It’s almost Friday–yes I know, this is being posted after Friday–and the taste of the weekend is dancing on the tip of my tongue like this bowl of spaghetti I definitely shouldn’t be consuming. Like that figurative language I used there? I mean, it’s subpar, but what can you expect when you’ve spent the last three weeks focusing solely on expressive language?
That being said, while my Creative Writing class is concentrating intently on poetry, this post is dedicated to literature in general, and I’m going to share my all time favorites, why you should read them, links so you can read them or buy them, and my favorite quotes from each book that I know will intrigue you. Okay…maybe a couple quotes because picking a favorite one is like choosing between children, hard.
*note: as of right now, my favorites are not what you’d call “current,” as my education has dealt with less modern works*
So without further ado, here we go…
1. Sylvia Plath. Plath is my all-time favorite poet, hands down. I’ve always said that poetry should be an outlet for people, and Plath is one of the first poets to embrace the concept of confessional poetry. Sure, her work is a little dark, (more than a little I suppose) but it is brilliant nonetheless. I encourage anyone that plans on reading Plath to do a bit of research; she was woman who was seriously depressed, and her work allows readers into her mind. That being said, I think it’s also a great idea to try and shut that out of our minds to truly appreciate Plath’s literary skill; often it’s easy to focus on her biography and not her talent. It’s sad to read, but it’s also moving, impactful, and so important. Some of my favorites are “Lady Lazarus,” “Daddy,” and “Mad Girl’s Love Song.” Also, read “Edge,” for the simple fact that it could quite possibly be one of the last poems Plath wrote before she committed suicide (successfully)–not to mention, it’s as tragically beautiful as the rest of her work. When reading her work, I think it’s important we go in with an open mind; many of us can’t possibly understand her, and if you’re one who can’t, at least work to see the utter genius that is Plath.
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.) – Mad Girl’s Love Song
2. Percy Bysshe Shelley. Staying on the theme of poetry for a moment, we’re throwing it back to the late Romantics: cue Percy Bysshe Shelley. Writers of Romanticism were all about nature my friends, but don’t be fooled, the poetry wasn’t just about nature. I’ve developed a new love of poetry for sure, and Shelley is one I came across in one of my British Literature classes. For his time, he was wild, eccentric, and sometimes even considered inappropriate–although when you read him, it’ll seem like child’s play. My favorites: Ozymandias, a poem about how too much pride can knock even the most powerful jerk off his pedestal. Also, it was the title of an episode of Breaking Bad in season 15, so it’s cool; (yes, I provided the link to watch/listen to Bryan Cranston read it). Another favorite of mine, Love’s Philosophy . Classic romantic poem, and not just about the nature aspect of romanticism…it’s about love…good ol’ love.
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine? – Love’s Philosophy
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray Guys. This is one of my favorite books, (I’m audio booking it to re-read it despite owning the physical version, because my eyes can’t take much more reading at the moment). There’s so much to say about Oscar Wilde’s brilliant novel about narcissism, that I can’t even summarize it well enough. I mean, it’s got it all: struggles with morality, questions about good vs evil, desire for never ending youth, (I’m with ya Gray) vanity…it’s all there. In a nutshell: Dorian Gray is some young shmuck who’s impressionable mind is manipulated into thinking life is all about what’s on the outside. He starts as a fairly innocent character, just too naïve for his own good, and it’s one of those stories where you’re smacking the book off the wall because Dorian is so impeccably compelling yet infuriatingly arrogant at the same time. Honestly, there’s so much more to this that I’m not taking time to explain, but I encourage everyone to go read this.
“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
4. Paradise Lost. John Milton’s epic poem (very long poems with heroes, battles, etc.) begins in medias res; that’s fancy literary terminology for “in the middle.” Meaning, our tale starts after Satan has done his thang, (aka, tempted Adam and Eve to eat that pesky fruit) and now he’s in hell…but it’s not really hell…yet. It’s complicated for sure, but what Milton does in this 12-book poem—or 10 if we’re talking about the original—is pretty…interesting. Sure, let’s go with that. Again, I discovered this in a British Literature class, and wrote an entire thesis paper on the possibility that Milton sympathized with Satan. Now, I’m not claiming that Milton praised the devil—I don’t know the guy—but for those that major in literature, or at least know of the technicalities of it, there’s a lot that Milton does to hint at the idea that Satan is the protagonist, possibly even the big toe of a tragic hero. I say “big toe”, because he doesn’t fit all of the tragic hero criteria. I mean let’s face it, perfection isn’t attainable–we’re all sinners–and what Milton does here is show readers that the main difference between us and Satan is that he didn’t give no f**ks about repenting. Is that integrity or stupidity? I guess that depends on who ya ask. Anyway, there’s no Satan loving here, that guy is a real jerk, but it’s always fun to dive into these types of topics from a generally unconsidered standpoint; and prodding the complexities of morals is always cool, so points to Milton for trying something new and fresh. Just so everyone knows, this isn’t just about Satan, it touches upon all of that stuff: Adam and Eve…all that jazz, but Satan’s presence here is particularly interesting. Just read it, you’ll get what I’m saying.
*FYI, Macbeth is considered a tragic hero and he was some power hungry tool who went around murdering countless people, what’s up with that?
“Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep…”
5. Of Mice and Men Another classic, courtesy of John Steinbeck. If you’re not trusting my taste in literature, bear in mind that Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature thanks in part to this beauty so, it’s good. If you’re not into super pessimistic, downright sad books…then don’t read it, although I definitely recommend it as it delivers a pretty significant message and probes history from a more personal level. Set in the Great Depression, it details all the sh**ty aspects of living at the time, simply put. Themes present in the novel: The American Dream, (or lack thereof) and prejudice, along with a lot of violence. In some ways, this book is almost nonfiction, as Steinbeck actually drew from experience, which makes it a little less fictional–thus–sometimes more heart wrenching. This book is probably not one for the faint of heart, but there’s something about darker literature that I find so important to read; happiness is easy to write about, it’s not so personal, so when an author dives into things this intense…it’s admirable. Although Steinbeck’s novel has actually been seen with vastly different opinions, in my opinion–especially when it comes to subjects like this–you can’t be too detailed; you’ve got to do the story, and the people who lived it, justice; and boy does Steinbeck do that.
“Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.”
“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
6. The Yellow Wallpaper. Here I am again with the pessimistic and dark stories. I can’t help it, sue me. That being said, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story is really, really good. At surface value, it seems all about the psyche; a woman trapped in a room with wallpaper that talks to her. Pretty cool already, but that’s not the only meaning; if you dig deeper, there’s an important underlying message about the status of women during Gilman’s time. Written about Gilman’s own experience after being told to “rest” off her anxiety in order to stop her psychological breakdowns, (yea, that should work, *eye roll*) there’s a couple important facts that come to the forefront by the end. For one: being confined to a bed with limited intellectual freedom—aka, you can’t use your brain for more than a couple hours—to alleviate mental breakdowns, is probably not going to do diddly, and two: your husband shouldn’t be the one making life altering decisions for you, forcing you to lie in bed for months on end, and limiting contact with the outside world. You could easily read it only from the angle of mental health if you choose, but it’s cool that there’s a couple different layers here. It really is a really cool piece of literature, and there’s even a podcast about it from a supernatural standpoint, which shows how multifaceted Gilman’s story really is. I don’t want to say too much, as the story is short so too much summarizing will give it away, but it’s a doozy.
“I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.”
7.The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. More like, “The Tragedy of Brutus,” thanks professor Robert Boon for that quote. This Shakespearean story is supposed to be about the Roman dictator Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet it seems more reflective of that tragic hero theme we brushed upon earlier. It starts in the middle of Caesars reign, when Brutus is manipulated into killing his friend. Fast fact: “Et tu, Brute?” isn’t historically accurate; some people say that Caesar didn’t say a single word upon his death. (This isn’t entirely shocking considering he was stabbed a ridiculous amount of times). That being said, I have done some research on good ol’ Marcus Brutus, and upon finding very little, it wouldn’t be surprising if Shakespeare saw a generally ambiguous figure of history, grabbed him, and developed a truly empathetic character from it. Shakespeare was a literary genius, lets face it. I read this—for the second time—in my Readings in Shakespeare class, and it is one of my favorite works of Shakespeare as it presents that oh so loved theme of morality really well. Brutus thought he was doing the best thing for the city, so we can cut him some slack, right?
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
8. Wuthering Heights. You thought I’d forget this? Yeah right. Bronte’s only published novel is—and always will be—my favorite. I have seen this book get a lot of crap recently, and it’s killing me. It’s romance yes, but it’s also…not, and there’s something undeniably moving about a classic toxic-love story. Catherine and Heathcliff are in every way not good for each other, yet they keep running back. There’s zero positives about their relationship aside from really great quotes, and an arguably unhealthy level of intensity, and although I don’t condone these types of relationships…. they are great for books. Our two central figures have a connection from the start, she winds up deciding being a gold digger is a good choice, (I may be one of the few with that opinion) and thus Heathcliff goes coo-koo for coconuts—that’s if he wasn’t already headed there prior to her jerkish behavior thanks to his oh so wonderful “almost family”—and from there, things get real nasty. If you say “Romeo and Juliet was the most tragic romance of all time,” Wuthering Heights says: “hold my drink.” There’s no happy ending at all here. Heathcliff literally loses it, tormenting people, naming his daughter after his dead lover, and subsequently dies alone. I mean Heathcliff spent the entirety of his life making people feel as bad as he did. Nice, right? He’s still one of my favorite “leading men” though, he’s too tortured not to love. Bonus: you can actually visit the North York Moors (Yorkshire Moors) in England, aka: the setting of Bronte’s novel. It’s on my list people.
“If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.”
You said I killed you–haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
“He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine.”
Thank for reading everybody, I think literature should be a part of everyone’s lives, and I believe that everyone would enjoy reading once they find what they like. Maybe my list isn’t something you dig, that’s cool. If anyone has any suggestions for me to try out, I’d love to hear them!
Ending it with one more quote because I’m extra:
It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing–they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” – Stephen Fry