The prospect of reading a piece of classical literature can be daunting. What if you don’t like it? Does it make you appreciate good writing less than you think?
And if that didn’t put you off enough, where do you start with the classics? Have they all aged well or are there some you’d better avoid.
We’ve picked out 10 classic books you must add to your list, great works of fiction that are still worth your time today. After all, they’re considered classics for a reason. Each of these titles was written at least 50 years ago, while some are considerably older than that.
Vote for the novel you would recommend to a friend and add your own suggestions at the bottom.
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Classic books to read before you die
Anyone who’s ever read To Kill a Mockingbird probably did so in school, so it’s definitely worth brushing up against. Published in 1960, it puts injustice and racial politics at the forefront by transporting the reader to a strongly represented American South.
The novel acquired historical significance due to the fact that author Harper Lee did not publish another novel for over half a century, although Go Set a Watchman – another book involving the main character Atticus Finch – was surrounded by controversy when it was posted shortly before Lee’s death.
Catch-22 is one of those novels that people tend to say that they have read without actually having read it. Now is the time to change that if you are one of them, especially since there is every chance you will know some of their more famous elements.
Heller’s wartime novel treats its readers with a playful disrespect, plunging you into the same frustrations its characters endure. The layered text is at times very funny and always maddening to the point of hilarity.
The Gothic genre has produced countless classics, while continuing to inform horror and period films to the present day. Frankenstein is perhaps the most enduring.
There have been countless adaptations, but nothing compares to the depth and storytelling shown in Shelley’s original. Dealing with themes of science, terror, loss, and human action, perhaps the most striking thing about Frankenstein is that Shelley started writing it when she was still a teenager.
A number of Steinbeck’s novels warrant a place on this list, Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men among other contenders. But East of Eden’s marriage between universal themes and a precise description of a specific America earned him the green light.
East of Eden centers around the Trask and Hamilton families. The themes of betrayal and guilt are made a little stronger by family relationships and their biblical influences. Its 600+ pages barely contain a single wasted word.
A simple novel with no wasted moment, Camus’ most famous work – also known as “The Stranger” – follows the involvement of the protagonist Meurseault in a crime, the narrative being divided into a “before” and a clear “after”.
The novel is a lesson in expectation of reality, playing with themes of independence and unique behavior in contrast to the concept of “playing the game”, and fills its 120-odd pages with incredible depth.
Elements of Pride and Prejudice touts it a lot as a product of its time, but that doesn’t hold back the book. The strength of Austen’s novel lies in the author’s storytelling and the extrapolation of universal themes, to the point that it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading a period that you might consider alien by your own standards. The BBC adaptation wasn’t too bad either.
The Brontë sisters are rightly ranked among the greatest dynasties of writers. Charlotte Bronte’s debut novel, Jane Eyre, was ahead of its time in how it overturned traditional mid-19th-century relationships.
It is told in the first person and the novel is accused of refusing to adhere to the female stereotypes of the time. Jane Eyre places a memorable title character in the context of a deep and layered work.
Rarely does a novel have the power to induce claustrophobia, but The Trial is not like most novels. Kafka’s work has been published posthumously, adding to the sense of speculation around some of his intentions, and follows a man named Josef K who is being prosecuted for a crime the details of which are a mystery even to him.
Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart draws on elements of classical European literature while telling uniquely African stories that had previously received disproportionately low representation in the literary canon.
Telling the story of Okonkwo, a community leader in a Nigerian village, Achebe’s novel addresses the conflict between old and new ideals, and between physical and mental strength, through a prism that at the time was brand new for European readers.
Not only is The Great Gatsby a staple of 1920s American literature and a staple slice of 1920s America in general, it’s short enough that you can read it all in one sitting if you want to.
Fitzgerald’s best-known work is a beautifully told look at obsession, decadence, and the idea of having it all. Many authors have pursued the quintessential dissection of the American Dream, but few have captured it so well.