25 classics that are not remotely boring

25 classics that are not remotely boring

I hope it’s not just me: not only do I have a ridiculously long TBR list (that’s To Be Read, if you don’t usually discuss your reading life in acronyms), my personal list of bona fide classics I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet easily reaches triple-digit territory.

Readers, I know I can’t be alone in this—and that is why the very first category for the 2018 Reading Challenge—for those of you who want to get more out of your reading lives this year—is “a classic you’ve been meaning to read.

We’re starting the year with this category because for devoted readers, those books we’ve been meaning to read—for months, years, or decades—begin to hang over our heads after a while, and nothing hangs heavier than a classic. Consider this category your invitation to finally scratch a deserving book off your list and gather some momentum for the new year.

We know that many of you saw this category and knew immediately what book (or books) you wanted to read to fulfill it. We also know that some of you saw this category and immediately thought old books are boring. If you belong to the latter group, rest assured that we’ve assembled this list with you in mind. The classics compiled here are, by turns, strange, surprising, and completely unexpected, but “boring” doesn’t apply.

25 Classics That Are Not Remotely Boring
Native Son

Native Son

Author:
This gritty novel wrecked me when I first read it in high school: Wright's story is raw, violent, emotionally wrenching, and utterly unforgettable. Through the eyes of Bigger Thomas, a twenty-year-old black man living in Chicago in the 1930s, we see the extreme racial inequalities his family experiences— and how they first harden, and then desensitize Bigger. This was Wright's first novel, and on its publication in 1940, it became one of the fastest-selling novels in America's history, and remains incredibly timely today. More info →
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Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

Author:
This novel was first published in 1948, a short time before apartheid became law in South Africa, and has been called the most famous and important novel in the country's history. It was an immediate international bestseller, and was banned in Paton's home country of South Africa due to its "politically dangerous" material. Through this story of a man who sets out on a journey to find his lost son, Paton vividly portrays what it is like for those of any race to live in a starkly divided society. More info →
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Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

Author:
This is my pick for this category: I've been meaning to read this for decades. The title comes from the Yeats poem "A Second Coming"; in intertwined stories, the reader witnesses first an individual life fall to pieces, and then the society he belongs to. More info →
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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

This atmospheric story about expectations, marriage, and unexpected love is richly atmospheric, set in the deep South's Florida Everglades in the 1920s. Hurston's classic is written in dialect, which is tricky for some readers (unless they choose the audio version). A classic for a reason, with well-developed characters and a thought-provoking story line. More info →
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author:
In her debut, the first of six autobiographies, Angelou tells the haunting story of her childhood in the American South in the 1930s. The prose is incredible, and the story is by turns heartwarming ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") and utterly heartbreaking. If this is one you've been meaning to read, give the audio version a try: Angelou's lilting voice brings her powerful, touching story to life. More info →
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Invisible Man

Invisible Man

Author:
I'm a sucker for a good first line, and Ellison delivers: "I am an invisible man." Not because he's not made out of flesh and blood, but because no one has much interest in seeing Ellison's protagonist, an African-American man in 1950s Harlem, for who he actually is. More info →
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Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera

One Hundred Years of Solitude is his best-known work, but readers with great taste assure me this epic story of unrequited love, spanning fifty years, is much easier to get into, and that I can't go another year without experiencing it for myself. You could also read this as your book in translation. And I have to say: this book plays a crucial role in Serendipity, the romantic comedy featuring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. More info →
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Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Author:
Baldwin was the son of a preacher and the grandson of a slave, and his life experiences heavily inform this semi-autobiographical 1953 novel, which tells the story of one day in the life of a 14-year-old boy in Harlem in the late 1930s. More info →
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My Ántonia

My Ántonia

Author:
Cather herself considered this to be her finest novel. Because it's set in the midst of a brutal winter in the American West, this would be a terrific cold-weather read. If you've been meaning to read this, take note: it clocks in at a mere 232 pages. More info →
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Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Author:
In this short Australian classic, a group of girls from the Appleyard College for Young Ladies venture out for a picnic at Hanging Rock on a beautiful afternoon. Three of the girls set out for a hike, and are never seen again. As I was reading this short novel, it strongly reminded me of something I'd read before, but I couldn't figure out WHAT. I finally realized it wasn't a book at all—it was the TV show Lost! (If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.) More info →
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Brave New World

Brave New World

Author:
This novel, originally published in 1932, has been repeatedly over the years, right up to the present time, for sexual content, offensive language, and insensitivity. While it's been removed from many libraries and reading lists, it still makes frequent appearances on others. Irony alert: the problem with banning a dystopian novel that envisions a totalitarian future world where literary content is strictly regulated is that it provides even more Brave New World discussion fodder delighted English teachers. More info →
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A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time

Is it just me, or do the new Wrinkle trailers make you want to re-read everything she ever wrote? That set off a chain of L’Engle exploration, and has me resolving to re-read Wrinkle. L’Engle begins her groundbreaking science fiction/fantasy work with the famous opening line “It was a dark and stormy night,” and plunges you headlong into the world of the Murray family, who must travel through time to save the universe. Wrinkle is the first—and most famous—of the Time Quintet, but if you love this there are four more titles to suck you in. More info →
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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Author:
Whether or not you've read it, I'd bet you know the title's meaning: paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Bradbury's slim sci-fi/fantasy novel revolves around a fireman who hates his job set in the saddest of dystopian settings: a future with no books. Firemen start the fires in Bradbury's future, because their job is to destroy any and all books as they are found. More info →
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Frankenstein

Frankenstein

Author:
This book completely surprises many modern readers, who think they know the story and find it to be nothing at all like they expected. Many critics consider Shelley's gothic tale of a dangerously ambitious young doctor and the monster he creates to be the very first science fiction novel, and influential on the horror genre as well. The language sounds a bit antiquated to the modern ear, but the novel's themes remain timeless. More info →
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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Author:
"Happy families are all alike;" begins this classic novel, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Fun fact: William Faulkner called this novel "the best ever written." I know many readers agree with my assessment: I'm so glad I read it. Numerous translations exist; if I had to choose one I'd go with Constance Garnett's, if only because Maggie Gyllenhaal does the corresponding Audible narration. (All 35 hours of it!) More info →
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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

This groundbreaking classic is a gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one; its themes were astonishingly modern for 1847. If you never read it in high school, this is the perfect time to pick up this classic. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading it decades sooner. Those who have read it will spot its influence everywhere. More info →
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Rebecca

Rebecca

This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Suspenseful, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller. Because the young unnamed wife doesn't understand what's going on for a long time, neither does the reader. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current. Discussion fodder: marriage, Manderley, and (she says with a shudder) Mrs. Danvers. More info →
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Lolita

Lolita

After dismissing this novel for years, it's re-earned a place on my TBR, because so many great readers I know admire it as a testament to the power of the written word. (I have my eye on the audio edition, narrated by Jeremy Irons, because I keep hearing Nabokov's superbly-crafted prose is even better when read aloud.) Some critics argue that Humbert Humbert is the best example of the unreliable narrator in literature; others argue that he's not unreliable, just painfully honest. More info →
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The Hobbit

The Hobbit

Author:
My son read this book in his 6th grade English literature class. He wasn't excited about reading "that boring book." His 9-year-old (at the time) sister said, "I'm glad I don't have to read it." One week later, they were fighting over it. That's all I have to say about that—except you don't have to be a grade schooler to enjoy this one. It's a classic for a reason. More info →
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East of Eden

East of Eden

Author:
My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, interweaving the stories of two Salinas Valley families, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. When Oprah brought back her book club, it was with this book. She said, "I said I would bring it back when I found the book that was moving…and this is a great one. We think it might be the best novel we've ever read!" This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") More info →
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author:
I loved this story from page 1. Wistful, haunting, satisfying. I totally get why it makes so many readers' "lifetime favorites" lists. If you're new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself. A moving story of unlikely beauty and resilience. More info →
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The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

Author:
This classic is set in the Gilded Age among New York City's high society, and depicts the rise and fall of Lily Bart, a young woman trapped by social conventions, a victim both of society and of her own choices. Readers often recommend Wharton in terms of Jane Austen because they both write about women's everyday life: she's been called the new Austen, the anti-Austen, a more sophisticated Austen, a more depressing Austen. I'm so glad I finally read it—I can't believe how many references to it I've been missing over the years! This feels like social commentary and reads like a tragedy, and while I feared it would be boring it was anything but. More info →
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Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables

Author:
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island, Canada decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm. Their messenger mistakenly delivers a girl to Green Gables instead—an 11-year-old feisty redhead named Anne Shirley. You may want to binge on the entire series, which follows Anne from her childhood at Green Gables until she is a mother herself. More info →
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To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

Author:
In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It's been a staple on high school reading lists for years (and I talked about my significant high school experience with Mockingbird here), but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was published. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.) More info →
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The Color Purple

The Color Purple

Author:
In this epistolary novel and modern classic, a young woman living in the South in the 1930s describes her life in a series of heartbreaking letters. But ultimately, redemption arrives in an unlikely form. A painful, beautiful book about the power of love, and a 1983 Pulitzer winner. More info →
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What would you add to the list? What are YOU reading for this category?

P.S. 9 books you should have read in high school (that are totally worth reading now), and bestsellers actually worth the hype. And if you haven’t yet gotten your free reading challenge kit, get it here.

classics that aren't boring

123 comments | Comment

123 comments

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  1. What a great list! I’ve read about half of these, but a lot of the others are definitely on my book-bucket list. I picked up a used copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and plan on reading it soon. Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Susan says:

    A month after I graduated college with a degree in English literature, I realized how many things I had not read. I was without a tv in a new city and so loaded up on Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre as the first batch. Even after chipping away at titles such as Little Women, The Catcher in the Rye and The Good Earth, I still haven’t read half of what is on your list. I think it is true that it is hard to read all the classics!

  3. I’ve read most of these and loved them. One I didn’t like at all, though, was “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I could not get into it, despite trying.
    I would add “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I re-read a few years ago and loved, as did my kid. Funny, witty, with big messages.
    And “In Search of Lost Time” by Proust. It took me three years to read all the tomes, in English, but it was like working through a box of fine chocolates, very rich and dense, to be savored slowly.

    • Tory says:

      I also hated Love in the Time of Cholera! I remembered loving 100 Years of Solitude in high school (20+ years ago), wanted to re-read it, but heard it was better as a non-audiobook, so I picked this one up instead. It was one of the few books I truly hated and wished I could somehow un-read. (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundara is the other book I read in 2017 that I felt the same way about, in case anyone was wondering!)

  4. Myra says:

    This is a great list and gave me some new ideas. Made me wonder, though…what makes something a “classic”? I would have thought some of these titles too recent to be considered classics. Maybe that’s just because I am old to be your mother, Anne! For example, I was already grown and married before the first publication of Love in the Time of Cholera.

    • Anne says:

      I wonder the same thing! And yes, Marquez is definitely the most recent one on this list, and I wondered about the timing. For most of them I wanted to go at least fifty years old. 🙂

      • Pam says:

        Some people argue that a classic is a book first published before World War II and, of course, still read today. I use the same definition as Anne – first published at least 50 years ago. Which means within my lifetime (ahem)! I’m reading 10 classics a year for five years – in year three now – and the more recent 50 year cutoff has really helped me stay with it. I was finding many of the older books too stilted and/or dreary. I’m talking about you, Charles Dickens. Oh, and I’m using Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945) for both challenges (10 classics a year, and Modern Mrs. Darcy).

      • Kelli says:

        I’ve even heard things at 30 years being named as classics, though I’d probably consider them to be “Modern classics”. For example, I’ve seen Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson on some lists – I read that in high school in 1986 while I was actually in school with her kids at the time 😊.

        • Pam says:

          I like the Modern Classic designation – big theme books that have been around for several years and have stood the test of that time. Twenty-five or 30 years is about a generation, and that makes sense to use that as a cutoff. I was in grad school 20 to 25 years ago, and didn’t have time for fiction, so I’m really enjoying reading some soon-to-be Modern Classics now, such as Poisonwood Bible and Cutting for Stone.

          • Yes! I think things like Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, etc. have been around long enough and can be considered classics. All things I need to read too, in addition to the 50+ year old ones….

      • Julie says:

        The classics book club I’m in uses the cut off of 1900 to designate what’s a “classic” and so anything published after that is considered a “modern classic.” Just throwing that out there as I think it’s interesting, and fun, to think about what makes a work of art a classic, and to ponder what contemporary work with still be respected and read widely 100 years from now 🙂

        Regardless, this is a great list and I’m putting several on my TBR! Thanks Anne!

  5. Ripple says:

    This is such an amazing list, really! Most of them are on my TBR list and few of them has just been added to it thanks to you. Right after my exams are finished I wanted to read Brave New World so now I am 100% sure I will. From this list two are especially liked by me: Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird. First one was so weird for me first because I wouldn’t think ‘oh, what a great story, how enjoyable’ – but I did. I did enjoy this book a lot and I still cannot explain why. The way Nabokov wrote it and how clever and funny it is. How pleasing the reading becomes even though it’s such a heavy topic? I think that’s the reason why it’s a true classic. And the second one? I could talk for hours and hours about this book and how much I love it. It was the first book I wanted to read as an adult that makes conscious choice of reading some of the classics of the world’s literature. And God I loved it so incredibly much. It’s a true gem and even the black and white movie based on the book is beautiful (for those that don’t really read books). I’m happy that you included this one here. Once again – lovely list!

    With kindness

    • Carol says:

      I just finished Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory — my first book of his, and I was entranced with his writing. My nephew is a huge Nabokov fan, and gave it to me years ago. I was sorry it took me so long to get around to it, and I need to put Lolita on this year’s to-read list!

  6. Stefanie says:

    I love Things Fall Apart – great pick! Haven’t read it in 20 years, but still remember how I couldn’t get enough of it and how it made me feel when I was done. Enjoy!
    You listed 3 I was choosing between for my pick… East of Eden, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Wrinkle in Time.

    • Janet Cosbey says:

      Thanks for the recommendation of Things Fall Apart. I just picked up a copy at a little free library and it’s one I’m considering. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all time favorites!

  7. Brandyn says:

    I’ve read 6 books on this list which is kinda sad, but also better than I thought I’d do as I don’t gravitate towards classics. I’m for sure going to read A Wrinkle in Time this year, because YES the trailers look AMAZING. Very excited for the movie, but must read the book first.
    I swear I’d never heard of Things Fall Apart until last year and now I’m seeing it everywhere.

    • Brandyn says:

      I keep coming back here with more thoughts. Of the six of these books I read I enjoyed them all (although Anna Karenina could do with a little less description). I’ll definitely come back to this list next time I need a classic recommendation.

  8. Dawn says:

    I picked Anne of Green Gables for my classic and already finished it. I read it when I was in grade school but I figured that didn’t count because I had forgotten all the details. Excited to see it made the list!

  9. Juhli says:

    What a great list. I picked To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway as my read. I’d read other of is books but not that one and felt the Cuba – Key West connection was current.

  10. Codi says:

    Now I kind of want to do an entire year of reading nothing BUT classics…So hard when the new bestsellers lists grab you, but it might make for an interesting year!

  11. Michelle says:

    I’ve read seven books on your list. Some of the classics I’m considering reading this year are I promessi sposi, War and Peace, Josephus, Vanity Fair (technically a reread, but I was so young when I read it that I really didn’t understand it at all), Les Miserables, and Quo Vadis. I doubt I’ll read all of them, but I’ll probably read more than one. Oh, and I might read some Dickens, and I’ll probably reread some Austen….

  12. “A Tree…..” is my all time favorite book and I believe it’s because we relate books to the season of life or perhaps even the exact time we read it, with something either distressing or comforting. I read it while in the mountains and right after I had my firstborn. It was an exhausting time and I was allowed to lay on the couch and read for days. I fell in love withe the luxury of reading that weekend.
    I read Ellison’s book in high school and it changed me because I was alone and lost at that time.
    Thank you for this list – just added several of these to my (ever-bursting and ever-growing) Amazon list – especially excited about “Rebecca.”

  13. Andrea Meszaros says:

    I decided to go for a nonfiction classic and read Silent Spring by Rachael Carson. I did find it a little repetitive by the end, but I think she did a good job showing the dangers of chemicals and I had no idea that DDT was considered organic because it’s carbon based. I don’t know if it still is, but it was in the 60s.

  14. Teresa McCarty says:

    I’m not sure I agree that these books are classics….
    Many true classics not on the list… But I understand this is not a comprehensive list.
    Jane Eyre is the first book I read with a female ‘lead’. My all time favorite.
    I did spend a year reading a classic a month when my four kids were small… The Odyssey, while poignant, gave me fits! I would add it to this list because of continual references to it in many other books, both fiction and non-fiction.

  15. Jen W says:

    So excited to see East of Eden on here as that is what I planned to read for this category! Also so ashamed to admit that I have about six others from the list that have been sitting on my shelves for years collecting dust…

  16. Stephanie says:

    I chose “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” for this category, AND convinced my book club to read it as our January book. This is the first time in a long time that we have all loved a book, and most people had it done in a week! It has become an instant favorite.

  17. Alison says:

    I’ve read 8 of these! Halfway through Jane Eyre, but it’s been a legitiamte struggle. My all-time favorite classic is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I also love Heart of Darkness and Dubliners (I think Dubliners in particular is a great example of Joyce’s style without the difficulty of his novels). Lolita was a great choice, as well. I also teach English at a rural high school, and I can vouch for the fact that my students are major fans of To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451.

    • Jacelyn McGowan says:

      Hi Alison,

      A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also my favorite. I read a bit of Joyce in college, and I also enjoyed Dubliners. I really struggled with Jane Eyre, too, because I loathed Mr. Rochester. It took me quite a few tries, but I finished it last year. I am SO glad I got through it. About 75% of the way through I still was struggling, but the last 25% made up for it. Good luck!

    • Casey says:

      I listened to the audiobook of Jane Eyre recorded by Thandie Newton, and it was excellent. Not a struggle at all! I find that when I’m struggling with a Classic, hearing it read aloud can sometimes help.

  18. I have so many of these books on my tbr list! But some I haven’t even heard of, so that’s exciting, because I obviously need even more books on the list! Ha! I love that The Hobbit is on the list. I read Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Lord of the Rings. Fingers crossed that I can get through the whole series this year (that’s a big ask, tho)! Maybe even hit The Hobbit!

  19. Amelia Brown says:

    Other, Russian literature classics are also incredibly engaging, if translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in tangible book form. Even War and Peace becomes an absolute delight, though it doesn’t, of course, change the length. And I couldn’t put down Crime and Punishment.

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you for mentioning these translators! I would point all MMD readers in their direction for Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They were painstaking in preserving the actual language, especially the cadence that the author intended. So, for example, if Tolstoy wrote “Drops dripped,” Pevear would translate it exactly. Other translators might write “The trees were drippping,” “Drops dripped down,” etc. As this week’s WSIRN podcast emphasized, writers
      piece words together carefully, and I want the experience that was intended. I also recommend hard copies for Russian literature, as I flipped back and forth between the text, notes at the back, and the character list constantly. Some characters in Anna Karenina and War and Peace go by 3-4 names! It’s worth the effort, though. Anna is in my top 3 lifetime reads.

  20. Meghan says:

    I chose The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. That counts as a “classic”, right? I chose it mostly because I’ve heard such good things and it’s been one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now but, let’s be honest, I also really want to watch the show and I’m one of those people who HAS to read the book first.

  21. Donna H. says:

    This is such a great list! For some reason classics feel intimidating at first but I quickly find most are very readable. I’m reading War and Peace for the first time this year (one chapter a day, a good life lesson in general on breaking things down into little steps).

  22. Great list! Some of these I had never heard of. One book I was hoping to see that wasn’t on the list was Dracula. I am NOT a fan of most vampire stories but Dracula is probably my favorite book. I read it 2 years ago and I could not put it down (I even read it waiting for church to start…which felt weird.)

  23. Leanne S says:

    I wasn’t sure if my pick was a classic, but then I saw you had some classic science fiction and fantasy in there, so my plan is to read Ursula Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness”, especially as she just passed away and I don’t think I’ve read her stuff (except maybe a short story?). I am pretty sure we have a copy somewhere in the house.

  24. Jennifer N. says:

    I’ve read 8 of these (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Brave New World, and Frankenstein are three of my all-time favorites) and 5 of these are on my TBR. For this challenge, I am planning to read “Beloved” by Toni Morrison.

    I found this quote awhile ago when I, myself, was wondering what makes a classic: “First, the work must focus on matters of great importance, identifying fundamental human problems and providing some sort of guidance for dealing with them. Second, it must address these fundamental issues in ‘beautiful, moving, and memorable ways,’ with ‘stimulating and inviting images.’ Third, it must be complex, nuanced, comprehensive, and profound, requiring careful and repeated study in order to yield its deepest secrets and greatest wisdom. One might add that precisely because of these characteristics, a classic has great staying power across both time and space.” -Richard J. Smith from The “I Ching”: A Biography

    This matches up quite well with what I think of when I think of a classic, without making every classic something published 100 years ago. It does seem to indicate that a book has to be around long enough to show its staying power.

  25. Emma says:

    I love this list! Added a bunch to my ever-growing TBR. My choice for the MMD Reading Challenge classic category is War and Peace… naturally I went for the biggest book ever (basically) in the busiest year of my life. But I’m reading one chapter a day to make it manageable, and really enjoying it so far! I plan on tackling The Count of Monte Cristo the same way.

  26. M says:

    I’m not starting with a classic but I think I’m gonna put Lady Audley’s Secret in that category. It’s something I bought on a whim while working abroad ages ago, and I’ve still not touched it! I definitely do want to strike it off my list soon.

  27. Carolyn says:

    I listened to/read The Count of Monte Cristo last year which was a “bucket list” book for me. I really enjoyed it! The audio version was great and so helpful to hear the accents and correct pronounciation of the names which I never would have gotten right if I was just reading. Such a great way to get through those long books! It was nice to have Whispersync but I definitely listened to most of it. I had such a feeling of accomplishment when I finished it.

  28. Kristi Gray says:

    I would absolutely recommend Grapes of Wrath. I read the book years ago and it became my favorite. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to get my hands on everything John Steinbeck had ever written. Recently, I listened to it on audio. It was read by Dylan Baker. It was amazing…I laughed, I cryed and most all I was touched by how beautifully Steinbeck was able to express the “human condition.” He was able to put into words, thoughts and feelings I have had but unable to express. Even though this book was written long ago…the story is relevant in today’s world. Unfortunately, I think there will always be the powerful who are willing to take advantage of those less fortunate.

  29. Betsy says:

    This is an AMAZING list, Anne! I’ve read most and I’d agree with all the ones I’ve read as being totally worthy of this honor. I’ll especially second recommendations for Cry, the Beloved Country, but I’ll also recommend audio for it—particularly if you can find a good South African narrator. One of my all-time FAVORITE books (and that’s saying a lot! 😁). Frankly, audio is a great way to go in general for older titles that seem to drag a bit in their pacing.

  30. Ashlea says:

    You could have just as easily titled this post, “25 Classics {Mostly} Not Written By Old White Dudes.” Bravo! 🙌🏼😆

  31. Wanda says:

    I’m going to read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”; it is a book that has been on my TBR list for years and I don’t know why it has consistently been bumped off the top of the list. The list of 25 books is amazing. I’ve also decided that I need to re-read 11 books on the list and add 6 others….and so the list grows.

  32. Heidi says:

    I loved Kristin Lavransdotter by Sigrid Undset. Just make sure you get the most recent translation. The older one was too archaic for me.

    • Brandyn says:

      I added Kristin Lavransdatter to by list after hearing about it on the podcast recently. It just came in from the library. Which translation should I be looking for? Mine was translated by Tiina Nunnally.
      I’m pretty excited to read it! Just need to wrap up a few I’m currently working on first.

  33. I’m currently halfway through In Cold Blood, which I had to look up to make sure it is indeed considered a classic and, it is! It’s also a banned book, and nonfiction. So I have no idea where it will land in the challenge for me. The point is, I’m reading and enjoying it. It’s a bit tedious at times– he goes down so many rabbit trails about people’s lives and histories, descriptions, etc. But overall I’m invested in finishing. Afterwards I’m going to watch the documentary series about the Clutter murders that came out last year. And Capote too. (Phillip Seymour Hoffman– sniff!)

    I would also say to add to this list: A Farewell To Arms, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, and Great Gatsby, which are all on my TBR this year. I’m going to re-read Gatsby courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal’s narration on Audible. Watching the recent movie Rebel in the Rye made me want to re-read Catcher. And watching Midnight in Paris (for the umpteenth time) made me want to re-read all of Hemingway’s stuff. But I’m starting with Farewell bc it was my favorite in high school. And A Separate Peace is because of Finny, because he was my first character crush. And I want to see how it resonates with me now.

    Now you’ve got me all excited to read classics– which is not my usual state as I’m always scrambling to read new releases!

    • Susan V says:

      Marybeth, “In Cold Blood” was a banned book for ME, because I was in junior high when it came out, and I had been devouring all of the Agatha Christie mysteries (esp Hercule Poirot!) and I wanted to read In Cold Blood. I have a vivid memory of my parents telling me no. They said that I could read all the Agatha Christie I wanted to, but In Cold Blood was about something that really happened, and I’d have to wait til I was older for that one. They were on the waiting list for it from the library. To this day, I STILL haven’t read it, but I plan to, at some point! Btw, Marybeth, I really enjoyed “When We Were Worthy” this year, and your other recent one is on my Kindle. I’ve read some of your previous stuff too! 🙂

      • Oh thank you for reading! I so appreciate it!

        Let me know if you add In Cold Blood back to your TBR. It’s hard stuff but I think it’s less shocking with stuff like Dateline and 20/20 it’s more common. The audio version is pretty good if you’re looking for an audio.

  34. I haven’t read the following books since high school/college but recall the impact, and I just bought a couple to finally read again: The Jungle, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Of Human Bondage (geez, did the boys in study hall tease me about that), David Copperfield, and Les Miserables. (A Wrinkle in Time and To Kill a Mockingbird will probably forever be my favorite books.)

  35. Sheila Howes says:

    Oh dear. I hadn’t realised we were meant to be reading in any sort of order. I was hoping to use the prompts as I go – some months maybe do 2, etc, as I’m not going to get ANY read this month, never mind a classic!

  36. Janean says:

    Great list, Anne! I’d add The Great Gatsby, Little Women and A Christmas Carol. All are very accessible to readers who don’t read a lot of classics. Gatsby and Carol are very quick reads as well and would be quick wins to get one started in reading classics. Little Women is very relatable and, while it’s not a plot driven story, the characters are painted so poignantly that it’s never boring.

  37. Whitney H says:

    Serendipity! YES! Funny how I’d never heard of “Love in the Time of Cholera” until I watched that movie a good 15 years or so ago… It seems like since then, I’ve seen it pop up again and again over the years. Maybe it’s a sign… or is it that “the absence of signs is a sign”? I should read it! Thanks for the list, Anne.

    • Jenny says:

      Should I ever be asked by Anne “Three books I love and one book I hate,” I am afraid Love in the Time Cholera is my “hate” book! Loved the movie Serendipity, though. 🙂

  38. Susan V says:

    I’ve read 11 of these, but most of them I read in my teens. Either for school (Native Son, Brave New World, Grapes of Wrath), or ones that I loved – Wrinkle in Time, The Hobbit, and ALL the Russian literature. During high school I dated a boy who shared my love for Russian literature and we read “Anna Karenina” aloud OVER THE PHONE to each other. Yes, we read the WHOLE THING that way! I was an only child, and my parents didn’t care, but he had a larger family and his parents were always kicking him off the phone when they found out that he was on the phone with me, reading “that book” yet again! . Back then, Constance Garnett was the translator of choice for Russian lit.

    The only Steinbeck I’ve read besides “Of Mice and Men” (also for school) was “Grapes of Wrath” and I vividly remember one scene near the end involving an old man who was starving and a young mom. At that time – my reaction was “EWWW!!” That’s about all I remember about the book, sadly.

    I need to read Wrinkle again, before the movie comes out, because I try not to see a movie til I read the book (and at one movie a year average, that isn’t hard to do! LOL!). I also need to read “Anne of Green Gables”, finish reading Rebecca (a re-read for me, started it when I first joined the MMDBC when we were reading it), and re-read Jane Eyre. Lots of great books here!!!

  39. Marion says:

    I’ve read 5 books on this list. More than I thought….lol! Well, I’m going to re-read Invisible Man in February for Black History Month and post a full review on my own experience reading 20 plus years later. It will be interesting to see if I feel the same way about this novel as I did in my 20s.

  40. Susan V says:

    Okay, I have to comment again because I forgot about the other things I wanted to comment on! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an all-time favorite, and I considered naming my oldest daughter Francie, but hubby didn’t like that name! . The Hobbit started me on the whole Lord of the Rings series – they were very popular when I was a teenager. I’m 65 now.

    I was the “overprotective mom” when it came to what my girls read at school, and I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” when I heard they were going to be reading it at school. I ended up sobbing because of the graphic description of some abuse and I had my husband read it and he agreed that our youngest daughter shouldn’t be reading this. So I called the teacher and said she wouldn’t be reading it. The teacher was great about it. My daughter disagreed with me about that decision (because it made her different and she had to read another book, etc) and disagrees with me now (philosophically) about it, but she still hasn’t read it, so she hasn’t said that she wishes she had read it when she was 15.

    Great post, Anne! I’ll be adding a bunch of these to my TBR and some will be re-reads, but it’s been close to 50 years since I read them. ;-o

  41. As i am 65 a lot of Books that is 50 years or older i had to read in School. I love my Kindle and as Books a 100 Year older are Free i have read around 250 so called Classics the last 5 years. I have found wonderful Anthony Trollope and his Barchester serie, i have found Nobelprize lauriate John Galsworthy the Forsythe saga and other novels of his. Both the above mentioned are easy read. There is also Willie Collins, Elisabeth Cleghorn Gaskell,George Bernhard Shaw Pygmalion, Oscar Wilde The important of Bring Earnest, Wictor Hugo Les Miseables, Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe, and others these Books are really easy read, some of them are adepted for stage,one is a Musical and some of them are made as films. I dont know about you but if a book is made into a film i see the film first for to not be disappointed and then enjoy the book,for to not be upset with the film.

  42. Christine says:

    I read Invisible Man in college ( a looong time ago 😜), and the imagery in that book still haunts. It’s the same as The Man with the Golden Arm. I don’t know if anyone has read that, but it’s dark and yet fascinating.
    The whole list is great, Anne!
    My goal is to integrate more classics, and I really like the more recent audio versions of many of them.

  43. Adrienne Hudson says:

    Fabulous list! I chose Jane Eyre as my classic read for the Reading Challenge, and am planning to read Cry, the Beloved Country as “a book that was banned”.
    Anne, there are just too many good books to chose from! problems, problems…..

  44. Liz Erdmer says:

    The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck belongs on the list as another reader has commented. I rarely re-read books but I have enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera twice, whereas I’m unable to get into One Hundred Years of Solitude…

  45. Sarah says:

    Thank you for some great ideas! I have not read very many books on your list. But the ones I have read (Jane Eyre, The Hobbit, and To Kill a Mockingbird) were amazing books. I have Brave New World on my challenge list for a classic, and I am planning to read a different Maya Angelou book for the poetry/essay category (Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now). That’s a great tip to listen to Angelou on audio to hear her tell her own story. I may try that!

  46. Mary says:

    I have read 6 of these (three in a college class). Anna Karenina has been on my list for such a long time that it should probably be my first choice. I’ll go check my shelves~

  47. Carol Auger says:

    I love this list. I highly recommend Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. It is a newer publication, but based on your choices, I think you’d love it.

  48. liz says:

    I’m currently about halfway through Middlemarch, and I love it so, so much. It’s really quite funny and I’ve dog eared so many pages with quotes that I want to write down. I’m reading it with Rebecca Mead’s book My Life in Middlemarch– she has one chapter for each ‘book’ in the book (there are 8) and so I read one of her chapters after finishing each book. Highly recommended!

  49. Jouce says:

    Great list! Thank you. I was an avid reader growing up but then life happened and it seems was always put on the back burner but now that I am recently retired my goal is to read more and classics were on my list. You have so many recommendations that I sometimes get overwhelmed knowing how much I need to catch up. I do have one request, I wish you had the book lists in a form to just print out book/author so I could have something handy when going to the library or bookstore. Thanks.

  50. KG says:

    I’ve read several of these and have the remainder on my TBR list. I would add, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” – should have read in high school, but picked up a few years ago and could.not.put.it.down. Loved it!

  51. Michelle Wilson says:

    Anne, I cannot tell you how happy this list makes me. Not just old white men but so many people of color and women! Thank you!

  52. I plan to read Love in the Time of Cholera and The House of Mirth this year. I picked up both at my library’s book sale. I like to read at least one or two classics a year, and since I haven’t read that many on this list, I’ll use this as a good base!

  53. Wow, this is a fantastic list, and I’ve read all of them with the exception of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Maybe that’s the classic I should read for the challenge! East of Eden is one of my all time favorite books. I always said that if I ever had a son I’d name him Caleb 😀

  54. Misa says:

    I found my love for Nabokov after reading “Lolita” and “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight”, which is, by far, the most amazing book I have ever read! I also love “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”, one of the greatest classics out there. I now have a lot of books to devour, after reading your list!

  55. Thora says:

    I’m kind of disturbed by Lolita being on this list. I am not for banning books, and of course people can read what they want to read. But on the very same day when Larry Nasser is being sentenced for more than a lifelong prison sentence for molestation of (often young) girls, I question the place of book that is from the point of view of a molester. After all, Nabokov himself, in an afterward added to later editions, said that his book does not have a moral – in which he is saying that it does not condone nor support pedophilia, but neither is the book condemning it either. Could you imagine reading a book from Nasser’s point of view, especially one that glorifies (in the moment) an act of molestation? In a famous scene when Humbert is aroused by and eventually secretly ejaculates while Lolita (unwittingly to the situation) is on his lap is no more appropriate to me than a hypothetical scene detailing in well written literary prose Nasser discussing (positively) how he felt while doing “treatments” to his patients, even if of course the book would end in his eventual conviction.

    I know that literature is not always neat and easy and part of the point of books is to make you think, to put you in the place of other people and make you consider scenarios outside of your own personal world view. I have read 14 of the books on this list, and I love reading classics precisely because although they can sometimes be difficult to read, whether because of time lapsed or because of the subject matter dealt with, they have partly withstood the test of time because they do deal with difficult life questions, because of their writing, and because they strike a resonant chord within us as humans.

    I know that you haven’t read the book (or listened to it) yet, Anne, and I am not trying to shame you for having it on the list. In fact, I would appreciate if you did read it and then wrote about your thoughts about its place as a classic. Something I have been grappling with all day since reading this post (and going down a rabbit hole of reading about the book itself, the two movie adaptations, and other controversial movies that have either been seen as artistic or as sexual exploitation of children, like the move Pretty Baby with a 12 year old Brooke Shields playing a prostitute who did her own nude scenes) is what is the line between not shying away from uncomfortable topics, like pedophilia and child molesters, and the line into accidentally glamorizing or glorifying those actions? Does lyrical writing truly cover a multitude of topical “sins”? Does the eventual downfall of Humbert make the rest of the book acceptable? I don’t think there are always pat answers to these questions, of course, and I would be interested to know what other people have felt upon actually reading the book (which I have not done, just read a lot about it, with some excerpted passages).

  56. Bethany says:

    I’ve read and loved several on this list! (My Antonia=😍😍)
    I’d have to add The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. It comes in at just under 200 pages and is a great one to try for people who aren’t typically interested in the classics.

  57. Kelli says:

    What a great list! I was planning to read Wuthering Heights (re-read? I don’t remember if I actually read the whole thing in high school) for this, but now I want to read or re-read alllllll of these 😊

  58. I read Lolita when I was a young adult, and maybe that was the wrong time, because the impression I got was that the narrator was a dirty old man and the novel was smutty. Maybe I will try it again some day, but not now as my own girls are young adults. My choice is Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson – I’m part way through and enjoying it very much. BTW, you know you have a literary household when your two year-old pretends to call Mr. Rochester on a cell phone 🙂

  59. Mary Lindberg says:

    I am going to read Drums Along the Mohawk for January classic. Historical Fiction books about the Revolutionary War era are hard to find and this one has been on my wish list for quite some time.

  60. Torrie says:

    I thought Crime and Punishment was highly readable—a total psychological thriller if there ever was one! I also enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath (though the ending was quite abrupt, which caught me off guard) and one of Cather’s lesser-known works, Song of the Lark, about a woman whose incredible singing voice allows her to leave the small-town life she thought she’d know forever.

    I’ll admit, I hated Love in the Time of Cholera, but maybe it’s because I went in thinking it was going to be this amazing and heartwarming love story, and it just wasn’t. (I will acknowledge that the prose was amazing, though!)

    • Susan V says:

      My favorite Russian novel when I was reading them as a teenager was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. If I had answered Anne’s questions back then, it would’ve been one of the “3 books I love”, along with Lord of the Rings, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But I’m 65 and haven’t read any of these books since I was a teenager – so many books, so little time! ;-o

  61. Sarah says:

    I was listening to the podcast today and thinking about what my three books would be and Cry, the Beloved Country would be on my list. I read it the first time in high school and then again a couple of years ago. It is a hard but absolutely beautiful book.
    I finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn last year and it was my favourite read for 2017.
    Seeing the number of terrific books on this list made me realise that I love classics more than I thought!

  62. Ashley says:

    I’d already decided my first book of the year so would be My Antonia before I even saw the reading challenge. I loved it. Yay!

  63. SoCalLynn says:

    I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God last week and I loved it. Atmospheric is an apt description. I also just finished The Red Pony by Steinbeck. I know it’s usually for middle school but I had never read it before. Every time I read Steinbeck I say never again, I find him so depressing. East of Eden is the last one. I swear. I am currently reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. Pretty good so far.

  64. Summer says:

    I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for this category! This list is great- I thought I’d read a lot of classics but there were several on your list I’d never read!

  65. Oh man – I’ve only read 2 from this list recently enough to remember anything about them (East of Eden and TKAM)!
    I’d add The Great Gatsby – always love that one.
    And, after reading your description, I’d love to read Rebecca!

  66. Elizabeth says:

    This is a terrific list! It makes me want to stop everything and just read. Oh, if I could. The list and descriptions make some of these daunting titles seem much more approachable. Many have been added to my library TBR list and one was added to my Kindle for 99 cents. I’m feeling a little guilt about never finishing Jane Eyre in 10th grade, but Miss Rogers would be delighted to know I’m taking another stab. I appreciate all your lists and suggestions and this is a great collection!

    • Mary says:

      It took me four times of starting and putting down Jane Eyre before I got through the whole book. Then I highly recommended it. My 12 year old has listened to the audio at least three times already. It was nice to hear it again after I knew I liked it.

  67. “My Antonia” was the first book I studied in high school, and I fell immediately in love. Lyrical prose on the prairie has been done many times but not quite so well as Willa Cather. I’ve reread it again and again; it’s like heart food 💕

  68. Susan says:

    It has been interesting for me now as a parent to see the evolution of what is studied in HS English classes now. Many of the books I read in HS are now MS reads – To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer, A Christmas Carol, Fahrenheit 451 – and there is a definite shift away from “old dead white guys” as my daughter puts it. None of my kids has read Hemingway or Steinbeck but they’ve read Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Lorraine Hansberry and Sandra Cisneros.

  69. Donna says:

    Love this list so much, Anne! I plan on reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings for this category. It’s been on my TBR for way too long and I can’t wait to check it off!
    My friend highly recommends Invisible Man and it’s been popping up everywhere lately! I’ve also been meaning to read Anne of Green Gables (you’ll be happy to hear!), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Cry, The Beloved Country.
    Native Son and Picnic at Hanging Rock both sound right up my alley. I’m adding them to this year’s reading list for sure!
    The Hobbit was one of my favourite childhood books!
    I tried to read Love in the Time of Cholera for a book in translation a few challenges back, but just couldn’t get into it.
    Thanks for the thoughtful recommendations as always!

  70. Dorette says:

    This is perfect, since I’m planning to read one classic this year for every non-fiction/novel. What is fascinating is that I’ve only heard about Cry, the Beloved Country about a week ago when I asked for a classic recommendations (and I am from South Africa!!). So they did obviously did a good job on banning it 😉 So curious to read it now.

  71. Cat says:

    Goodness, there is just NOT enough time to read everything I want to read!!! Thank you for these great recommendations! I’ve heard of so many of these books, but honestly didn’t know anything about what many of them were about. Your descriptions make me want to give a chance to books I’ve previously dismissed! Thanks!

  72. Eva says:

    Oh my gosh, this list just literally gave me tingles! Sometimes I feel bad about reading classics, because everyone else seems to be reading the trending new titles, but I just love older literature. It feels so important and weighted in some way. I literally have Love in the Time of Cholera and Fahrenheit 451 on my bedside table, which I pulled from my sister’s library. Also Rebecca is one of my favorites and I keep re-reading it! I haven’t read that Edith Wharton (have only read Ethan Frome) or A Wrinkle in Time, but I’m super excited for the recommendations! I know people really like the latter. You should add Breakfast at Tiffany’s (it is so well written!).

    http://www.shessobright.com

  73. I’ve read quite a few of these in the last couple years. I think I finally recovered from feeling like it was forced reading (from a former English major) and I could just enjoy the stories. So much good stuff here! Invisible Man is high on my list of classics I’d like to get to soon.

    I did try to read Lolita and eventually it was just too much for this HSP. The ick factor is so high. I think I made it about halfway and have myself permission to put it down.

  74. Nickie says:

    What a great list! Thank you! Choosing a classic to read for the MMD Reading Challenge has been hard but this list really helped. Which brings me to a question: Are we suppose to read through the challenge from top to bottom? I hope not because I have been skipping around. 🙂 This is my first challenge and I might be a little unclear on the rules.

  75. Dr.B says:

    I would add Night, by my hero, Elie Wiesel. A quick read, made longer because you might have to walk away. His story haunts me still.

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