The classic books that are my favorite are the ones that really showcase how innovative language and the art of the story have always been through the annals of time. There’s something that feels slow about the classics I love, a meander through a simpler time. But they’re the ones I go to when I think about my love for reading and writing; the ones that make me say ‘They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.’
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Although it was required reading in high school, which usually meant I struggled not to hate a book, I fell in love with John Steinbeck's storytelling when I was sixteen. A lot of my peers found this book tedious, but although it's long, it has feeling, and Steinbeck is a great author to learn from if you're an aspiring storyteller. East of Eden is a saga of biblical proportions and actually draws on the book of Genesis for inspiration in the telling of the intertwining lives of two families in Salinas Valley, California.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
It's a heavy novel and I don't mean physically. It can be dense reading, particularly confusing due to the myriad characters with the same or similar names (the copy I own has a family tree at the beginning and is covered in my own notes). But I'm interested in the ripple effect within families and the way actions of our ancestors impact generations to come after them. Centered around the town of Macondo, Colombia built by generations of the Buendía family, this book explores all sorts of important themes through the device of family and history. Plus, it's beautifully written.
Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The story around the publishing of this book makes it more interesting (it was largely edited without Wilde knowing in order to tone down the homo-eroticism and make it suitable for Victorian sensibilities), but the story itself is creative and the book gives you a good look into the society of Victorian England. A young aristocrat becomes despondent after realizing he’ll never be as beautiful as his painted likeness. He sells his soul in order to remain young and beautiful whilst the painting continues to show his true age. He slips further and further into the dark shadows of immorality and the portrait becomes a hideous depiction of his sins.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Not a feel-good story, that's for sure, but an incredibly gripping dystopian novel in which women are state-sanctioned sex slaves and one of them tries to escape. It's imaginative and chilling, especially in today's political climate.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
I’m realizing a lot of the classics that I read while I was a teenager are still with me and hold a fond place on my bookshelf. This is one of them. It’s cold and radical, but I was always really interested in Rand’s honesty. Her personal philosophy may have seemed radical at the time The Fountainhead was written, but she wrote it with conviction. The main character’s belief in individualism shapes his actions and innovative, but unpopular, architectural designs in 1920s New York City. He’s unrelenting in his ideals and suffers the consequences of his uncompromising ways.