Classic literature: a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of many. But, contrary to what your high school English teacher would have you believe, the world of classics is not as daunting as it may seem. In fact, there are a number of classic novels that won’t have you tearing your hair out by the second page. Perdeby has braved the perilous waters of the classic novel to bring you ten such marvels, in order of awesomeness.
10. The Great Gatsby byF. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s greatest work deals with “the roaring 20s”. Young Nick Carraway, fresh from service in World War I, moves to New York. Once there, he finds himself immersed in the outrageous society of the “old aristocracy” with disastrous results. Before you run away screaming, take heart: it’s not that difficult. No, really. Plus, it’s quite short. Once you’ve read it, you’ll have read the book ranked second in the Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. This should make you feel quite smart.
9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
For the dumb kids Animal Farm is about, well, a bunch of farm animals that fight for control of their farm. But for the smart kids it’s about the Russian Revolution. Read it and see which category you fall under.
8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is the tale of an orphaned girl who goes to live with her uncle. On his estate she discovers a neglected garden which she attempts to restore. Obviously, this is the literary equivalent of a chick flick. If you are too manly for such stories, continue to number seven.
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Think Lost meets Spud with a touch of Survivor. A group of schoolboys is stranded on a deserted island after their plane, whisking them away from the perils of World War II, crashes. The boys then attempt to establish an organised society. Simply put, all hell breaks loose.
6. Little Women by Louisa-May Alcott
Little Women is the story of four sisters (Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy) who live in New England during the Civil War. If Friends’ Joey Tribbiani can read it (season three, episode 13 – true story) so can you.
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
It seems that Charlotte Brontë did not know as many big words as her sister Emily (author of Wuthering Heights). This helps. Brontë’s (Charlotte’s, not Emily’s) masterpiece is the Cinderella-esque story of Jane Eyre, an orphan thrust from one miserable situation to the next until she is hired as a governess by the dark and brooding Mr Rochester. Predictable? Surprisingly, no. Brontë weaves in enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most cynical among us.
4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Okay, so it’s not a traditional classic, but it was published about 70 years ago, and it’s, well, incredible. Remember Frodo’s Uncle Bilbo? The Hobbit is his story. If The Lord of the Rings novel made you want to cry, fear not. The Hobbit is far simpler because technically, it’s a children’s book, which means you could probably find a copy with pictures if need be.
3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Long before Robert Downey Jr put on his trenchcoat and picked up his pipe, Sherlock Holmes existed in book form. Doyle wrote a number of short stories about the madcap detective, the first twelve of which appear in this collection. Short stories: you can handle them.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Turns out it wasn’t Stephenie Meyer who started the whole vampire thing. Perdeby is willing to bet that the original Dracula could knock the sparkle right out of Edward. This thriller/horror/romance/mystery is told through newspaper clippings and diary entries of the various main characters.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird byHarper Lee
This is a novel which every South African can relate to. It deals with the issue of racism in the American Deep South as seen through the eyes of a young girl, Jean-Louise Finch, or Scout, as she is affectionately known. This is the kind of story that will linger in your mind long after you’ve put it down. If you only read one book on this list, let it be this one.
Photo: Chané Mackay