I tend not to read the books everyone else is reading. At least, I don’t read them while they are being talked about. Years after the fact, I might grab an “Oprah’s Pick” or a “Now a Major Motion Picture” paperback at the thrift store. Usually, I discover that everyone else was on to something good.

Still, this contrary streak persists.

I may not read the cocktail-party-conversation books, but I do read the The Big Conversation classics.

Of those, I re-read an even smaller selection.

Here are a few classics you may have missed. These aren’t the books to check off some must-read list (though if I had to recommend one of that sort, it would be James Joyce’s Ulysses, just fyi).

These are the books to read and read again.

These are books like old friends and crocheted afghans and steamy cups of tea.

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First, there is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. No doubt Oprah’s Victorian equivalent would have splashed her name all over the cover of this page-turner. Here is mystery, crime, intrigue, and atmosphere like only the English Victorians knew how to do.

My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody. – Wilkie Collins

For those of you whose appetites for emotional dramas set during the French Revolution have recently been wetted, I recommend A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

With all of the narrative padding that makes nineteenth-century fiction so maddening for some and so enjoyable for others, this is my favorite Dickens. That admission probably doesn’t say much about my critical prowess, but, remember, these are the classics we want to read, not the ones we must.

Not only do we have the French Revolution and a famous opening line, but, in hero Sydney Carton, we have a Christ-figure par excellence.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. – Charles Dickens

Last, but, whoa-nelly, not least (this one’s a doorstop, folks), is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. If you want to impress people on the subway, el, or metro, then Eliot is your girl. But don’t let the length discourage you. The long length is one of my favorite things about this book. This is the kind of book that is most enjoyable while there are still lots of pages to go. It’s a sad day when the last page is turned and you must leave Eliot’s masterfully created world and the wonderful characters who populate it.

Middlemarch is Serious Victorian Literature, and so it is also Serious Reading Fun. I mean, there are so many words! so many characters! so many hyper-realist details! Open to the first page, read slowly, and do not worry about when you will reach the end. This one is all about the journey (and Eliot’s is a very impressive journey). Enjoy.

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view. – George Eliot

P.S. I googled Sydney Carton’s name to check the spelling and discovered that A Tale of Two Cities was once an Oprah Book Club Pick. My mind is blown. I had no idea. How did I ever miss a televised interview with Charles Dickens? Someone, please tell me, did he jump on the sofa?

 

 

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