6 Modern Classics: Books your English Teacher Recommends


it's the sixth of April and I'm currently in lockdown in Paris. I can't go out, I

can't go to the café's, the restaurants, I can't even work that much but I can read

books and if you're in lockdown I've got a good idea for you read some books and

if you're not in lockdown I've got an idea for you.

read some books because today I've got six of my favorite works of literature. Three

American, one Canadian, one British and another British but the author was born

elsewhere. four by men, two by women four novels two biographies or autobiographies

all of them wonderful. These are books that I love and have moved me or

educated me or changed my worldview in one way or another but, at the same time,

I've chosen books that you can read even if English is not your first language

without searching the dictionary for every other word. Each of these books has

literary merit but the complexity lies in the ideas and the situations and

not in the size of its vocabulary. I'll put a link in the description for all

the books. By the way, these are affiliate links. However, you can purchase these

books at any good bookstore. so without further ado let's get started with the

first book and it is the Life of Pi by Yann Martel. A Canadian writer, first

published in 2001. You might have seen the film version by Ang Lee the film is

excellent, One of the best film adaptations of a book I've seen. However,

the book is magnificent. It tells a story of an Indian boy called Piscine Molitor,

shortened to PI and his father owns a zoo in the city of Pondicherry and one

day he decides to start a new life in Canada with his family and the zoo.

Unfortunately the boat they are traveling in is destroyed in a storm.

Pi scrambles to a lifeboat where he is joined by an orangutan, a zebra and a

tiger called Richard Parker. He survives at sea for 227 days. Now it's a terrific

book crammed full of fantastic descriptions, philosophy it's moving and

it's funny. Very, very funny. I must admit that I had this book on my bookshelf for

years and somehow I thought a story about a boy and a tiger on a boat for

227 days. yeah it's not for me but one that picked it up. And I'm so glad I did. It's

it's a wonderful heartwarming book it's beautifully written so don't be put off

by the strangeness of its plot and do give it a try. and I defy you not to get

hooked by this book within the first few pages. Now the level would be upper

intermediate onwards. I think at that level you can handle it.

And here's a taste from the first page of the novel. I had been twin you

before in the north for five months on that first trip I had come to the

subcontinent completely unprepared actually I had a preparation of one word

when I told a friend who knew the country well of my travel plans he said

casually they speak a funny English in India they like words like bamboozle I

remembered his words as my plane started is to send towards Delhi so the word

bamboozle was my one preparation for the rich noisy functioning madness of India

I used the word on occasion and truth be told it served me well to Clark at the

train station I said I didn't think the fare would be so expensive you're not

trying to bamboozle me are you he smiled and chanted no sir there is no banboozlement

here I have quoted you the correct fare. The next book is The Secret

History by Donna Tartt and American writer and it was first published in 1992. It's

a story of an elite group of students of classical Greek and their charismatic

professor and the friendships between them. Then the tale takes a darker turn

and we hear of murder and blackmail and cover-up and more. And the story is so

good you just can't stop reading and it's a really beautifully crafted novel

and it holds your attention from beginning to end and it's just so

entertaining. I'm not generally a fan of thrillers but this book elevates the

genre to a whole different level and I can't even imagine anybody not enjoying

this book. It's well-written, it's compelling and engaging. So if you're

looking for a mystery novel with literary merit then this is for you.

You can tackle this book at intermediate level. okay it's a nicely crafted

novel but the writing style is always approachable and here's the opening

"the snow in the mountains was melting and Bonnie had been dead for several

weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation." And the next

book is Hand to Mouth by Paul Auster, first published in 1997 and it's the

first of two autobiographies. I love this book. It's it's a story of epic failure.

Before Paul Auster became a published writer everything he did, certainly in a

professional sense, failed. He tried his hand at numerous jobs without success, he

lived in Paris for three years, I think, and he worked for a time as a lowly paid

translator. Later on he even spent one of his life developing a card game based on

baseball and the car game is actually included in the book.

like everything else, it failed miserably. It''s full of humor and bizarre

adventures but it's a tale of a happy ending.

Spoiler alert in the end he gets his book published and how he's a very successful

author. I'm sure you know him. I like these stories of redemption and

Hand to Mouth won't disappoint even if you haven't read any other books by Paul

Auster and, I encourage you to do so, you'll like this book and you can read

it even at an intermediate level. it's a challenge but you can do it. By the way,

if you're not familiar with the expression hand-to-mouth it means you

only just have enough money to live and here's the first paragraph from the book:

"In my late 20s and early 30s I went through a period of several years when

everything I touched turned to failure my marriage ended in divorce

my work as a writer foundered and I was overwhelmed by money problems I'm not

just talking about an occasional shortfall or some periodic belt

tightening but a constant, grinding almost suffocating lack of money that

poisoned my soul and kept me in a state of never-ending panic."

And next we have

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, written in 1963 but published

posthumously in 1980. Wow what a masterpiece and the story of how this

book got published is as intriguing as and as tragic as the book itself Toole

killed himself at the age of 31 in 1969 his mother found a smeared copy

of the book amongst tools possessions and then she took it from publisher to

publisher but it was rejected by seven different publishers. She finally called

repeatedly a guy called Walker Percy at Loyola University New Orleans and in the

forward to the book this is what he wrote. "The lady was persistent

and it somehow came to pass that she stood in my office handing me the hefty

manuscript there was no getting out of it only one hope remained that I could

read a few pages and they would be bad enough for me, in good conscience to read

no father. Usually I can do just that. Indeed the first paragraph often

suffices. My only fear was that this one might not be bad enough or might be just

good enough so that I would have to keep reading. In this case I read on and on

first with the sinking feeling that he was not bad enough to quit then with a

prickle of interest then a growing excitement and finally an incredulous It

surely was not possible that it was so good." So the book finally got published

in 1980 and it became a sensation winning the Pulitzer Prize. What I don't

understand is how it is possible that this book got rejected by so many

publishers from the first paragraph you know it's great and you you can't stop

reading. it tells a story of Ignatius J. Reiley, thirty years old living with

his mother. He's brilliant, creative, romantic but weird - really weird and this

is the story of his adventures, or rather, misadventures in his hometown of

New Orleans. it's so funny and beautifully written and it's just so sad

that we didn't get to see more books from this great writer. The book is for

advanced readers. There is a little New Orleans slang in it but you'll

manage once you get used to it but certainly the writing style is more

elaborate than the other books I've recommended here but if you think you

can tackle it then do try. It's worth the effort.

By the way, you might ask why is there never been a film made of this book.

well, like the book, the making of the film has been shrouded with tragedy. A

film was planned in 1982 with John Belushi and Richard Pryor both of whom

died before production. There was a plan to make a film starring John Candy but

he died then another movie project with Chris Farley but he died too. Director

John Waters was interested in turning it into a movie starring Divine and, guess

what? Devine died too. And Steven Soderbergh planned a movie in 2005 but

yet again the project was beset by tragedy including the murder of the head

of the Louisiana State Film Commission and the devastation caused by

Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In 2013 Steven Soderbergh remarked "I think it's

cursed I'm not prone to superstition but that project has gotten bad mojo on it."

And the next book is Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana first published in 1958.

Now when you think of Graham Greene you don't really think of comedies but this

is a very funny book it's a black comedy set in Cuba before the revolution and

during the Batista regime. James Wormold is a single father who

sells vacuum cleaners and he has a sixteen-year-old daughter

with expensive tastes. He doesn't earn much money as a vacuum cleaner salesman

but then he meets Hawthorne who recruits him into MI6 as a British spy. The

trouble is, he doesn't have any secret information to send them. Fearing he'll

be fired he sends sketches for a new

vacuum cleaner and tells them that it's a military installation and so it goes

on and he gets deeper and deeper into the world of espionage. Now I'm a fan of

Graham Greene and perhaps some of his other books such as the Quai American

and The Power and the Glory have had a greater literary impact but this book

which has a backdrop of depravity of the Batista regime is really interesting it

touches on satire but it's more about poking fun at Britishness and The

Secret Service at a time before the invention of James Bond and it is, above

all, a really entertaining book. And here's a quote from the book talking

about Havana. "It was a city to visit not a city to live in but it was the city

where Wormold had first fallen in love and he was held to it as though to the

scene of a disaster. Time gives poetry to a battlefield."

And the next book is, well

I have it here, it's the book that I actually have at the moment in

this apartment and it's Wild Swans by Jung Chang and it tells a story of three

generations of a female family. Chang's grandmother, her mother and herself and

each led an extremely life with a backdrop of history, politics and the

culture of China and it's a fascinating read. Chang's grandmother, who had bound

feet from the age of two, which made extremely painful for her to walk, became a

concubine of a warlord. Chang's mother worked for the Communist Party during

the Revolution and Chiang herself tells of her suffering during the Cultural

Revolution before leaving China in 1978 and she eventually became the

first national of the People's Republic of China to obtain a doctorate from a

British University. And this book illuminates the rich tapestry of Chinese

history in the 20th century but it's not a dry, history book it tells a story and it

tells it so well I do highly recommend this book it's a work of literature that

is both informative and it grabs you on an emotional level and I think that's

rare. You can read this with an intermediate level. It's challenge but

you can do it. The most challenging thing, actually, is remembering all the names

and the dates and the events that are happening it's breakneck speed

throughout this extraordinary book. Here's a snippet for you from the first page.

"At the age of 15 my grandmother became

the concubine of a warlord general the police chief of a tenuous national

government in China. The year was 1924 and China was in chaos

much of it, including Manchuria, where my grandmother lived was ruled by warlords.

The liaison was arranged by her father a police official in the provincial town

of Yixian in southwest Manchuria about a hundred miles north of the Great Wall

and 250 miles northeast of Beijing." Thank you for watching I hope you enjoyed the

video and I hope too that you're going to try reading some of those marvelous

books and if you do have any book recommendations of your own then we'd

love to hear them put them in the comments. Stay healthy. Bye