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Revitalizing the Classics: 8 Literary Retellings You’ll Love

Sarah Woodruff is an Ed/Lib Marketing Manager at Simon & Schuster. She long ago embraced the art of reading multiple books in a variety of genres at once, and is always eager to talk about them. You can find her at @swoodswords.

There’s a reason we call them the classics: they are books durable both in story and spine, known to readers and nonreaders alike. The strength of their characters and plots lends to their deconstruction and renewal, transforming into a new generation of tales that add new perspectives and return these timeless stories to the zeitgeist. Look for the familiar and appreciate the innovation in these eight novels inspired by beloved literature.


Eligible
by Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld’s version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE centers around two sisters in New York City who pack up for Cincinnati when their father needs them home. There they find their youngest sisters jobless, their middle sister practically a recluse, and their mother preoccupied with an agenda to marry them off—an easy reminder of why they both retreated to life in the city in the first place. The book’s title is also the name of a reality TV dating program, one that’s spawned the likes of a new Cincinnati transplant and doctor, Chip, who proves interested in one of the sisters. This witty modernized tale is an entertaining commentary on class, marriage, and cultural trends.

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Eligible
Curtis Sittenfeld

A modern thirtysomething returns to her childhood home and balances caring for her ailing father, living with her sisters again, and ignoring her mother’s desperate attempts to find husbands for her daughters. Too bad that her handsome new neighbor’s friend is less than charming . . . at least, at first glance.

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MENTIONED IN:

Revitalizing the Classics: 8 Literary Retellings You’ll Love

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By Kerry Fiallo | December 16, 2016

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CIRCE
by Madeline Miller

If you weren’t already paying attention to Madeline Miller after her 2012 release THE SONG OF ACHILLES, now is your chance to let her dazzle you with her ability to meld her intriguing mythological studies to an equally compelling plot. Circe, daughter of Helios and Perse, possesses a power that puts her at odds with her family: witchcraft. Cast off by Zeus, she explores her newfound strength on an island called Aeaea. It’s there that she meets Odysseus and other recognizable names, and must choose the side of mortals or immortals.

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CIRCE
Madeline Miller

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MENTIONED IN:

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Macbeth
by Jo Nesbo

You know Jo Nesbø for his Norwegian Harry Hole detective novels, including THE SNOWMAN, which was made into a movie in 2017. Now Nesbø shines in recreating the dark, conspiratorial temperament of Shakespeare’s MACBETH in a broken 1970’s Scottish town ruled by drug lords and the ambitious, idealistic chief of police aiming to eradicate them. Drug lord Hecate quickly identifies a weak point: Inspector Macbeth. Recently promoted from head of SWAT to head of Organized Crime, Macbeth is both an ex–drug addict and intoxicated by a casino owner who proclaims herself Lady Macbeth. In this climate, only the strongest can resist power, prophecies, indulgences, and the cyclic nature of the past.

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Macbeth
Jo Nesbo

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MENTIONED IN:

Revitalizing the Classics: 8 Literary Retellings You’ll Love

By Sarah Woodruff | February 28, 2019

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House of Names
by Colm Toibin

Familial relationships are always complicated, but Colm Tóibín’s retelling of the Greek myth of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and their three children takes this statement to a new level. It’s with heartbreaking angst that we watch Agamemnon trick his daughter Iphigenia into traveling to camp to marry one of his best soldiers; when she arrives, she’s informed that she’ll instead be killed and sacrificed to ensure good weather for the army’s journey to Troy, the false husband-to-be one of many onlookers. This fuels Clytemnestra’s desire for revenge, her treatment of her remaining two children, and their eventual quest to get back at their mother.

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House of Names
Colm Toibin

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MENTIONED IN:

Revitalizing the Classics: 8 Literary Retellings You’ll Love

By Sarah Woodruff | February 28, 2019

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By the Book
by Julia Sonneborn

Anne Corey, an English professor with the goal of tenure, has a problem: her ex-fiancé, a relationship that crumbled over a decade ago, has just been hired as her boss. But Anne’s careful plans to procure tenure and her duties to her ailing father should give her time for little else, especially not for contemplating the close proximity of her first love. Right? Yet life never seems to be that simple, and her one-track mind slowly breaks down as she thinks about the future that may still be possible, the memories that linger. Scandals erupt both with her best friend, Larry, and her own affair with a famous writer, providing an often-comical backdrop to the underlying fixation on past love in this tale inspired by Jane Austen’s PERSUASION.

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By the Book
Julia Sonneborn

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The Spring Girls
by Anna Todd

You’ll recognize the characters in this book from Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN; in Anna Todd’s retelling, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy live on a New Orleans military base. Their father is off in Iraq, leading the charge for a family whose futures are constantly changing. Identity and the illusion of choice blur with the restrictiveness of war, the labels of class, and the ever-changing adolescent mind. How big to dream, how best to accomplish your goals, how hard to fly under the arms of family? With alternating chapters that allow us to see life from each sister’s perspective, THE SPRING GIRLS is as gripping as Alcott’s original novel.

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The Spring Girls
Anna Todd

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MENTIONED IN:

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One Thousand and One Nights
by Hanan Al-Shaykh

A young girl pulls together tales from India, Persia, and throughout the Arab empire in an attempt to save her life in Hanan al-Shaykh’s retelling, which depicts a vengeful king and his unfaithful wife. Bent on handing a death sentence to all women, King Shahrayar decides to take and then kill a series of wives. Intent on living for longer than a day, his newest wife begins a story so compelling that the king is moved to postpone her execution until the following night, when he can hear the ending. Armed with the power of words, she continues to spin plots that lead into tomorrow and the next day, leaving her fate uncertain and her cunningness admirable.

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One Thousand and One Nights
Hanan Al-Shaykh

Passed down over centuries from India, Persia, and across the Arab world, the mesmerizing stories of One Thousand and One Nights are related by the beautiful, young Shahrazad as she attempts to delay her execution. Williams voices the magical genie in Disney's Aladdin, culled from One Thousand and One nights.

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MENTIONED IN:

Revitalizing the Classics: 8 Literary Retellings You’ll Love

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy
by Margot Livesey

The international setting and air of mystery surrounding Hugh Sinclair, a rich London businessman and new figure in young Gemma Hardy’s troubled life, are two of many fascinating elements in this moving tale that draws on Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE. Moving from Iceland to Scotland after the tragic death of her father, Gemma faces a childhood of challenges and rejection that eventually lead her to Blackbird Hall, working as a governess for Sinclair’s niece. In true JANE EYRE fashion, Gemma and Sinclair’s developing relationship—a strange merging of two people from two very different backgrounds—provides both new perspectives and unburied secrets, reveling in a climactic aftermath that introduces Gemma to a group of memorable characters and a chance to become her own person.

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Margot Livesey

A Scottish orphan in the 1960s, Gemma Hardy seems destined for a life of hardship. But when she accepts a position as an au pair on a remote and beautiful island, she embarks on a journey of passion and betrayal, secrets and lies, that will lead her to a life she’s never dreamed of.

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