So, You Don’t Read Classics? / 24 Classics to Give a Go

2016classicschallenge

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!).

So, You Don't Read Classics? / Classics Recommendations

CLASSICS (pre-1945)

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

So, You Don't Read Classics? / Modern Classics Recommendations

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)

So, You Don't Read Classics? / Children's Classics Recommendations

CHILDREN’S CLASSICS

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.

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70 thoughts on “So, You Don’t Read Classics? / 24 Classics to Give a Go

  1. This is perfect for me! I never had to read classics in high school (I’m not from the US/UK) and the only classic I’ve ever tred, I intensely disliked. I made it my mission to read 2 classics this year, and now I have an idea where to start. Thank you for this post :D

    • I only read a few, but studying them to death really put me off reading them! You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy the ones you do read :)

    • I liked the list. But you forget Mauler written by Shawn Williamson. A wonderful description about a boy orphan lost in Cumbria moors walking to White Heaven´s to build a new life in Eua with his fox cub. While he meets Captain Potter the man who brought thylacine to Europe as slave and explored it as dog fighter until the boy set tasmanian tiger free. His novel is fantastic describes the cruelty of men in 19th century against everything alive: himself in all age: child, young, adult, and his coward exploitation against himself and nature. Williamson´s novel is being studied in all part of the world, aclamed by professors and literary reads. I don´t know why it is not your list.

  2. I’m currently reading the Winter of Our Discontent – John Steinbeck as my January classic.

    Oscar Wilde is a fantastic rec for those who are wary of classics – his writing is so witty and punchy that you don’t feel like you’re slogging through some 500 page epic.

  3. You might want to add “The Little House on the Prairie” series for the category of pre-1945 children’s books. It was also made into a TV series with great success. It’s also interesting for adults to read. I have a paperback boxed set.

  4. What a wonderful post! I feel all nostalgic about reading of these children’s classics…

  5. This is a fantastic list of classics! I’ll definitely be using it as a page for my own reference in the future!

  6. hey, Stacey. Great post and a great blog! :) followed. You are doing a great job. please spare some time to visit my blog at saadiapeerzada.wordpress.com
    i will be grateful . :)

  7. I hated Anne of Green Gables xD

  8. I see that Charlotte’s Web is not in your list…go ahead and read it soon :)

  9. You’re welcome!

    This is so fun!!

  10. Classic English literature is one of the things that attracted me to England(being French) ! Austen is a fantastic author, really easy to read. I’d add Wodehouse to the modern classics, Barbara Pym and F.E. Benson (the Mapp and Lucia series which have just been adapted by the bbc), all very easy to read and full of humour.

  11. This is a truly great list. I managed to impress myself by only finding four I hadn’t already read at some time. Gotta credit good English teachers.

  12. These never go out of ‘style’, do they? I see a few I haven’t read yet. Thanks for the nudge. :-)

  13. […] Go to my “So, You Don’t Read Classics? / 24 Classics to Give a Go” post for recommenda… […]

  14. Charles Lominec

    Thanks for this. It helps me spend some of my Amazon gift card!

  15. I love Rebecca and Jane Eyre. I am afraid I am a big enough of a book geek to have read most of the titles on your list. Are you interested in multitouch iBooks? If you are why not check out the trailer for my stunning new multitouch iBook The Sword of Air now available on iBooks.

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    Happy New Year

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  16. There are so many great books on this list!! Love The Outsiders and The Picture of Dorian Gray – and so many of the others I want to read. You make a great point about the perception of classics as inaccessible when often that’s not the case at all.

    Have you seen this list? http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0934958.html. I’m trying to work my way through it now. A lot of your titles are on there!

  17. I think I have read 3 or 4 books from this list, and that was when I sort of forced myself to read Classics just to mix things up a bit. :)

  18. I’ve often wanted to get into the habit of reading classics again. I read them quite a lot when I was a teenager trying to be clever but since finishing uni they languish at the bottom of my pile. I love the idea of challenging yourself to read one a month!

  19. I enjoyed reading through this and ticking off the ones I’ve read as well as chalking up some still to read! I’ve just started re-reading Gulliver’s Travels which I just couldn’t get through a a teenager but am loving now http://thebooksellersdaughter.co.uk/2015/01/ahead-of-my-own-time/

  20. While I’m already in a few more challenges than I want to be…..I’m onboard and reading one of the books that is mentioned in the comments. I’m enjoying it. As I said on Twitter as Austen in Boston(AiB), it is such a great list you’ve put together! I especially like the children’s classics. Lol, I suppose rereading Emma for AiB and Persuasion for my other Austen book club doesn’t count? How about Mansfield when the new annotated version by David Shapard comes out later this year? To meet my other challenges…a classic book set in Scotland or by a Scottish author…that’s Jane Austen Fan Fiction(JAFF)…. Waiting for Alexander McCall Smith’s Modern Austen Project version of Emma to cross over to these shores in April(I saw that it got panned in the UK).

  21. […] Stacey lists 24 classics you should give a go. […]

  22. Thank you! I’ve read over half of these but found a few more that I think I will enjoy.

  23. This is an awesome list. My favourite classics are Rebecca, Sense & Sensibility and The Great Gatsby. I have a big soft spot for childrens classics like The Secret Garden and Little Women too. I’m not doing any challenges this year but I do want to read more classics. I am hoping to read The Day of the Triffids as one of them.

  24. This list is great! I’ll definitely have to bookmark it. I’m one of those people who feel very intimidated about classic, because I haven’t enjoyed many of them in the past. Maybe it’s the added pressure of school assigned reading that brings them down, I don’t know, but I sure would love to appreciate them more. There are some books on this list I will definitely try out.

  25. Great list, thanks! I barely read any because I just can’t get myself to it… But I’ll try to tackle this list this year! I tried Gatsby but failed. I did read Matilda and loved it, so there’s hope for me yet! Hitchhiker’s guide was great as well, loved it! This year I hope to read LotR :)
    Thanks for the tips!

    • I definitely think there’s hope! One of the most surprising things I’ve found is how readable they can be. I really did have the view that all classics were a bit of a slog to get through, which has been proved completely incorrect.

  26. wheremybookshide

    I have read some of these classics (and quite enjoyed them too, to my own surprise!) and I want to keep going and read some more. This list is a perfect reminder and source of ideas!
    Also, I would absolutely recommend Jane Eyre. It is my favourite classic, and I think it is brilliant!

  27. I’ve tried ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but failed. I really loved the movie though.
    Great blog, by the way.
    Do you have any suggestions for me to try out?

  28. Oh, sure! That would be cool. Do tell me the details and when to start…

  29. Hey.. nice list. I’m interested in trying out ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’. What do you think of them?

  30. Love this list. I too read some of these in high school and because of how daunting of a task they made it at school I didn’t let myself enjoy them really, so I look forward to reading a few on this list. Especially Pride and Prejudice since i’ve heard so much about it.

    Have you read that one/ enjoyed it?

    Also, I just started a book review blog for young adult books, check it out if you like https://thebookconsort.wordpress.com/ I found your page because of your review on Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

    • Pride and Prejudice was the first Austen I read (and one of the few classics I read as a teenager). I did enjoy it, but I think I’m more of a Bronte fan!

  31. Fantastic, thank you! I’ve now changed my mind completely from what I was going to start the 2016 challenge with! I’ve always been put off by physical copies of classics due to, in many cases, their small print, but hopefully I’ll Kindle myself out of that prejudice!

  32. I am inlove with the classics ive read a couple of them this year like jane eyre, anne of green gables, pride and prejudice and a lot more. this is exciting!

  33. […] It’s up to you to define ‘classic’ and choose your books. I personally categorise books under pre-1945 (older classics), post-1945 (modern classics) and children’s classics, but that’s just me! I’ve recommended 24 classics here.  […]

  34. I would highly recommend The Wizard of Oz in the Children’s Classics section.

    Gone with the Wind in the before 1945 category. Kindred and The Color Purple in the after 1945 category.

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