2020 has been a crazy year…to say the least. And it’s really easy to just look at the negatives and fixate on those. But as 2020 is nearing to a close, I want to focus mostly on the good things from this year. Mainly books…because I’m addicted.
I’m going to be doing a few posts like these as the year ends, but today is devoted to my favorite classic books I read in 2020.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published originally in 1954, this series needs no introduction, telling of an epic fantasy quest to destroy on evil ring. I grew up with both the newer movies and the animated ones from the 1970s. I also listened frequently to a full cast audiobook as a child. So it may surprise you that this year was the first where I actually successfully read the first book of the trilogy. I’ve read The Hobbit a couple times, but this book due to its length and detailed world always intimidated me.
I loved this book, even if it does have a slow beginning. Once it reaches the halfway point, it gets so good. But I’m also embarrassed for this book to be on my list, because I read it in January and have yet to read more of the series…but I definitely will next year (fingers crossed)!
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Originally published in 1974, this massive nonfiction tome (3 volumes, 7 books, all translated from Russian) documents life in the Gulag Archipelago (work camps) in Soviet Russia from the 1910s to the 1970s. It’s a sweeping, serious epic. If you’ve read any book about the Holocaust, this will be a bit reminiscent.
I read the first volume at the end of 2019, and this year I successfully finished this series, all nearly 3,000 pages of it! Saying that, I feel like I would have to read it several times to be able to just take in how much information is in this book. There are also few abridged versions if you don’t want to get sucked in this original’s length, but I’m not a fan of abridgements.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
From super long to super short, this novella published in 1915 tells the story of a young man who awakes one morning as a massive insect, and slowly allows cruelty and insanity to consume him.
It’s a sad story. I read Franz Kafka’s The Trial a few months before I read this one and I didn’t like it. I’m glad I didn’t give up on Kafka then, because this book was both moving and poignant. It’s also an extremely short read (about 100 pages, depending on the copy), and digs into themes of isolation, sadness, and abuse.
The War of the World by H. G. Wells
Published in 1898, this is the original alien invasion story and boy was it amazing! Honestly, any book I’ve read by H.G. Wells has been amazing, and this one is no exception. Unlike many modern invasion stories, this one is told from the perspective of an ordinary British man, not a soldier or politician involved with finding a way to destroy the aliens. It’s also got one of the more famous ending of a way to defeat aliens (no spoilers).
Since it is less than 200 pages (at least my copy was), it also makes for a short read when you’re in the mood for some light fun of aliens attacking Earth.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Published in 1903, this book tells the story of Buck, a dog who gets kidnapped from his home in California and sold as a sledding dog in Canada. It’s a horrific tale of animal abuse, and if you are sensitive to that topic, I would recommend you just avoid this book. But I truly loved it, even if I cried at a few points when reading it.
And it also has a bittersweet and happy ending, which I also cried for. I appreciate how Jack London was trying to bring awareness of how horrible many dogs were being treated for the financial gain of men (there was a gold rush up in Canada during that time). And I think London may be my new favorite classic author of this year!
The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
Published in 1888, this is another novella about British men who go into a African village and become “kings” and yet are consumed with narcissism after the tribe treats them like gods and end up dead (spoiler!). It’s an exceptional book, and one I am fascinated by. Narcissism is a problem in every society, and this book is as much a cautionary tale as it is an amusing one.
Against, it is also short, so it would not take long to read. I also read the Jungle Book this year, which I enjoyed but not as much as this one. Rudyard Kipling is an author I want to read more.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This book was published in 1847, I can’t believe how long I put off reading this book thinking I would hate it! It tells the story of the toxic romance of Heathcliff and Catherine, from their childhoods to the end of their lives. Their revenge and cruelty affects all around them, until they lead to their own destruction and the destruction of those who love them most.
Unlike a lot of the adaptations, this is not a love story and it does not glorify a toxic relationship. Instead, it is a tale of warning if one puts one’s own pleasure above the happiness of those they claim to love. It’s a powerful book, and I loved it!
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Published in 1842, this book shows a detailed view of rural life in Russia during the early 19th century, following a man buying up “dead souls,” serfs who have died but are still on the record books of the county. Chichikov, the main character, is exceptional, as are all the weird, unique individuals he runs into along his way to achieve his goal, which we learn more about as the story unfolds.
This is a book I stumbled upon by mere coincidence and I’m so glad I did, because it was such an interesting book, both because of the complex characters and because of the detailed view of Russia during that time.
Have you read any of these books? What was your favorite classics you read in 2020? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,