Ranking the Classics I Read in 2020
I recently saw a BookTube video where the YouTuber in question ranked the books that she read in 2020. For the first time in years, I read a ton of classics and I thought I would share my ranking of them in order of worst to best.
Not the best classics:
My least favourite classic of 2020 was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I don’t know if it was because I listened to the audiobook, or whether I simply didn’t like the writing style? But I didn’t connect with this book in the slightest. I didn’t feel it had a flow or a real mystery to it, it’s felt very one-note to me.
This is a boring Agatha Christie. I only read Hercule Poirot novels – I find the Miss Marple ones unappealing – but this was not the best. This book at the latter end of the Poirot series so he’s passed his best. The story is extremely repetitive, more so than normal, and the deaths are really awful – they’re all children – and yet the characters act like its no big deal. The overall reveal was also quite underwhelming. A shame.
I enjoy the story of Peter Pan but I’ve never really found the book easy. I decided to listen to an Audible production – kind of a Panto version of the original text – but I thought the actors were miscast. A lot of the characters shouted and I found myself being pulled out of the story a lot. But, that being said there’s nothing that can tarnish my love of the basic pitch and the characters at the heart.
I love Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca is one of my all-time favourite classics and I thought it was about time I read more of her work. I knew nothing about Frenchman’s Creek when I picked it up, and I’m really glad. It’s a restoration, pirate romp set in Cornwall. Utterly perfect lockdown reading! Not bad at all, just a little unmemorable.
A Christmas classic I’d never read until 2020. I knew the basic plotline of The Nutcracker, mostly because of the Barbie movie from the early noughties. I have never seen the ballet or been interested in reading it before. The story is a lot darker than I was expecting, so much so that I didn’t want to turn the light off on occasion. But, it still had a lovely sense of Christmas and present-giving about it.
I read Anne of Green Gables at the end of 2019 and really enjoyed it. I read my Grandmother’s copy from the 1940s and it really set the scene nicely. For Anne of Avonlea I read my mother’s copy from the 1970s. Clearly, I need to get a copy of Anne of the Island to carry on the tradition. This was a lovely story, as per the first book. Anne is such a sweet character, and in this one – although she’s only 17-18 years old she is so grown-up. A bit unbelievably, but that might just be my modern-day prejudice.
This was a spur of the moment read – or listen, as it’s another audiobook – but I’m happy I read it. I’ve seen various adaptations of Dorian Gray but never got to the book, and it’s a brilliantly easy read. Whilst I’m aware of Oscar Wilde and have read some of his quotes and short stories, I have to admit that The Picture of Dorian Gray doesn’t feel like Oscar Wilde’s style at first. And then you break it down, and realise that the themes are very Oscar Wilde – vanity, morals and love.
Another gothic read I got to in 2020 was Frankenstein. I read snippets of this throughout school, but never actually read the book. It’s a lot more scientific than I was expecting. Most adaptations that I’ve seen, both plays and films, tend to skip over the first 100 pages of the book which are set entirely in Frankenstein’s labs. He is a miserable sod, and his relationship with his family and the so-called ‘love of his life’ is barely featured. This is very much a story of creation. Still, a pivotal read to get to at some point in your reading life.
Everyone kept telling me to read 1984 during the first lockdown, but I decided to go against that and read Animal Farm instead. I definitely went through a short-classics phase, and I managed to read this one in one day. It’s a brilliant satire about Russian history, and as someone who studied history at university, this is an exceptional treat.
I have finally read a Charles Dickens novel! I’ve previously read novellas and short stories, but no complete novels. And I’m so glad I started with David Copperfield as it was such a treat. I listened to the Audible Original, narrated by Richard Armitage. God, that man’s voice is sexy. Not to mention, he’s a truly talented narrator. Each character was differentiated and I warmed to each of them – particularly Mr Micawber.
From the worst to the best. I adored And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It’s easy to see why this is her most popular mystery as it’s addictive, and hard to put down. I knew the storyline and the big twist, and yet I still found myself questioning everything. It’s extremely atmospheric and the perfect thrill of a read.
Another great listen in 2020 was North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Juliet Stevenson narrated this audiobook and her voice is incredibly engaging to me. So much so that I’m now listening to classics that are specifically narrated by Juliet, rather than for the classic itself. North and South is a gorgeous romance that covers many themes, predominantly class and location during the Industrial Revolution. I read a ton of Elizabeth Gaskell in 2020, and I plan to read more in 2021. It’s clear I’ve found a new favourite author.
Like many of us, I had read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis but none of the other books in the Chronicles of Narnia. When I was in need of a comfort read I decided to download the BBC Radio 4 Dramatisation of the Chronicles of Narnia from the 1980s. It was brilliant! Not only the voices and the productions but the stories. There is a reason that Narnia has retained such importance in children’s fiction.
Here is the other Elizabeth Gaskell I read in 2020: Cranford. It’s rare for me to call a book genuinely hilarious, particularly a classic, but Cranford truly was! It was also heartbreaking and emotional. The BBC adaptation truly did this book justice – even if they did change some of the plot lines for added effect. If you want to read one classic in 2021, then I recommend this one. I thought it was pure perfection.
And finally, the epitome of a classic classic. In 2020, I finally completed my bucket list intention to read all of Jane Austen’s completed novels. And I saved the best for last. In my heart, I think I was expecting not to love this book. But when I was reading it I hardly wanted to put it down. I was in the ballrooms with Elizabeth and Darcy. I was shouting at Mr Bennet with Mrs Bennet and sitting in the drawing-room with the Bennet sisters. It was gorgeous.
There we have it. Those are the classics I read in 2020, ranked by preference. Have you read any of them? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.