On My Nightstand: The Classics
I’m usually a positive person who tries to look at what’s ahead. The bright side. The full glass. The next vacation.
Except when it comes to January.
I am not a “fresh start with the New Year” type. For me, January is a cold, dark month, with little to do but think about what I didn’t accomplish the previous year. I’m more of a Grinch after Christmas than during.
So, it’s with this bad attitude that I give you a few classics that l love. What’s the connection? These four novels offer me comfort, reliability, and goodness. There is nothing unknown or disappointing about a well-loved book. These cherished tomes are the opposite of all that is irritating about January.
But don’t worry, fresh start types, you’ll enjoy them, too.
Yes, yes, I know. It’s everybody’s favorite and I’ll freely admit that I love it even more because of the BBC miniseries. It is a tremendous novel, though. P & P is all the things it intends to be: funny, farcical, condemning, romantic, intelligent, and just an overall lovely read. By the time Darcy tells Elizabeth, “I thought only of you… ” before his final proposal, well, you may rip a bodice or two.
I also love Sense and Sensibility, as should anyone that has a great sister.
Nabokov writes more in one paragraph than a dozen writers do in a dozen books. For that reason alone, Lolita is the best novel of the 20th century. The story itself, of Humbert Humbert and his nymphet Dolores Haze (a.k.a. Lolita), has been interpreted over time to make poor Lolita the villain, but really she is just a beautiful young girl, looking for adventure, nearly ruined by a pathetic old man grappling with his own twisted desires. It’s very tragic, but also moving to your fingertips, waggish and lively. It’s a post-war novel about a fading European and a burgeoning new American ethos, written by a Russian, who is possibly the greatest English prose writer ever—the perfect postmodern literary romp.
Carson McCullers was 23 years old when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. (23! I could barely write my rent check when I was 23.) Heart is a deep, engrossing, bold rumination on the human condition, asserting that we are in many ways unknown, and that the struggle for identity and purpose beyond our small town, our family, our fate is often futile. It isn’t necessarily a happy book, but it’s told with great humanity, and McCullers’ grasp of racial tensions in 1930s Georgia is nimble and moving. Young heroine Mick Kelly is for the ages, her love of music a beautiful island amid the roiling chaos around her, and John Singer, the novel’s mute protagonist, an emblem for the forgotten and misunderstood.
Call it a modern classic if you want, but it’s one of my favorite books and Ondaatje one of my favorite writers. This winding tale about several relationships over the course of WWII is a meditation on love and grief. Ostensibly about protagonist Almasy and his obsessive love for Katharine Clifton, there is greater depth to be found in Kip and Hana’s burgeoning love affair and Hana’s painful past, which is revisited with the arrival of the thief Caravaggio, an acquaintance of her father’s from Toronto. The language is beautiful; the sense of mourning, desperation, and courage captured effortlessly. (To learn more about Hana’s family, you can read In the Skin of a Lion, which is quite ephemeral and strange.)
Anil’s Ghost, about civil war in Ondaatje’s native Sri Lanka, is also an engrossing and troubling read.
Photo of classic books courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sarah has read before bed every night since she was 6 years old, even when she's really, really tired. She enjoys all the usual things like traveling, fish tacos, pop culture, and Andrew Garfield, and all the very exceptional things like her kids and husband. She'll argue politics with you, but if you really want a fight, take it to the mattresses about TV writing (best it's ever been) or iPads in libraries (blaspheme!).More from this Author