When I was 15 I used to scour the internet to find lists with titles like ‘Top 50 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die’ or ‘Every Book Lover Should Have Read These Books’. As a result, I’ve managed to amass over the years a number of classic books under my belt…most of which I didn’t love. A large part of this did stem from the fact that I was a child trying to sound impressive by reading Dickens, Hardy, and Austen, but there is also a large part of me that does genuinely believe these books are rather overhyped.
This post may be controversial, but here are some of my hot takes on these ‘must read’ classics.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This book is always in the Top 10 of the most influential classic books of all time, and for a certain degree I can understand why. The ultimate enemies to lovers trope – written in the time of balls and letters – with some dry irony and sarcasm to wet the pages. But these characters are so flat! Austen struggles with depth in a lot of her texts, but even Persuasion gave a little more spice to her characters.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I had to read this book twice to actually make an informed decision on it – it was okay. It is obviously an incredibly important text in terms of America’s history, but the actual story itself and the characters felt slow. I do like the child’s narration in the text as it provides a unique insight and outlook onto race relations during this period, but overall it hasn’t been a book that’s stuck with me.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Talk about overrated! Everyone loves The Great Gatsby and I can see why: big parties, the roaring 20s, death, love, betrayal, a film adaptation with Leo in it. But I just couldn’t see all the hype when I read it. I didn’t like Nick, I thought they were all as a whole so unsympathetic that it was jarring, and the ending felt stark and incomplete. It’s the type of text that I have enjoyed analysing and studying, but for general reading pleasure it was not the one for me.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
This was a book I’ve only read in the past year, and I was drawn to pick it up due to the sheer hype surrounding it. But I just couldn’t hack the narrative. It was exactly the type of book that I loved the concept of but the execution made it hard for me to ever fully engage with the text. Perhaps I needed to invest more time allowing myself to become immersed in this shifting history and moving parts, but on the whole I found myself lost in confusion more than anything.
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Time for a positive review! I loved this book! Having just read Jane Eyre (which I also loved), I was so excited to read more about Bertha. This book is magical, sinister, dark, and compelling – one that I definitely will have to reread at some point. Rhys has a way with words, and the imaginative retelling was fascinating.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another book that I liked a lot more than I thought I would. Dystopia has always held a large place in my heart, but after reading 1984 and not enjoying it quite as much as I had hoped, I was apprehensive to go into this book. But I think what I really enjoyed about this book was the bizarreness of the world created, the focus on science as well as the plot, and the overall effect was enjoyable.
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Am I even an English Literature student if I hadn’t read The Secret History? Predictably, I really liked this book. It was strange, bizarre, terrifying, and ultimately so compelling that I gave it 5 stars. Tartt’s writing was mystical and exciting, and I found myself genuinely surprised by the way the story moved.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
I didn’t really like Moby-Dick. But I didn’t vehemently hate it which definitely surprised me. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read this, but I distinctly remember flicking through the pages detailing the characteristics of whales in minute detail. I am strangely attracted to classic adventure novels which feels very out of character for me, so I think the adventure aspect of this novel was its saving grace.
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I really wish I liked Virginia Woolf, I really do. But I just can’t stand most of her books. I struggled immensely to get through this book when I had to read it for university, and found myself still feeling baffled and bored. There is no doubt she is a fantastic writer, but I just can’t hack her writing and her characters.
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I felt incredibly apathetic about this book. I know that it’s one that people adore from Hardy given its slightly macabre plot, but I remember feeling rather nonplussed about it. Tess vaguely annoyed me throughout, and I found its twists difficult to get engaged with. Perhaps if I read it again I would have a better appreciation of its craft, but for now it didn’t leave much impression on me.