Classic Books You Should Actually Read
There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes something like: “A classic is a book which people praise, but don’t read.”
And I think a lot of us feel that way — the idea of settling down with all 1,200 pages of Tolstoy’s War & Peace is enough to make us give up before we’ve begun.
But the classics are the classics for a reason, and any serious booklover will probably want to explore at least some of them. So we’ve made this list of Classic Books You Should Actually Read.
There are countless we’ve left off, and this list is based entirely on our own preferences, so whatever you do, just keep reading — but here’s a good place to start.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
First published in 1851, the story follows a sailor’s single-minded pursuit of Moby Dick, a colossal white sperm whale. The book opens with one of the best-known opening lines – “Call me Ishmael”. The story is perhaps literature’s most famous example of madness and obsession.
The Catcher in the Rye — J.D. Salinger
The subject of much controversy because of its language and risky themes, this is one classic worth a first visit, but also a later visit — countless readers have reported a much different experience of the book in adulthood as in adolescence. Whether you love Holden Caulfield or hate him, Catcher does provoke strong reactions, and was groundbreaking for its time.
Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen
A story of romance from early 19th-century England, it follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she navigates the polite minefield of manners, morality, marriage and more. While some may write P&P off as a romance novel, there is much more here — themes of feminism in the face of oppressive societal norms, the roles of the classes and more. If you’re going to read only one Jane Austen, this is it.
The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
A great example of twentieth century literature, it’s easy get caught up in the intrigue, lavish parties and opulent lifestyle depicted in The Great Gatsby. But beneath the surface is a book of real substance, exploring themes of emptiness, moral bankruptcy, and the lengths to which desperate men will go to achieve what they think they want.
To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
Harper Lee only wrote one book. This is it, and it won the Pulitzer Prize, and was forward-thinking and daring and brave for 1960, and introduced one of literature’s most powerful and classy characters, Mr. Atticus Finch. If you haven’t read it, go and read it.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In Ray Bradbury’s unforgettable 1953 novel, there are still firemen — but instead of putting out fires, they show up to set them. Specifically, they show up to burn books. Set in a dystopian future, the novels tells the chilling tale of a world where censorship has won, the written word is contraband, and information has been boiled down to brief sound bytes, rendering everyone’s attention spans useless. In a time where it can feel like Twitter and social media reign supreme, there has never been a better time to read this classic and let the hair on your arms stand up.
Of Mice & Men — John Steinbeck
Set during the Great Depression in California, this novel is a tale of loyalty with underlying themes of mental illness and racism. Its juxtapositions of cruelty and kindness, poverty and privilege make this novel outstanding. Accused of crudity or vulgarity by some, it’s on the American Library Association’s list of Most Challenged Books.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn is another worthy classic to make the most-challenged books list, largely because of its liberal usage of language that is unacceptably racist by today’s standards. It tells the story of a young pre-pubescent vagabond and his rafting adventures. While detractors have accused the book of glorifying the idea of a parentless existence, in reality, Huck is a pitiable kid from a broken home, who is innocent at heart and longs for a home and family.
1984 — George Orwell
Popular terms such as The Thought Police, Big Brother and The Two-Minute Hate all came from this unforgettable and iconic novel. Even the adjective Orwellian, which has come to mean a rigidly controlling, dictatorial or fascist, is likely the direct result of this novel.
And here’s a list of 40 classic books that are always worth reading:
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