I run the 2016 Classics Challenge (sign up) – a challenge to read one classic per month – and if you don’t know me very well, you might assume that I’m an avid reader of the classics. But I’m not. I began the challenge because I hadn’t read many and I didn’t want to miss out on great books. I didn’t study English Literature at university partly because the (very few) classics I had read previously were intimidating and inaccessible, particularly due to having to study them every week. I thought all classics would be dry and boring or worse, too intelligent for me to understand. I’ve come to realise that this is absolutely not true – there are classics out there for everyone’s tastes. There’s charming and witty children’s classics, exciting and thought-provoking modern classics & page-turning and romantic older classics.
If you’re someone who “doesn’t read classics”, try one of the 24 below books! (It’s not a comprehensive list – if a book isn’t on here, I’ve likely not read it yet!).
Great for: Readers who want to jump straight into reading the well-loved, acknowledged classics to see what all the fuss is about, but still want something accessible and enjoyable
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) because even though this is one of the most well-known classics, it’s incredibly readable and fun, with the perfect balance of romance and societal criticism, but done in a funny, satirical way
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847) for a chance to experience the passionate yet unconventional romance between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, with magnificent descriptions and witty dialogue
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890) for an eerie Gothic horror story set in 1890s London that combines beautiful writing with a deceptively simple plot
Agatha Christie (1920+) because she deserves a place amongst the greats – her books are certainly classics of their genre! I would suggest starting with And Then There Were None, which is a compelling introduction to mysteries – clever and gripping (and I suggest ticking off each character as they die!)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) which throws you into the world of 1920s America, packed full of what everyone loves about the classics – exquisite writing, plenty of depth and a dash of romance – but short enough to satisfy a classics newbie
Brave New World by Aldoux Huxley (1932) which begins the “big three” dystopian novels – a horrifying but fascinating view of how society can be, and, unintentionally, how society already is, especially the expectation of immediate gratification
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) because this much-loved novella – about streetwise George and his childlike friend Lennie, searching for work in the fields and valleys of California – packs an emotional punch into its 121 pages
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (1938) because the author gradually builds up an unbearably tense atmosphere to create a readable, exquisitely written, and suspenseful mystery
MODERN CLASSICS (post-1945)
Great for: Readers of contemporary adult fiction – from literary fiction to genre fiction – but particularly science fiction, of which I am slightly biased towards because I enjoy those quite a bit! (I could have also begun this section with the 1930s)
1984 by George Orwell (1949) because if you love dystopia, it’s well worth going back to one of the greats – to the completely chilling and terrifying “negative utopia”
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951) because, aside from the lack of modern technology, you would scarcely believe that it was not published yesterday. Everyone is blind, and walking, poisonous, flesh-eating plants are out to get you. What more could you ask for?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953) if you’d love a thought-provoking story against the banning (or in this case, burning) of books and freedom of speech
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) will allow you to “explore the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour”
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965) for a chilling non-fiction classic. What lead to the brutal 1959 murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie and his two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) because it’s one of the most well-known modern speculative fiction novels, exploring freedom of sexual reproduction through a young woman named Offred
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) which is more of a “cult classic” within science fiction and so very witty and British – try reading it on a e-reader or tablet!
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993) because even though I might be in the minority calling this a “modern classic”, you’ll not find anything else like the dreamy world of the Lisbon girls, comprising of Therese (17), Mary (16), Bonnie (15), Lux (14) and Cecilia (13)
Great for: Readers of contemporary children’s and young adult fiction, and those who want to step into the world of classics slowly.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1898) because, even though it did not (sadly) become one of my favourites, it’s one of the best books to bridge the gap between reading children’s books and older classics. Just don’t believe the twist you heard about in Friends, because that happens in the second book…
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (1902) for a super quick read all about what happens when a group of curious siblings come across a Psammead (a sand-fairy), and the old saying “be careful what you wish for”
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908) is which features little red-headed Anne Shirley, one of the most intelligent, witty, articulate and likeable child protagonists I have ever come across
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett (1910) which is actually less about the garden and more about the three lonely children that discover it, particularly young Mary Lennox (“People never like me and I never like people”)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948) because you can’t help but love a novel that begins with “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…”. I Capture the Castle is the wonderful tale of an eccentric poverty-stricken family living in a decrepit, crumbling yet picturesque castle, colourfully told by seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain
Roald Dahl (1961+) because children’s fiction wouldn’t be children’s fiction without Roald Dahl. I’d suggest starting with Matilda, The BFG or The Witches (but I’m still working my through my box set!)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967) because it’s one of the original coming-of-age YA novels. Join Ponyboy and Johnny as they grow up on streets of 60s America
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993) which is considered to be the original YA dystopian novel – studied across the US, it’s powerful and realistically imaginative
As I’ve said, I haven’t read loads of classics, so do feel free to recommend a bunch or write your own post! Tell us in the comments below whether you’re planning to read any of these for the 2016 Classics Challenge. And thank you Laura for providing feedback on this post. Happy Classics Reading!
This post was originally created for the 2015 Classics Challenge.