Authored by Jamais Jochim in Comics and Literature
Published on 03-21-2009
One of the interesting about literature is that any given list of classic novels by any given person will be different; the list is personal and very subjective. Within those tastes, however, some books keep showing up.
Some of those choices are pretty much universal. For example, the stark nihilism of Lord of the Flies (William Golding) where a group of boys from a military academy revert to savagery, seems to be popular, as it shows what would happen if society’s restraints were loosened. George Orwell’s 1984, which serves as a warning about the extent of government interference in our everyday lives, will always be a classic as long as there are governments. However, the classics don’t always need to be dour; note the brazen and absurdist humor of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe and the dark humor of aliens exploring a human life in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five will never be strangers to those looking for something to read.
Interestingly, the very specific lends itself to the universal. Although the time and place are extremely specific, The Sound and Fury of William Faulkner explores humanity in general through the lens of a family in a fictional county, just as much as the exodus of the Joad Family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath through Depression-era Southern California. The journeys of even the fantastic can bring enlightenment as well as entertainment, as The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien seems to merely explore Middle Earth in the throes of war, but shows a group of people as they grow from mere individuals to an unbeatable team.
The best books are eternal; they are so universal that there message will stand the test of time. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, has achieved near cult status, and is even being used as a rallying point by some American political groups. Every boy wants to have an idyllic experience, usually involving adventures and a strong father figure able to back him when the going gets tough but letting the boy take the lead; that’s probably why Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will always be in print. And books aren’t just for men; Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club shows the difficulties of living up to a mother’s expectations and finding the line between one’s personal desires and that of tradition.
Great literature isn’t just about merely reading and being entertained. It needs to give the reader a chance to explore himself, by presenting him with an opportunity to explore more than just a fictional tableau, but the person himself. All of the books presented have one common theme; they all explore various aspects of what it takes to be human, and not only what our failings are, but also our successes. We may have flaws, but so do diamonds; and diamonds wouldn’t shine so brightly without that flaw. The best books make us ask one question: What is more important, the flaw or shine, or both? And answering that question is what is important.