Today is World Book Day, so there’s no better time to kick up your feet and enjoy a fine piece of literature. While there’s plenty of new and modern books that are worth your time, why not revisit some of the classics from your youth. These books are often read at a younger age and perhaps not fully absorbed. But they are amazing pieces of work and deserve a second look by you.
TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY (1974)
By John le Carre
Spy novels tend to be viewed as sort of escapism in book form. You normally equate the genre with airport novels, paperbacks and beach reads, however, le Carre has made a career out of bring a more realistic and less sensational look at the spy world. This is viewed by many to be his finest work, a story of an aging spymaster who is lured back into the game to identify a traitor in the top echelon of Britain’s espionage circle. Despite its restraint, it’s a taut, compelling thriller with complex characters and rich social commentary about the complicated world of the Cold War that would certainly ring true of today’s world.
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1953)
By Ray Bradbury
The success of a dystopian thriller relies on its ability to mirror some of the current problems with the events taking place in the fictionalize future established in the book. However, it’s the truly great examples in this genre that can retain that sense of topical commentary years after it was published. Bradbury’s work certainly does that as this tale of censorship and oppression can be linked to several aspects of modern society. The novel explores a future in which “firefighters” are tasked with burning books and the one man who fought against the system.
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1972)
By George V. Higgings
Crime novels tend to capture the reader’s imagination quite easily with their tales of good versus evil, but the genre would never be the same after Higgins’ crackling debut. Subverting the normal approach to such a story, Higgins’ novel focuses on those on the other side of the law, the crooks and goes so far as to humanize them. The phrase “crime doesn’t pay” has never felt so accurate as the thieves, mobsters and dealers in this world are presented as struggling working class types who are desperately trying to make ends meet.
IN COLD BLOOD (1966)
By Truman Capote
There has always been a fascination with the true-crime novels and there are many that would argue that the genre started here. While others had worked in the area before, it wasn’t until famed writer Truman Capote traveled to Holcomb, Kansas to investigate a quadruple murder that this style really took off. While the identity of the killers and their fates were public before the book was finished, Capote doesn’t rely on the mystery aspect, but rather a deep and detailed exploration of all the parties involved. Some have called it exploitative and that could be true, but the reader is as guilty as the author in this case and their obsession with the bloody details, a phenomenon that very much exists today.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1951)
By Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway has long been lauded as one of history’s greatest writers with the concentrate, straight-forward manner of his writing. This was the last of his works published while he was still living and it is a contemplative examination of aging. Following an elder fisherman and his struggle with catching a prize marlin after a long stroke of bad luck. The tale can be an examination of Hemmingway’s own career at this point and his own struggles to get back to his former glory while surrounded by sharks. A short, quick read that no doubt has a deeper meaning later in life.
By Joseph Heller
Since the first World War there have always been criticisms and satires of war in the literary world. This is one of the finest and most biting pieces of work in that genre. Dealing with a airforce bomber who is tired of putting himself in danger for these deadly mission resolves to find a way out of his current situation. Beyond being a look at the futility and impersonal nature of war, the book is also an exploration of seeking control of your own life when no option seems to be a positive one.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
By George Orwell
There’s a reason this dystopian masterpiece was seen a recent spike in its sales. Orwell’s look at an oppressive government regime certainly has some modern equivalency and in some cases, it’s hitting a bit too close to home. Manufactured conflicts with foreign entities, media censorship and state run news are all things that once sounded outlandish and are terrifyingly becoming a reality. There’s no better time to give this gem another look.
LORD OF THE FLIES (1954)
By William Golding
A look at the innocence of children versus the desolation of a society without rules. This gripping and sometimes disturbing novel follows a group of young school boys who become stranded on a deserted island. The young men attempt to come to grips with their new reality by setting out to govern themselves but the results are both disastrous and deadly. It’s another oddly timely story as it examines how social organization can so easily give way due to the power of will.
CATCHER IN THE RYE (1951)
By JD Salinger
Perhaps one of the books most worthy of a revisit. It can be easy to dismiss the book thanks to the general unpleasantness of its protagonist and narrator, Holden Caulfield, but a deeper look at the material proves it to be a much richer story. This is a tale of alienation and the desperate desire for companionship of any kind. The fact that Holden is telling the story does by no means suggest his perspective is correct, in fact, it often suggest the opposite. Perhaps later in life, there’s something about Holden’s journey that speaks to you when it hadn’t before.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960)
By Harper Lee
Considered by more than a few to be the greatest novel ever written, this is a universally understood tale that continues to have deep value even after all these years. Following the younger life of Scout Finch, a precocious young girl growing up in a southern town with her lawyer father. Among other accomplishments, Lee created one of literature’s greatest heroes with Atticus Finch, a white character who confronted racial inequality at a time when it was still a rarely acknowledged problem. It’s a story that is endlessly important and a stellar work by a great American writer.