TOP 12 SUGGESTIONS: MODERN CLASSICS

For the 2016 Classics Challenge, the definition of what constitutes a classic is up to you. However, here are some more suggestions to get your reading going. For this list we looked at our favourite English books published after 1945 that have become part of the canon.

 

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Often taking second place in Orwell’s bibliography, Animal Farm features the most see-through metaphor of all times and a very poignant critique of human society and politics. While it didn’t spawn any reality shows, the pigs revolt and transformation will get you thinking about the society you live in, and what’s more remarkable, it’s still as relevant now as it was 70 years ago.

 

Originally written in three weeks on a single scroll of sheets of paper taped together, without paragraph breaks and with a certain disregard for punctuation, On the Road is the great novel that tells of Kerouac’s wanderings across the United States in the late 40s. Nothing better than his spontaneous and restless prose can trigger your need for adventure as you follow him and his pals of the Beat generation in their chaotic search for truth, for freedom, for sense, and for God, sweeping through the States in an ecstasy of jazz, drugs, love, and unmistakable beautiful madness.

 

An all time classic, The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most successful novels, and it perfectly represents his writing style: true, with an honest and clean prose, and a subject that affirms “courage and grace under pressure”. The plot is simple: a Cuban fisherman struggles to catch a marlin in the Gulf Stream. What Hemingway makes of it is a humble masterpiece on human nature.

 

Fahrenheit 451 is “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”. Set in a distopian future dominated by noises and huge screens, the novel follows the developments of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job is to set books on fire. In his monotonous life, an unconventional young woman, an old lady that chooses to be burned with her books, and an English professor will awaken in him some deep-buried curiosity about literature and about the world.

 

Thought-provoking and controversial, A Clockwork Orange is a distopian but also a coming-of-age novel. It tells of the criminal adventures of Alex and his friends (if you are sensitive to violence, mind: the descriptions are quite graphic and upsetting). At the end, the government opts for a painful brainwashing program for the protagonist, forcing the reader to re-think about the “greater good”, freedom, choice, good, evil, and so on.

 

Sylvia Plath is mainly known for her poetry: this is her only novel. She committed suicide after one month of its publication. Dark, intense, and almost maddening, the novel is a sort of mental autobiography of the author projected on Esther Greenwood, the protagonist, who goes through depression, breakdowns, and suicide attempts. Extremely realistic and haunting, but nonetheless touching and beautiful, it is a classic not to be read lightly. Or in a depressed mood.

 

Most of you might be familiar with this title because of the awards-winning movie that the novel has inspired. Harsh and exciting, it is set in a psychiatric hospital in the US in the 60s. Through Chief, the narrator (a half-Native American who pretends to be deaf and mute), we experience the everyday reality of the patients and the attempts of McMurphy, the rebellious newcomer, at bringing anarchy and humor in the hospital.

 

Is this a WWII novel or a science fiction one? How about both? Meet Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran, time traveller, who is kidnapped by aliens to be displayed in a zoo in their home planet, Tralfamadore. The novel features an unreliable narrator and bounces between scenes of horror during the bombing of Dresden and strange, peculiar events on a distant alien planet. Are you sold yet?

 

Just in case you have not read what eventually became both the most banned and the most taught book in American high schools in the decades after its publication, let me fill you in. Though many writers fought in various wars inclufind WWII (see above), none of them saw more action than J.D. Salinger. He was there on D-Day, and every other important battle in the European front towards the end of WWII. When he came back to the States, he wrote a book about Holden Caulfield, the personification of teenage angst with a severe case of Peter Pan syndrome. Holden drops out of high school and spends a weekend in New York, meeting various phonies, wondering where the ducks of Central Park go when the pond freezes, and goes with his little sister to a museum, where things are frozen in time.

 

A staple novel on the readinglist of American high schools, To Kill A Mockingbirdnot only spawned a hugely successful movie, but also features one of the most recognizable “heroes” of American literature, Atticus Finch. The novel is important in American history due to its anti-racist message, embodied in Atticus, in a very troubled decade, with the civil rights movement in the foreground. Recently it enjoyed a resurgence due to the publication of Harper Lee’s second novel (half a century between novels), Go Set A Watchman. You might want to stay away from that one though, if you like Atticus.

 

Leonard Cohen, most famous for his music career and probably the most covered song in talent shows, Hallelujah, was a promising poet and writer since he published his first poetry collection while still in college. He moved to the Greek island Hydra in the 60s where he wrote two novels. Beautiful Losers is his second and most acclaimed one. A modern-time love triangle is interwoven with the narrator’s fascination of a 17th century Mohawk saint. A coming of age story, a love story, a story about sexuality and drugs and the 60s, the novel features a highly innovative language and various writing techniques, and is regarded as the novel that brought post-modernism in Canadian literature.

BooksElisa Sabbadin