“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” — Henry David Thoreau
I’m enjoying the walk down memory lane as I recall each of these books that I’ve read over the years (unfortunately, as I keep going, more and more titles are being added to a formerly short list of “Books to Re-Read”).
I must admit that I was part of the group who saved poor Anne Brontë until after I’d read her more famous sisters’ works first. However, I ended up really enjoying Agnes Grey. It wasn’t as melodramatic or gothic as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Far more relatable in its characters, situations, and plot, Agnes’ struggles can appear dull in comparison, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that there’s just as much compelling about the common life as in the extraordinary and supernatural.
This is one of those children’s classics that I didn’t read until I was much older and in this case, I’m glad I waited. Alice in Wonderland was never a favorite of mine as far as the Disney movies were concerned (I liked the singing flowers and the tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter but much of the rest I just found ridiculous and tiresome). It was reading it to my niece before bed when she was still an infant that I actually read the original. I enjoyed it in spite of the randomness. Because I was forced to read it in pieces, it didn’t bother me as much that everything was so disconnected and haphazard. Besides, it always managed in the primary goal of putting my niece to sleep (and I wasn’t required to sing which was a plus).
I freely admit that while I cannot watch too much in the way of gore on screen, I’m a sucker when it comes to war books. Part of this is because I’m a history nerd and have a minor fascination/obsession with the American Civil War. But there’s also something so tragic about war books, regardless of the war or perspective. It’s the grittier side of human nature exposed. The causes may be grand to start, but by the end, everyone is weary and survival trumps intentions in so many cases. War is chaos with both sides struggling with the impossible task of taming it, harnessing it, controlling it. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I’m picky when it comes to endings and All Quiet on the Western Front has one of the best around.
One of the last books I had to read before going into high school, Animal Farm is on my (rather long) list of all-time favorite books. Again, I’m a history nerd, so I love the historical allegory at play in the guise of animals, particularly when it’s the Russian Revolution. Even though I liked 1984 when I read it later, there’s something about Animal Farm that just resonates with me at a more basic level and keeps it more present in my mind. I find the final images of Animal Farm threatening where the closing lines of 1984 are tragic and sad. For those interested, here’s a link to a Who’s Who of the Animal Farm characters (be warned, it may contain spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book or is unfamiliar with the story).
Like my weird fascination with war books, I also have a special soft spot for Russian literature. I read most of Anna Karenina on a family vacation masquerading as an extended road trip to look at colleges. I remember carrying the massive text around in my purse while on the subway in Philadelphia and bringing it to the hotel’s work out room to read while riding the bike. I found myself drawn most to the character of Kitty and her gradual romance with Levin as opposed to the wildly passionate but ultimately self-destructive affair between Anna and Vronsky. On a side note, I’m searching for the best Anna Karenina film adaptation but haven’t actually watched any yet. I’m definitely starting with the Vivien Leigh version and hope to avoid the Keira Knightley one at all costs. I have nothing against Knightley as an actress but I have a difficult time with her in period pieces, especially those based on my favorite books; I loved her in Atonement but couldn’t stand Pride and Prejudice (but she wasn’t even at the top of my list of things I hated about that adaptation).