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Classic Novels to Read on a Sick Day

Autumn may be full of beautiful leaves, fresh air, and the holidays, it cannot be denied that with those lovely fall hues comes a less welcome seasonal visitor: flu season. I know what you’re thinking, it won’t be you! You feel fine! You got the flu shot and everything! Well, it happens to the best of us, and now you’re stuck home with class with the sniffles. What now?

Being sick can be incredibly boring. You can’t really have visitors for fear of infecting the masses. You can’t go out. You could work on homework, but you’ll finish it eventually. When you’re sick and looking to kill loads of time, often the best thing to do is curl up with a nice book and a cup of hot tea, and just wait it out. 

I am here to offer you an alternative to scrolling through the social media website of your choice. Gone are the days of endless online quizzes and the screen headache on top of the flu headache. I have compiled a short list of Oldies (but Goodies) with which to occupy your time. They are not ranked in any particular order, as they all have unique features that make them truly fantastic reads.*

“The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells 

For fans of science-fiction, this relatively short and fast-paced novel is a great way to kill an afternoon. The unnamed Time-Traveller and his story-within-a-story narration will leave you enthralled.  It calls on the reader to wonder where humanity has been and where it is going after we’re gone, as well as whether any of us really want to know. 

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

As the first play and comedy on our list, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous works. It pokes fun at many aspects of life in the time period, and is filled with many of Wilde’s characteristic quips that still hold true today. For fans of drama, absurdity, and humor, this one’s for you. This piece is also relatively short, but full of plot twists and banter between characters. Wilde will leave your head spinning over his ambiguous final scene, as you question what it really means for someone to “be Ernest.” 

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

Another science-fiction piece, this is the novel and author largely credited with the birth of the genre. Though the text of the novel was altered slightly by Shelley’s husband, Percy, her voice still shines through as she weaves the tale of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his hubris, a tale which provokes the question: what is the physical extent of our sciences, and how far can we go before our ethics call us to stop? Another story-within-a-story-within-a-letter (and, on one occasion, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-letter), the rich plot and deep internal monologue of the title character will keep your eyes glued to the page. 

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

We both knew it was coming. No list of classics is complete without this, the ultimate romance novel, critique of society and human nature, and overall fantastic representation of the endurance of human writing. If you’re a hopeless romantic looking for your Mr. Darcy, I can tell you he’s even better in writing. Jane Austen’s witty commentary on Regency customs in prose and her portrayal of the smart, proud Lizzie Bennett truly shows off her talent for writing strong, well rounded women. Want a book that doesn’t pass the REVERSE Bechdel Test? This is the one for you. This one is on the longer side, but you won’t mind the pages after pages of romance, period drama, and plot twists. 

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Not really into romance, not really into sci-fi, but still looking for an adventure? J. R. R. Tolkien’s timeless story of Bilbo Baggins and his party of dwarves laid the ground work for the fantasy adventure genre, and you’ll love following the journey that expanded the world of middle earth. As a prequel to the Lord of the Ring’s series, it gives just enough exposition to give the reader context instead of the in-depth world building that characterizes the novels in the main trilogy, while still delivering the detailed adventure plot. 

“1984” by George Orwell

This one is a little more serious. For those of you interested in politics and history, especially the Cold War, this will be a very interesting read. This is not a feel-good novel. However, it is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of literature ever written, and its warning against our blind trust in government is more relevant now that it has ever been. It is important to keep in mind as you read the historical influences on his writing and the importance of individuality in a society that is becoming more and more about conformity, ignorance, and complacency in the events around us. 

“The Fellowship of the Ring” by J. R. R. Tolkien

Finished “The Hobbit” and you want more? Well, lucky for you, not only did good old J. R. R. Write another whole series involving Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, he wrote entire extended histories of Middle Earth and its main players! There’s no better place to start than with “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first official novel in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. The series follows Frodo on his journey to destroy the One Ring, created by the evil Sauron. Here, Tolkien really lets his world building shine. His detailed prose might seem daunting at first, but once you get reading, the pages (and time) will seem to fly. 

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

Looking for more history? This novel, sometimes credited with inspiring certain aspects of African Fiction, follows the life of the Igbo man Okonkwo as European issionaries arrive in Umuofia territory for the first time. It highlights Nigerian customs and traditions as well as giving the reader detailed insight into the day in the life of a Nigerian family at the time. There is an amazing focus on the intricacies of the culture and religion of the region. It offers a second perspective to the era of colonialism, one often silenced by textbooks. It is well written, thought provoking, and Achebe’s poetic prose leave readers in reverence and in mourning of this great society and what all was lost when the missionaries came. 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

With the rise of the Hulu show of the same name, this Margaret Atwood novel has been rising in popularity, but it seems that people are starting to miss the point. What better way to further understand this harrowing commentary on gender equality in the United States than by revisiting the source material? The story follows Offred the handmaid and her roles and duties in the country of Gilead, which was left behind in the wake of a war that tore the U.S. apart. Without a network to keep up ratings for, Offred’s story is raw and stripped of frills and drama. Her narration is dry and biting as she recounts the events around her, many of which Atwood claims to have taken from reality. This novel is a reminder of what may be if gender equality does not remain a priority and if the separation of church and state is not maintained. 

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

Back to the feel-good stuff. Another play, this piece is one of Shakespeare’s funniest works. From the ridiculous romances to the clumsy theatre troupe, this is one of the best  comedies ever written. There’s a large cast, which can be confusing at times, and Shakespeare retains his complicated turn of phrase throughout, but with a good annotated copy and a major head cold you should have plenty of time to enjoy the twist-and-turn story, magic, and happy ending to it all. 

Some of the above were chosen for the story, some for the author’s craft, and some for the indistinguishable quality that just makes a book good. No matter which of these you choose, I guarantee the story and characters will take your mind off of whichever malady you’ve fallen victim to. Reading any of the above is a fantastic use of an afternoon, and you will not regret a single page. 

*A few of these recommendations are not going to be easily finished in one afternoon, unless you are a very fast reader or have more than one sick day to spare.

Savannah Tew

C of C '23

Savannah Tew is an Art History and Arts Management major at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree in art history and a career in museum administration. In her free time she enjoys creative writing, drawing, and playing the guitar.
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