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Back to basics: Revisiting the classics

Sometimes I long for the simple pleasure of revisiting a classic novel in literature – the kind of story that is rich in character development and flowery language, where the only overused four-letter word is “love.”

Apparently, I am not alone in this. Nowadays there are book clubs that read the classics, but even conventional book clubs that primarily focus on best-sellers are often inserting a classic on their reading lists, with the discussion often more about character development than plot.

Classic books tend to portray universal values and emotions: good versus evil, loyalty and betrayal, romance and tragedy, truth and beauty. Classic books have stood the test of time and generally have the kind of appeal that speaks to the core of our humanity, with a minimum of gratuitous gore, shock or obscenity.

If you were to google the top 10 all-time best classic books in fiction, you would find what I did: Lists are pretty arbitrary. There were many lists, and all proved different. Of the many lists I perused, there was a notable lack of what I consider to be a classic – anything by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott, to name a few. I can’t imagine where I picked up those wild notions.

So, I selected one list to share with you. Norton (of Norton Anthologies) compiled it by asking 125 of the greatest living writers (and who knows where that list came from!) to provide their top 10 favorites. Norton mixed that data with some statistical analysis and here you have it: The Top 10 Books of All Time.

1. “Anna Karenina” (Russia, 1877) by Leo Tolstoy. Critics considered this book to be the transition that formed a bridge between the realist and modernist novel. It’s widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction.

2. “Madame Bovary” (France, 1856) by Gustave Flaubert. Although based on the simple premise of a doctor’s wife who had numerous affairs, the novel’s true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. It was considered obscene in its day and even went to trial in Paris in 1857.

3. “War and Peace” (Russia, 1869) by Leo Tolstoy. It tells the story of Russian society during the Napoleonic era. Although a long book, it’s considered by critics to be one of the world’s greatest novels.

4. “Lolita” (France, 1955) by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s famous for its style and infamous for its racy content of a man sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl.

5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (U.S., 1884) by Mark Twain. It’s commonly referred to as one of the first Great American Novels. It was one of the first novels told in the first person and held wide appeal across generations.

6. “Hamlet” (England, 1599-1601) by William Shakespeare. Set in Denmark, it recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle for murdering Hamlet’s father and subsequently marrying his mother. It’s the only theatrical play that made the list.

7. “The Great Gatsby” (U.S., 1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a brilliant story set in the Jazz era revolving around the life of a wealthy man whose life is shrouded in mystery.

8. “In Search of Lost Time” (France, 1913) by Marcel Proust. It’s the first of a multiple-book novel. Long and extremely slow paced, it’s famous for its detailed description of eating a madeleine dipped in tea (yawn).

9. “The Stories of Anton Chekhov” (Russia, 1860) by Anton Chekhov. Penned by the Russian author who introduced the stream-of-consciousness technique of writing.

10. “Middlemarch” (England, 1871-1872) by George Eliot. The author was really a woman named Mary Anne Evans who wrote under the pen name George Eliot. Set in the fictional provincial town of Middlemarch in England, it is considered one of the most important novels of the Victorian era.

Sharon Lennox-Infante is a Certified Life Coach who lives and works in Los Altos. For more information, visit sharonlennox.com.

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