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Sorry Salinger

The following is a blog post from our wonderful intern and Nazareth College student, Rylie Day: 

A few months ago I came across a sad, sad statistic. One that left me outraged, appalled, wondering if there was any hope left for humanity (okay, not quite.) I was though, very, very disappointed. The statistic was this: the top two books that students most frequently “sparknote” are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Are you as stunned as I was? Looking back, I suppose that I really shouldn’t have been that surprised. Our school systems are expecting less and less from students and as a result, it’s easier for kids to just take the easy way out. Besides, let’s face it, given the cult followings of series like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, it’s pretty clear that our society isn’t really encouraging anyone to revisit any of the classics. (No offense to any of you who love Bella and Edward!) But this blog isn’t a diatribe about the conditions of our dwindling education system and it’s not an attempt to comment on the questionable values of our society as a whole. It’s not even me taking the opportunity to promote two of my all time favorite books and defend their integrality to the literary canon. (Although, who doesn’t adore little Scout? And how can you not admire the wise and noble Atticus? And then of course there is suave and dapper Jay Gatsby. Every time I read the book I can’t help falling in love with him, even though I know better.)

So what exactly is the point of this post, then? Well, I have a confession. One that makes me quite ashamed of myself. I have never read The Catcher in the Rye. Gasp. I know, I know. Please withhold your judgment. A college senior majoring in English Literature and I sparknoted one of the most defining books in American Literature when it was assigned in high school. That’s right. I got to know Holden Caulfield by reading a plot summary at a computer screen. Even though my study habits have long since changed and I now devour any assigned reading, I felt rather hypocritical about my reaction to those lazy, lack-luster students I condemned for daring to take short cuts around such gems like Lee’s and Fitzgerald’s works. So, naturally, I avowed to make amends in hopes that Salinger might forgive me. Then I got to thinking. Just how many of the “classics” have I overlooked? Too many, I realized. So many books, so little time! Would I ever get to read them all? The answer is, in reality, no probably not. But, I figured, the least I can do is start a list of “must-reads” that fall under the classics category. (One that’s independent of my other ever-growing “to read list”.) I figured it was a good exercise and not just for me. So, here’s a list of some of those books that, at least for me, every good lit-head has to tackle at some point in their life. (Many of which I have but many of which I have not.) Some are more “classic” than others, I suppose, but all are ones we should be proud to have under our belts. It’s long (I narrowed it down to 25…ish) and some of the books are challenging to say the least but we have our whole lives, right? Happy reading! Oh, and if you’re a high school student and happen to be reading this, don’t do yourself the tempting “sparknote” disservice!

1. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
2. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
3. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
5. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
6. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
7. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
8. The Adventures of Huck Finn – Mark Twain
9. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
10. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway (Or A Farewell to Arms!)
11. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
12. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
13. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
14. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
15. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
16. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
17. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
18. Ulysses – James Joyce
19. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (Or Of Mice and Men! Or East of Eden!)
20. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
21. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
22. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
23. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
24. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
25. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

And this doesn’t even include tons of the even more “modern classics”! For another day…