My 3 Favorite Classic Novels of All Time – The Traveling Bookworm
Remember when you had to read books over the summer for English class in middle school and high school? Well, I loved summer reading! It’s no surprise since this is a book blog, but I was surprised to actually like some of the books I read.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I read this book as a freshman in high school, and it always resonated with me. I have the same copy I initially read in high school. Maybe one day I’ll buy a new one, since mine is so banged up, but I like how easy it is to carry around. I have probably read this book four or five times, and each time, I notice a new detail.
If you haven’t read this book or have never heard of it, I’ll give you a summary.
The main character, who is never named, is a young woman who works as a companion to the lonely, older woman named Mrs. Van Hopper, who is fairly wealthy but has one of those personalities that just makes other people cringe. She comes from high society but has been left on the fringes with no one to talk to but the hired young woman. They seem to hop from place to place and during a stay in France, they learn that Maxim De Winter is staying there as well. Seeing as he is one of the wealthiest people there, Mrs. Van Hopper tries her hardest to get an introduction with him. Although Maxim is extremely wealthy, he is fairly laidback and easy-going. He takes a liking to the shy, young woman and asks her to lunch. The 2020 film adaptation expands on their romance and makes Maxim seem much closer in age to the main character, but in the book, it wasn’t nearly as romantic. He is a little bit older, I’m guessing by at least 10 years. But they did like each other, and they get married very quickly.
This book is probably the reason why I love reading mysteries and thrillers. Du Maurier’s writing was superb and kept me reading. It’s a psychological thriller, too, which made me really relate to the main character. There are just so many things about this book that I love, but one reason in particular is the attention to detail that makes me imagine the setting. Manderly is the name of the estate where Maxim lives and brings his new wife there. With servants, countless bedrooms, sitting rooms, and more, the new wife feels like she can’t put her own stamp on the estate, as she doesn’t know how to even begin to make decisions like Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, did – decisions like what should be on the menu for each meal, what linens should be on each bed, etc. She quickly defaults to whatever decision the former Mrs. De Winter had set, which only piques her interest into who Rebecca was. Not to mention the creepy Mrs. Danvers, the head of the house, who acts as a manager to the rest of the servants. She despises the new wife, having a strong loyalty to Rebecca even after her death.
The book is a slow burn with not a lot revealed until the very end. Although it is not as romantic as the 2020 film, I would still characterize it as having a bit of romance. I don’t want to give you too many details, but if you like psychological thrillers, this book is basically the OG.
Now, onto my second-favorite classic!
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
How could I not include this book in the list? OK, so it’s not for everyone. The storyline and the family relationships can be confusing. My copy has a little family tree in it, which I have to refer back to every time. I think I enjoy reading this book is because it’s a challenge to read.
I’ll give you a very brief overview.
An orphan boy is adopted by the Earnshaw family, and they name him Heathcliff. He becomes the favorite of the father, even though Mr. Earnshaw has two other children. Heathcliff develops a close-knit bond to Catherine, Earnshaw’s daughter, and is hated by Hindley, Earnshaw’s son. Heathcliff is a moody character with dark features, while Catherine is more of a charmer with delicate features. As much as they like each other, she ends up marrying Edgar, the son of their closest neighbors the Linton’s. A lot more goes on, but I won’t say more than that. What makes this book so interesting is the sadness and despair. Set during the Victorian era, it is the original Gothic novel. I believe it’s not so much about romance as it is about complicated family ties, status, and grief. The characters live tough lives despite their wealth, and I think there is a lesson to be learned from the book.
Christy by Catherine Marshall
I’m not sure if this classifies as a “classic” novel. I did not have to read it for school, but this book is one that I will always remember reading for the first time. My mom introduced it to me because she said she read it as a teenager. I had never heard of it when she bought it for me, but it quickly became one of my favorite books.
Christy Huddleston is a new teacher from an affluent family in North Carolina. Wanting to help the impoverished, she accepts a teaching job in Cutter Gap, a very small village in the Appalachian Mountains where the poorest of the poor live. She experiences culture shock seeing just how impoverished the people are, many of whom do not like the idea of her coming into their community. Of course, education is not at the forefront of their minds for their children, and Christy has some ups and downs teaching so many children of different ages in the small schoolhouse with little school supplies.
This book is also not an easy read as some of the characters have poor speaking ability, and the author writes to depict their dialect. But once you catch on, this book is a wonderful read. I love coming-of-age novels, and although Christy is a young woman, her naivety makes her seem even younger. She has a special humility and willingness to learn, and I can relate to her character and personality. I wanted to be a teacher initially and always wanted to help others. There is also a little bit of romance in the book. I won’t go into detail or name any names. But if you like reads about small towns and big life lessons, you’ll like this book. It’s a medium-sized book. My copy is a paperback and has about 500 pages.
Those are my top three favorite classic novels, but I’ll give you a quick run-down of the runner-ups!
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – I loved the epic story of this book and the overall lesson that revenge isn’t worth it in the end.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I loved how Steinbeck writes and his attention to detail. This book is essentially about two brothers’ differences but also about their sons.
- Persuasion by Jane Austen – I loved the love story in this book and how the couple are old flames who fall in love again.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This story is one that I will never forget reading for the first time.
Also, I want to add some novels that were not included in this list because I have not read them, just so you can have a frame of reference. Maybe you have a favorite classic novel that did not make my list because I haven’t read it yet. The following are classic novels I would like to read one day.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
What are your favorite classic novels that you had to read for school? Are there any books that you think I should add to my list to read in the future? Let me know your thoughts!