I finally tackle this beast and probably cry my eyes out in the process.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Over the years, I’ve read a few Austen novels. I really loved Pride and Prejudice when I had to read it in high school (and since re-read it); I loved Emma when I read it last year; I hated Mansfield Park when I read it a few years ago. Overall, you could say I’m an Austen fan with one exception so far. Persuasion is the book I see around the most that I haven’t read, so I’m excited to pick it up this year.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey is the Austen I’m most excited to pick up this year. I’ve clicked on so many “ranking Jane Austen’s books” lists before, and they are almost all slightly different. However, this book is consistently close to first, if not in first place. I admit I don’t know much about this one, and I don’t think I want to before I begin. I’m just excited to dive back into Austen’s writing and world.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I know about as much about North and South as I do Northanger Abbey, which is to say basically nothing. However, I do know there is a Netflix adaptation that I almost click on every time I turn on my television. So, in order to watch the show, I’ve decided I’d like to read the book first (of course). The little I know about this novel casts it as a struggle of class and social status with *perhaps* a hint of love?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Much like North and South, I want to pick up Little Women to watch an adaptation. Specifically, I want to see the new movie (2019), which I haven’t heard a single negative thing about. This classic has eluded me for a while, and it’s one I’m surprised I’ve never picked up before. This is the year to change that. I’m excited to add this to my list and my expanding shelf of classics, particularly women-written classics.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
I love the Brontës. If you follow me on Instagram (@teabookrepeat), you’ll know that Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is one of, if not my favorite book of all time. Last year, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for the first time, and now it’s my turn to read Anne. The Brontë sisters are fascinating, not in the least when I think about the amount of talent three sisters shared. I’m excited to finally have read a work from all three sisters.
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Several years ago, I visited the House of Seven Gables (also know as the Turner House or Hawthorne House) in Salem, Massachusetts. It was a home that Hawthorne himself stayed in with relatives and was the inspiration for his classics novel. The house is now a museum that offers tours to explore the classic 17th century home, which I highly recommend. I’d loved The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne when I read it in high school, and visiting the home only made my desire to read The House of Seven Gables increase. I never did get around to it, but again, 2020 is the year.
These are the pre-1900 classics at the top of my list to read in 2020. Be on the lookout for my post-1900 list. What are some classics you’d like to add to your shelf this year?