“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
One of my first memories of an “old” book was when I was a child at my great grandparents’. As I dug around their “old people stuff” and opened drawers, I came across a beautiful book. It was a Mennonite Hymnal, old and worn, but with gold lettering on the front. Somehow I instantly connected with it. I’ve always been very musical, probably inherited from my grandfather’s side of the family. They were farmers and musicians (I’m still working on the farming part). They were known for their beautiful voices, and I could imagine my great grandfather picking up this hymnal time and time again, and singing with his family. When my great grandparents passed away, I inherited this hymnal, and have even brought it over with me to my new home in Germany.
As I grew, so did my love for books. When I was a teenager I loved beautiful books. I found myself wandering around our local rotary club’s annual book flea market. Instantly, I was attracted to those old, antique colours. The covers that had worn edges and were rustic looking delighted me. I did actually read some of these books, but the covers intrigued me more. Plus, reading takes up so much time. This problem never solved itself. I wanted to be “well read”, but never took the time to do it. Admittedly, I read Canterbury’s Tales when I was in grade 8, but my reading never developed much after that… Strangely enough, my curiosity and gumption to read never took off on it’s own.
Fast forward 15 years later.
With multiple kids, toddlers and a baby, my brain needed some proper intellectual nourishment. I also craved fun, stories and adventure – and not just on the playground (too much sand, too many runny noses). I reminisced over my past intentions of becoming “well read”. So after reading some Susan Wise Bauer – The Well-Educated Mind I was convinced I could do this. With her encouragement, and 15 years of added maturity and determination, I decided to drop the Netflix (read about that here) and pick up some books. The result: over the last two years I’ve read a BUNCH of books – and some so thick that at first glance I would have already given up.
One tip for nursing moms or moms with babies and little ones:
Get a Kindle. I love that I can read in the dark while nursing, or while waiting for the baby to fall asleep. I’ve spent SO MANY HOURS nursing and waiting. Though reading on the Kindle is not my first choice, it has certainly helped me read in dark rooms.
Don’t be daunted to read those elusive classics we hear about. They’re pretty awesome, and fun to read.
Here are 10 suggestions to get you started with:
I could read them, and so can you!
1. Around the World in Eighty Days This one was fun and fairly quick to read. Here is a brief summary: Phileas Fogg is a rich British gentleman living in solitude. Despite his wealth, Fogg lives a modest life with habits carried out with mathematical precision. He ends up taking on a bet from his local men’s club where he travels the world in 80 days with his French valet and his sterile manner. They get into all sorts of trouble. It was a very enjoyable, light read.
2. Robinson Crusoe
This one surprised me with all the deep moral and spiritual reflections woven through it. Perhaps, I had some sort of Hollywood version in my head where it was filled with action and adventure. It is indeed filled with adventure, but Crusoe’s thoughts and conclusions caused me to ponder my own life. 3. Tom Sawyer I just finished this one last week. It was full of adventure and took me into the mind of a young boy, which reminded me a lot of my own boys. Though I’m still unsure of whether or not I’ll let them read it and get all sorts of “clever” ideas from the mischievous Tom Sawyer.
4. Sherlock Holmes – The Complete Collection
I love to read this one over and over again. It’s the perfect mix of adventure, mystery, humour, and suspense. When I first read it through, I kept thinking to myself, “how lucky I am to be reading these stories for the first time!”
One of the best feelings ever is reading an awesome book you’ve never read before – you just can’t get enough.
5. Little Women
Another easy read, but full of so much love, warmth and moral goodness. I closed this book dreaming about this simple family, and wondering how our family could love like they do.
The Tasty but Chewy:
These books are fatter, but tastier! Once you get a bite, these books will change your life.
6. The Idiot – Dostoyevsky
This was the first in line of my Russian phase. Every time I read Dostoyevsky, I am utterly amazed at his talent as an author and story teller. It is incredible how he can argue from each character’s philosophical values, reveal their deep thoughts, and take us on a journey as the character develops. I constantly compare my own thoughts and writing to his, and am flabbergasted – what a great word by the way!
Here is a summary of the story: The gentle and naïve epileptic Prince Myshkin – the titular ‘idiot’ – pays a visit to his distant relative General Yepanchin and proceeds to charm the General, his wife, and his three daughters. But his life is thrown into turmoil when he chances on a photograph of the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna. Utterly infatuated with her, he soon finds himself caught up in a love triangle and drawn into a web of blackmail, betrayal, and finally, murder. Inspired by an image of Christ’s suffering Dostoyevsky sought to portray in Prince Myshkin the purity of a ‘truly beautiful soul’ and explore the perils that innocence and goodness face in a corrupt world.
If you’re still in the Russian mood I’d suggest either
7. The Brothers Karamazov
Another classic from the great Dostoyevsky. This time about three very different brothers, an awful father, a woman, and intrigue. I was really pleased to learn so much about the Russian Orthodox tradition and spirituality.
8. The big and beautiful War and Peace
Daunting as it may be, this book was fantastic! It is regarded as a central work of world literature.
Truth be told, I watched the BBC series first. Actually, I’m really happy I did. It helped me get a good grasp on the characters and their families. Russian literature is often so complex, and there are handfuls upon handfuls of characters with names I can’t pronounce. When I began to read it, I felt quite secure in knowing who was who, and that helped me navigate and enjoy the book a lot more. I’ll admit there were a few bouts of philosophical monologues that I sped through (near the end). My brain can only handle so much, and felt lost in my lack of knowledge regarding political and historical events.
I learned so much about the French invasion of Russia in the 19th century, and about Napoleon. Topics I don’t tend to naturally gravitate towards, but I’m very thankful I did. It also gave me a better understanding of Europe, the culture and how people interacted with one another.
Suggested by an acquaintance of mine, I read this next one by Tolstoy after I read War and Peace. It was lighter in some ways, but really caused me more emotional turmoil. Read it and find out what I mean.
10. Les Misérables
Is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.
I loved loved loved that I finally picked up this alarmingly fat book to read.
Yes, I watched the 90s version with Liam Neeson. No, I have not seen the musical (hears gasps). But if you haven’t read this, and you loved the movies or the musical, READ it! It’s so good. The characters are individually introduced, their paths cross and their lives are mingled together but it’s not done justice by a movie or musical. There is so much beauty in this book, and I still get excited thinking about it now.
One thing that stands out to me is his description of the 19th century Paris sewer system. Who knew one could be so remarkable at describing sewage?
I hope this list gives you a great starting point if you’re not sure where to begin. All of these books were so enjoyable to read, and I’m a little sad I won’t have the opportunity to read them again for the first time. Then again, I forget things (like if I’ve watched a certain movie or not – my husband with the photographic memory snickers). What books are on your wish list right now?