Literary classics are very interesting to me as a collective. Some people believe in them with every fibre of their being, while others feel that they are outdated atrocities that need to be retired and replaced. Then you have folks like me that believe some classics shall be classics forever, while others are as obsolete as they are perceived to be. I don’t think this means that I respect them less for the impact that they have had on literature as a medium because my respect is very genuine. Even the harmful works have a level of appreciation from me because they embody large parts of history and the many ways the world existed back in the day. It’s our truth and our ancestry, even if it’s dark and fucked-up. However, that doesn’t mean that a title considered to be an ultimate classic in the 1960s would necessarily be accepted in a similar fashion within the 2020s.
People are a revolution. We are constantly evolving and fighting the system and altering shite. Occasionally that fight is brutal and inhumane, while other times it is a ferocious dragon-battle of equality, or a boring and sluggish crawl. No matter what it entails, it always leads to change. There is no reason that the classics shouldn’t change with time and evolve as individuals do. I think because so many of the same novels are constantly considered to be classic, and due to how infrequently these lists change around, I tend to avoid many of them. I suppose in a way this can be construed to my avoiding things that are hyped, after all what is a classic if not an über-flimflammed title?
Nevertheless, there are a few literary classics that I have an interest in reading and experiencing one day. I’ll admit that I’m not keen on picking them up as soon as humanly possible, however. I am aware of their specific impact on fiction, and even genre literature, and because of these influences and how they continue to mould the relative industry to the present era, I feel that it would be nice to become acquainted with them at some point. I didn’t have many classics on my list to start with, so narrowing them down wasn’t nearly are challenging as I had originally anticipated. So, ladies, gents, and gender non-conforming chums, here are my top five classics to read before I die.
05. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
The Call of Cthulhu is a weird fiction, horror short story that can be credited with spawning the weird fiction genre (now subgenre of science-fiction and fantasy). The story is about a young lad who comes across notes written by his late granduncle that eventually peak his curiosity enough to send him spiralling into a conspiracy involving a grand, ancient, oceanic god and his vicious followers.
The Cthulhu mythos is probably hands-down one of the most influential pieces of fiction that has ever been crafted. You can see it’s impact across a myriad of mediums and genres, from small doses to full-on analytical examinations, past and present. If I’m to be utterly honest with you, H.P. Lovecraft is not an author that I care too much for. His sensationally racist and offensive opinions about people of colour, and minorities of various sorts in general, are immensely off-putting to me, as a person of colour who also happens to be Queer amid other things. Yet, I do recognise that he was a product of his era, and I also cannot dispute that he has inspired some of my favourite authors and that the like (A Study in Emerald, for example). Additionally, the Cthulhu universe does sounds like something that I would devour with great pleasure. So, time to swallow that bullet and see where it leads me.
04. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)
The Martian Chronicles is a science-fiction collection of small, episodic tales about humans who had fled from an atomically devastated Earth to Mars, where the colonisers came into conflicts with the indigenous Martians.
Now, doesn’t that premise sound like something in the history books? You know, colonisers coming in, stealing land, and threatening the people who were there first all in an effort to establish themselves as a superior being? I don’t know if that is what happens in The Martian Chronicles, per say, but I’m quite curious to read about it and see where it goes. This title by Bradbury has been massively influential in the sci-fi genre, especially when it comes to narratives about humans departing Earth with the hopes of helping their race survive beyond the confines of a single planet, which is one of my most beloved sorts of stories to read within the genre.
03. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
The Castle of Otranto is the original Gothic fiction novel by a British author about an arrogant twat who banishes his own wife into the castle’s dungeons so that he can marry his dead son’s fiancée. However his plans get royally buggered when his wife-to-be disappears into the castle’s underground passages.
Gothic fiction is one of my biggest influences as a writer. I can’t really express just what this genre means to me in words because no amount of words spoken will be able to accurately depict my passion for it. This author, and specifically this novel, is considered to be the Father of Gothic Fiction. How could I possibly say no to it? Even if it is horrendously dated and difficult to digest, to not read this would make me feel like an inadequate fan of the genre (something I feel only with regard to myself, not others).
02. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
The Picture of Dorian Gray is an Irish, Gothic fiction, philosophical novel that tells the tale about a vain young man that is obsessed with maintaining his good looks and youth splendour for as long as possible. When the opportunity to hold on to those things for all eternity arises, he quickly sells his soul and faces all of the implications that come with such a decision.
Books that dissect moral dilemmas of humanity, particularly where the negative aspects of those quandaries are concerned, are like a drug to me. They can be so fantastically contemplative and revealing, often times showing the reader what they are capable of doing themselves if given the proper motivation and opportunity; things that are philosophically engaging yet frightening. Naturally, one of the originals, or at least one of the more controversial ones (it’s a banned book) would find their way onto my list of delicacies to taste. Also, this novel came very highly recommend by Sir Besty, who has a brilliant affinity for my literary palate.
01. 1984 by George Orwell (1948)
Nineteen-Eighty-Four is an iconic piece of British dystopian fiction. The story examines what life is like in a world solely built upon totalitarian governments and bureaucratic beliefs, and about one person’s attempt at finding individualism in a world where that is fiercely outlawed.
Nearly every bibliophile that I have ever chatted with has read this novel. I had never heard of this book until a few years after my long journey through the Dune Saga by Frank Herbert (I lived in a culturally overprotective bubble). By the time this title reached my wee ears, it came with lots of judgment for never having interacted with it before. It was discouraging and created some negative mental associations between us. However, shortly after meeting Sir Besty, we sat around one evening talking about novels that had the potential to become reality, and they had brought up the affinities of Dune and 1984, which sort of blew my mind. Now as our reality is trekking terribly close to the ideals of 1984 (at least from what I’ve heard about it), it’s quite a daunting yet curious notion for me. I have read books before where certain things discussed in those novels actually came to happen years later (Idoru by William Gibson comes to mind immediately here), so listening to chatter about this being of a similar vein, and about its kinship with my favourite sci-fi series ever, peaked my interest in it immeasurably.
Have you read any of the books mentioned here? Are there classics that you have always wanted to read, but felt reluctant to pick up? Or do you simply steer clear of them entirely? Please, come chat with me in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.