We either love classics or we endure them. For most people, reading a classic is something to tick off a bucket list. Let’s be honest, being forced to endure them in a school environment is not conducive to repeated reading. Yet eventually, most of us find a handful we love. Here is my list.
For the record, a classic is defined as a book with a timeless theme. This has been debated as a matter of academia for decades and there is no satisfactory answer on which all or even most agree. To that end, I will list only those written before the 20th century (I may do a post on modern classics in the future).
A Christmas Carol
Times read: About six or seven
It becomes my routine book in the run up to Christmas but my reasons for doing so are anything but pedestrian. The story of a redemption of the cruel and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve in being shown the error of his ways is one of the most uplifting. It’s timeless and helps us all to remember those less fortunate than ourselves at a time of year dedicated to conspicuous consumption. It brings a lump to the throat every time. One of the best parts for me is seeing Scrooge become a bit of a joker, playing a prank on Bob Cratchitt near the end.
Pride and Prejudice
Times read: twice
The ultimate rom-com and the yardstick against which all others are measured. Some have criticised its sexist views on love and marriage, but the interplay between the complex Mister Darcy and the wilful Lizzie is one of the greatest love stories of literature. This is a couple who are right for each other, even though they see each other’s critical flaws, find them annoying and still accept them. What really adds the re-readable factor for me is the virtual war of attrition between the put-upon Mister Bennett and the highly-strung wannabe socialite Mrs Bennett.
Times read: three
Mary Shelley wrote this in the aftermath of the death of her son. Initially published anonymously, there was much speculation as to the author’s identity of what today is considered the first ever work of true science fiction. The story is of a man – Victor Frankenstein – who creates a life and then promptly abandons it in horror at what he has done. You can easily strip away the science fiction narrative and see what it is at its core: a story of a parent who fails to fulfil their duties as a parent. As the story goes on, it is to Frankenstein that we feel our anger channelled and not to his creature.
Times read: twice
The ultimate adventure story of pirates and a search for treasure on the high seas. Arguably responsible for spawning an entire genre and influencing pirate stories right through to the modern era. Yet it is also that timeless tale of a coming of age. Jim Hawkins journey across the oceans searching for a treasure mirrors his journey from boy to man, emulated so often in fantasy fiction. A wonderful if short adventure with so many themes you will recognise from other pirate stories even if you have never read this.
The Three Musketeers
Times read: twice
Another timeless tale, it has all the elements of a classic: a love story, check; dastardly villains, check; fraternity, check; the importance of acting with honour, check; a coming of age tale in d’Artagnan, check. Yet there are other themes to appreciate as an adult. As a child, I loved the adventure. As an adult, I can appreciate the political intrigue and abuses of those in power and the need to strive to stand against it but never to stoop to their level. Told against the backdrop of a transitional time in France between two Republics.
Times read: three
One of the greatest horror novels of all time, this brought the vampire into the western imagination. A sexual, blood-sucking creature of the night was most likely a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, but today it stands head and shoulders in the genre. There is more to it than a vampire biting and sucking his way through Victorian London while the Harkers and Van Helsing attempt to fight back against his determination to create an army of undead. Despite the age, the cold narrative and description make this a chilling read.
So, What About You?
I have read far more classics than that, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, I have read them only once (Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Moby Dick (although a children’s truncated version). I’m surprised my list of multiple-read classics is so short, but there you go. Now, please tell me about yours!
4 thoughts on “Which Classics Have You Read More Than Once?”
Oh, since I’m in the states, what we consider “classics” are, well, *American* classics (which only include works from the United States). Anyway, for me, the only one I was forced to read in school that I’ve re-read numerous times is To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. Though, I do recall liking a few others. I just can’t think of ’em.
It occurred to me after posting that I’ve not read any American classics more than once and my reading list is very Anglocentric except for the Dumas novel.
Those American tales I have read are:
– Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
– Catch 22 (but gave up halfway through)
– A children’s illustrated version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin when I was about 8 (does that even count?)
I’ve read Guliver’s Travels repeatedly, Muskateers twice, Catch-22 I’ve read three or four times, but most of your lists only once. Although, thinking about it, I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Lord of the Rings, but the Hobbit is only twice—Although that may not count as a Classic… when’s the cut off for modern classic? I’ve enjoyed the science-fiction masters many times (HG Wells, Verne and the later Clarke, Smith, Heinlein) and pulp nonsense like Chandler and Lovecraft repeatedly. Cannot count the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or Discworld really as Classics (although they will be) , but I’ve read them a lot.
I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer on what is or is not a classic, I just went with my personal feeling of 100+ years old. I guess I personally would consider anything written after WWI a modern classic.
I expect to read War of the Worlds more than once (only once so far) but don’t expect to read Lord of the Rings again.