We often find ourselves in situations with other readers, saying: "Oh yes! I loved Mansfield Park" or "Les Miserables was Hugo's best work for sure". This despite you only watching the film adaptations — and even they were a struggle to get through…
There is no shame in feeling this way. I find that readers often think less of other readers or even themselves if they haven't read a certain classic or classics. Some people just don't like reading classics and they prefer a good contemporary novel to an 18 Century book and that is perfectly fine. Unto each his own.
'What? You haven't read [insert classic here]?'
So, even though that narrative of "What? You haven't read [insert classic here]?" needs to stop, I do feel the classics play an important part in the world of literature for a reason.
Journalist and author Italo Calvino once said: "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say".
With this quote in mind, I propose that we as readers re-approach classics. If we can remove the stigma and ego surrounding reading classics, we can then rather focus on what they are really saying and what it is that they have been telling the world all these years.
Many people, myself included, do not want to read classics because of the writing style, which is often difficult to follow and sometimes downright foreign to us as modern readers. That being said, there are some classics that I adore because of the writing style. I love reading works by the Brontë sisters, but maybe you cannot stand their writing.
Incredible characters and vivid stories
But what we can agree on is that between these three sisters, some incredible characters and vivid stories have been created.
Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre and in doing so, created one of the most famous literary characters of all time. The same can be said for many of Jane Austen's characters. Now, I for one do not like reading Jane Austen. I find most of it very boring (sounds like blasphemy), but I do love the characters Austen creates, as well as her sense of humour.
Because of this, I own all the Jane Austen movie adaptations ever made, but will probably not read all the books. Through the medium of films, I can still enjoy Austen and her work.
Maybe it is your literary cup of tea…
By using this as an example, I hope to convince you that you do not have to enjoy reading classics to appreciate these works (even though I suggest you at least try the classics once to see if it is your cup of literary tea).
I believe these stories have so much to tell and to teach us as 21st-century readers. Since most of us are still stuck at home with the unread books on your bookshelf looming, here I have a list of book recommendations of classics that I love, as well as various adaptations of these stories.
Movies, series, modern retellings…this list will have something for everyone:
Gone with the Wind – by Margaret Mitchel
The book is one of my favourite classics to read, but let me tell you: The 1939 movie adaptation is incredible.
Frankenstein – by Mary Shelley
This book is one of my most-loved books of all time. I suggest the novel to everyone all the time.
If the book is not for you, there are several movie adaptations, a Netflix series, and plays which are all great.
The Great Gatsby – by F Scott Fitzgerald
This is one of the most popular classics ever and for a good reason. The writing style and characters of this book make it a literary masterpiece.
There are several movie adaptations which are all amazing in their own right if you don't fancy the written format, but please don't watch the 2013 one with Leonardo DiCaprio (even he couldn't save that film).
Pride and Prejudice – by Jane Austen
This is the only book of Jane Austen that I actually really enjoyed. It is a hefty novel though, so if you want to pass on the book, the movie adaptations of this classic are all sublime.
The 1995 BBC mini-series and the 2005 film are both beautiful and well worth watching. (I am not even going to start talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…)
Renee Zellweger in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. Photo: Supplied
If you want a more modern take on this classic, the books and movies of Bridget Jones's Diary are based on Pride and Prejudice and are hilarious and so heartwarming.
The Haunting of Hill House – by Shirley Jackson
This is the more recent classic, having been written in the 1950s. The book is so beautifully written and honestly scary.
I don't often get scared reading thrillers, but this book had me jumping at shadows. Now, the more popular version of this classic — and the way I found out about the book — was through the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.
I loved this series and have watched it many times.
Be warned, however, that the series is very, very, very different from the book and is a loose adaptation, but still a brilliant one.