Through the days and weeks of 2012, I have read a total of 102 books, flipping through 33,598 pages. Of all these novels, only a handful are considered ‘Classics’. And although the classics I did read this year were enjoyable and exquisite examples of ‘fine literature’, I found that many of the other ‘lesser’ novels were endlessly more enlightening, inspiring, and aligned with my day to day struggles and needs. It made me wonder, why are Classics lauded as must-reads rather than simply encouraging literature on whole?
First off, I guess we should discuss what I mean by ‘Classic’. According to web encyclopedia, Wikipedia, a classic ‘is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed in any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion’. And for the purposes of this post, I am considering a Classic to be that collection of books most stereotyped as such – for example, those books most read throughout American schools … you know the type.
Throughout my schooling, I was tasked with reading certain books as designated by the curricula that would allegedly help me to become ‘well-read’ and ‘well-educated’. Seeing as most Classics are [generally] written by men, about men, or for men; I realize that a lot of my needs or feelings were not explored through literary pursuits during my childhood education. As I have grown into an independent reader, my tastes in novels has changed and expanded. I no longer feel the need to only surround myself with high-brow reads, but read the books that touch me, teach me, and enchant me. If I could step back into time, and speak to that young, self-conscious, prepubescent teenager I would offer to her a much different collection of novels than was presented to me. If I am blessed with a daughter of my own, this is the ‘Classics’ collection I would share with her on her thirteenth birthday – a collection that would help her to explore her sex on whole, her emotions, and her life aspirations.
‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ by Betty Smith: Betty Smith’s novel is the only ‘canonized’ Classic on my list. The character of Francie Nolan exemplifies the experiences of a pubescent girl while at the same Smith’s novel paints a vivid picture of New York, the Great Depression era, and lower middle class life. As Francie passes through puberty, sacrifices her education for her brother, escapes from a molestation, suffers through the death of her father, and grows into a woman of strength and character, you grow with her and feel inexpressible camaraderie with this fictional heroine. This was a novel I read both as a younger girl, and then again several years ago – well into my adulthood – and both times I was able to gather different ideologies from this unforgettable tale.
‘Summer Sisters’ by Judy Blume: ‘Summer Sisters’ is a story about female friendship, one of the best assessments on female friendship I have ever read diving into the tumultuous, emotional, exceptional relationship that women can have with each other – about the pain and the love that come with a platonic relationship. This novel touched my soul upon my first perusal and I have read it once a year every year since. I think it is important for women to explore the complexity of our relationships with each other, to learn from them, and to grow as individuals and as a segment of society. If I had read this novel a few years earlier, I may have been more prepared for the ebb and flow of my own female friendships.
‘Princess Daisy’ by Judith Krantz: At first glance, this novel appears to be nothing more than a fairytale – a story of a beautiful, wealthy, lucky princess who is saved at the end by a dashing, wealthy man. Once you look beyond your preconceptions and immerse yourself in Daisy’s story, you are introduced to a young girl who lost her privileged wealth and bloomed into a woman of strength, character, and integrity – and who in the end, saved herself. Stories of strong women are not plentiful among the Classics spectrum – mostly because women were in different roles at that time – but to read this tale you are proud to be lumped in with the so-called fairer sex. Plus, Krantz writes page-turning, immersive novels, so the book is pleasurable and easy to lose yourself in – a characteristic some Classics do not have.
‘Fancy Pants’ by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Truth – I doubt any person would ever consider this tale to be fine literature. But I love it. It is a novel placed into the ‘low-brow and uneducated’ literature category of ‘Romance’. But I love it. I take so much away from this complex love story – a story that is so much more intense and complete than just boy meets girl. Again, the heroine in this tale is a survivor, a strong woman who strives to become more than just a spoiled young girl, and becomes a dominating force while still remaining utterly feminine. Strong women can be beautiful and smart. Wow, now that inspires me.
‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett: ‘The Secret Garden’ is customarily presented as a children’s story, but if you take the time to read this tale as an adult – with the eyes and mind full of greater experience – you will see that it is so much more. Poor Mary Lenox has dealt with so much in her young life – the loss of her parents, the loss of her home, and a complete lack of love that every child yearns for. But this lonely, sad, neglected and unloved girl is able to learn to care for those around her so fiercely that she not only enriches their life but her own while also transforming her previously dark and bleak world into a world full of color, light and life.
‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott: Josephine March is a woman who longs to be so much more than is allowed for her sex during her time – she longs for freedom, excitement, growth, usefulness, and excellence. Instead of bowing to pressure to marry the boy next door – who loves the idea of her rather than the reality of the woman she is – she instead decides to take a job in a the city, take a chance, stand on her own two feet, and define her life the way she wishes. I have heard this story referred to as ‘silly’ or ‘female drivel’, but the way these sisters relate to each other and the world around them isn’t silly or strictly female, but human. Alcott writes with such heart, and shapes her characters with such exquisite detail, that the sisters story is bound to stay with you for some time, if not in a tiny place of your heart and mind forever – and to me, that sentiment screams ‘Classic’!