In the spirit of Twitter's draining all meaning from our collective humanity, and saving us all from the demands on our time, I give you Literary Classics Made Easy 101. Brief blurbs of books in 140 characters—or fewer!
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Over-privileged man confronts death, knocks back a few drinks, and sees a green light from a pier.
Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk: Fledgling writer learns that one must write to be considered a writer.
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens: Never—but never—think you're better than the French. Ever.
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert: Doctors' wives are better off pinching Vicodin than looking for meaning in provincial life.
The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane: If drafted into war, never piss off Ambrose Bierce.
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway: Don't let the primordial, vicious marlin of life defeat you. I mean it.
Walden: or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau: Pre-Starbucks screed on the hazards of living 2 miles from other people.
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Anyone who spent two years looking for God simply hasn't heard the comedic stylings of Yakov Smirnoff. Word.
Journey to the End of the Night, by Louis Ferdinand-Celine: The Kurt Cobain of serious literature. Didn't kill himself. Nor should you. Seriously pissed.
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs: The hard-ass American Celine. Lovecraftian creatures symbolize the horrors of addiction. Good way to avoid showing up for Finals.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov: Aging narcissist ogles young girl. Exhausts expense account. Guys, just say no.
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner: Avoid descending into Hades before reading this. Prefigures mistreatment of power-plant workers.
A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf: An essay, sure. Women, never lock your libraries, no matter how many times Norman Mailer comes at you with a knife.
Zombie, by Joyce Carol Oates: Like having Jeffrey Dahmer finger your underwear drawer. Really.
The Orange Eats Creeps, by Grace Krilanovich: Not on any college curriculum, but should be. Joyce Carol Oates hallucinating after sipping Ajax. A compliment.
You may well ask why I last-listed women. Good question, because it shows—even in me, who should know better—the overbearing influence of male literature. What about Djuna Barnes? Jane Bowles? Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling? I'm not sure, because I do admire them. You ought to confront your English professor about this teaching of male American and European authors—seriously. A simple fact since my Kent State days in the 1970s. I hope this sorry state has changed.