Guest Blog Post: Tackling the Classics: A Beginner’s Guide

Classic literature can be intimidating. It’s often associated with the high school horrors of reading Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. But it does not have to be. Here are some tips on how to tackle the classics and which ones are easy to read even for beginners.

Tips to Help You Read Classics:

  • Choose What Interests You

Classics span various genres and time periods, so pick one that aligns with your interests. Whether it’s Greek mythology, sci-fi, romance, or another genre, selecting something you genuinely care about will keep you engaged. I’ll share my personal favorites below so I won’t spoil it here.


  • Start Gradually

Instead of binge-reading, consider taking it slow by reading a few chapters each day. This approach always helps me to digest the content and adjust to the prose and characters, especially when you’re unfamiliar with them like when first starting a book.


  • Watch the Film Version

Because classics are so popular they most likely have been adapted into film. Watching an adaptation can help you familiarize yourself with the characters and plot making it easier to follow when reading. Some of my personal favorite adaptations are Pride and Prejudice and Emma.


  • Read Chapter Summaries

Don’t hesitate to look up chapter summaries online if you find a section challenging to understand. I do this all the time with books that are pretty dense to help keep myself on track with what is going on in the plot. 


  • Try Audiobooks

An audiobook alone may still prove difficult but listening to one alongside the physical copy can enhance your focus and maintain a comfortable reading pace. Platforms like YouTube and Audible offer a variety of audiobooks and usually have the best selection for free. 


  • Annotated Editions

If available, opt for annotated versions of novels. You might find these in used bookstores or libraries, and they provide additional context and explanations by the pervious reader. Alternatively, you might get lucky have a friend who’s marked up a copy that you can borrow!

My Favorite Easy-to-Read Classics:

Pride and Prejudice

One of the first classics I read on my own violation was Pride and Prejudice. I remember reading the novel when I was just 16. The reason I had even picked it up in the first place was because I had previously seen the movie, which is phenomenal, and the book did not disappoint either. Today, Pride and Prejudice is still one of my all-time favorites and it’s a goal of mine to finish Jane Austen’s whole bibliography. 

Summary: Pride and Prejudice follows the turbulent relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. They must overcome the titular sins of pride and prejudice in order to fall in love and marry.

Check out here: Pride and Prejudice (Signature Classics) by Jane Austen, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

 

A Room with a View

After I finished reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, I found myself searching for other books like it. One that I stumbled upon was called, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. This book deals with similar themes to Pride and Prejudice but is set in the early 1900s and has a page count of 256. It is a book best recommended for people who are not fans of chunky books but are still looking for a good classic. 

Summary: The novel is about a young woman named Lucy Honeychurch who falls in love with an idealistic lower-class man named George Emerson, earning her family’s disapproval

Check out here: A Room with a View by E. M. Forster, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

 

Franny and Zooey

While J.D. Salinger is best known for The Catcher in the Rye, his later work, Franny and Zooey, deserves recognition. Like his famous novel, this book offers a compelling coming-of-age narrative surrounding lives of two siblings. It delves into themes of family, burnout, and spirituality in a relatable way, making it an excellent read for young adults and college students which is why I really graviated towards it. 

Summary: Franny’s older brother is Zooey. They come from a sophisticated and highly eccentric family: all seven Glass siblings are former child stars, each in their own way charismatic and yet damaged. And when Franny’s anxiety spirals into a more serious breakdown, Zooey is the only one who might be able to reach her.

Check out here: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

 

Flowers for Algernon

A departure from traditional classics, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is a thought-provoking sci-fi novel. Despite not being a typical fan of this genre, I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after reading it. Keyes explores the mistreatment of the intellectually disabled in a powerful way, making it a must-read for everyone.

Summary: Charlie is a 32-year-old developmentally disabled man who has the opportunity to undergo a surgical procedure that will dramatically increase his mental capabilities. This procedure had already been performed on a laboratory mouse, Algernon, with remarkable results. Charlie will be the first human subject.

Check out here: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

With these tips and a list of engaging classics, reading these timeless works should be a less intimidating and more enjoyable experience. Happy reading!

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