Reading classics always feels like such an accomplishment, because you’re finally in on a bit of cultural literacy, and this year the ones I picked treated me particularly well, so it was doubly satisfying.
Animal Farm | George Orwell
There’s nothing to say here that hasn’t been said in a thousand high school essays, except I’m glad I got to it and had a chance to experience first hand just how relevant it still is. I genuinely enjoyed it, too, and was relieved to find it felt less repetitive than 1984. I definitely thought the most quotable and insightful lines were not the most popular ones.
The Once and Future King | T. H. White
The greatest unexpected delight on this list. This is actually a series of four books (Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, The Candle in the Wind), and each one was beyond charming. I don’t usually read young adult books, but as this was a very influential piece of Arthuriana, I picked it up for research for my pilot. Apart from the author’s obvious mistrust of women, I have no real criticism. It gave me some great inspiration for both Arthur and Lancelot, and was just so funny and poignant.
Pride and Prejudice | Jane Austen
I’d somehow never read Jane Austen before now. (Well, I gave up on Sense and Sensibility in seventh grade and deemed it old-timey chick-lit for a long time, but I finally came to my senses.) I savored it, and was surprised at how more or less every scene has made it into the adaptations I’ve seen, so there wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. Also, can we talk about how horribly dysfunctional the Bennet parents are? I feel like that gets glossed over, because Mrs. Bennet is straight up INSANE. Still, gotta love that banter. I need more books that really get into the minute information that is conveyed in social interactions and the flow of power between people because of them. It’s why I like so much of Orson Scott Card’s stuff, so I totally buy Austen as the mother of game theory.
Watership Down | Richard Adams
Once again, I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Growing up, I never bothered with books with animal protagonists having faux-medieval adventures. But Adams is different. His incredibly imaginative rabbit society, mythology, and language is based on real research on how they live and so it felt like reading sci-fi. As with Once and Future King, I had to set aside that his female characters were terrible, but on the whole, I don’t regret reading it.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde | Robert Louis Stevenson
I approach old-timey sci-fi with A LOT of caution, but for the fourth time on this list, I was pleasantly surprised. The writing and story is genuinely creepy and unnerving, and a breeze to get through. My instinct with something like this is always: why hasn’t someone done a strong, not-cheesy adaptation yet? The time is now, people.