You were supposed to read them back in school. You mean to read them....someday. And maybe you still will: you know, when you're old and rich and curled up by the fire in that country house you're going to retire to.
In the meantime, you can feign familiarity with centuries of great literature by semi-memorizing these one-sentence guides.
THE ILIAD / Homer- During siege of Troy, the arrogant, yet powerful, Achilles refuses to fight over a stolen woman, changes his mind after friend is killed.
HAMLET / Shakespeare - Angsty Danish prince broods, seemingly goes crazy, and kills many, including his uncle, who had killed his father and married his mother.
KING LEAR / Shakespeare - King Lear tries to retire by giving land away to his three daughters, who then cast him out, homeless and penniless, into a heath; chaos and much death ensue.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE / Jane Austen - The spoiled Emma's pride makes her prejudiced against Mr. Darcy, though they eventually realize they're perfect for each other.
FRANKENSTEIN / Mary Shelley - Ambitious, yet misled, science student creates own human from cadavers, then abandons creation, who summarily kills everyone in creator's life.
JANE EYRE / Charlotte Bronte - Orphan Jane falls in love with employer Mr. Rochester while working as governess to his ward, but it turns out he's got a crazy wife locked in the attic.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS / Emily Bronte - Catherine and her wild adopted brother Heathcliff locked in passionate but doomed love on the moors.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS / Charles Dickens - Spunky young orphan is saved from poverty through the generosity of a mysterious benefactor, seeks the love of a cold, yet striking, girl he had played with as a boy.
ANNA KARENINA / Leo Tolstoy - Beautiful woman cheats on husband with dashing young military type, then after he moves on, throws self in front of train.
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV / Fyodor Dostoevsky - Four Russian brothers argue about the meaning of life and women, and one among them murders their lusty, yet liquid, father.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT / Fyodor Dostoevsky - Unstable and self-important young man murders old woman for kicks, feels guilty, turns self in.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN / James Joyce - Pensive boy grows up in Ireland, considers becoming priest, reconsiders after enjoying sex, becomes writer.
THE SUN ALSO RISES / Ernest Hemingway - Group of listless lost-generation-ers mill around Europe, drink, fight bulls.
THE GREAT GATSBY / F. Scott Fitzgerald - Charming, yet mysterious, Gatsby tries to win the love of patrician woman, who spurns Gatsby for her old-money husband, leading to Gatsby's death.
THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN / Thomas Mann - Chummy young man visits cousin at Swiss tuberculosis sanatorium, is dubiously diagnosed with disease, stays seven years and listens to long-winded political arguments on eve of first World War.
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE / Virginia Woolf - Selfless housewife deals with domestic duties, juggles social obligations, puts off taking son to lighthouse because of weather, dies.
From 1000 Ways To Be A Slightly Better Woman, a BookSense Notable pick for April, by Pamela Redmond Satran, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Satran's website is www.pamelaredmondsatran.com.