The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic. – from Goodreads.com
Not only one of my favourite classics, but also one of my favourite books of all time. I really, really recommend this book to anyone looking for a master class in writing, and also the representation of mental health in literature.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed and the promise of new beginnings. – from Goodreads.com
I never studied The Great Gatsby but I wish I did. Scott Fitzgerald’s well known novel is ripe with metaphor, imagery and symbolism which makes the whole reading process that much more enjoyable.
And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac
This is a hardboiled crime novel, and a true story. In 1944, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, then still unknown writers, were both arrested following a murder: one of their friends had stabbed another and then come to them for advice – neither had told the police. Later they wrote this fictionalised account of that summer – of a group of friends in wartime New York, moving through each other’s apartments, drinking, necking, talking and taking drugs and haphazardly drifting towards a bloody crime. – from Goodreads.com
This was the book that inspired one of my all-time favourite films Kill Your Darlings, which fictionalised the murder of David Kammerer. This book, and the film, provides so much more context to the Beat Generation and the writers who created some of their most prolific work in this era.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. – from Goodreads.com
Kaysen’s memoir is similar to that of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is probably the reason why I love it so much. Kaysen spent two years in a psychiatric hospital and goes into a lot of detail about her life there which makes the piece incredibly fascinating.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The shocking thing about the five Lisbon sisters was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear. – from Goodreads.com
The tale of the Lisbon sisters is a tragic one, but fascinating to read none the less. I love how the story is told through the romanticised eyes of the boys that lusted after them. It’s such a unique device that really makes the book stand out.
So these are my recommendations for classic books, if you’re looking to expand your library more. Have you got any favourites you would like to recommend to me? Or have I missed out a few on your list? Let me know in the comments!