Two modern classics perfect for aspiring writers

Both are emotional, accessible reads with a lot to offer

Kavalier & Clay is worth seeing through.
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I’ve become quite interested in reading so-called ‘modern classics,’ the books published in our lifetime that have won major awards and received frequent praise online.

As a writer, I’m drawn to reading the best of the best. My favourite books are the ones that simultaneously inspire and intimidate me. I want to finish a book both motivated to write and daunted at just how much I still need to learn about the craft.

However, a lot of students—including myself—struggle to get into old literature. I can’t bring myself to read the likes of James Joyce, Charles Dickens, or Ernest Hemingway. With many ‘classics,’ the stilted and outdated language might prevent readers from engaging with stories. 

That’s why I think these two novels are great. They’re accessible reads sure to be taught in English classes someday—and both offer great writing lessons.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

This epic novel follows cousins Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay as they break into the world of comic books during the so-called ‘golden age’ of the 1930s. 

Chabon didn’t win the 2001 Pulitzer Prize by accident. His prose is sophisticated and detailed without ever being pretentious. Attentive readers can learn a lot from how Chabon writes entertaining sentences to enhance the plot rather than distract from it.

The story follows Joe as he immigrates to America to establish a life for his Jewish relatives who have yet to escape the Nazi-German presence in their native country of Prague. He arrives with only his skills as a trained magician and escape artist in the vein of Houdini. 

Sammy, his comic-book-loving cousin, takes Joe in. The two quickly bond over their shared love for superheroes and decide to take the world by storm. 

Chabon’s masterfully written coming-into-adulthood story is ripe with still-relevant commentary on anti-Semitism and capitalism. It’s a world-class example of how writers can explore important, sensitive themes while remaining accessible.

Most of all, I loved how Kavalier & Clay handled its characters—both Joe and Sammy have the complexities and nuances of real people. For anyone interested in learning how to write dialogue for their scripts or prose, this novel should be your textbook.

Kavalier & Clay is a can’t-miss ode to costumed heroes and the power of friendship.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Released back in 2005, Never Let Me Go follows the story of three friends growing up in an English boarding school known as Halisham. 

The story is told from the perspective of Kathy, who readers will come to appreciate as a soft-spoken but highly observant narrator. She befriends Tommy, a good-hearted but extremely temperamental boy, and Ruth, a well-liked but rude girl. 

The story unfolds as a mystery. Halisham isn’t quite normal—Kathy and the other students refer to the teachers as ‘guardians,' and their purpose seems to be to create art that is then taken away to a gallery by a mysterious woman known only as Madame. 

As the story progresses and its protagonists grow older, Never Let Me Go becomes a heart-wrenching love triangle as the school’s circumstances are slowly revealed. You’ll grow to care—and perhaps resent—some of its characters as if they were real people. 

Ishiguro’s novel is an exercise in subtlety. It’s worth reading to see how he communicates such strong emotions through simple writing. His prose is gentle and poetic, featuring just enough mystique to keep readers hooked until its devasting ending.

Never Let Me Go is best read by devoting a day to never putting it down. 

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