With all the books that are easily available now, it can be hard to find the time to dedicate to the classics. But there’s a reason they’re classics. In fact, a study from 2013 found that reading classic literature can actually help you relate to people in real life and increase your empathy and emotional intelligence.
The theory behind this is that classic literature describes actions, and tells you just what happens, without delving into the characters mind like popular fiction does. If you’re looking to start your classic reading list, look no farther!
1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1890
At the time this was written, Dorian Gray was a scandalous character. A man willing to sell his soul in order to remain forever young and beautiful, he epitomized vanity and corruption. His portrait, in turn, aged and retained all of his numerous sins.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, 1813
As far as classics go, this is one you simply can’t escape. Of course, Jane Austin has written a plethora of classic novels, but Pride and Prejudice almost always stands out. This piece features a family with five daughters, with a focus on Elizabeth, the second oldest. Of course, being written in the 1800’s, the focus of Elizabeth’s life is marriage. Pride is wounded, prejudices develop, and a surprisingly complex story of love and humanity develops.
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
If writers were painters, Fitzgerald would’ve painted this work in golds and blacks. The book focuses on a combination of love, lust, and the have and have-nots. With stunning imagery from the decadence of the jazz age and a twist ending, this is one story you should read, not just watch.
4. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906
This novel was originally intended to highlight the working conditions in Chicago, but ended up as an expose on the meatpacking industry instead! Readers were so shocked and disgusted by the information, they enacted several food safety laws. Don’t read this if you’re easily disturbed, but it is an excellent look at the harsh working conditions that consumed the immigrant workforce once upon a time in the United States.
5. Fahrenheit 451: by Ray Bradbury, 1953
What temperature does paper burn at? 451 degrees Fahrenheit, apparently. This classic novel is based on a dystopian future where all outlawed books are burned. This novel is aimed at book burnings that have occurred throughout the United States, and it remains relevant today. There are no “illegal” books nowadays, but there are still schools, churches, and other organizations ban or burn certain ones. This novel provides a look at just what happens when that mindset gets out of hand.
6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, 1926
At first glance, this love story is just that — a love story. Taking place in Spain, Hemingway writes in his classic style about the running of the bulls, fishing, and, of course, love. However, Hemmingway is well known for keeping important themes under the surface, known as the Iceberg Theory, and other ideals are also prevalent in this story. He argues for the tenacity of the “Lost Generation” and touches on the subjects of spiritual renewal in nature, what it means to be a man, and death.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960
With the recent release of Go Set a Watchman, interest in Lee has been renewed. In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t Lee’s first book — it was originally a flashback series from Louise Finch, which the publisher asked Lee to turn into a separate book. The theme of the book is based on racism, and is inspired from Lee’s own childhood. For an in-depth look at the effects of racism and rape, this book is one that you surely can’t miss.
8. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937
You’ve probably seen the movies for this series, but the books are still important to read. The interweaving of characters, the world building, and the battle of good versus evil is a wonderful study in the process of writing and character building. The trilogy was inspired by Tolkien’s world, after fighting in WWII. It’s interesting how the book changes when read knowing the background for it.
9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1954
This disturbing novel explores the depths, or rather, the lack of depth, of our humanity. A group of children are left stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Despite being well educated, it doesn’t take long for the children to descend into debauchery and begin hunting one another. Reader beware: this isn’t for the faint of heart.
10. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe, 1844
Poe is infamous for his horror stories, but The Purloined Letter is considered an early adaptation of today’s detective stories. In this case, Poe writes a lovely and eloquent example of searching for things that are hidden in plain sight. Instead of a focus on action, this was the first type of story where the plot depended on analysis – not unlike the Sherlock Holmes tales.
Ann Mulderig is a self-proclaimed health nut who loves writing about fitness, healthy eating, and good health in general. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time in the mountains or baking new recipes in the kitchen. You can follow her on Twitter at @annmulderig.