Classic Literature
To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

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 this summer. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.)

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Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon

$23.073.95 (AUDIBLE DEAL)

If you come to Montgomery's later, darker series expecting to find a second Anne, you're bound to be disappointed. Luckily, my grade school self had no such preconceived notions. These were the first books that I finished under the covers with a flashlight at 2:00 a.m. because I had to know where Emily's hopes, dreams, and disappointments led her.

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Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass

Whenever I think of Leaves of Grass, I picture Wynona Rider-turned-Jo March quoting Whitman's "new" volume in the 1994 movie Little Women. If you haven't touched poetry since high school, pick up Whitman's earthshaking 1855 collection, which oozes with freshness and optimism. Starting points: "Song of Myself," "Song of the Open Road," "I Sing the Body Electric." Highly controversial in 1855: read it and decide for yourself.

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Middlemarch

Middlemarch

$0.99Audiobook: 7.49 (Audible)

Eliot's hefty masterpiece combines her "study of provincial life" with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won't, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances.

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A Room with a View

A Room with a View

You just can’t beat a book that turns on a stolen kiss in the Italian countryside. It’s widely believed that the movie is better than the book, but that’s no excuse not to read this slim novel about the awakening of sheltered Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (who is definitely in the running for Most Adorable Name in Literature) at the hands of an Englishman with little regard for convention. (It's worth saying: the movie version is FANTASTIC.)

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

$9.99$2.99

What you need to know: The New York Times called this modern classic "Hogwarts for grown-ups" and it's a hefty 1024 pages. Reading it is an investment, but you won't be sorry. (Or so I hear: it's on my TBR list.)

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Watership Down

Watership Down

A larger-than-life story about a brave band of rabbits in the English countryside and their quest for survival. A story of courage, loyalty, and bravery.

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The Hobbit

The Hobbit

My 6th grade son is currently reading this book in his English literature class. He wasn't excited about reading "that boring book." His 9-year-old sister said, "I'm glad I don't have to read it." One week later, they're 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.

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The Great Short Works

The Great Short Works

If you want to get started with Tolstoy without reading War and Peace (1296 pages) or even Anna Karenina (864 pages), look no further. This compilation includes 8 of Tolstoy's finest short works (some longer than short stories), including The Death of Ivan Ilych, which many consider to be his best work.

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Rebecca

Rebecca

This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current. Suspenseful but not scary, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller.

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The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

These stories of epic quest and good vs. evil are part myth, part fairy tale. These books are wonderful, touching, and timeless. In the words of C.S. Lewis: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book that will break your heart.” Age 7 and up (The Hobbit). Age 10 and up (LOTR).

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Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Audiobook: 0.99 (Whispersync)

If you’ve never read a single Jane Austen book, summer is a good time to start. Jane Austen books are great for the pool or vacation, they’re easy to find in throwaway versions, free for kindle, and the topics are fresh and fun enough for the beach. Honest.

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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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“Happy families are all alike;” begins this classic novel, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you’ve never read Anna Karenina, a great time to find out why William Faulkner called this novel “the best ever written.” Whether or not you agree, you’ll be glad you read it.

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Emma

Emma

$3.95$0.99Audiobook: 0.99 (Whispersync)

Of all Jane Austen’s novels, Emma is the most suited for the beach. Emma is different from the others. It's engaging and witty, as all Jane Austen is. But it's bright and fresh and thoroughly modern, and Emma–despite her flaws–is so winning and relatable I find myself cheering her on more than any other Austen heroine. (Yes, even more than Lizzie.) If you’ve never read Austen, Emma is a great place to start.

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The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters

This short work of classic fiction contains only one character: the demon Screwtape, who is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood for the purpose of instructing him how to best tempt humans off their course (if they are bent on good) and into the service of the enemy (“Our Father Below”). This intriguing and unique book helps you come at the familiar concept of good vs. evil in an entirely fresh way.

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The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

$14.955.95 (Audible)

Fitzgerald's classic was the topic of my first high school term paper—and despite that, I still love it. Fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby has built a mansion on Long Island Sound for the sole purpose of wooing and winning his lost love Daisy Buchanan, who married another man while Gatsby was serving overseas. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss. Even if you've seen the movie (especially if you've seen the movie) you need to read the book.

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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

$7.69$0.99Audiobook: 1.99 (Whispersync price)

Just because it’s assigned reading in high school doesn’t mean this isn’t a great book. This groundbreaking classic is a Gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading it decades sooner.

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

I’ll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Miss Pettigrew is light, charming and utterly delightful.

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Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited

$9.99$2.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

I came to this classic expecting a dry read, but was swept up in this epic coming-of-age story set in Britain between the world wars. I’ve read it ten times since then, entranced by the story of the Flyte family’s unraveling–along with the rest of Britain’s aristocracy–and by its themes of love, loss, and grace. Recommended reading for Downton Abbey fans.

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Parnassus On Wheels

Parnassus On Wheels

Helen McGill doesn't realize she's teetering on the verge of a midlife crisis until the professor rolls into town. He wants to sell her brother Parnassus—his traveling bookstore on (wagon) wheels. Helen falls in love with the idea of traveling through upstate New York, matching book-deprived readers with the right books, and she buys Parnassus herself. Adventures ensue. For fans of Miss Pettigrew (another terrific beach read). Essential reading for book lovers, and anyone who believes that when you sell a man a book, you sell him a whole new life.

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Persuasion

Persuasion

Pride and Prejudice should be read in the spring; Emma in the summer. But Persuasion is for fall. This the last novel Austen completed before her death, and it’s darker and more serious in tone than her earlier works. With its themes of love, regret, and fidelity, this is my favorite Austen novel—at least some of the time. But always in autumn.

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I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

$9.99$2.99Audiobook: 3.99 (Whispersync)

Claims to fame: this is the “original YA novel,” with one of the best narrators in English literature. We hear the story of this eccentric 1930s English family—struggling to make ends meet in a tumbledown castle—through the eyes of 17-year-old Cassandra—bright, witty, and wise beyond her years. Replete with love, magic, writer’s block, and bear costumes.

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Jane of Lantern Hill

Jane of Lantern Hill

I've heard many L. M. Montgomery fans praise this as her best novel, but because it's been out of print for years, I've never read it—until now. I'm so glad I did, and next I'll be strategically placing it on my kids' night tables. If that doesn't work, we'll read it together.

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North and South
The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle

$0.99

This was one of my favorite Montgomery novels as a kid, but I haven't read it in twenty years. This new edition, illustrated by Canadian artist Jacqui Oakley, was just released last spring, and provided the perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite. Highly recommended for Green Gables fans.

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Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

This 1936 epic novel and Pulitzer winner is enjoying a resurgence, and for good reason. More than a Civil War novel, this is a tale of the breadth and depth of human emotions, set against the backdrop of the Old South from the dawn of the war through Reconstruction, and is told through the eyes of Scarlett O'Hara, a beautiful, vivacious Southern Belle pressed into the unforeseen challenges of war. Scarlett is but one of a cast of many unforgettable characters that has been bringing readers back to this book for 75 years. Don't let the word "classic" make you think this can't be a beach read: it's a real page-turner.

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Heidi (Puffin in Bloom)

Heidi (Puffin in Bloom)

I never read Heidi as a kid, but since Sarah's reading it for English Lit this fall, I bumped it up the reading list. You know, just in case she needs my help with her homework. This Puffin in Bloom edition is so pretty that any excuse will do. (Not my favorite classic, but I'm glad to finally know what the fuss is all about.)

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Little Women
Someone at a Distance
As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying

$8.63

While I greatly prefer my own assigned high school read The Sound and the Fury, the backstory on this slim novel is truly astounding. Faulkner claimed that he wrote it in 6 weeks, working from midnight to 4:00 a.m., and that he didn't change a word. The story, again set in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. Consistently cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century, both for its own sake and for the great influence it had over subsequent fiction.

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