Whether you’re still in the midst of reading lists or the only assigned reading you have is your email, the fact is there are some books we actually enjoyed being forced to read. Some we might argue are quite overrated (*cough looking at you “Catcher in the Rye” cough*) but others not only broadened our horizons but have stuck with us, sometimes both mentally and physically. So we wracked our brains for the classics that we’ve kept on our shelves, the ones we don’t have to reach far into the depths of our brains to recall the details, and that left a lasting impression on us. If you haven’t read them, you might want to consider putting them on your TBR pile, and if you have, maybe crack them open again.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
There are a lot of people who will fight to the death on whether “Jane Eyre” is a feminist novel, but we’re here to say yes, yes it is. In context of the era it was published, this novel plays an important role. It will never be the ultimate feminist text—but it doesn’t have to be. We also love the importance placed on personal morals that drives the heart of this novel, and it also gave us one of our favorite quotes ever, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
Though this novel doesn’t hold the same scary anticipation for a jaded adult as it did when we were in fifth grade, we think everyone should experience Dracula at a young age so they can experience the delightful fear that only a good horror book can deliver.
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan
If you’re a sucker for an amazing mother-daughter story, this book is for you, no matter your phase of life. It’s also woven through the narratives of different women in different time periods. We dare you to get through this book without crying at least once.
“Emma” by Jane Austen
“Emma” is a novel that teaches people a very important lesson—stay the hell out of other people’s business. “Emma” is beloved for so many reasons, not just because George Knightley is the best Austen hero. It’s one of the funniest of Austen’s books, and we appreciate a novel that understands that sometimes you can’t have or don’t want an adventure—and there’s nothing wrong with being a homebody.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
A world where the only reality is a fantasy, humanity exists only by its excesses, and every whim is at its fingertips—sound familiar? No we’re not talking about a Kardashian reality show but this novel written in 1932 that stares into the abyss of the future and makes you re-think everything you love about a society of instant gratification.
“Julius Caesar” by Shakespeare
Shakespeare admittedly had a very rich foundation to build this play from, but he transports you to Rome and one of history’s greatest generals right at the time of his fall. It not only humanizes history, but brings a depth to one of the most notorious political assassinations that you simply can’t get reading a paragraph in a history book.
“The Orestia” by Aeschylus
Consisting of the three plays “Agamemnon,” “The Libation Bearers,” and the “Eumenidies” these are soap operas at their finest. Every novel since these three Greek plays that’s grappled with complex family relations owes a debt of gratitude to Aeschylus. Following Agamemnon’s (you might remember him from the Trojan War) return, his wife seeking revenge for his sacrifice of his daughter, then her son seeking revenge on her for revenge on Dad, and then finally everyone has to come up for judgement. While over the top and absurd, it also picks apart the nature of family, the roles we play within it, and strangely has some great gender commentary.
“Le Morte d’Arthur” by Thomas Malory
Sorry T.H. White, as adorable as your young Wart was, Malory wrote the definitive Arthurian legends. As a compilation of the tales of Camelot and the Arthurian court throughout history, this is a must-read for all who enjoy the legends that have so greatly been bastardized by pop culture.
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Magical, inspiring, and simply written, it feels part fable and part spiritual writing, it is a must read for everyone.
“David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens
Follow the life of David Copperfield, and meet one of the most real, squirmy, detestable villains of all time in the form of Uriah Heep. If you love England and good, long books, then look no further. Though Dickens can be intimidating, this is a great first read.
“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
A strong woman, a tragic love story, a judging society, and a disappointing life amidst beautiful Russia by the masterful Tolstoy makes this very long book go by quickly.
“To Kill A Mockinbird” by Harper Lee
This can be read at any age—in middle school or even post college. You’ll get a little bit of American history from it, but the characters and the moral story will stay with you forever.
“The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling paints a fantastical picture of India in this fairytale-like book. It is strong on the moral sense, and, if nothing else, this is the book where the beloved Baloo character comes from.
“White Fang” by Jack London
The unforgiving Alaska terrain, and a wolf-dog becoming wild and then tame once again are the premises to this book. Violence, revenge, and ethics are closely examined, and if you’re a dog lover, you’ll probably cry your heart out.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
You don’t have to be a Tinker Bell fan, or be a kid in order to like this book. It’s a little strange, a little weird, and bursting with beautiful imagery and lots of fairy dust. It’s prim and proper, but also extremely accessible.
Beautiful writing, classic doomed love, lots and lots and lots of booze. What more could you want?
“The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli
Want advice on how to take over the world? Read this. It’s best in small doses, but if you’re a sociopathic future dictator, “The Prince” is for you!
“My Antonia” by Willa Cather
The narrative is easy to follow and very moving, and for a classic, it’s rather accessible.
“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
Attempted suicide aside, any twenty-something can relate to the feeling of not knowing who you are or what you are here for.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
This is a book list after all. A mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and an imaginative look at a world where books were banned, this classic proves that imagination is evoked through words and stories.
“Dubliners” by James Joyce
This book is one that will have you crying over its emotional stories. It won’t appeal to everyone because it is depressing, but it does make you feel empathy for those that are stuck. This book reminds us to keep an open perspective and to keep dreaming.
What are your most beloved classics? Tweet us @litdarling and let us know!
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