15 classic books to finally read this new year

A few years ago, a list of popular books was circulating online with this subtitle: “The BBC thinks most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books below. How many have you read? The list was not actually published by the BBC, but was probably inspired by the ‘BBC Big Read’, a survey conducted to discover Britain’s most popular books. Going through the list, I began to realize that even though I had been an avid reader all my life, there were gaps in my literary knowledge. I mostly stuck to the same genres (hooray for YA fantasy!), and while I picked up a few classics here and there, I wasn’t as cultured as I wanted to be.

Since then, I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution every year to try to read more books outside of my “comfort zone.” It was one of the best resolutions; I’ve found dozens of books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise, and now I love them. I even started blogging about some of these classics to further motivate me to keep up. If, like me, you want to 1) finally understand everyone’s references to the classics you’re supposed to have read by now, and 2) want to check out some great novels you’ve heard a lot about, but maybe haven’t ever be picked up, here’s a manageable list to get you started on your 2016 playlist.

1. Wretched by Victor Hugo

This novel may be long, but it’s worth reading: the story follows prisoner Jean Valjean on his way to redemption, and it’s every bit as inspiring as the musical. The book is full of amazing quotes, so you’ll definitely need to read with a pen in hand so you can underline them and come back to them later. I read this one a few years ago bit by bit, and burst into tears immediately after I finished, partly because it is so. Damn. a long time, and partly because it’s so beautiful.

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2. the count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Another thick classic, this story is the ultimate revenge tale. Edmond Dantès has his life snatched away when he is wrongfully sent to prison, but he pulls himself together out of nothing. The thing about reading big but epic stories is that you feel like you’ve been on a real journey with the characters, partly because it’ll take you so long to read their story. But in the end, the commitment is worth it.

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3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This dystopian novel follows the protagonist Offred, a servant in a society where women are only valued for reproductive purposes. Although it’s disturbing, it will stick in your mind long after you’ve reached the thought-provoking ending.

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4. A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A coming-of-age story about a second-generation Irish-American girl, this book is sweet and thoughtful and perfect for those who enjoy more uplifting literature. Because let’s face it: a lot of classics don’t have a happy ending. Or middle ground. Or beginnings. If you prefer lighter fiction, but still want something substantial, this is the read for you.

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5. 1984 by George Orwell

If the last time you read Orwell was in high school, it’s time to pull out this iconic dystopian novel, if only to compare texting to Newspeak.

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6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini

While The kite runner is an excellent novel, Hosseini’s book A Thousand Splendid Suns is told from the point of view of several women. It’s an emotional journey that will transport you to another place and inspire empathy for the lives of the characters Mariam and Laila.

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seven. Emma by Jane Austen

I am constantly surprised at how often Austen’s works are referred to as mere romances. Although her novels are certainly about romance, the first thing I think of when someone mentions Jane Austen is her quick wit and harsh criticism of people and their eccentric behavior. While Pride and Prejudice is undoubtedly his most famous work, I think Emma showcases Austen’s witty and critical literary voice, and is definitely worth reading.

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8. The glass bell by Sylvia Plath

If you’ve seen this book referenced everywhere but haven’t opened it yet, take the time this year to read it. It’s short enough to read in an evening or two and contains many intriguing and relevant quotes.

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9. Atonement by Ian McEwan

As far as books go, if you like prose, choose this modern classic by Ian McEwan. You may have seen the movie, but whether or not you know the ~twist~, the book is still worth reading, simply for its beautiful, image-laden prose.

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ten. A hundred years of loneliness by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Have you ever read Marquez? Now is the year to dive in and embrace another author known for his beautiful prose. This magical realism novel centers on the Buendía family. For anyone striving to read better this year, this novel is a great place to start.

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11. The Heart Catcher by JD Salinger

Read this classic before the movie adaptation is released! I’m joking. Author JD Salinger was pretty stubborn about denying the movie rights to this book, and once you read it, you’ll understand why it’s not going to be a movie anytime soon: it’s a story that’s perfect for the impression. Renew your appreciation for the written word in a time when everything is “soon to be a major movie” by reading (or re-reading) The Heart Catcher This year.

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12. Leftovers of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro

If you’re looking for motivation this year, look no further than Leftovers of the day. This story of an English butler looking back on his life is moving, darkly pensive and will inspire you to seize every opportunity presented to you.

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13. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Another classic of the magical realism genre, Toni Morrison’s award-winning novel Beloved has always been included in must-read lists. If you haven’t picked up the book yet, make 2016 your year to add it to your TBR pile.

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14. The little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

So, you want to read classics, but you’re looking for something a little… shorter? The little Prince is the choice for you. Although it’s short, it’s also dense and you’ll find plenty of inspirational quotes and thought-provoking material. Plus, it was recently made into an animated movie, which premiered in the US this year (no kidding this time, this one was made into a movie for real!). So, it’s time to read the book before you head to the theaters!

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15. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Do you feel particularly motivated this year? Try picking up the complete works of the author who coined a bunch of words and stories still in use today. Sonnets to Romeo and Juliet, the work of the bard will occupy you for a while. Bonus points if you play the monologues as you read them.

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Picture: Miramax

About Marcia G. Hussain

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