THOUGH we may dispute what a classic is, Gleeson-White has chosen her fifty-one classics: the books that she loves and have stayed with her. Although these are from different places and times, books from Asia and Middle East do not figure in them.
Gleeson-White’s list includes books that get automatically chosen as all time greats: the Iliad, the Aeneid, Don Quixote, Madame Bovary, Moby-Dick, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, War and Peace and many more. But she chooses the less read works of other writers: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp. She likes to follow her heart and Calvino’s idea of a classic: a book that establishes a personal relationship with a reader and to which we are drawn through love, not duty. For the same reason, there are notable omissions, too: Marcel Proust, Saul Bellow, and many others.
Gleeson-White’s book is admirably conceived and written in a clear and simple style. Each classic is placed in its historical context and significant details about its author are also provided to the reader. Though this procedure might raise eyebrows, it works very well with her. The discussion on each book focuses on its key fictional features, and also includes details about how its influence has grown over time, by stimulating the writings of other writers as well as its dramatic and cinematic adaptations. In this manner, each essay packs literary and cultural details in a pleasing mould, which provides the right kind of stimulus for going back to the original texts.
Classics is a readable, useful, and enjoyable book and deserves to be in the homes of all educated people.
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