Friday, December 9, 2011

The Best of 2011 - What about the Classics?

The Classics through Modern Eyes
By Brad R. Cook

It’s the end of the year and everyone is creating their best of 2011 book lists. Now, I enjoy all the new novels coming out, many of them are now by my friends, so I have to say that… but I love old books! So as the year winds down and the lists are formed, remember that the classics are amazing novels. That’s why they’re classics – the best books of their ages, written by authors who will still be revered by our children’s children – kind of like JK Rowling. These brilliant novels came with timeless messages, hidden subtext, plot twists to rival M. Knight, and biting commentaries about the times they lived in, kind of like And Tango Makes Three. There is nothing better than sitting back with an old hardcover book. However since I am not a wealthy author, I am often reading a modern reprint that was so nicely priced in the B&N Bargain Section. I love to read novels that are over a century old or at least close to it.

Why, you might ask? There are a number of reasons.
I love the language, like the slang of "The Great Gatsby", the "Juno" of the Twenties.
I love the stories, like the tales of Allan Quatermain or the epic journey of the "Odyssey".
I love connecting to the past, getting to experience what for them was everyday life but to us is a long forgotten past, like the streets of Jekyll and Hyde, or the sailing ships of "Moby Dick".

If you’re a little unsure about the classics here’s how some compare to our modern day stories.
"Dracula" by Bram Stoker – Horror and Romance – this is obvious, it’s the "Twilight" of 1897. No shiny chests, but there certainly is a human girl being pursued by a hot vampire.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens should probably be passed around the Occupy movement.

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Walter Conan Doyle – Mystery – it even has the forensic component that has come to dominate the genre.

"The Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi – Self help – who knew that Musashi, an amazing swordsman was the self help guru of 1645.

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne – actually skip this one and just watch Easy A, Hawthorne takes way too long to say anything.

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne – Steampunk Science Fiction – If you like the genre, then find out where it all started.

"Le Morte d’Arthur" by Sir Thomas Malory – Y/A Fantasy Fiction – is the Lord of the Rings of 1485 and Middle English can be just as tough as elvish.

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane – Y/A Memoir – stirs up memories and causes us to pause just like the modern accounts from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain – MG Humor – not exactly "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" but no one ever thinks of Twain as a MG author.

"Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll – MG Fantasy Fiction – takes you away to a magical world like Harry Potter, where the Red Queen chases a young girl crying “Off with her head!” Kind of like Voldemort.

"Romeo & Juliet" by William Shakespeare – Y/A Romance – puts any modern day romance to shame, and its message still resonates today. Parents just don’t understand.

So read the Hunger Games, Steve Jobs, Zero Time, or Hemingway’s Boat but then add some Hemingway to your e-reader. The best part is that you can often find Fitzgerald, Shelly, or Dumas for free – which can help with your book budgets.

For your enjoyment and to expand your reading lists – here are links to some of those Best of 2011 Book Lists I mentioned earlier.

Find out more about Brad at or follow him on Twitter @bradrcook


  1. Project Gutenberg is great for this.

  2. I love the classics, too! Jules Verne introduced me to the genre. Michael Creighton's "Andromeda Strain" was probably the first "modern" sci-fi novel I read, followed quickly by Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.(And many, many more). Of course, I also went on non-genre binges, including Hemingway and Russian lit. So many books, so little time!

  3. oops--misspelled Crichton's name. How embarrassing.

  4. I have a young teen granddaughter who loves to read (yay!). Every time I give her a new YA book, I also give her a classic. As a result, she has now read A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Little Women, The Diary of Anne Frank, Farenheit 451, Sherlock Holmes, Alice In Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and several others along with her Harry Potter, Twilight, and Percy Jackson favorites.

    For Christmas I planned to give her more classics. I was thinking Hemingway and Steinbeck, but now that I've read Brad's list, I may just change that to Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Bram Stoker (Dracula) - and add some Jules Verne in for good measure.