10 Classics Everyone Should Read
1. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
In the Middle Age, the purpose of literature started to change. Though there were boundaries of various communities, humans were still all the same. “One of my favourite works from the Middle Age is Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’ because you recognise these people, they are universal characters, Eliot says.
2. The Arabian Nights
Another classic from the Middle Age came from the area between India and Europe – The Middle East. Eliot recommends the Arabic epic ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ also known as ‘The Arabian Nights’ from this period. It is a magnificent collection of ancient tales told by Scheherazade, who relates them as entertainment for her jealous and murderous husband.
3. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
The next is ‘The Tale of Genji’ by Murasaki Shikibu written in 11th-century Japan. Considered the very first novel, “it not only shows the diversity of Japan but also shows us that we as humans are all the same,” said Eliot. Some people say that the book is unfinished and that Murasaki Shikibu never planned to publish it. She kept writing and writing and when she died, the book finished. Others think that it is a complete work.
4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Then came the Renaissance Movement which spread across the world. In Europe, it manifested in humanism—where man and woman are at the centre of philosophy. “There are many western works of this time, one of them being Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. The most famous line by him ‘To be or not to be’ is a great expression of the humanistic movement,” Eliot said.
5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Eliot also recommended another book from the Renaissance movement, titled ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri. This is a series of three long poems. Dante’s vision of the Afterlife in The Divine Comedy influenced the Renaissance, the Reformation and helped give us the modern world.
6. The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en
While the West was going through the Renaissance movement, the East saw a spiritual renaissance and Eliot recommended ‘The Journey to the West’ from this period. The book is considered the greatest Chinese novel of all time. It has been enjoyed for its allegorical presentation of human striving and perseverance.
7. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The next book on the list of classics one should read is ‘Don Quixote’. “Post renaissance many writers protested about machines taking over humans’ jobs and they looked inside of themselves … They are called romantic writers—who looked inside to express themselves and their work celebrates nature,” he said. A founding work of Western literature, it is often labelled as the first modern novel.
8. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“The German novel, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ was an absolute bestseller and a cult book of its time,” Eliot added while recommending another classic from the post-renaissance. It was one of the main novels which influenced the later Romantic movement.
9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
With 19th century romanticism, literature started to become dark and the American novel ‘Moby-Dick’ is an example of it. But Eliot’s book recommendation from this era is the 1847 classic ‘Wuthering Heights’. It was released pseudonymously under the name Ellis Bell. Emily was to die just 12 months later, in December 1848. After her sister’s death, Charlotte Brontë wrote two biographical prefaces to accompany its new edition.
10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Another revolution that spread across the world was that of realism and the most famous author of this time was Charles Dickens who tried to encapsulate this in his works. Talking about this period, Eliot suggested the audience to read the iconic ‘War and Peace’ by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, apart from some popular books by Charles Dickens.