Do you feel that we are too reliant on technology sometimes? While technology is undoubtedly a great way to expand your knowledge, what about the good old-fashioned method, the book? While we spend a lot of time scouring social media and reading Wikipedia articles, we’re not really building our cultural repertoire. So if you ever find yourself concerned about your own cultural knowledge, or you are looking to expand your horizons as far as the old paperback is concerned, here are some of the general essentials to get under your belt.
Religious or not, the Bible is, in essence, every story structure ever. We believe every bit of it, and you’ve got to admit, the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, and the crucifixion of Jesus are the stuff of densely layered drama.
While you may have struggled with iambic pentameter in school, the right Shakespeare play is a lesson, not just in poetry as a means to convey drama, but the stories behind Hamlet‘s plotting, i.e., the spider and the fly, or even Othello as the original soap opera, you’ve got so much to draw from. Hamlet is the perfect place to begin because it’s got everything. Not only is it the most gripping theater, it’s a challenge that, as readers, we need to take on. And the moment we complete this hefty tome, it’s an achievement unlike any other.
The Greek Tragedies
Before there was anything in literature, you had the threads of philosophy and morality sewn in Greek tragedies. While your knowledge may consist of Norse Gods and Goddesses, going back to Homer’s The Iliad or the philosophies of Plato, you’ve got so much of the fundamentals of what we take for granted today, that you can’t help but appreciate its genius when it becomes apparent to you. Something like Aristotle’s Poetics is a masterclass for anyone who has a passing interest in acting and having a crash course in philosophy certainly gives you a fantastic grounding in your own belief system, but it also helps you make sense of a lot of what we take for granted now.
You’ve made it through the Bard, the Bible, and even attempted The Iliad, you’ll find the weighty tomes of Dickens or Bronte a walk in the park! The great thing about classics like Oliver Twist or Wuthering Heights is that they are books full to the brim with description. You can lose yourself in these complex characters and not feel like you are struggling with the texts. This might have been the big problem with people who studied Dickens in school, the sheer weight and volume of the stories may have posed an intimidating problem. But the bottom line is these are classics for a reason, they have stood the test of time. It’s because we see these archetypal characters in the modern age.
This is where most students get their education from! From Cervantes’ Don Quixote to Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment, these two find themselves onto the reading list of any English degree. Flash forward to the middle of the 20th century, and you’ve got the most famous of outsider characters, in the form of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger. For anybody experiencing some form of teenage angst or even a feeling of not belonging, this is a book that has earned its place in the modern classics of American literature. The British contingent weren’t taking it lying down in the middle of the 20th century either, George Orwell’s 1984 is throwing up more truths now than it did when it was first published. Likewise, its brother book in arms, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, asks many of the same questions. If you have a burning desire to delve deep into modern philosophy, you cannot go far wrong with Albert Camus, and his story The Outsider. And if this is too much to cope with, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is the essential piece of literature for anyone who has wanted to go to find themselves.
As far as literature is concerned, it’s each unto their own, but if you are concerned about your own cultural knowledge, these can provide a very detailed baseline. The great thing about the best literature is that it has influenced a generation of writers that came afterwards. And what’s more, you find an author you really love, and you can trace it back to someone like Camus or Samuel Beckett, or go on a journey of your own. That’s the great thing with literature, and the modern approach to reading, scrolling up and down our phones, can mean that we are losing the most insightful of knowledge through the world’s best writers. Give a hoot!
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