“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” – John Green
Nothing could be more fulfilling, exhilarating, or reassuring than a good book. Whether it’s to make you feel more at peace with yourself, inspire you to be brave when it’s hardest, or let you know that you aren’t alone, there’s nothing a good book can’t overcome. And nothing sticks with you like the classics. Books that have withstood the test of time for their universal truths and unique voices. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good start for twenty classics you should read at least once, if not more!
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Set in Regency England, Austen’s classic novel tells the story of five sisters navigating the trials and tribulations of polite society. Focusing specifically on the second daughter, Elizabeth, the novel follows the sisters as they try to secure their places in society through marriage. From the lovesick Jane who isn’t sure of her beloved’s affections to the impulsive and puerile Lydia who runs off with a man, this classic only seems like a simple tale of romance and love.
Start to peel back the layers and you’ll see Austen actually has some pretty shrewd commentary on society, character and the roles of women. This novel is well worth the read not only for it’s social commentary but for it’s ability to showcase the importance of upbringing.
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Hated by her aunt and sent to an orphanage at young age, plain Jane Eyre grows up never feeling fully loved or appreciated. Taught to stay in her place, she learns to fend for herself and make her own path in life by becoming a governess. Things seem to take a turn for Jane after her wealthy employer Mr. Rochester starts to woo her.
Finally on the path to love and happiness, Jane is devastated after learning a dark secret about Mr. Rochester’s past. Jane is forced to make a choice: stay with him and indulge her happiness or leave and retain her honor. A classic Gothic novel, the book explores themes such as morality and freedom and makes you question: what would you choose?
3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Stolen from a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Sound and the Fury is a novel of tragedy, history, and legacy surrounding the Compson family. Set in fictitious Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi (a place Faulkner created and set a number of novels in), the book tells the story of the downfall of the Compson family through the eyes of the four children: neurotic, poetic Quentin; beautiful, vivacious Caddy; cruel Jason; and the man-child Benjy.Advertising
Using stream of conscious, Faulkner poignantly portrays the tragedy of the family in a post-civil war era centering around themes of decaying Southern values, language, and rebirth. Landmark for its use of stream of conscious, this book will make you realize the power of decay.
4. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Initially banned from publication in the USSR due to its less-than-favorable stance on socialism, Pasternak’s great novel of love and revolution follows poet doctor Yuri Zhivago as he is divided between love for his wife and the captivating Lara. Filled with agony, disillusion, and revolution, the novel was a new take on the devastating history of the Russian people in the early twentieth century. This novel will give you a new found appreciation for star-crossed lovers caught up in the tragedy of revolution and tradition.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Easily Fitzgerald’s most recognizable work, The Great Gatsby tells the tale of mysterious billionaire Jay Gatsby and his quest to reclaim his long lost love Daisy, a vivacious yet selfish socialite. Told from the viewpoint of Daisy’s cousin Nick, the novel is the quintessential Jazz Age story filled with gin, forbidden love, and all the splendor and spoils of the roaring 20s. This is the novel to read if you want to get a feel for the glamour and tragedy of New York in the 1920s.
6. 1984 by George Orwell
Though 1984 has passed (without large scale government surveillance or manipulation programs) this classic dystopian novel warns of what the future could look like if we don’t take an active role in curbing the power of the government. Introducing such words as doublespeak, thoughtcrime, Big Brother, and 2+2=5 into our modern lexicon, the novel is a powerful warning about the dangers of groupthink and unchecked government power. This novel is always a classic but is especially powerful in context of today’s NSA programs and Wikileaks.
7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Another great example of a novel that spawned a word (Catch-22 refers to a paradoxical situation in which you can escape because of conflicting rules), this novel tells the tale of soldiers in World War II fighting, dying, and living amongst one of the most brutal and grotesque wars of the twentieth century. What makes this novel stand out from other war stories is that it completely vanquishes any idea of valor and glory and replaces it with satire and insanity. Brilliantly showcasing the madness of war and combat, the novel is well worth a read for a new view on the chaos of war.
8. Brave New World by Aldous HuxleyAdvertising
Yet another novel that borrows it’s title from Shakespeare (thank you, The Tempest Act V Scene I), this novel is a dystopian look at technology, identity, and society in the future. Centering around the idea that all humans are now created in a lab (most with identical features) and assigned an identity and destiny, their their lives are thoroughly uncomplicated. The book raises questions about the path humanity will take when they rely exclusively on technology. This novel will make you think twice about whether technology and progression is helpful.
9. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
THE ultimate detective novel, The Maltese Falcon follows hard-boiled Sam Spade as he tries to uncover where a priceless falcon sculpture is and why everyone is after it. Along the way he encounters murder, shifting loyalties, and treachery. With surprising twists and characters dropping like flies, this classic detective novel will keep you glued to the pages. It even set the precedent for many other detectives including Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe. This is the novel to read if you want to learn the classic psyche of the hard-boiled detective.
10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
According to Allen Ginsberg, the first draft of this classic Beat novel was typed on a 50 foot long roll of paper. No less eccentric, the novel tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Jack Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady as they travel through America most often by hitchhiking and hopping buses. Filled with Kerouac’s friends and acquaintances (including Ginsberg and William Burroughs) the novel established not only the voice of the Beat generation but a new form of American prose. Besides these noteworthy accolades, at it’s heart, the novel is about finding a place in society when you’re not the “norm.”
11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The only novel from the infamous wit Oscar Wilde, this classic novel is at once horrifying and captivating. The tale follows a young and handsome Dorian Gray as he falls under the influence of the unscrupulous Lord Henry and his particular brand of hedonism. As Dorian falls farther and farther away from virtue, he realizes that he can commit any crime he pleases and it will not make a mark on him. Instead, as he commits each crime, a recent portrait of himself turns uglier to show a true reflection of his soul. Gripping and horrifying, the book raises questions on whether art (and people) are intrinsically valuable just for the simple act of being beautiful.
12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
A landmark novel when published in 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has remained a classic ever since. Detailing the account of a mental institution which gets turned upside when a lively new patient, Randle Patrick McMurphy, enters and begins disrupting the authoritarian rule of the nurses. Raising questions about individuality, authority, and mental health the novel was as ground breaking as it is funny and heartbreaking. A dystopian-type novel grounded in the present, this classic will make you rethink authority and autonomy.
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerAdvertising
The epitome of ennui, this classic novel from J.D. Salinger tells the tale of young Holden Caulfield as he spends three days in New York City playing hooky between the end of the school term and start of Christmas break. More than just the antics of a kid in a big city, the novel takes a look at what it means to grow up and be an adult. Following the complex and passionate narrative of Holden as he tries to resist adulthood, the novel focuses on themes such as alienation, growing up, and the “phoniness” of the adult world. This is the novel to read if you’re experiencing the angst between graduating school and entering the real world.
14. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Perhaps one of the best and most exemplary examples of fan-fiction, Wide Sargasso Sea is the prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Recounting the early years of Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, the novel not only gives her a name but a voice. Starting out with her decaying childhood in Jamaica the book follows Antoinette through her life as the trauma and cruelty of her situation gives rise to her deteriorating mental health. Focusing on themes of racial identity, insanity, and women’s identity in a patriarchal society this novel will give you a new found empathy for the woman in the attic.
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The second most popular Spanish language book (second only to Don Quixote), this beautifully written novel is a centerpiece for not only the magical realism genre but also a commentary on the devastation of the outside world in Latin America. Set in the fictional town of Macondo (a town inspired by García Márquez’s own childhood town Aracataca) the story follows the lives of the Buendías family as they transition from isolation to revolution. Not only is this novel gorgeously written, but it will give you a deeper connection to the politics and turbulence of political upheaval in Latin America.
16. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Another tale of dystopia but with a notable twist – -instead of society succumbing to technological advances, society is reverted backwards into a hyper-dominate patriarchal and Christian society in which women have no rights or autonomy. Instead, women are regulated into certain classes and expected to fulfill the duties of this class.
Told from the viewpoint of Offred, a handmaid in this new society who’s primary duty is to serve as a concubine and produce children, she documents her experiences serving a prominent government official as she struggles to find solace in this new world order. Especially against the backdrop of her memories of freedom and autonomy. Captivating and stimulating, this classic novel is excellent to read in the context of women’s struggles to gain autonomy over their bodies and reproductive rights.
17. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
More excruciating than Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this classic Russian novel follows destitute Raskolnikov who after committing murder must face the moral consequences of his decision. A decidedly different novel, Crime and Punishment focuses on that intense period between committing the crime and receiving the punishment.Advertising
With searing detail, the novel takes you on the harrowing psychological journey Raskolnikov takes as he alienates himself from society and ultimately goes mad. This is the book to read if you are or ever were a psychology student. Even if you weren’t, it will give you a new found perspective on not the motivations of crime and the space that follows.
18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Largely criticized at the time of it’s publications for not being “political” enough, Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel of independence in the rural South became immensely popular after Alice Walker published an essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” bringing the novel back into the public consciousness. Detailing the life of Janie Crawford, a beautiful and independent woman, the novel examines the idea of freedom in the context of relationships.
Through her first marriage to the stoic and pragmatic Logan to her second with the loquacious and domineering Joe to her final marriage to the much younger Tea Cake, Janie struggles to find independence and peace with herself. Though race does play a role in the novel, it is primarily a story of a woman trying to find herself in the context of so many societal norms. The beautiful prose of this novel will make you take a step back and want to find your own true voice.
19. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The classic autobiography from one of America’s civil rights leaders and outstanding writers, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings tells the story of Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Anne Johnson) in her early years.
Passionate and poignant, the novel recounts Angelou’s coming of age and includes such details as her insecurity with her looks; her rape as a small girl; her subsequent refusal to speak afterwards and finding her voice again through literature; and her position as the first ever African-American to operate a streetcar in San Francisco.This book will not only give you insight into one of America’s greatest activists but will inspire you to be courageous and authentic in the face of adversary.
20. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Easily one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century, Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged professor who falls in love with his precocious twelve-year-old stepdaughter Dolores. A.K.A., Lolita. After her mother dies in a car crash, Humbert whisks Lolita away on a road trip where his narrative suggests that she seduces him rather than the other way around. They drive across the country falling into a pattern of obsession and manipulation and eventually settle down in the Northeast where Humbert risks losing Lolita.
Turned down for publication four times, the book was eventually published and was met with a mixture of scorn and acclaim. The book’s bold discussion of forbidden love and desire is both its strength and repulsion. This classic is well worth a read for not only its revolutionary take on love but it’s breathtaking postmodern prose.
Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com
Last Updated on October 16, 2018
How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)
She could hear her beautiful baby crying but was frozen in the doorway unable to move. The crying got worse and she knew that unless she comforted the infant soon the baby would be inconsolable, and yet her feet wouldn’t move. She didn’t look at the cot but the floor in front, where the venomous hairy monster sat before her…. .okay it was a UK spider so not likely to kill her at all, and yet still her body was frozen as the tears fell down her face. “What a useless mother you are” she berated herself.
That awful mother was me 14 years ago. My fear of spiders had not been controlled for years and I was at the stage where I wouldn’t open a newspaper until my husband had read it and removed the images of spiders. I hated houses that had wooden floors or skirting boards because every knot in the wood could be a spider about to crawl across me.
At the height of my fear, I tried to get out of a moving car. Clearly this harmless 8-legged creature had massive levels of power over me but now that fear is gone, I’m never going to love spiders but I’m not going to leave the room because of one and I can read the word without freaking out and sobbing.
If you think that fear is irrational, what about the fear of going to airports? Or the fear of not asking for help?
Today I want to look at how our irrational fears impact on us, how they can destroy (and I don’t use that word lightly) our success. They can damage our health and even stop us from living our lives. And then I’ll share the benefits of fighting that fear and most importantly how you can fight your fears too.
Table of Contents
How irrational fears impact your life
The thing about irrational fears is that we are not keen to look at them. It makes us feel inadequate, weak and daft because we can’t do things that it seems everyone else can. That gives the fear power.
Fear loves negative emotions and saps up yours making your fear bigger and uglier and even more powerful. Not ideal to say the least. Fears can cause us to:
- Avoid situations where that fear may have to be faced. Dodging parties, new jobs, new experiences where we aren’t sure we will be able to protect ourselves.
- Stop us from sleeping for fear the thing we fear will “get us in the night.” For me this was massive, and I stopped sleeping which had massive implications when my job was to look after a toddler and a baby. I felt half dead most of the time!
- Feel ill with the stress. Stress can be the cause of wrong decisions. Drinking alcohol when we shouldn’t, eating chocolate because it makes us feel better, the list of excuses is long that we hold on to so that we can avoid the cause of our stress.
- Cause more distress as our minds overload us with negative thoughts of inadequacy. This can damage our confidence. Having coached thousands, I know that a lack of confidence is usually the underlining impactor on most people’s success across all areas of their lives.
- Risk looking aloof or arrogant because we won’t participate like other people. Our fears can even isolate us in our personal and professional lives too.
- Feel debilitated. Needless to say, these fears may look irrational and shouldn’t exist to the outside world but to the sufferer they are debilitating. Even impacting on their earning potential, love life, hobbies, travels and personal and professional success.
Why bother to fight the fear
Couldn’t you just ensure you live your life in way that you don’t have to deal with your fear?
I had a client that was so scared of flying that they couldn’t even take their partner to the airport, another who had avoided public speaking for over 20 years and yet now at the height of their profession they had no choice, what were they going to do? Quit? There was another who could never ask for help and another who feared people finding out who they really were.
All these fears and many more can be fixed but only if we can appreciate the benefits of fighting the fear.
Let’s look at the benefits of fighting your fears:
If you’re going to change the way you do something, something that has impacted on your life, thoughts and actions for years, it can be hard to believe change is possible.
The first thing you must do is give yourself a big enough reason why. Go back through your life and remember all the occasions that this fear was there.
I can still see the spider trapped in my hair because it had obviously been on my hairdryer. I also remember that I probably looked ludicrous in the South of France in my underwear running down the lane screaming and flinging my hair everywhere. The poor spider had not only been flung a long way from my head but was probably destroyed in the flight.
Remember the feelings, the actions, the negative feelings you felt afterwards, for me it meant that every time I picked up a hairdryer I could see a spider crawling towards my ear in my hair. Guess how helpful that was for reinforcing my reactions and irrational fear?
Really experience the fear. Make it so painful that you probably notice your heart racing, your shoulders drawing up and your breath changing. That fear is causing physical change in your body, doesn’t feel good does it?
When the irrational fear is challenged and destroyed, it can’t have power over you. So new opportunities can come your way and instead of fearing them and what people will think of you for your choices, you can be open to;
- New hobbies
- New travels
- New opportunities
- More success
- Financially more secure
The list is long so what can you do to get rid of your fears?
How to fight your irrational fears
In my book Fight the Fear: How to Beat Your Negative Mindset and Win in Life, I cover 12 of the biggest fears that I see impact on success and happiness. Not all of these are obvious but they all have far reaching impacts on our lives.
Here are some of those ideas to help you fight your fear and get more of what you want out of life:
Why did this happen?
For some people they really need to know why the fear started, for others all they want is to get rid of it. If you need to understand yours then don’t skip this tip. Learn how your fears are made and appreciate where yours came from. If you don’t care how it arrived, you can jump to top tip 2.
I’ve seen some clients who are not prepared to look at how to get rid of the fear until they’ve understood how it got here in the first place. It’s not my place to tell them that is right or wrong, just to help them find the right steps to lead them to a happy path.
When a fear first starts, we don’t acknowledge a fear has entered our lives. It is only after a few occasions that we begin to notice that there’s a strong negative emotion connected to this “thing”. That’s how fear is allowed to grow because as humans we have in-built responses that have kept us safe for our entire existence. This means we are meant to perceive fear and either run or fight, either way our bodies jump into action creating physical responses to the perceived threat.
Look for when you first noticed the fast heart beat, the shallow breathing, the shaking hands, the redness. You have created an automatic way of dealing with this fear. It could be that it felt sensible to fear this because you had an unhappy outcome, although it is usually the case that your head has the facts and your heart is not prepared to hear them as it creates a version of the event that is far scarier than it actually was.
Learning how to remove the emotions and feelings will help you to change your body’s response. The first time I fixed someone’s fear of public speaking, they told me that it physically closed their throat, I worried that was it possible with words to change our physicality? The answer was yes! With the tools and techniques I share below.
The tool kit
From the many people that have contacted me after reading Fight the Fear to my clients, I know for even myself creating a tool kit is a must. This is not a bag that you physically must haul everywhere. This is about learning tools that really resonate with you so that when you can feel the fear start to impact on you, you’ve got your kit ready to take it on.
I don’t have the space in one article to share all of those tools so let’s visit a few:
1. Why I’m awesome
Creating a 2-page handwritten document of why you are awesome can help. This document will be packed with achievements, successes, overcoming adversity and all of those will be full of positive emotions, actions and feelings. It is not easy to write, and I get many messages telling me so however it is a powerful reminder that you can stand up and accomplish.
2. Draw out your emotions
Earlier we looked at how irrational fears can damage every aspect of our lives. If you were to follow the negative spiral down you can follow the positive spiral up again.
I draw these individually for clients and with each action, thought or feeling we put an arrow between them. Each arrow is an opportunity to do something different. If we know that irrational fear is an automatic thought process, then we can start to see that we need to think, do or feel something different. Top tip 3 will help with that.
3. Acknowledge that you need to change
It’s not easy to change, and that is a belief that many hold. Top tip 4 could assist further, however for this tip, remember that when you want to do, think or feel differently, you’ve already achieved the first step and that is recognizing something must change (you don’t need to know what). But if you aren’t sure yet if there’s really something different you want to do, this story about Nancy may help you to figure it out.
Then it’s about acknowledging it. That means not only accepting it but feeling that it is yours to take on and change.
Then for 2 weeks, decide that you won’t allow the thought to be in your head. There are usually some negative thoughts allowed to fester in your head. At this stage, just say “No I’d like you to stop.” After 2 weeks choose a new thought that you would prefer to hear in your head, maybe “I can cope with situations that scare me” or “I am stronger than I know”.
There will be times when you fail. Don’t berate yourself because that is another negative thought you are allowing your head to process. Just start again and at times like that have a read of your “Why I’m awesome list”.
4. Choose your words carefully.
I’ve heard many clients tell me that “It’s going to be hard to change” “I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t petrified” or “This is a lot to ask”. Any thought that gives power to your fear takes away power from you to fight it. Therefore, choose how you word your goal to overcome your fear carefully.
Think thoughts like “I remember when I achieved xxxx and that reminds me I’m far tougher and more capable than I give myself credit for”. (Take the xxx from your why I’m awesome document.)
5. Believe that you have the control power
The only person that can control what we think and feel is us. I know it can feel like other people are impacting on us, however they can only do that if we give them permission to do so.
If you really think about that for a moment, can you see that you have the right to think and feel anything you want right now? I’m certain you wouldn’t choose pain, fear or anxiety. So, what would you choose to think about your fear?
6. Put up physical reminders
Working one to one, I can find the fear, work through it and create a tool kit of thoughts, feelings and actions that will help them fight that fear and get rid of it. For some, they don’t need physical things to help them; others do.
For example, the CEO who was petrified of public speaking but could handle a conference call with 300 without a second thought, imagined the microphone was a phone when they spoke in front of 400 people to help reinforce the positive thoughts and ideas we’d created.
Or the client that always worried that they were an imposter and “someone else can do this better” pinned on their office wall a tag cloud of all the words that made up their “Why I’m awesome document”.
So they had a daily reminder. They were the right one for the job and they could do it. These daily reminders all come down to one key point — help you to Hack the Habit Loop.
What would be your visual clues to remind you that you can overcome this?
7. Physical supports
Music, environment and even smells can impact on us. Know the music that makes you feel alive and ready for anything. Try aromatherapy oils to feel positive and energised. Even choose your work environment or clothing to empower you.
Changing these things is physical and giving yourself physical ideas to action can help power up your emotional state too.
8. Don’t go it alone
The fear to ask for help is very real (and has a whole chapter in my book) so I know people really struggle with this. The fact is we all need people. We are not insular by design and as such it can be tough to admit that you have a fear impacting on you.
However, by sharing your fear with a trusted friend, colleague or loved one can mean that when you are feeling the fear. you can talk to someone. It could be that you share with them the contents of your tool kit and ask their permission to be added to it. That way they know what works for you and how to best support you.
It’s not a sign of weakness to tell people about your fear. It takes massive levels of strength to say, “I have this fear, and I want to get rid of it.”
9. Get physical
One of the reasons that a fear can escalate is because we have come to accept that response. Our body reacted in a certain way, once repeated the behaviour and it became a formed habit that was accepted.
Challenging a fear can be done using our body too when we appreciate that fear is actually a reaction inside our bodies. We don’t need to understand where in our brains or what chemicals are racing through us to use our physicality to help us challenge our fears.
When I was writing my book, the Cuddy Superhero pose was proved and disproved by various researchers around the world 3 times. Whether it’s real or not, the fact is the way we stand, the way we breathe and even the speed at which we speak can impact on us as well as those around us.
If you have a fear of public speaking or a fear of people thinking you are stupid or a fear of what people are thinking you can look at how you speak, stand and move. If you compare these with people you deem confident and happy in these situations, how do you look? What can you learn?
The research around placebo’s reinforces us that if it feels like it is working, then keep doing it! What could you use to help reinforce your power and fearlessness?
A little fear can be good
As someone famous once says:
“It is not fear, it is performance energy.”
Despite having an absolute hatred of public speaking 10 years ago, I now love an audience and yet I have a healthy level of fear. That level of fear says “Are you well prepared?” “Do you know your audience?” “Have you rested your voice?” “You really want to deliver to this audience what they need” And those thoughts are sensible.
And just remember, it’s never ever too late to face your fear and do what you desire most! It’s even possible to start over your life no matter what stage of life you’re at. Here’s the proof:
So as you reduce your fear, be aware of a good level of fear.
Featured photo credit: Isaiah Rustad via unsplash.com