Classic Works Through Fresh Perspectives: Five Lit Crit Memoirs

By Sara Clemens | August 15 2018 | Humanities & Social Sciences

Approaching classic works of literature through the eyes of a modern, thoughtful reader is one way to enhance a reading experience that can otherwise feel musty and dated. Writing for Signature Reads, Jennie Yabroff offers up a list of memoirs written by contemporary authors working their way through five classics.

These memoirs make great companion reads in courses based around tried-and-true titles, illuminating unique historical contexts and modern parallels that can make literary canons feel fresh and, at times, even radical.

Read on to find a list of classic lit-focused modern memoirs.

My Life in Middlemarch
A Memoir

“Many of us, if we’re being honest, will admit to not having gotten through George Eliot’s doorstopper Middlemarch even once. New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead has read the whole thing, not just once but several times over….In this memoir she traces her own obsession with the book while investigating the life of its author and the story of how it came to be written.”

$23.00 US
Jan 27, 2015
320 Pages

Reading the OED
One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

“What exasperated parent hasn’t, at one point, told a bored, whiny child ‘go read the dictionary?’ Not many kids actually take you up on that suggestion, but Ammon Shea decided to try. In one year, he read all twenty volumes (more than 21,000 pages) of the Oxford English Dictionary, and here devotes a chapter to each letter, listing his favorite words along with a history of dictionaries and some thoughts on what it is to be a person who loves words, and the books that contain them.”

$15.00 US
May 05, 2009
256 Pages

Reading Lolita in Tehran
A Memoir in Books

“Nabokov, James, Fitzgerald, Austen, all names familiar from any high school or college course in Western Literature. Also all authors banned under Islamic law in Iran in the mid-1990s. College professor Nafisi made the dangerous decision to read their work anyway, inviting a group of seven women into her home to read these classic books and discuss how the stories of Daisy, Humbert, and Elizabeth Bennett reflected their own experiences. As the political situation grew more oppressive, the secret meetings became one of the only places the women could talk about their lives, making reading literature a true act of resistance.”

$20.00 US
Nov 04, 2008
400 Pages
Random House Trade Paperbacks

How Proust Can Change Your Life

“Has anyone really read all seven volumes of Proust’s A la Rechercher du Temps Perdu? Alain de Botton has, but that doesn’t mean he thinks you need to. He does, however, think Proust has a lot to tell us about the human condition and how to live in the modern age—despite the fact that he died a century ago….Part literary criticism, part biography, and part self-help, the book is really a love letter to a writer, and a book, who changed the author’s life.”

$17.00 US
Apr 28, 1998
208 Pages