If you took an English class in high school, you probably read at least one or two classic books and you may or may not have hated doing it.
Even for people who love to read, it can be difficult to get into reading a classic book. The language is different and much harder to understand, making them a slower read. You don't have the cultural background to understand all of the little details and cultural references.
However, classics are worth reading because they help us mark the history of books and how we got to where we are with writing. Often, our more "modern" novels are based on classic ones. Here are 11 classics that everyone should read.
1. 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen
While all of Austen's work is wonderful, Pride and Prejudice is arguably one of the best books ever written as well as one of the most well-known classics. It is a beautiful novel that has stunning scenery, glamorous parties, a crazy, but loving family, several hidden secrets, and, of course, a fantastic love plot.
The wit and charm of Austen's narrative voice and her use of free indirect discourse make it an enjoyable read. Plus, there are several really great movie versions to help you pick up on little plot pieces you might have accidentally missed.
2. 'Mrs. Dalloway' by Virginia Woolf
One of the famous pioneers of the stream of consciousness writing styles, Woolf takes her readers on the journey of a single day in the head of her title character, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, and a WWI soldier named Septimus Smith.
These two characters have drastically different lives, and yet, they're connected in a way so deep and profound that I had to take a second to just sit and process after I figured it out.
It can be a little tricky to read until you get used to the narration being stream of consciousness, but once you learn how to follow it, the story becomes addictive and powerful.
3. '1984' by George Orwell
I personally hated 1984 because I'm not interested in politics or governmental issues, but its theme of the government taking complete control of every aspect of life is one that many people relate to very deeply. While the book is lacking in plot, it has an abundance of satire.
Readers follow the story of a man named Winston and his lover, Julia, and their resistance to Big Brother. There are also several highly quotable lines in here for everyone who likes that in a book.
4. 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray was Wilde's only novel and arguably his best work. The story is about a young man named Dorian Gray who has a portrait painted of himself by his artist friend, Basil.
Thanks to a throwaway comment, the picture now ages and takes on Dorian's sins rather than Dorian himself. The ending of the novel is tragic but inevitable. Wilde's descriptions, scenes, and characters are all beautifully constructed, making this very fun to read.
5. 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
I could hardly exclude one of my favorite books from this list. Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird is full of childhood adventure, racial tensions in a Southern town, choosing what's right, and judging people on more than just their appearance. The characters in this book are all wonderfully unique and each one teaches a new lesson to the readers.
If you find that you love this one as much as I do, I recommend Lee's other book, Go Set A Watchman as well. For more on To Kill A Mockingbird and the recent banning, see my article here.
6. 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott
Alcott's Little Women is a staple of any literature lover's childhood. The story of the four March sisters and their best friend Laurie is one that is full of childhood adventures, teenage romances, and adult problems all wrapped in the neat little package of familial love.
Whether you're a Meg, a Jo, a Beth, an Amy, or a Laurie, everyone is bound to find at least one character they relate to in this book, making it a fun read.
7. 'Paradise Lost' by John Milton
Technically, Paradise Lost is an epic, not a novel, but it is still more than worth the read. The style is difficult and the syntax is twisted around, but so many novels draw on Milton as their source text that it's nearly impossible to not read Paradise Lost.
Plus, the epic offers a new take on the familiar characters of Adam, Eve, and even Satan.
8. 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles is easily the most famous Sherlock Holmes mystery. It has a spooky setting, a scary monster, an old family curse, and a full cast of potential suspects.
Basically, it has all of the makings of a good mystery. Its short and simple nature makes it a good book for people who are just easing into classics or people who don't have a ton of time to devote to reading.
9. 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens
While Dickens has several famous works, A Christmas Carol is my personal favorite. The story is familiar to everyone, making the plot easier to keep up with. The countless movie versions are helpful for anyone who has trouble understanding Dickens's writing style and language. Plus, it's about Christmas.
10. 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden isn't a classic book that typically makes it onto lists like this one, but I personally think that it is a good read for people of all ages. For me, it was the first classic I ever read. I was somewhere between eight and ten years old.
At the time, I found it to be full of magic and mystery. My opinion ten years later has not changed. I find it to be just as wondrous and magical at nineteen as I did at nine.
11. 'The Sound and the Fury' by William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury is one of the most difficult books I have ever read, but also one of the most interesting. It is set in Jefferson, Mississippi and Cambridge, Massachusetts and follows the Compson family through several years. This family has all you could ever want as far as dysfunction, feuds, and inheritance problems.
Faulkner's stream of consciousness style is really confusing to follow, so it's important to read the 1945 addition of the appendix before beginning the actual novel, but the story itself is rewarding and thought-provoking.