Your Favourite Classics

Easily read by who?

Interesting question.

As I mentioned my son (who is now 12) has read Monte Cristo. He has also read Tale of Two Cities. While I like to think he is the sharpest knife in the block I also see that he is not that much smarter than anyone in his age group. We are native speakers of American (he speaks the new-england variety, me the hick dialect).

I guess I would suggest that the “who” in this instance would be the average American who looks to reading as a form of entertainment as much as education. This implies that my suggestions may not be as easy to read as I assume they are. Which means I need to revise my statement:

If I had a 12-year-old, son or daughter, doesn’t matter, who had even the slightest interest in the outdoors or boats or camping, I’d start 'em on Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons–an eleven-book series written in the 1930s that I still read as an adult. A friend once told me that reading Swallows & Amazons, and imagining she was up north camping on the fells above Coniston Water with the Walker and Blackett kids, was the only thing that kept her sane when she was spending her teenage years in a Tube station listening to bombs stomp through her neighborhood.

Otherwise, the one single classic that most draws me in–now, and when I was twelve: Treasure Island. Because again, it’s a ripping yarn, and obsessively nautical (as am I, by default), and because a kid my age (then) is the hero, and it doesn’t condescend to a kid’s level at all.

Agreed about Treasure Island and Swallows and Amazons. Having been raised on a small island, and being keen on messing about in boats, I used to to think S&A was a personally-discovered pleasure. But I’ve found many others were also introduced to sailing the same way. (Incidentally, Ransome’s life, the subject of an autobiography and several other books, was also pretty interesting. Intriguing how many ex-spooks have written fiction. But that’s another story.)

So in the same watery vein:

I like Hemingway very much, despite the hyper-machismo (less in the war books than the African stories), and the attempt by Mr. Simmons to make him the entry-card to writership (though that paragraph Simmons quotes is distinctive and wonderful), and of all Hemingway, my current favourite is “The Old Man and the Sea” - a great story, easily readable in one sitting.

H

It’s interesting to note that a lot of the books mentioned are of course classics and a great many of them english/american, but quite a few of you choose a couple of french and russian works.
And on that note…
I’m answering Keiths original post first. The one about classics that I feel ashamed of not having read (especially so since I own and run a bookstore).
Being swedish I have to say: any of August Strindberg (“Röda rummet”, “Fröken Julie”, “Hemsöborna” and others) and anything by Selma Lagerlöf (“Kejsarn av Portugallien” (I actually got a signed copy of that!), “Gösta Berlings saga”, “Jerualem” and others), the whole series about “Utvandrarna” by Vilhelm Moberg.
But answering the other question about my favourite classic(s) one also have to ask oneself: what is a classic? Or when does a book become a classic?
I’ve got a favourite: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The shadow of the wind”.
And, yes, I know, it’s a fairly new book and some might not consider it a classic.
But I saw an interview with Zafón where he got the question “… this is not a book to easily be put in a genre …could you explain?”
And he answered that he wanted to write a book like the ones he grew up with, the classics, but with the modern storytelling techniques available today (or something to that effect).
So that’s the one I choose.

Mange