Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lu Ann’s Top Ten Classics

My honors students have proven the point that reading the classics does help with vocabulary development, especially when it comes to doing well on standardized tests. I’ve been reading classics since my own school days, and I’ve put together a list of ten books I’ve enjoyed. If you haven’t already ready them, pick one and give it a chance. You might be surprised by how fun it can be to read a novel written before you were born.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Signet Classics, 1997.
True gothic romance. The story of plain Jane, orphaned as a girl and raised in an abusive school, who becomes a governess of a young girl whose benefactor is irresistible to Jane. Despite their love for one another, his dark past comes between them just as they are to be married.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Bantam, 1986.
Must you ask? The story of Scrooge, miserliness, and finding love in the world. Incredible descriptions are lost if you’ve only seen the movie.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Warner Books, 1988.
Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, the story follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus—three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. Signet Classics, 2004.
Believe it or not, I just read this fable of a workers' revolution gone wrong for the first time this year. And who said English majors couldn’t graduate without reading the classic canon?

Shakespeare, William. Romeo & Juliet. Folger Library, 2004.
How could I ever omit my favorite play by my first cousin, twelve times removed ? (We share common ancestors of Robert Arden and Mary Webb.) I memorized the soundtrack to the Zefferelli film version in 1968 and teach this tragic love story every year, yet I continue to love it and learn something new each time I teach it.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Peter Bedrick Books, 1989.
The original vampire tale begins when a young Englishman travels to Transylvania to do business with a client, Count Dracula. After showing his true and terrifying colors, Dracula boards a ship for England in search of new, fresh blood.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Oxford World’s Classic, 1984.
As Eliza flees slavery to protect her son, we see into three plantations, each worse than the other, where even the best plantation leaves a slave at the mercy of fate or death.

Stratton-Porter, Gene. A Girl of the Limberlost. The Library of Indiana Classics, 1984.
This was my mother’s favorite novel when she was a girl. I read it every year from 4th - 12th grade. Once I even visited the Limberlost—or what’s left of it—and Stratton-Porter’s home where Elnora’s butterfly collection is still displayed. The movie doesn’t do this book justice.

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. Signet Classic, 2004.
Another classic that I just discovered this past year. The hard-edged irony and the flashback technique provides an incredible climax in this story of Ethan Frome, his wife Zenobia, and her young cousin Mattie Silver, the woman Ethan learns to love.

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town: A Play in Three Acts. Harper Collins, 2003.
Set in Grover's Corners, N.H., the play relates the story of George Gibbs and Emily Webb as they go through courtship, Emily’s early death from child-birth, and her thoughts as a spirit in the local graveyard.

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