While in Minnesota I did more than freeze and crochet an afghan. I read. I read six months worth of Smithsonian (I'm up to Jan. of 2006 now!), and plenty of Dover Thrift Editions of plays and short stories. Here's the run down.
I'm going to start by discussing two plays by two different authors at the same time.
Oliver Goldsmith, "She stoops to conquer" and Oscar Wilde "The Importance of being Earnest"
Don't bother reading these "classic" plays. Ever. Don't go see them. Don't waste your brain power wondering about them. Both were written during the time period when men were expected, and even looked up to, for being man whores, while the women could not even smile at a man without being accused of being an actual whore. The double standards in both these plays appalled me, as did the portrayal in Wilde's play of "ladies" as complete dimwitted idiots. At least the women in Goldsmith were smart. The only reason I would ever suggest any woman ever read these plays is so that they appreciate how far we've come.
Henrik Ibsen, "Hedda Gabler"
Speaking of how far we've come. Go get this play right now and read it RIGHT NOW!!! Ibsen is an incredible writer and had amazing insight into the pathetic position intelligent, ambitious women were forced into circa 1890. While Hedda could easily be misunderstood or misrepresented, it is clear that her actions stem from the frustration of being viewed as an "inferior creature". At the least, she wants to inspire her husband (or anyone) in noble and successful ventures. The play concludes when Hedda realizes she will never be the muse she desperately wants to be. . . .
Anton Chekhov, "The Three Sisters"
This play also focuses on the frustration of women around the turn of the 20th century. But it also includes wonderful clues into the provincial life of Russia at that time. Although the play is about "three sisters," the lives of the men around them reveal the disappointment and discouragement caused by the political and economic situation in Russian, which led to personal disappointment for all. The inability to change the situation and even the apathy of most of the characters lead one to understand why Russia eventually rose up in revolution in 1905.
Alexander Pushkin, "The Amateur Peasant Girl," "The shot," "The snowstorm," and "The Postmaster"
Besides the fact that Pushkin knows how to tell a story, these stories should be read for their insight into Russian society (largely provincial) between 1815 and 1837. They tell a great deal concerning attitudes towards the serfs, Europe, education, and the social order. Fun and easy to read.
Henry James, "The Turn of the Screw"
I had never read any James before. I actually think this would make a great movie (maybe there's already one). It is supposed to be a suspenseful horror story. However, since the story largely revolves around the fact that two children are going to hell because they see ghosts and today hell doesn't really factor into the supernatural, I think a movie could better deliver the suspense. And if you've read the story, yes, I realize that's not a quite accurate description of the story, but close enough.