The Classics 101: The Crossman Ten
Classics. I have been talking a lot about classics recently. Classic movies. Classic World Series. Classic bands and singers. And classic books.
As I went through college, I always imagined I would end up being a high school English teacher. Maybe even a college professor. And one of my main duties would be picking a reading list for my students. As I thought about it, my temptation was to choose books they would enjoy reading. I remember being in English class that first day when the teacher handed out the syllabus and I looked through to see what books she had selected. I groaned when I saw the Grapes of Wrath on that list. I just knew that any book all the stuffy old critics said was America’s premiere classic had to be boring. The rest of the list didn’t look any more promising. I mean where were the dragons and car chases? I told myself that if I was ever in that position I would pick good books. My students were going to love my English classes.
When I read those books on my syllabus, even as a sixteen or seventeen year old, I had to admit they were pretty good. So good in fact that not many books can sit on the same shelf with them in terms of quality subjects and treatment. Good reason to call them classics.
If I ever became a teacher, this is my list of classics and briefly why I chose them.
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens. Few writers have come along who could build characters and character struggle like Charles Dickens. Miss Havisham’s bitterness about lost love shapes her entire existence. Pip has a pure heart and an entrenched belief in love.
Moby Dick – Herman Melville. I pick this book for its larger than life conflict, the pursuit of a enigmatic whale, and the great character studies that can be done with Ishmael and Captain Ahab. And for some reason I really love the symbolism of ocean journeys.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss. Just great writing in this book. If there were ever a book that could take you places that were not real and make you believe they were, this is the one. And I think so many kids need that hope in something magical.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis. I cannot leave C.S. Lewis off of a list of classics. And it is hard to pick one book. But I pick this book as a representation of the whole series. In part, it can be an allegory, and one of the best christian fiction has. But this story is also a journey of belief, of redemption, and the ultimate battle between good and evil.
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving. A great book showing how the instances of our life and our decisions can shape our destiny. John Irving is reminiscent of Charles Dickens in the way he builds characters and twists his plots so that all the dangling strings come together at the end in meaningful and powerful resolutions for his characters. This book really packs a punch.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck. The American Dream. It is what America was built upon. This book has some real and poignant struggles that arise in two men’s pursuit of the American Dream. Great conflict, great characters, great themes.
The Call of the Wild – Jack London. Great conflict and themes. Nature versus nature. Nature versus man. Man versus man.
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien. Tim O’Brien’s style in this book is worth studying itself. The book also takes on an intimate and revealing point of view of war. It is one of those inside your head books.
Animal Farm – George Orwell. Written at time when Capitalism and Communism were dominant and soon to be warring ideologies, this allegory is one of the best I have ever read.
The Lord of the Flies – William Golding. What darkness lies within all of us? A captivating story of what man will do when pressed to the limit, when given the chance to remake Eden.
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien. It goes without saying that this book launched fantasy and did so by being the one that all others will be judged by, whether that is fair or not. It is also an incredible read and written in a style that few will ever be able to match.
Honorable Mention – 1984, Atlus Shrugged, Robinson Crusoe, The Grapes of Wrath!
Yes, I would get to the end of the year and feel like I had left a mark on my students. I do admit there are so many classics and so many I left off the list. But I wouldn’t want to force my students to read the whole library!
I would love to hear your thoughts on my choices or some of your own choices of classics.
© Seth Crossman
image courtesy of hiddentrenton.com