When I was in school, English was one of my favorite subjects. For years, I thought I would pursue writing as a career path… and so I devoured as much knowledge as I could from a slew of English and Language Arts teachers over the years. There was no such thing as “too many books” for this student!
By the time I made it to high school, I was taking AP Language and AP Literature courses and passing with flying colors. I had found my calling, and nothing was going to get in my way. But still… I found myself in the same shoes as many of my other peers: forced to read the obligatory classics novel (or two) in order to progress to the next grade level.
From Fahrenheit 451 to A Tale of Two Cities, from Animal Farm to Of Mice and Men, I begrudgingly made my way through the pages of many books that I would have never read otherwise. But every now and then, when I least expected it, one of these books caught my attention and found its way into my heart… landing a coveted spot on my bookshelf for many years to come.
Here is a list of some of my favorite “classics” that I wanted to hate, but ended up loving.
Do you have any books that you expected to dislike… but ultimately surprised you by how much you liked them? Why do you think they changed your mind? Tell me in the comments section below!
“Watership Down” by Richard Adams
Set in England’s Downs — a once idyllic rural landscape — this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Honestly, I will never look at rabbits the same way again.
Watership Down is essentially about a group of rabbits traveling through a small stretch of English countryside… intriguing, right? For the first hundred pages or so, I was honestly scratching my head in confusion and wondering what in the world so many people loved about this novel. Sure, the descriptions of the beautiful farmland were quaint and delightful, but the language employed by Adams wasn’t necessarily top-notch. And there were definitely moments when I debated with myself on whether or not I could endure over four-hundred pages of hopping and darting and trite rabbit conversation…
… but in the end, I’m glad that I finally completed the novel. Adams manages to create a story told solely from the perspective of these small creatures, and the adventures they encounter toward the end of the book are extremely engaging. Ultimately, although the tale itself seems like something perhaps better suited for a children’s storybook than for what Wikipedia describes as a “heroic fantasy novel,” there are basic elements to the story to which individuals of any age can relate: friendship, loyalty, perseverance, and leadership.
Also, despite the fact that they were rabbits, these were some of the richest and most endearing characters I’ve ever come across. I will forever and always feel warmth in my heart when I hear the words Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver.
Watership Down is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, on Kindle, and through Audible.
“Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger
I don’t know if I’d consider myself a Salinger fan outright… I mean, I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye (who hasn’t?), but that’s the extent of my experience with the man. Some people love him, and some people hate him. All I know is that after reading Franny and Zooey, I can definitely identify with his thinking and feel something resembling admiration and appreciation for him as an author.
Franny and Zooey is a collection of two short stories that Salinger published in The New Yorker in the mid-1950’s. The first story, entitled “Franny,” chronicles the evening of the youngest Glass sibling during dinner with her college boyfriend; the second story, “Zooey,” is a reaction to that same dinner, in which Franny suffers an emotional and existential breakdown, and upon returning home, her older brother Zooey (himself not the most stable of the Glass clan) is determined to be her guide.
Putting aside the fact that this book was dangerously clever and tremendously passionate, I must admit that I related to both characters in so many ways, and I wouldn’t doubt that if I should ever endure my own breakdown of sorts that Franny and Zooey would be the first piece of literature I’d pick up. However, with that being said… despite liking this novel so much, I probably would be somewhat hesitant to recommend it to another individual. This isn’t to say that I didn’t absolutely love it, but rather that it depends on someone’s character whether or not they’d enjoy it. The combination of Salinger’s stream-of-conscious dialogue and the always controversial theme of religion makes this book difficult for most people to stomach.
Either way, the last three pages are astoundingly beautiful… if you start reading this book, it’s certainly in your best interest to finish.
Franny and Zooey is available on Amazon in hardcover and paperback.
“Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse
Philosophy is not really my thing. In college, it was by far my least favorite subject. So, it comes as no surprise that I was extremely reluctant to read anything even remotely philosophical for my final elective class at Tulane University. Thankfully, Siddhartha turned out to be much better than I thought it would.
Siddhartha is the story of a young man who abandons his home and family to search for the essence of his self, for happiness, for peace, for contentment, for Nirvana. He searches for this knowledge in different places, from different teachers and religions. He listens to the teachings of Buddha, he learns the art of love in the arms of a famous courtesan Kamala, he succumbs to the follies of life of luxury and excess under the guidance of the successful merchant Kamaswami. In the end, Siddhartha realizes that these teachers can’t tell him how to obtain his own happiness… and that he has to look for this knowledge within himself. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.
As someone who struggles with faith and spirituality and the meaning of life, I found this book to be extremely insightful. It cuts through all the rhetoric, the arguments and debates, and gets to the very heart of the matter itself. This is a book I will carry with me through life; this is a book that has so much wisdom to impart.
Siddhartha is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle.