Today’s category is Best Classic. Classics can be hard to define and it isn’t uncommon for books to be labelled as “modern classics”. Personally, I tend to think of books as classics if they are 1) widely known even by people who have never read them (ie: most people have heard of Pride and Prejudice, even if they’ve never read it) and 2) first published before most of us were alive. (That categorization is a little more tenuous because something like Lord of the Flies is probably a classic but was published in 1954.) For my own purposes and for today’s category, all of the books up for consideration were published before 1900 and therefore can firmly be defined as Classics. (I didn’t include any books that I re-read so something like The Great Gatsby wasn’t eligible even though I read it this year.)
At the beginning of 2021, I assigned myself a new reading challenge, one I dubbed A Virtuous Reading Challenge. The goal is to read all of the books that Karen Swallow Prior used to explore virtues in her book On Reading Well. So far I’ve read 5 out of the 12 titles. Three of them were re-reads (The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and Pilgrim’s Progress. If I were to include those three in this award category, A Tale of Two Cities would be the winner here but I think it’s more interesting to look at the books I read for the first time in 2021.)
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
First published in 1897, this short novel reads as a surprisingly modern story. We have a young woman bored and tired of her life as a wife and mother, stifled by the expectations of society and how little freedom of choice she has. Even though I am someone who loves being a wife and mother, reading about life for women in the not-too-distant past reminds me of how thankful I am to have the ability to choose the life I lead.
Villette – Charlotte Bronte
While this is a book I didn’t entirely love while I was reading it, it is one that has stuck in my brain in the months since. I didn’t find Lucy Snowe as easy to root for as I did Jane Eyre but I did enjoy her independence and her strong inner moral code.
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
In contrast to the two previous mentioned novels, this one is heavily focused on men. All kinds of bad behaviour is forgiven of Tom Jones because he essentially has a good heart and our heroine, Sophia, is a model of perfection and flat characterization. The book is loooong but it had its funny moments and was more readable than I had expected.
And the Winner is….
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
If I had to tell you to read one of these classics, it would be Huckleberry Finn. I figured I was in for a boyish adventure novel. Instead, this is a thoughtful, compassionate, funny story about morality, courage, and friendship. The language and depiction of Black people is hard to read in the modern day but at its heart this book is about friendship that is not bound by the colour of one’s skin and personal morals that outweigh legalism.