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April 20, 2010

Reading (or re-reading) the classics

Summer reading weather is almost here. I love spending a beautiful hot sunny summer day indoors, safely away from nature and curled up in manufactured indoor air with a good book and a cold adult beverage. Usually I go for contemporary fiction, cheese-laden self-help or biography. But this season I have a hankering to up my classic reading IQ and read (or re-read) a few pieces of classic literature. Or, where I am from, litterchure.

So, what are your top five favorite classic books? I'm making up my summer reading list. I'm thinking maybe some Dorothy Parker, some Colette, perhaps a Henry James. I definitely want to re-read The Count of Monte Cristo. What do you recommend? What are your top five MUST-read classics?

And are there any classic authors you've never gotten around to reading but are embarrassed to admit it? For me it's a serious lack of Jane Austen. I read what was assigned to me in school of course, but that was in high school when I was deep in teenage angst and tortured be-pimpled darkness. None of that chaste Austen stuff for me and my side-part mohawk!

(More of my awesomely bad hair is here: Read My Hairstory.)

We had just moved from Louisiana to Columbia, Tennessee and I was full of rebellion and my own super coolness, so of course all I wanted to read were the books children my age were not supposed to read -- I started with a little E. M. Forster, and moved right into Henry Miller (warning: if you're at work some of those book covers have nekkid ladies on them. That is not what the covers looked like in the 1980s!), Anais Nin, all that Lost Generation stuff with Gertrude Stein, and somehow one day I stumbled onto Charles Bukowski. I'm pretty sure at age 14 I had no idea what 90% of any of those books were really about but I certainly thought I did. Also, can I just point out that back in the 1980s it was not exactly easy for a teenager living in Columbia, Tennessee, home of the Mule Day Parade, to get her hands on some Henry Miller. There was no internet and we lived right in the buckle of the Bible Belt in a dry county with no major bookstore and the public library didn't gravitate toward gritty Parisian stories about vagabonds and drunks and ladies of the night.

Luckily, I had parents who encouraged my love of books and secretly hoped that no matter what I was reading perhaps if I kept my nose stuck in a book I would stop hiding boys in my closet (hah, good try, Dad.) So my mom would take me to Nashville every few months and we'd go to a big mall and spend hours in the bookstore. Thank goodness for the internet so angsty teens in small towns across America can now buy their gritty rebellious books online. And thank the Lord for my enlightened parents who let me read anything I wanted. They wouldn't let me listen to Prince records, mind you, but if it was a book and I could save up enough allowance to buy it it was all mine. I love this about them.

College was a buffet-- the bookstore on campus and the library were filled with crazy great stuff, the weird and fabulous Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Kafka, who I think invented this place I work at. One day two weeks ago I wondered if I was suddenly a giant cockroach with an apple in my back. Then I went home and drank wine. Who knew Kafka would prepare me so well for corporate life? Anyway, it was so exhilarating to be 18 or 19 and discovering all those new words, new ways of making a sentence fizz. I loved our college faux-snobbery, our pretense of literary greatness (this from someone who read every single Sweet Valley High book ever written. Twice.) But I have long since outgrown any book-related snootiness and I'll read anything, I'll read the back of the cereal box if it's interesting. Usually when I get a chance to sink into a book I like to grab something off the bestseller list because it helps me understand what people are reading right now, what's current and engaging. And I like an escape. Right now I need an escape and I want a classic, a pile of classics, I think I need to feel rooted, grounded in a book.

So, I'd love to hear your Top 5 Classic Reads suggestions. Besides, eventually we're going to hit re-run season and my brain might enjoy being stimulated by something other than reality TV. Or it may go into shock. Or I may actually be a cockroach, who knows!

Cat angst.

Posted by laurie at April 20, 2010 8:07 AM