Welcome back to Required Reading, the blog that all about the books essential to any well rounded education. If you are attending college, or took Advanced Placement high school English classes, then perhaps you will have already read some of these books. But even if you aren’t going to school at all, these are the books to start with if you want a great knowledge of classic books.
This week I wanted to look at historical fiction, the epic tales that are not real events, but are heavily based upon real events. These works all take a time and a place and give it a strong narrative drive; it’s true that these stories are made up, but the detail they give about important parts of history are an invaluable as a non-fiction text book.
The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer – These are both “epic poems” attributed to Homer, but actually both descended from the oral tradition of storytelling. And that is the key to what makes these works so important. They tell of a war, a mystical journey, and a pantheon of gods and monsters, but they also are rooted in ancient Roman history, and give a window to the beliefs of the period.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Dickens is considered one of the great literature writers of all time, and this book ably demonstrates why. He weaves multiple storylines through the French Revolution, giving depth and perspective to the uprising peasants and the ruling aristocracy. He spares no detail in giving a good look at how brutal and bloody this revolution was.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque – This novel is set in the front-line trenches during World War One, and was written by a veteran of that very same hell-hole. It’s a book both exhilarating and depressing, as it gives a glimpse into the desperate lives of these soldiers who live in a hole in the ground and face death (and rats) every day.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker – The movie version of this story was much more popular than the book, but the book is an excellent piece of fiction. It details of the lives of some African American women in the 1930’s south.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – The author hails from Nigeria, and his most famous work tells the story of a traditional tribesman, and how he, his family, and his village deal with the arrival of missionaries to their traditional lands. It’s a fascinating look into African tribal culture, and vividly shows how harsh the westerners disrupted their way of life.
That should be enough books to keep you going for another week. Every week I will look at a different type of classic books, so you can look forward to must-read lists focusing on politics, religion, philosophy, science, and more. As always, give me your feedback in the comments section!