Classical Literature in a Nutshell

Recently, I read a post about a back-to-school classical literature reading list, and I was not surprised to find it filled with depressing, dark books. Over the years, I have discovered that what constitutes “classical” by the English profession seems to have changed over the years; although, I do recall wondering in high school why so much of the American literature we read in school fell into the same dark and depressing category.

So what does constitute “classical” literature beyond a recommendation by prestigious collegiate pundits? According to the dictionary, classical literature is “of ancient Greece and Rome. The term is also used for the literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works.”

Excellence and enduring quality. Maybe that’s the problem. Our definition of “excellence” has deteriorated until we can no longer distinguish between what is high quality and what merely appeals to the masses. What we read is who we are, what we become. If we only read what is dark and depressing and lacking in anything uplifting, then that is what we as a people, as a nation, as individuals become. Books with happy, uplifting endings are not necessarily “low-brow,” while being dark doesn’t automatically mark a book as “cerebral.

If I were to re-tool America’s classical reading list, I would included these books:

David Copperfield — Charles Dickens

The Scarlet Piimpernel — Baroness Orczy

The Bronze Bow — Elizabeth George Speare

Trumpeter of Krakaw— Eric P. Kelly

The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare

The Lord of the Rings — J. R. R. Tolkien

Around the World in 80 Days — Jules Verne

Lorna Doone — R. D. Blackmoore

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

The Phantom Tollbooth –Norton Juster

Captain Courageous — Rudyard Kipling

The Screwtape Letters — C. S. Lewis

Paradise Lost — John Milton

The Prisoner of Zenda — Anthony Hope

Treasure Island — Robert Louis Stevenson

Watership Down — Richard Adams

The Wind in the Willows– Kenneth Grahame

Little Women — Louisa May Alcott

Little Men — Louisa May Alcott

Jo’s Boys — Luisa May Alcott

Anne of Green Gables — L.M. Montgomery

The Secret Garden — Francis Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess — Francis Hodgson Burnett

White Fang — Jack London

The Princess and Curdie — George MacDonald

The Lion’s Paw — Robb White

In addition, I think every person would benefit from reading a good selection of science fiction, such as Robert Heinlein’s Starman Jones and Andre Norton’s The Beast Master.

Such books are not only timeless, but good for the soul.

 

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Posted on 2014/09/13, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I like your list better than what was assigned to me over the years.

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