Classic novels stand the test of time, but many new readers find them intimidating. Differences in language, vocabulary, and context make it hard to relate to even the most beloved classics. Despite the challenge, many are worth the effort. I’ve shared my most favorite classic reads in this post. In my opinion, these are the must read classic novels!
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The Great Gatsby
By far my favorite classic novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a work of art. Written in 1925, the novel centers around tycoon, Jay Gatsby, and his Jazz Age lifestyle in East Egg, a fictional Long Island town. No one knows how Gatsby made his money. Who is he? Where did he come from? Gatsby’s new neighbor, Nick, quickly gets caught up in the glitz and glamour that is Gatsby’s life. The champagne is always flowing in the endless parties. It seems like life is nothing more than gowns, gloves, tuxedos, and fast cars. But Gatsby has secrets that are sure to surface. Will Nick’s friendship with Gatsby help him scale the ladder of society or bring him crashing down? Themes of class, societal expectations, and success permeate the plot, while the romance between Gatsby and Daisy unfolds like a delicate flower. If you love the Roaring 20s, this is the book for you!
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
Much loved by many generations of readers, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is the heartwarming story of the March sisters. Published in 1880, the novel gives readers a glimpse into another side of the Civil War: the domestic lives of the wives and children who left home. Father is away at war while his beloved daughters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth are learning to navigate the precarious space between childhood and young adulthood. Alongside their neighbor, Laurie, the girls experience hardships small and large. And though they couldn’t be more different, their love and respect for each other stand the test of time. If you want a warm hug with a side of sweet romance, this is the book for you!
"Don't try and make me grow up before my time."
The Sun Also Rises
His first work, and maybe one of his best, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is a tour de force of classism, jilted romance, brutal violence, and beautiful landscapes. Considered one of the greatest travel novels by many, the book follows Jake, an American journalist living in Paris, and a group of his café society friends on an adventure to Pamplona, Spain, for the running of the bulls. Between fishing excursions and bullfights, the group spends their days drinking heavily, flirting, and fighting. Jake’s love for Lady Ashley may be the focus of much of the novel, but the central theme is what happens when the party’s over. If you like a book featuring love, loss, and longing in a dramatic setting, this book is for you!
“Everyone behaves badly--given the chance.”
No classic novels compilation post is complete without a work by Charles Dickens. And Great Expectations is the greatest of Dickens’s novels in my opinion. The novel follows the remarkable and, at times, raucous life of Pip, an orphaned boy, in mid-19th century Britain. When readers first meet Pip he’s narrowly evading charges of theft; soon after, he’s sitting in Satis House with the unusual but wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham. During his frequent visits to Satis House Pip falls in love with Estella, Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter. Ever lucky, Pip becomes the benefactor of an anonymous patron and is able to establish himself as a real gentleman in London. But his luck soon runs out, beginning when he learns the truth about his patron and the truth about Estella. If you enjoy adventurous tales and down-on-their-luck characters this is the book for you!
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be."
Painfully beautiful, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is a stunning romance set in Imperial Russia. Lengthy and complex, this novel is not for the faint of heart. But the beauty of the work lies in the complexity. Anna is the lovely wife of much older and more mature Alexei Alexandrovich. Though she loves her husband and their son, she soon falls madly in love with Count Vronsky, a dashing cavalry officer. Their love story and her subsequent fall from society are heartbreaking. What becomes of the beautiful Anna is the stuff of legend. If you love complicated love triangles and upper-class antics, this is the book for you!
“I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”
Pride & Prejudice
Jane Austen is another classic novelist whose work is much-loved, and her novel Pride & Prejudice is the most loved of all her works. Written in a somewhat satirical voice, the book follows heroine Elizabeth Bennett as she navigates the virtual minefield of 19th-century English societal expectations. Elizabeth and her sisters are introduced to Mr. Darcy, a haughty aristocrat at a local ball. Though the Bennett sisters dislike Mr. Darcy’s manners, they can’t seem to escape his presence. He seems to be everywhere they dine, dance, and dwell. Eventually, Elizabeth must face her prejudice against Mr. Darcy. In doing so she learns she loves him but is her love returned? If you love Regency romances, this is the book for you!
“A girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then.”
My Final Thoughts on Must-Read Classic Novels
These are only a few of the classic novels I’ve read and loved, but they are, by far, my favorites. If you’re new to classic novels, I highly suggest starting with one of these. Audiobook versions may be less intimidating, so be sure to check out some of the great audio editions available on Audible or your audiobook provider of choice. Get a free trial of Audible and start listening today!
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