Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

For Christmas I got not one but THREE books from my awesome friend Olivia. They were a trilogy by James Dashner, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and Death Cure and came with the tag line “A must for fans of The Hunger Games”. One of my favourite things about Christmas (after the chocolate and the wine) is making a start on the Christmas book haul, curling up next to the fire and getting lost in new stories. I’d seen The Maze Runner around, actually, but just didn’t get around to buying it. Too many books, never enough time to read them all! Anyway, I was delighted to get a chance to sink my teeth into some good ole fashioned dystopian sci fi madness.

The Maze Runner is about Thomas, a boy who wakes to find he has no memories and no idea who or where he mazeis. It turns out he’s in the Glade, a piece of land in the centre of a maze with around 50 other teenage boys. Some of the boys have been there for as long as two years, some turned up like Thomas only a few months ago. None of the boys have any memories of anything outside the Glade, their lives before or why they’re there. All they know is that doors to the maze open every day in the morning and close every evening and that regular supplies are sent them. They know not to get stuck in the maze at night, as terrible creatures which are half biological, half machine patrol the corridors, and the walls move, altering the maze corridors. The boys have spent two years trying to solve the puzzle of the maze and find a way out, a way home, by sending runners to plot the maze every day but have so far discovered no clues as to how they can escape.

This is all to change with the arrival of Thomas, and a day later, a girl (shock!) called Theresa. Now I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that Thomas, Theresa and the boys all work together to try to crack the maze before it’s too late and they all get killed.

Sadly, I can’t really say much about the other two books either without ruining everything but I’ll try a quick no-spoilers summary. Thomas, Theresa and the boys are part of some tests set up by a company called WICKED to find a cure for a horrible disease which has ravaged the planet. The two books see them battling all kinds of things in order to survive and hopefully ensure the survival of mankind.

scorchI found this trilogy to be extremely gripping, almost impossible to put down once picked up. I started them shortly after Christmas and had finished the final instalment by 2nd January. The three books are exciting but also quite brutal in places. Let’s just say that not all the original boys make it to the end. Hell, let’s just say that not even half of them make it to the beginning of the third book! That’s not even giving anything away, Dashner kills off characters with surprising readiness. It’s good though, because you don’t know what to expect and it keeps the trilogy from becoming too predictable. The books are also full of nice little touches, like the language adaptations the boys make while they’re living in the Glade, and the fact the boys are all named after famous scientists.

However, I did have some minor problems with the trilogy. I found them to be slightly childish, even for me! If I’m honest, I don’t think these books are exactly aimed at my age group (or anyone over the age of 18) and think they would probably suit teenage boys best (I’d say boys around fourteen would love them). Despite these books being full of mature themes such as violence, death and sacrifice, I found something lacking with Thomas’s relationship with Theresa and feel it should have been explored in more depth.

I also felt the central premise of the books to be ridiculous. I love sci fi, and have absolutely no problem with curesomeone proposing unlikely future worlds. However, they have to be backed up with something, the author has to make their future seem not just plausible but possible, like it could actually happen. You might initially think The Hunger Games seemed silly with its districts and fights to the death in the style of gladiators. But the reality TV aspect and the corrupt Capitol made it all seem that tiny bit more possible. I mean, we’ll watch just about anything in a reality TV format, and the materialistic, fashion-obsessed caricatures that live in the Capitol did make you think a bit about the way society seems to be heading today. Sadly, I felt Dashner’s novels were lacking some of this. I just didn’t buy that in order to cure a virus you needed to put some teenage boys in a maze for two years, and then through some other hard trials in which they mostly all perish. And when you realise what happens in the end I wanted to yell at the book “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?” It’s frustrating at times.

But overall, I really enjoyed reading them. They are similar in feel to The Hunger Games trilogy so I say if you enjoyed those, give ’em a go! I think I’d mostly recommend these books for a slightly younger less cynical audience, however, and think teenage boys especially will love them. They’re exciting, fast-paced and brutal (in an acceptable way, like the literary equivalent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, rather than Hostel or Saw or anything).


An Irrational Rant about Cloud Atlas and the Use of Accents and Dialects in Books

I recently read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and whilst I thought it was an excellently written book, and I generally enjoyed it, I found the middle section a bit of a drag. After some consideration I’ve realised why. I simply don’t like it when authors write in an accent or dialect.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more this realisation rang true, and I began to remember other examples. I have never really loved Wuthering Heights (gasp!). This is primarily because it was sold to me as a tragic, timeless romance and I discovered it to be a book full of pathetic, bitter and petty characters that don’t have a single redeeming quality between them. However, my dislike of the book was deepened by Joseph, the disagreeable servant who speaks in an unintelligible Yorkshire dialect throughout the whole novel. Also he’s miserable and irritating, and generally (in my opinion) superfluous to the plot, although I’m sure I once said how his character is an example of the hardened labouring classes of nineteenth-century rural Yorkshire or some such claptrap when I studied the book at school. My point is, any book that contains the below speech is just asking to be thrown at a wall in exasperation.

            We’s hae a Crahnr’s ‘quest enah, at ahr folks. One on ’em’s a’most getten his finger cut off wi’ hauding t’other froo’ sticking hisseln loike a cawlk. That’s maisterm yah knaw, ut’s soa up uh going tuh t’grand ‘sizes.

Back to Cloud Atlas. It isn’t half as bad as Wuthering Heights, but it still got to me a bit. The middle section is set an indeterminable amount of years in the future after the collapse of civilisation. The story is narrated by a man living on an island inhabited by several tribes who live without electricity, technology or any of the “Smart” of the “Old’uns”. It starts:

Old Georgie’s path an’ mine crossed more times’n I’m comfy mem’ryin, an’ after I’m died, no sayin’ what that fangy devil won’t try an’ do to me

Upon reading this first sentence my heart sank. Yes, I know it’s not that different to “normal” writing, and it’s definitely easier to understand than Joseph but I couldn’t bear the thought of a whole chunk of this novel being written like this. In my experience writing in an accent makes it awkward for the reader, constantly trying to sound out the words in their head, and it usually ends up ruining the flow of the prose.

It’s not that I don’t see where David Mitchell is coming from; it makes perfect sense to write the middle section like this as it is an oral account, not a written one, and therefore it wouldn’t make sense to be overly formal. I totally understand why he felt the need for a dialect. I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that countless years in the future after the collapse of civilisation language won’t be the same as it is now. Hell, I know that language is evolving every day and if my Victorian/Edwardian/until 10 years ago ancestors read this they would be horrified and perplexed by my informal, scatterbrained writing. I think it’s actually extremely clever of Mitchell to have written the book like this, with each section written believably in the language of its setting. The middle section is meant to be a narrated story, not a written journal or tale like the other sections, and as such it fits in with the rest of the book nicely. And the rest of the sections are also cleverly written. The proper and precise language of Adam Ewing’s Journal  in the nineteenth century seems entirely credible, as are the funny, flowery and verbose letters from the 1930s.

However, it’s not the language I have a problem with, it’s phonetic writing. Even though writing in an accent like this is the best way for Mitchell to convey that a) it’s an oral account and b) language has changed in this future setting, I still don’t like it. Phonetic writing slows the reader down because you have to translate the words in your head (internally you go, “oh I see, by “an'” he means “and”). I don’t really want to have to translate what I’m reading. In fact, if I wanted to do that, I’d have bought a book in Italian and spent a month trying to decipher it. What I really wanted was a novel written in my own language that I could lose myself in. It’s made even worse by the fact that English is the least phonetic language in the world (it feels like it anyway). We’re just not used to reading like this! We carefully learn how to spell and say every word properly when we’re really young and then we stick to it. Stubbornly.

I’m only picking on Cloud Atlas because it is fresh in my mind. Please understand that I thought that it was a great book, and the language thing was really only a minor irritation. I’m just using it as an example of a bigger issue I have had for years. I also had similar troubles with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and even though it was a good book, I struggled through it because of the phonetically written speech. I think that generally, I have a pretty good idea of what most accents sound like in English, and if an author was to write that a character spoke in a Scottish/Irish/German/Whatever accent I would be able to hear it in my mind all on my own, without any help from the author. Sometimes it feels like writers just like showing off.

So there you have it. I reeeeaally don’t like accents and dialects in writing. In my opinion they’re unnecessary and awkward to read. Rant over.

N.B. I allow only one exception: I don’t really mind Hagrid’s slight accent in the Harry Potter books as it’s very easy to understand, doesn’t interrupt the flow of the writing and accounts for such a small part of the series. But as a Potter geek I’m probably a bit biased.


I’m Back! With a Review of Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Hi folks! Sorry it’s been a while (well a very long time), but I’ve been on holiday and after that, dealing with post-holiday blues, and after that, sunbathing a lot in the garden. And now there’s all the excitement of the Olympics! But I’m going to try really hard to catch up on the blogging at the same time as watching the sport (it’s already proving tricky, I meant to blog this on Sunday but I have been too preoccupied with the gymnastics/swimming/diving/equestrian).

The last few weeks have been good for me to catch up on lots of reading (and I’ve read A LOT) and also for thinking up exciting new ideas for the blog! They’re not quite ready yet though, so I thought I’d keep you going by reviewing my summer reads.

Quick note: This post was originally intended to be a summary of all my summer reading so far, but I wrote 700 words about these books without even thinking about it! And I am fully aware that I said a while back I was going to focus less on book reviews, oops! Oh well… here you go:

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

These books blew me away. In fact, as soon as I finished them I nagged my friend Olivia into reading them immediately. She loved them so much she nagged her sister into reading them immediately… and I expect it will carry on like this until the whole world has devoured them (a feat nearly accomplished, if the internet hype is anything to go by). The amazing thing is, I picked up Divergent just after Ready Player One, and I never thought I would find a book as good as that one for a long time!

The books are set in a city post-mysterious war where society has split into five factions in order to maintain peace. The factions are split according to what people believe is to blame for conflict in society. The Erudite faction blame ignorance, and therefore they prize knowledge above all else. Amity blame aggression so they value kindness and peace. Abnegation blame selfishness, so they value selflessness. Candor blame dishonesty so they value the truth and finally Dauntless blame cowardice and therefore they value bravery and courage. Those who do not belong in any of these are the Factionless, and are doomed to a miserable existence on the outskirts of society. Each faction performs a vital role in society, for example Amity run the farms which provide all food for the city.

Tris is born into Abnegation but when she turns sixteen and has to choose a faction, she leaves her family to join Dauntless. However, she soon realises that becoming one of the Dauntless is a tough process, and only a few of the initiates who chose it will make it into the faction. Tris has to learn how to fight and also confront her greatest fears in order to become part of Dauntless. Much of the first book is about Tris being a Dauntless initiate, about the challenges she faces, her new Dauntless friends and her mysterious trainer Four. Insurgent follows straight on from the first book, and follows Tris, Four and co. in a nail-biting sequel which had me in tears at parts. I don’t want to say much more though, as I will totally ruin everything! And I reeeeaaaally don’t want to spoil it for anyone, as part of the joy of these books was not knowing what was going to happen.

I really liked the concept of these books, and I have spent many an hour thinking about firstly, which faction I would choose (I think Erudite, but secretly I’d like to be Dauntless) and secondly, what my greatest fears are (spiders, sadly, would definitely make an appearance). Initially I thought the idea of such rigid factions was a little odd, but as I read more I began to think about how they made sense. For me, good science fiction is all about making impossible futures and worlds believable and tangible and I think Roth has done this excellently. I was totally immersed in Tris’s story and felt the familiar stab of sadness when I’d finished the books.

The reason I loved these books so much is because not only were they exciting and totally gripping, but the relationships in them are truly wonderfully crafted. Veronica Roth has achieved what Suzanne Collins could not; she has created a post-apocalyptic, plot-driven novel which also has believable characters who interact with each other in a realistic way. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved The Hunger Games, but I thought it was lacking something in the character development department. I wasn’t always clear about why Katniss acted the way she did and it frustrated me. With Divergent and Insurgent, however, I was totally convinced and moved by Tris and her relationships with Four, her Dauntless friends and her parents. The books are also touching without being overly soppy or sentimental. I would recommend them to all who liked The Hunger Games, and anyone else!

What will the third and final book be called?

Here’s the downside: Divergent and Insurgent are part of a trilogy, and the last book isn’t set to be out until late next year! However, let me assure you that the second book ends quite satisfactorily, so I wouldn’t bother putting off reading these until the last book comes out. Read them now! A fun game you can play until next year is “guess the name of the third book”. My friend Olivia’s bets are on “Emergent”, whereas I am going for either “Convergent”or “Detergent”.

Also, predictably, the rights for Divergent have been bought by Summit, so I expect this will blow up Hunger Games-style before long. Watch this space!


You Need to Read This Book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I haven’t done a book review in a while, but when I picked up this book I knew I had to write about it…

After reading a string of disappointing books and generally feeling unenthused about all fiction I suddenly came to find ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I’VE EVER READ EVER. Yes, the capitals were necessary. As with most great things in life, I just happened to randomly stumble across Ready Player One when it was mentioned on a book blog that I occasionally look at. Originally, I thought it might be a bit too much about video games and contain lots of obscure eighties references that I’m too young to understand properly (being born in ’88). But, as I was in a rut and I like Ferris Bueller and Star Wars I thought I’d give it a go anyway. And boy, am I glad I did!

Ready Player One is set thirty-odd years in the future when most of humanity escape the misery of the real world (global energy crisis, poverty, famine, disease) by jacking into a virtual utopia called the OASIS. In the OASIS you can be whoever you want and can do whatever you wish; there’s shopping, gaming, you can take holidays, watch films, visit planets created around your favourite books… the possibilities are endless. Children even attend school in the OASIS, and it’s common for people to live most of their lives virtually.

The book starts with the death of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. Halliday has no heir, so he instead decides to leave his multi-billion dollar fortune and control of the virtual world to whoever can find the “easter egg” hidden in the OASIS. He leaves a riddle and the promise of more riddles and games that need to be solved in order to find the egg. The whole planet becomes obsessed with solving the riddle. Halliday was a teenager in the eighties and was public about his affection for the decade, so everyone knows where to start looking for clues. Suddenly, the decade becomes incredibly popular and cool; people know everything about it, and eighties fashions start coming back in. The most dedicated easter egg hunters (“gunters”) know everything there is to know about the decade, from popular 80s arcade games, TV shows and films, to food chains and music. Everything ever mentioned by Halliday is picked over in minute detail by the “gunters”. However, for years, no one can solve the first riddle. The world is stumped.

It is at this point that we meet Wade Watts, a poor teenager who attends school in the OASIS and lives with his aunt and many others in a cramped trailer in Oklahoma. Wade is a “gunter” but as he has little to no money, he can’t travel around the OASIS looking for clues, and he can’t get more credits by fighting and building up his online experience without being kicked out of school. So Wade is confined to the planet in the OASIS that school is on, and he instead fills his time mastering 80s video games, watching Halliday’s favourite films and chatting to his friends in online chatrooms. One day, though, whilst in a Latin class, Wade suddenly has a flash of inspiration, and he knows where to go to solve the first riddle. The game is finally afoot. Wade has to battle against other “gunters” in order to find the egg, but most importantly, he has to take on an evil corporation called IOI who are intent on finding the easter egg and controlling the OASIS for themselves. I have probably told you too much about the plot already so I’ll stop there.

So, as you might have gathered, I absolutely LOVED this book! I thought it was just excellent! Firstly, I love a good quest story. They’re just so exciting (when done properly). Secondly, I am a huge fan of sci fi/ dystopian books so another box was ticked there. Thirdly, it’s all about the eighties! What more could you want from a book? I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get to grow up in the decade like Halliday did!

On top of all that, the book is excellently written. The pace never falters throughout, it is continually exciting. It’s rich in detail without being boring and all loose ends are very satisfyingly tied up at the end. The book has obviously been meticulously plotted by someone who is very fond and knowledgeable about being a geek in the eighties. What’s more, Ready Player One retains its credibility, it doesn’t spiral out of control like sci fi is known to do. Cline makes this version of the future seem realistic, and scarily probable. You could just imagine IOI being Google or Facebook with its unchallenged might and less-than-ethical approach to privacy. And the icing on the cake: the characters are loveable and witty and the book retains a humorous feel to it despite being set in a dystopian future. Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I wish I was still reading it.

If you’re not yet convinced, I would say that anyone who likes or has heard of any of the following things would love this book (this is not an exhaustive list, it’s just what came off the top of my head):

  • The Goonies
  • Back to the Future
  • Indiana Jones
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Out or any other 80s film with Matthew Broderick in it.
  • Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (I reviewed this book as well! Here)
  • Pacman or any old arcade video game
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Family Ties
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Breakfast Club
  •  The Matrix
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Any computer game ever

Even if this stuff sounds a bit geeky and silly for you, you should still read this book! It is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time, and I am expecting more exciting things to come from Cline (please?).


Coming Soon! Words Can Break Hearts Version 2.0

Hey!

I am very sorry that I’ve neglected the blog for a couple of months. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, what with me getting addicted to 24 and leaving my job in search of an airy-fairy dream job that probably doesn’t exist. I think I’m having what they call a “quarter life crisis”.

Seriously though, the reason I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front is because I’ve been having a really long think about which direction to take it in. I have big plans for the future of Words Can Break Hearts, and have been umming and ahhing about how to make it happen. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be making some changes, and hopefully I’ll be blogging more regularly too. I’ve decided that I will focus a little less on book reviews and a little more on other things, such as grammar, writing tips and me! I love doing book reviews and will continue to do them, but I think I’d like to take the focus of the blog away from them a little bit for now.

So stay tuned! I’ll be back very very shortly with some (hopefully) interesting things to say on grammar, writing, my life, etc.

Here’s a picture of Tallulah being lazy to cheer you up until I’m back:


What I read last: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Sorry it’s been a couple of weeks, I was ill last week and have also been stuck in a bit of a Murakami-induced rut. But more about that another time (Murakami, that is, not the illness). Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Not more teen fantasy/sci-fi!”. I’m sorry, I can’t help it, I’m addicted to the stuff.

I first heard about this book when I was on my way to a Halloween ghost tour. I am embarrassingly late in writing this review actually, it seems that everyone else on the internet blogged about it last autumn. Anyway, I was on my way to Croft Castle on a dark and stormy October’s evening…Laini Taylor was on the radio and she was describing the main character of the book, Karou, and it sounded like Daughter of Smoke and Bone was just my cup of tea. And as it turns out, it was. I raced through it in a couple of days and was totally bereft when it came to an end.

Karou is a blue-haired tattooed art student living in Prague. The only family she has ever known are other-worldly creatures called chimaera  who have a shop which sells wishes to humans in exchange for teeth. Karou has to balance her classes with errands for Brimstone, who runs the shop and is the closest thing to a father figure she has. Karou doesn’t know anything about her real family or why she has mysterious tattoos on her hands. To her friends at school she talks freely of her “family” and the shop but they assume it is all a product of Karou’s amazing imagination.

The shop where Brimstone works is mysterious in itself, its door can only be opened from the inside, and can open onto several different places around the world. Although Karou grew up in the shop she does not know much about Brimstone and the other chimaera; they have never told her what the teeth are for, or where the other door in the back of the shop leads to.

Strange things start happening; all the doors around the world which lead to Brimstone’s shop are

Laini Taylor

becoming marked with scorch marks. Then, when running an errand for Brimstone in Morocco Karou is attacked by a beautiful winged man, a seraphim, and she flees back to the shop injured. However, she has trouble returning home and when she gets there Brimstone is absent. Then the seraphim who attacked Karou, Akiva, becomes fascinated with the girl with the blue hair and decides to try to find out more about her. Things really start kicking off after this, but if I carry on I’ll ruin the book completely for anyone thinking of reading it. I’ve probably already said too much! At about the half way mark you won’t be able to put the book down. Karou’s tale is all about discovering who she really is, what the shop and the wishes are for, and (of course) falling in love.

I really loved the book, it was so imaginatively thought out, I could really picture everything clearly, the beastly chimaera and the beautiful seraphim. I loved the settings, Prague, Morocco, Elsewhere. They were different but all so vivid. I also loved Karou, she’s a bit quirky and she can fight well but isn’t without weaknesses, she’s a believable character that you feel for. I also loved the mystery of the book, I was dying to find out about Karou’s past, the other world, and how it all tied together. It all unfolded really nicely and quite shockingly as well, I wasn’t disappointed. I was a little dismayed when it became apparent that I wouldn’t get to find out what happened to Karou and Akiva at the end of this book (I hate being left hanging by a fantasy series!); Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first of a trilogy. It doesn’t look like the next book will be coming out too soon either, I think we are talking about the end of 2012.

One of the main things I loved about this book were the little touches and attention to detail, like the other world’s myths and traditions. The whole book felt well thought out and put together. I sometimes feel that teen fantasy and science fiction lacks some of the detail that their adult counterparts have, but this definitely wasn’t the case with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I also don’t think the book is particularly young or overwhelmingly fantasy-ish, I think adults who don’t normally read fantasy or sci-fi would still love it. The world Laini Taylor has created is imaginative, but it isn’t as alien or hard to read as some are; she doesn’t get bogged down in long descriptions or spend pages on the history of the chimaera and the seraphim.

Damn you fantasy books!

There is only one little teeny tiny criticism I have about this book, which seems a shame as I really did enjoy it so much. I found some of it a tad on the mushy side, the love story was a little bit vom-tastic for my taste. But then again, I might just have found it a bit annoying because I’m a bitter and cynical person! I would absolutely not let this put you off reading it though, it is a lot  less mushy than the Twilight books. It’s just that occasionally I wanted to shake the main characters and shout “Get a grip! She’s not that lovely!”

Has anyone else read this book? I haven’t actually spoken to anyone who has so it would be nice to hear what other people thought of it. If you haven’t, I’d recommend picking it up immediately! It’s also worth noting that it looks like it will be made into a film soon(ish) as Universal have acquired the rights to it. I’m not sure a film could do the book justice but we’ll have to wait and see!


Cheating at the classics

I love a lengthy Wilkie Collins mystery as much as the next person, but sometimes I find Victorian literature a bit of a slog. This is how I feel about quite a few classics actually. There are some that sound so dreary I’ve never had the inclination to seriously consider picking them up. I know I’m a total fool, and am probably lacking some great insight because I failed to read Crime and Punishment but it can’t be helped. I will try and tackle them another day.

Notice the lack of Tolstoy?

So, if like me you are a victim of modern day’s impatient cheap-thrill culture, worry not! There are plenty of small classics you can zip through in no time. Then you’ll have something to boast about to your intellectually-superior friends. This will also make you feel less guilty about reading all that teen sci-fi! Or is that just me? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
It’s so well known but not that many people seem to have read it. Why not? It’s a short story and a pretty gripping read! Easy to zip through and afterwards leaves you thinking about all sides of human nature. Also, it’s likely to come up in conversation sooner or later, so you’ll be ready with many insightful comments when it does!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Another one everyone thinks they know until they read it. At around 200 pages it beats trying to battle your way through Anna Karenina, although I warn you: Frankenstein isn’t a lovable green-skinned giant with bolts on his neck. I didn’t really warm to any of the characters in the end, but don’t let that put you off! It’s a good book and easy to read, what more could you want?

Dubliners by James Joyce
Can’t be bothered with Ulysses? It is pretty long, especially when you know you probably won’t enjoy it and it will go on forever and ever and ever. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about – you’ll never guess it – people who live in Dublin. If you want to get a taste for Joyce then I would recommend it – you can dip in and out of it happily and then amaze your snooty dinner party pals with comments on Joyce’s snapshots of Dublin at the turn of the century.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Ah, our much loved literary detective and genius Sherlock Holmes. These are short stories, easy to read, intellectually stimulating and humorous. What’s not to like? If you’re a fan of crime and mystery stories like I am, these will be perfect for you. Like many other classics, people always talk like they know all about Sherlock Holmes – so read this and call their bluff! I guarantee you will meet tons of people who have never even picked it up.

Any play by Oscar Wilde
I love Oscar Wilde. He’s ace. The Importance of Being Earnest is one of my favourite books/things to read; I could read it again and again and again. I find it hilarious! But seriously, plays are the way forward – you know they’re not going to take more than a few hours to get through because plays are generally only that long (don’t apply this logic to Hamlet though). Plus Oscar Wilde was the master of wit and his plays are hugely enjoyable and entertaining. Great rainy Sunday afternoon reading if you ask me. I actually really enjoy imagining I am the director of the play as well and thinking about how I would stage my own production…. I know that makes me a bit of a loser but just try it for yourself! Fun times.

Ooh it's so thin!

Any poem by Edgar Allen Poe
Poetry is the ultimate cheat – poems are usually much shorter than books! But I sometimes get a bit bogged down with all this meaning stuff. I mean, it’s no fun when a sonnet that should take you a few minutes to digest leaves you perplexed for all eternity. But poetry is, to me, the peak of literary criticism! All the really serious literary buffs love it. Trouble is, trying to come across knowledgable about it is hard, and with all those hidden meanings poets like to throw in you could end up getting caught out. So if you’re like me, I would recommend sticking to something on the easy side. Poe is brilliant. Totally easy to understand; he’s sad about a girl, he loves some girl, he’s depressed/scared about something etc. But more than this, his poetry is really satisfying. Great words, rhymes in all the right places; generally it all fits together nicely.

So there are a few ideas for you to get started with the classics. There are plenty more! Sometimes I think it’s more about quantity not quality – I think you could get pretty far with the classics if you stuck to ones that are less than 200 pages. I’d save War and Peace for another day if I were you.