Despite having done a degree in English Literature, I managed to graduate having read almost none of the classics, and it was only when I started reading my way through the BBC Big Read that I finally got around to ticking some of the literary heavyweights off my ever growing reading pile. A genre I had previously avoided in my reading youth – opting instead for more contemporary tomes – I now love few things as much as I adore being swept away by the pages of a classic. And so, from the classic gothic book that inspired the birth of this blog, to one of my favourite books of 2019, here are 13 captivating classics to add to your reading pile.
Daphne Du Maurier’s most lauded and beloved book, Rebecca is gothic fiction at its very finest. Evocative, haunting and entirely unputdownable, it was the book that started my love affair with Du Maurier, and I’ve since gone on to read – and adore – most of her other books.
My favourite book from the BBC’s Top 100, Gone With the Wind is a love story of epic proportions, and well worth the chunk of time you’ll need to carve out to get through it. Margaret Mitchell’s only novel, Gone With the Wind was set during the American civil war and it won both the National Book Award for Most Distinguished Novel of 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937.
While Wilde was a world-renowned writer, The Picture of Dorian Gray was his only novel. Once banned for the immoral influences and sexual undertones within the novel, it was also used against Wilde in court shortly before he was convicted of sodomy. Hedonistic, fast-paced and utterly enthralling, The Picture of Dorian Gray is as relevant today as it was over a century ago.
First published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye, by the notoriously reclusive J D Salinger, is much-loved for its central protagonist, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, who the novel follows for three days in New York City after his expulsion from prep-school. Originally intended for adults, it too is popular among younger audiences due to its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique on superficiality in society. A quick and captivating read, it’s a must-read classic for all genders and ages.
Decadent, opulent and infused with glamour of a by-gone era, The Great Gatsby is perhaps American author F Scott Fitzgerald’s best-loved novels, and follows a cast of characters living in the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. An exemplary novel of the Jazz Age, it’s been lauded by many generations of readers as an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
A unique tale unlike anything I’ve read before, Mikhail Bulgakov’s much-loved book is considered by many critics as one of the best novels of the twentieth century, as well as the foremost of Soviet satires. Fusing fantasy with magical surrealism and political satire, The Master and the Margarita is a pacy read set in 1930s Moscow in which Bulgakov effortlessly combines the historical, the biblical and the magical to deliver one of literature’s most accomplished and creative books.
First published in The Literary Journal 1866, it is said that Dostoyevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment the previous summer, having gambled away much of his fortune, unable to pay his bills or afford proper meals. He then penned the tale of impoverished student Raskolnikov living in St Petersburg, the murder he commits and the consequential suffering – both of Raskolnikov and those around him – that follows. With nothing less than literary prowess, Dostoyevsky goes on to weave together an engaging blend of intrigue, moral and social commentary as he explores the idea of redemption through suffering.
Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is a dystopian novel by nobel-prize winning English author William Golding, about a group of boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. When it was first published, Golding’s debut novel suffered from poor sales but when re-released in the 1960s it went on to be a best-seller, and soon became required reading in many schools and colleges. A chilling yet compelling read with stunning imagery and great use of symbolism, Lord of the Flies is both a great piece of literature and a dire warning about humanity.
My favourite of Charles Dicken’s literary offering, Great Expectations was first published in serial form between 1960 and 1961 in Dickens’s weekly periodical All The Year Round. It tells the tale of orphaned Pip, who lives with his cruel elder sister and her long-suffering blacksmith husband Joe. An easy and enjoyable read, that is hugely atmospheric and features profound use of imagery, Dickens frequent use of cliffhangers at the close of each chapter leaves his readers wanting more.
Voted the US’s best-loved novel by millions of readers as part of a national poll, To Kill a Mockingbird is American author Harper Lee’s renowned coming-of-age story about racism and injustice in the American south and frequently features on must-read classics lists. It tells the tale of lawyer Atticus Finch and his young children, daughter Scout and son Jem.When Finch defends an African-American man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, the trial and its repercussions open Scout’s eyes to the world around her. A beautiful and unforgettable novel, it’s easy to see why it’s loved by many the world over.
A heartbreaking and haunting exploration of the American Dream, John Steinbeck’s stunning novella, Of Mice and Men, was published in 1937 to wide critical acclaim. It tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States, and is a short but powerful story that will stay with its reader long after the final page.
Small in size but perfectly formed, Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has been beloved by many since its first publication in 1943. An enchanting fable imbued with life lessons, it tells the tale of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the intricacies of adult behaviour through a series of unexpected encounters. Rich with timeless lessons that are cushioned behind layers of delightful story-telling. The Little Prince is the sort of book that will inspire wonder and reflection, even in the most cynical, and world-weary adult.
Published in 1897, Dracula is the most famous of Irish author Bram Stoker’s twelve completed books, and takes the form of an epistolary novel, written as a collection of diary entries, letters, telegrams and newspaper articles, written by several narrators who also serve as the novel’s main characters. Hugely atmospheric and brilliantly written, Dracula fuses restrained, quiet horror with creepy eroticism and a Victorian backdrop. With Bram Stoker’s natural flair for suspenseful writing it’s easy to see why Dracula is often heralded as one of the best gothic novels ever written.
Penguin have a great blog on 100 must-read classics to read, as chosen by their readers.
Book Riot have compiled a list of 100 must-read modern classics.
Modern Mrs Darcy has written about the 25 classics every woman should read.
Love this post? Click here to subscribe.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.