If your virtually untouched high school copy of The Grapes of Wrath is still occupying the prize slot on your bookshelf, or if you’re still regretting the time you brought Atlas Shrugged on your week-long beach vacation instead of thirty back issues of People, don’t despair. Some classics aren’t for everybody. As a matter of fact, some classics aren’t for anybody. If you’re looking to read something with a little muscle that won’t bore you to tears, here’s a list of greats that won’t cause you pain.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – An absolute must for any woman looking to beautify her bookshelf while falling for the original romantic comedy. Ballsy, big-hearted woman meets reserved, self-important guy, madcap misfires ensue. The language is easy to negotiate for a period novel, and the story never gets lost in flowery prose. Think of it as the great grandmom to When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones.
On the Road (Jack Kerouac) – An unspoken requisite for the tragically hip youth of America, this volume often gets written off as “belonging” to a certain set of coffeehouse slumming trustafarians, but don’t let this scare you. So electrifying and life-filled, On the Road grabs you and holds fast until the last page, whether you’re a patchouli-drenched organic chapstick maker or a stay at home mother of four. The patchwork tale of American travels, all at once about nothing and everything, is a great and easy introduction to the beat writers, and even those who aren’t inspired to stick out their thumb and take off in Kerouac’s path will be able to appreciate his distinct and jazzy voice.
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) – Before there was napalm in the morning, Kurtz was sweating it out on the shores of the Congo in Conrad’s utterly disturbing, unflinching examination of the darkest of human hearts. Incredibly dense and vivid, Heart of Darkness explores the brutality of European colonialism and its damning effects on a once idealistic and at least passably sane man, undoubtedly one of the most memorable characters you’ll ever encounter. To be fair, Heart of Darkness may seem slow to you in the beginning, but it’s worth it to stick it out. Good news is: it’s fairly short.
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) – Equally good for both reading and weighing your house down during a tornado, Prayer is without question one of my favorite books of all time. Owen, an eleven-year-old who is considerably shorter than his peers and who frequently insists that he is an instrument of God, befriends a boy whose mother he accidentally kills with a baseball. The two remain friends as some of Owen’s eerie prophecies come to pass, and the story's end is undoubtedly one of the most intricately plotted conclusions you’ll see in modern writing. The idea can sound a little heavy, but the book also contains the funniest account of a nativity scene gone terribly awry (an airsick angel and a goosing Jesus) that keeps things light.
Jenny Watkins, Books Correspondent:
Jenny’s column is published the 2nd and 17th of every month. A hodgepodge of miscellany musings from children's book reviews to an evaluation of southern literature's place in the modern world of words, Good on Paper covers (almost) everything in print.
After honing an impressively rabid obsession with the printed word at the same insitution that churned out such greats as Annie Dillard and Lee Smith, Jenny Watkins packed up her worn paperbacks and headed West for the sparkling crime den of Los Angeles. When she's not pushing her favorite volumes off onto friends or indulging her embarassing love affair with trash T.V., she's searching for the perfect job and the perfect dive bar. You can find all of Jenny's Good on Paper articles at www.gather.com/goodonpaper.
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