Classic Literature
Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose

I nearly included this in the Summer Reading Guide but decided maybe not too many of you would be interested in a 672 page book published in 1971. But this book is pretty incredible in structure. A sweeping novel, a commentary on marriage–why it works, why it fails. It’s a Pulitzer winner, but its dream sequence ending feels like a copout.

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Someone at a Distance
Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

I read this myself for the Reading Challenge, having previously read A Room of One's Own but none of Virginia Woolf's novels. In this slim novel, Woolf weaves together two seemingly unrelated storylines: one following Mrs Dalloway, an upper class woman preparing to host a dinner party, and the other her "double," a shell-shocked WWI vet contemplating suicide. Woolf used stream-of-consciousness style to explore the inner workings of the mind; this pioneering technique had a lasting effect on fiction as we know it.

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Little Women

Little Women

When I asked what books every woman's gotta read, Alcott's 1869 novel about New England sisters growing up in the Civil War Era was an overwhelming crowd favorite. I only recently learned that Alcott herself didn't want to write Little Women: when a publisher asked her to write a book for girls, she put aside the thrillers she'd been writing and wrote about the only girls she knew— her sisters. The book's unexpected success changed her life and literary career.

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As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying

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While I greatly prefer my own assigned high school read The Sound and the Fury, the backstory on this slim novel is truly astounding. Faulkner claimed that he wrote it in 6 weeks, working from midnight to 4:00 a.m., and that he didn't change a word. The story, again set in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. Consistently cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century, both for its own sake and for the great influence it had over subsequent fiction.

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Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

This 1936 epic novel and Pulitzer winner is enjoying a resurgence, and for good reason. More than a Civil War novel, this is a tale of the breadth and depth of human emotions, set against the backdrop of the Old South from the dawn of the war through Reconstruction, and is told through the eyes of Scarlett O'Hara, a beautiful, vivacious Southern Belle pressed into the unforeseen challenges of war. Scarlett is but one of a cast of many unforgettable characters that has been bringing readers back to this book for 75 years. Don't let the word "classic" make you think this can't be a beach read: it's a real page-turner.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
North and South
East of Eden

East of Eden

This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. The title references the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent embattled relationship between brothers Cain and Abel. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, interweaving the stories of two Salinas Valley families, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful.

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I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

Claims to fame: this is the “original YA novel,” with one of the best narrators in English literature. We hear the story of this eccentric 1930s English family—struggling to make ends meet in a tumbledown castle—through the eyes of 17-year-old Cassandra—bright, witty, and wise beyond her years. Replete with love, magic, writer’s block, and bear costumes.

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Dickens' thirteenth novel (and arguably his best) follows the early adventures and coming of age of the young orphan Pip. Back in 9th grade, I thought I was "lucky" that MY English class didn't have to read this one, unlike my poor friends who were assigned to a different teacher. Flash forward ten years, when I plucked this off the shelf as a "duty read," and then stayed up way too late turning the pages so I could find out how it ended.

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Heidi (Puffin in Bloom)

Heidi (Puffin in Bloom)

I never read Heidi as a kid, but since Sarah's reading it for English Lit this fall, I bumped it up the reading list. You know, just in case she needs my help with her homework. This Puffin in Bloom edition is so pretty that any excuse will do. (Not my favorite classic, but I'm glad to finally know what the fuss is all about.)

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The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair

Graham Greene is frequently included in "novels everyone should read" and "best of the century" lists, and I've been meaning to read him for years. But I'd never made it a priority ... until I found out that Colin Firth narrates this version. This short novel might not hold the broader appeal of the other novels on this list, but I found it enjoyable and thought-provoking, and Firth's narration is pitch perfect. If you love Brideshead Revisited, read this immediately.

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The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle

This was one of my favorite Montgomery novels as a kid, but I haven't read it in twenty years. This new edition, illustrated by Canadian artist Jacqui Oakley, was just released last spring, and provided the perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite. Highly recommended for Green Gables fans.

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The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

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This classic is set in the Gilded Age among New York City's high society, and depicts the rise and fall of Lily Bart, a young woman trapped by social conventions, a victim both of society and of her own choices. This feels like social commentary and reads like a tragedy, and while I feared it would be boring it was anything but.

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