In case you haven’t heard, a new film adaptation of the classic novel The Great Gatsby is coming to the big screen. Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star as Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and the incomparable Baz Luhrmann is directing. I am super pumped about this, as I don’t think any of the previous film versions of The Great Gatsby have done the iconic book justice. (Remember the TV version with Mira Sorvino and Paul Rudd? Neither do I.) I am also excited because though I shouldn’t need an excuse to read a classic, this reminds me to do it.
This also reminds me of all the other great books I read in high school that I need to dust off because they could have lessons that could serve me today. Most of these are classics and I probably did not do them justice with my tenth grade mind. I was much more concerned with the latest episode of Dawson’s Creek than the events of Nicholas Nickleby. So let’s take a look at some books you need to revisit.
Pride & Predjudice, by Jane Austen
Yes, there have been like a bajillion film versions of this (the BBC one with Colin Firth will always be my fave), not to mention modern adaptations like Bridget Jones and Bride and Predjudice, but the book is where it’s at. Elizabeth Bennett is one of the most beloved characters in all of literature, and though she was born in a completely different time than I was, I feel like we would have a great time if we grabbed a couple of chai lattes at Starbucks.
The Plot: The Bennetts are trying to marry off their five daughters—a somewhat impossible task when dowries are not plentiful. Elizabeth Bennett is the most headstrong of the sisters, and hopes to marry for love even though her exhausting mother just wants her to be married. Cue Mr. Darcy and his judgemental broodiness. He criticizes Lizzy on first glance but quickly comes around and realizes she is all that and a bag of chips. But stubborn Lizzy has also decided he is not worth her time (plus, she gets told some lies by a hot military dude). Sexual tension abound, corsets are worn, and old English mansions are everywhere. How could you not love this book?
Lessons: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t be a snob. Don’t be so stubborn. Do background checks on everyone. (Oh, and corsets were a pain.)
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
The Plot: The book follows Captain John Yossarian in his path as a bombardier in the Air Force during World War II. His one goal is to survive the war and its maddening culture. He’s convinced that everyone is trying to kill him. This school of thought often happens during war because… well, everyone is trying to kill you.
Lessons: The novel is all about Yossarian’s desperation to escape a war that is meaningless to him. Sometimes, even though you have to go against the flow, you need to do this. The bureaucracy and rules of such large institutions, Heller suggests, often exist for their own sake, not for a good reason.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Plot: If you feel like crying for weeks, then this is the book for you. Told mostly in flashbacks, the book focuses on the emotional devastation of slavery on one family.
Lessons: Community and a support network will help you survive.
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Plot: We all had to read it, and sadly there wasn’t a fun, plucky modern adaptation of it set in high school like we had with Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You), Othello (O), or Twelfth Night (She’s the Man). We actually had to really read this one and understand it. Basically Hamlet, the Danish Prince, is having a really bad day. His dad was murdered, his mother is being shady, his girlfriend is insane, and it just gets worse.
Lesson: Hamlet is all about revenge, something we see every day in modern society. Heck, we have a TV show that is built around the concept. The lessons are obvious: Revenge is bittersweet and can drive you to a whole new level of crazy.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Plot: Such a classic if ever there was one. Through a child’s eyes we see the most brilliant depiction of prejudice and injustice in Alabama in the 1930s. We have the children’s story with recluse Boo Radley set against a devastating trial where an ignorant white woman falsely accuses a black man of rape.
Lessons: Not everything is black and white. People aren’t purely good or purely evil. Try to look for the good and sympathize more. And teach children from a young age to do the same.
The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
Plot: Lies, affairs, fake brothers, and babies found in handbags all set against the backdrop of beautiful, bucolic, high society England at the end of the 19th century. And unlike all these other depressing books, this one is actually funny!
Lessons: Be earnest. And show your true character before you marry someone.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Plot: Now, you could just go see the film, or you could read the book again! Secret romances, lavish parties, flappers, and symbolism. This book is just one big party (except for all the really depressing parts)! But we will never forget the character of Jay Gatsby and his desire to turn all dreams into reality.
Lessons: Pretending to be someone else won’t get you very far. Faking it ’til you make it can only work to a certain degree.
What are some classics you think everyone should read again? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Daisy Auger-Dominguez, Vice President of Recruitment, Organization and Workplace Diversity at Disney ABC Television Group, what her favorite books are!