When people ask me what I like to read, my answer is “fantasy, classics, and historical fiction”. For some reason, the one that folks have the most difficult time wrapping their head around is “classics.” I can’t imagine why. These books have laid the groundwork for the novels people devour today, and so many of them still hold their own. Whether it’s the beauty of the language, or the vivacity of the story, every classic is worth picking up.
For the purpose of this list, I’ve excluded all non-fiction as well as the books that will almost definitely be red before graduating high school. While works like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye are undoubtedly worth reading, chances are you’ll come across them without me telling you to pick them up.
There are many other truly excellent books out there that don’t make this list as well. Books like The Picture of Dorian Grey (which I love) and A Little Princess are excluded because I don’t think they would be enjoyable or beneficial to everyone.
Without further ado….
Each of these books I have read several times and they are beneficial as groundbreaking in their genres, beautifully designed, or stories that have become essential to the hearts of who we are, and we might know the stories but have never read the book.
Honorable Mention: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
What everyone must understand about Mark Twain is how tongue-in-cheek his novels are. They are as much political commentary as they are story. Most people will come across Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in school, but Connecticut Yankee is overlooked. It is not politically correct, but it is revealing. A bit too revealing in these modern times, and I believe it is worth a read with an open mind.
10. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (or anything by Jules Verne)
I was at a toss-up between Jules Verne and H.G. Wells for a spot on this list, because they both have done so much for science-fiction. I ultimately settled on Verne because what is most fascinating about his stories is the most of them have come true. From 20,000 Leagues to Around the World in 80 Days, Verne’s stories were outrageous when they were written, but easy knowledge now. That, in itself, is incredible.
The only added suggestion I would make to this, especially to 20,000 Leagues, is to perhaps consider an abridged version. It’s not that the story itself is too long or difficult – it’s that Verne had a fondness for describing hundreds of species of fish in extreme detail and that is a bit monotonous.
9. The Divine Comedy
This nearly didn’t make the list as well, but if for nothing else, it’s an excellent theological study and a beautifully written poem. It is also the ultimate love story, because Dante literally traverses heaven, hell, and anything in between to find his true love, Beatrice.
Make sure you have a translation you can easily read. This is a poem, and so the translators often must chose between a clear translation or keeping to the meter. While the later is more difficult and impressive, it’s also often less readable. Just food for thought.
You want to talk about horror? Mary Shelley is a goddess. If I had a copy of Dracula to photograph, that would be in this list, too, but Mary Shelley is really where it’s at. In the time this book was written, female novelists were uncommon and in horror? Unheard of. Add to that the groundbreaking science she used in the story and Frankenstein is a must. Believe me, the story is much better than most of the Herman-Munster-esque representations.
7. Phantom of the Opera
I’m actually not a big fan of the musical, but the original novel of Phantom of the Opera is an engrossing read. Leroux presents the story as review from far in the future as a man who is researching the incident. The writing style is interesting and intriguing.
6. Treasure Island
Pirate stories aren’t very popular. With the exception of the Stars series Black Sails and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean installment, it’s been a long while since swashbuckling stories captured the imagination. Nonetheless, if you like pirates, Treasure Island is a must-read.
Also, I love pirate stories, and we really need more well-written ones.
For those keeping tabs, this is the same author who wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.
5. Anything from Oz
The Wizard of Oz is a constant part of our culture. There are a lot of books in this series and with the background knowledge from the classic film, you can pick up and read any of them. These stories are the ultimate set of American fairytales. The Emerald City of Oz is my personal favorite and I have fond memories reading it as a child. These stories are magic, and are worth reading regardless of your age.
4. Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland
Another beautiful fairytale that everyone knows but few people have read. Don’t expect a plot on this one, but instead enjoy Carroll’s descriptions of childhood innocence. There’s a reason why there are so many spinoffs and items inspired by the story. Alice has a way of capturing hearts, and she does it best in her original format.
By the by, don’t expect to find the Jabberwocky in these stories. That was an independent poem written by Carroll, and was not entwined in her original story.
3. Peter Pan
Another childhood story most of us hold dear, but have never read the original. The Darling children are also worth a read, for the same reasons as Alice.
2. Anne of Green Gables
My third and final story about childhood innocence. Anne is the best of them all. This is the first in the series, but this one is absolutely worth a read. Anne will capture your heart, mind, and soul and hold you tight. Gilbert Blythe isn’t that shabby, either.
1. Gone With the Wind
This one is a tricky choice. It’s highly contested. It’s not politically correct. But, it’s slice of human history, of American history. It’s incredibly well-written and each and every character in the story grabs you. Scarlet is strong, fearless. Rhett is beautiful and driven. Melanie is a pure, sweet, compassionate soul. Ashley is proud and utterly flawed. Aunt Pitty is gentle, frail, and darling. Every character in this book is important, and their story is incredible.
Those are my top ten classics. I had a difficult time only choosing ten. A Christmas Carol is also excellent, and Dracula as I mentioned earlier. I actually wish more people would read Dracula because it is nothing like any of the films I’ve seen. The Scarlet Letter is fantastic, too.
I think the biggest point I want to make here – to every reader, around the world – is read your classics. They are classics for a reason. Even if you have a hard time with them, challenge yourself to read at least one a year. There are hundreds to choose from, across dozens of genres. There is something for everyone and I guarantee you will find something to hold dear to your heart.
This post is linked up to Top Ten Tuesdays, which is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Check out all the other lists!