By: Grace Hudgins
It’s almost that time of year again — summer vacation!
Without any academic responsibility for 3-4 months, you can let your imagination run wild with books you actually want to read. Summer is the perfect season to read for fun, and you make a dent in that summer reading list you’ve been mentally keeping track of all year.
But this summer, instead of only reading the latest NY Times bestseller, why not cuddle up with a good, old-fashioned classic? Yes, we mean a classic novel.
We’re all about the nonfiction reading here at Atlantic, but snuggling up to an old-fashioned book can be just as enlightening.
It’s fascinating to go back in time through a novel, and it’s cultivating to compare how much literature has changed over the years. When you read a classic, it’s like being transported back in time. You get to experience social issues and stories of characters that “lived” through the tragedies and love stories that are happening right before your eyes.
There are a ton of classics to choose from. Don’t choose one you’ve read multiple times in English class for the past two years — pick one that you’re actually interested in.
Okay, we’ll stop babbling now. Let’s get into it with our list of 5 classic novels you should read this summer.
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
This British classic was said to be the first mystery novel written back in 1859. It was also one of the first sensation novels — a story that follows a series of criminal biographies and has a gothic, romantic genre to it. However, instead of releasing his work as a play or novel first, author Wilkie Collins released one chapter every week in a magazine to keep readers wanting more. The infamous Charles Dickens owned the magazine called “All the Year Round.”
Through winding, dark paths and corridors of Victorian houses, cottages and an asylum house, you’ll get to know protagonist Walter Hartright right from the start. You’ll follow Walter’s agonizing attempts to win the love of his life, Laura Fairlie. But every time he gets close, secrets that intertwine Laura with a “woman in white” drag her further away.
This mysterious novel is a classic you won’t be able to put down. At the end of every chapter, you will wonder: Who is Count Fosco and why is he infatuated with white mice? What does Sir Percival have to hide? Will Laura get better? Who is the woman in white?
2. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This is a 1930s American classic that you must read at some point in your life. Readers follow the life of Janie Crawford, a young African American girl from Florida, who tries to find herself through a series of marriages. With a grandmother and a town built on social status, Janie struggles with her assigned role as a female to her newest and richest husband, and she feels the strengthening urge to become the independent women she’s always been inside.
After a couple of failed marriages and her latest husband’s death, Janie finds a young man who brings out her best side. Throughout the novel, you’ll follow Janie’s struggle to stand up for herself. Tea Cake, who is 12 years younger than her, encourages Janie to be the dreamer she’s always wanted to be and encourages her to escape her hometown of Eatonville, Florida once again for a more simple way of life in the Everglades.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Maybe you’ve seen the movie. But is the movie ever as good as the book? Pride and Prejudice is the classic of all the classics, written by the worshipped Jane Austen.
Austen’s delicate details of her protagonist Elizabeth Bennet’s love life will keep you wanting to know more. It’s the original back-and-forth love story between a wealthy, pompous man and middle class, open-minded girl. Between a marriage-obsessed mother and four other sisters, Elizabeth Bennet’s life is full marriage-talk. But she’s not one to give up her life for marital status.
In the end, it’s Elizabeth’s ability to stand up for herself and make her own decisions that leads her to a man she used to hate, but now can’t stop thinking about. It’s the story in between that makes this novel an excellent read.
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Mocando, an isolated, historical town in Latin America, is all the Buendias family knows. They are the great family who founded it. For years, the town is left untouched and its only visitors are gypsies.
Throughout the novel, you’ll follow members of the Buendias family and see how characteristics from the patriarch, Jose Buendias, are passed down from generation to generation. Each family offers something the other does not, which comes into play as the once isolated country is taken over by Americans for a banana plantation.
In response to mistreatment, plantation workers retaliate against the Americans. War, endless rain, and other familial tragedies lead to only one Buendias family being left alive at the end of the book. But when he discovers ancient prophecies in the remains of his once beloved home, he discovers that Mocando was meant for the preordained cycle it endured — love, pain, tragedy, sadness, and beauty.
5. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Once again, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses characters to showcase how poignant social statuses and aristocratic behavior were in the 1920s, as he did in The Great Gatsby. His main characters, Anthony and Gloria, are the definition of socialites; they are arrogant, wealthy, and narcissistic. Anthony claims to be a writer, but instead becomes obsessed with inheriting his grandfather’s wealth and alcohol. His wife Gloria offers nothing but a pretty face, and together, they are the source of their demise.
Fitzgerald highlights the importance of living and the importance of love throughout his novel, and he wants to relay that money isn’t everything.
If you’re a bookworm, you have to read at least one of these novels in your lifetime. Next time you visit a bookstore or local library, stop by the classics section and browse through the shelves until you find a cover, author, or title that catches your eye.
You never know, that classic may turn out to be your new favorite book!