Only those who haven't read these books call them overrated. There's multiple reasons why these novels are so popular, taught in so many, diverse English classes and rigorously studied by academics. In fact, I've read most of these so-called classics many times, mostly for educational purposes, and have read them differently each time.
This list is comprised only of novels that I've actually read and have truly enjoyed. Furthermore, the moral of the story given in their plot is important to society and one's education. These are 10 must-read classic novels. Additionally, they're not all ones you would be forced to read in high school classes.
These are in no particular order.
1) Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (1847)
At the moment, this is my absolute favorite novel and a fresh read for me. Bronte explores touchy topics at the time that weren't up for debate, such as class, sexuality and feminism. Jane, the main character, challenges a girl's role in society, along with breaking many other societal constructs. Not to mention, her banter is hilarious to read. There's so much to learn from this novel while enjoying a very atypical love story unfolding.
2) Persuasion - Jane Austen (1817)
Austen developed the marriage plot, meaning she knows how to hook readers and execute her storyline with precision. Along with using free indirect discourse, it is a style of third-person narration using first-person (usually the main character's) characteristics. It is a way of merging the third-person narrator with a character's thoughts, actions and feelings to maximize the reader's sensations. "Persuasion" is the perfect example of these two concepts while using the main character to break some societal norms.
3) The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (1985)
This novel is the most recent of the "classics" I have selected and has gained even more popularity with the series on Hulu (which is equally good and also my favorite!). "The Handmaid's Tale" examines women in a servitude position in a patriarchal society and how these women attempt to gain individualism and independence. One of my favorite aspects of this dystopian novel is how the reader is seeing this new civilization through the handmaid's eyes and feels her thoughts. Offred, the main character, is enslaved in this society where she must abide by the strict rules to live, but we still understand how BS she thinks it is. The totalitarian state resembling a theonomy is made from modern America and not a completely new world that the reader is unfamiliar with.
4) To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1960)
Okay, yes, I read this novel my freshman year of high school, but it's the one that made me realize my love of literature. Even though it was written in 1960, the issue of racial inequality is still prevalent today. Since the point of view is from a six-year-old, it is a somewhat easy read and you get to take on a position from a considered innocent, fair-minded narrator.
5) The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (1926)
Basically, this novel can be summed up as American and British individuals in their 20s traveling from Paris to Spain to watch the running of the bulls, bullfights and straight partying all day and night. "The Sun Also Rises" is packed with constant action and engaging characters throughout the whole plot. There is never a dull moment. However, it is about so much more. Jake, the main character, contests the idea of masculinity while another character, Lady Brett, straightforwardly defies femininity, with her short hair and being very sexually active without a care.
6) Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (1811)
Another one of Austen's infamous marriage plots. This is more of your classic romance novel like "Pride and Prejudice," but not as serious or complex. These three sisters and their mother are humorous and witty as they try to find personal happiness where status and money rule society. I highly recommend watching the movie as well.
7) Victory - Joseph Conrad (1915)
This novel is different from the rest by being psychologically compelling. The main character, Axel, is extremely interesting and intriguing. Although it is filled with action and conflict, most of the novel is spent trying to understand the characters. Normally, I would not find this plot and writing style fascinating, but I highly enjoyed the novel more and more as the events unfolded. You get sucked in the from the beginning pages, then must continue reading to know what happens. It is quite a large book, but will make you question everything you are reading.
Joseph Conrad was a Polish-British writer regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language.
8) Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)
A true dystopian novel that explores futuristic scientific advancements that maybe shouldn't have been invented, like reproductive technology. This society was created to be utopian, but the main character and only "outsider" disagrees. This novel is very thought-provoking and makes you imagine a world that is hard to visualize. It's totally different than any other dystopian novel you've read.
9) Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (1818 original version)
This novel is so ingrained in popular culture with various and numerous adaptions. Sometimes taught in high school and definitely taught in college English classes as part of the Romantic movement. Everyone is familiar with Frankenstein, or at least think they are. It's a must read due to the fact that the monster in the novel is called "the Creature" and his maker is Victor Frankenstein. Moreover, the creature speaks quite eloquently and has read Milton's "Paradise Lost," Plutarch's "Lives," and Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther." He even makes an allusion relating himself to Adam from "Paradise Lost" when communicating with Frankenstein. Everyone at a college level must read Frankenstein to be correctly educated on this beloved, prominent fictional work.
10) Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury (1953)
Ray Bradbury has many novels that are very fascinating to read, such as "The Martian Chronicles" and "The Illustrated Man." He's well-known for his science fiction novels; The New York Times called Bradbury, "the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream."
"Fahrenheit 451" is regarded as one of his best works and focuses on a dystopian world where "firemen" burn any books found since they have been outlawed. It is a very interesting concept and based on the act of book burning to extinguish disagreeing ideas throughout history. It can be read as a response to censorship, with the clever usage of a novel as the medium.
Sidenote: HBO recently released a "Fahrenheit 451" movie with Michael B. Jordan playing the main character.
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