Shelf by Shelf: Classics

I used to be a big reader of classics, mostly when I was a teenager. It was at that stage that I read all of Jane Austen’s novels, and I think my reading was very influenced by the idea of what I was “supposed” to read. At that time, I didn’t really know where to get book recommendations from: I knew that I loved reading, but I didn’t follow BookTube at all, I wasn’t on Twitter, I didn’t read blogs, I was too shy to ask booksellers for recommendations… So I basically just read things that were famous. These days, I read a lot less classics. It’s not that I don’t still love the books I read during that phase, it’s just that I come across so many more books, online and in real life, that I tend to put the classics to the back of my mind.

First up, there’s my stack of Shakespeares. I’ve read about half of this stack, and it’s a long term goal to read all of his plays, but it’s one that has stalled recently. It really bothers me that this stack isn’t quite high enough to reach the top of the books next to it and support the book above, but Penguin have stopped printing these editions so they’re a little trickier to get hold of now, which is irritating.

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
I haven’t read this and I don’t remember the plot at all.

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
I remember my mum telling me about this play when I was a kid, because she had studied it for her English A-level and it had stayed with her for that long. Having read it, I can totally see why, it’s a powerful, memorable play. I’m really keen to read Howard Jacobson’s retelling, Shylock Is My Name.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
I mean it’s as famous as it is for a reason, this is some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, even if the plot’s a bit thin. This was my first exposure to Shakespeare, as I played Balthazaar the page when I was about ten in my local youth theatre’s production.

Richard II by William Shakespeare
This is maybe my favourite Shakespeare. I’ve read it two or three times, and saw it in the theatre a few years ago at the Donmar Warehouse when Eddie Redmayne was playing the lead, with Andrew Buchan as Henry Bolingbroke. It was maybe the best piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

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The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
A lot of people interpret this as a feminist play, but personally I don’t think it was written in that spirit. However, it is open to interpretation and that is what I like about this play. It can totally be played as feminist even if the script is kind of sexist a lot of the time. To be entirely honest though, I prefer Ten Things I Hate About You.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Haven’t read it, don’t remember what it’s about. Is this the one She’s The Man is based on?

Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare
This is my other potential favourite Shakespeare. It’s a comedy, but it’s also much more moving than most of the comedies. I saw it at a local Shakespeare festival a couple of years ago and cried with laughter and then also with sadness.

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As You Like It by William Shakespeare
I definitely have read this, but I don’t remember it massively well. It’s about mistaken identity and disguises, but how many Shakespeares could that describe?

King Lear by William Shakespeare
I sort of read this in relation to my dissertation (it’s hard to explain the connection between this and Samuel Beckett but it made sense to me at the time). It’s fantastic though, and I am so so glad that this prompted me to read it.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This is my favourite book. It’s about a woman who rejects society’s expectations of her and her womanhood, especially those of her husband. It’s incredible, and I’ll eventually get around to writing a whole post on why I love it so much.

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
I haven’t read this, but I’m really hoping to soon. I’ve heard a few things about Anne Brontë recently, I think because a biography came out not too long ago, and I get the impression that she might actually be the most up my street of the three sisters. This little set of Brontës in these beautiful Vintage editions were a gift and I love them very deeply.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I adored this book as a teenager. I loved the romance and the tragedy and how awful the characters are. I think if I read it again now, I would have a totally different take on it – not that I would like it less, but that I would think about it very differently now.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Again, I haven’t read this since I was a teenager and I didn’t love it then. But now I think I would understand it more and look at Bertha in particularly differently.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and other stories) by Truman Capote
Confession: I have never seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But I bloody love the short story (or is it more of a novella) it’s based on. It’s brilliant. Read it.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
I bloody love this. It’s a comedy of manners with strong homoerotic undertones, what’s not to love.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
This is kind of likely to get culled next time I have a clearout, if I’m being honest. It was a book I read because I thought I should, and in the six or so years since I slogged my way through it, I have realised that I don’t actually like Victor Hugo. It’s a great story in its bones, which is why I’ve kept it, but Hugo constantly breaks out of the narrative to write lengthy political essays.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I read this after having seen the film, and it is fantastic. I loved both, but I think if you were familiar with the book before seeing the film that might not be the case.

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North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
This is about a young woman who moves from the rural South of England to the industrial North. I love this book, I think it combines the political side of Dickens with Austen’s wit and romance. Also, go watch the BBC mini-series.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
I don’t think I really knew what this was about before I read it, just that it was a World War I novel from the German point of view. It’s actually about a group of young soldiers who all joined up together and who are gradually killed as the novel progresses. It’s grim, but fantastic.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This is one of my favourite dystopian novels; it’s very much a classic for a reason. It’s an unusual sort of dystopia, much softer and (seemingly) less oppressive than many are. It’s always compared with 1984, as the two great classics of the genre. I can’t speak to that as (to my shame) I haven’t read it, although I did see the highly acclaimed play last year.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
How stunning is this edition? I would eventually like to collect all of Fitzgerald’s works in these editions, but for now I have just the one physical copy (the rest are on my kindle). Again, I definitely feel that this is a classic for a reason, I just love Fitzgerald’s writing so much that I wouldn’t even care if the plot was rubbish (it isn’t).

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I used to call this my favourite book, and I still do love it a lot. What I love the most about this book is what Burgess does with language. The whole thing is written in “nadsat”, a futuristic form of slang based on Russian, so every time I have read it I’ve taken something new from it. I first read it when I was 13, loved it, but didn’t necessarily understand the themes and nuances all too well. Then I read it again at the age of 18, and the themes made more sense to me and I was able to understand it on a deeper level. This was the time when I really fell in love with the language. I have reread it once since then, about a year and a half ago, at which point I spoke pretty fluent Russian, so I was really able to see the workings of the linguistic games Burgess is playing. You totally don’t need to speak Russian to understand and appreciate the novel, but there’s this whole other dimension there if you do. This edition is pretty crap, I bought it for a pound from a book sale because I didn’t own it, having previously borrowed my dad’s copy.

Dubliners by James Joyce
I mentioned this in my May wrap-up so I won’t go on about it. This is the only Joyce I’ve read, and I was kind of meh on it, mostly because short stories aren’t for me. Honestly, I’m far more at home with avant-garde modernism than I am with short stories, so despite not really getting on with his most accessible (supposedly) work, I am not deterred.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This is another one I haven’t read, although I did see the play when it was on at the National Theatre a few years ago. It’s perched up here instead of on the pile of unread books because this edition is so lovely and I’m worried about it getting damaged in the pile.

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