It’s hard to grapple with life’s challenges if you don’t tap into the wisdom that we have accumulated throughout our history. This treasury of knowledge and insight is stored between the covers of the world’s books, and an acquaintance with some of the most important of these is necessary if one wishes to live a fully conscious life.
You might wonder how fictional people and situations can lead you to recognize real-life truths, but the fact is that human beings have always understood the world through stories, and we identify with the characters we read about. The fundamental struggles that we all face are woven into unforgettable stories, and some of the characters we meet in these stories persist in our memories as if they were living people.
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
This novel, published in 1856, has been called the “perfect work of fiction.” Its heroine struggles to escape her dreary life, and her romantic delusions cause pain to the real-life husband with whom she lives.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Published in 1939, this novel reveals the heart of the country as it depicts the nearly Biblical exodus of a family of tenant farmers, driven out of Oklahoma “Dust Bowl” by drought and desperation to seek a new future in California.
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
This is a contemporary work which weaves the events of September 11, 2001 together with the efforts of a real-life tightrope walker who walked between the twin towers in 1974. The novel brings together the lives, thoughts and struggles of countless New Yorkers, and tells a story of contemporary America in a moving and dramatic voice.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein is perhaps the earliest example of horror fiction and an important work by an early female writer. This Frankenstein course provides a literary analysis of the novel and requires only a high school freshman reading level.
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
While Shakespeare’s plays can seem intimidating if you’ve never read any of them, Macbeth is a terrifically exciting tale of glory, violence and moral responsibility. The Tragedy of Macbeth course offers a straightforward guide to the play.
Collected Poems, 1909 – 1962, by T.S. Eliot
Once you have dived into literature, challenge yourself with some truly demanding poetry. This collection of Eliot’s poems is the poet’s own anthology of his life’s work and its themes touch on important aspects of coming to terms with the human condition. This free “Classics of American Literature” course, specifically focused on T.S. Eliot, will help you understand the subtleties of his writing.
Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin
This 19th century novel in verse has been turned into a film as well as an opera. It explores life, death, and passion in 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter. Professor Irwin Weil offers a free Russian Literature and Music course that will guide you through the rich and colorful world where Russian literature and opera intertwine.
Reading important works of literature will not only improve your vocabulary, it will deepen your understanding of what it means to be a human being. With the help of good teachers and courses, the doors to the world of literature are wide open to you!