I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. As a young kid, I even used to get in trouble with my parents for staying up and reading by torchlight long after I was supposed to be asleep (“you’ll strain your eyes!”). I enjoyed reading so much that later on I chose English Literature as my degree subject at university.
Recently though I’ve neglected my hobby, and it’s honestly not something I feel good about. In the whirlwind that’s juggling work and family life, the notion of just kicking back with a good book is one that’s occurred to me less and less frequently. I must admit that I too often get sucked into a loop of endless social media scrolling or end up binge-watching Netflix instead.
But I really do miss reading!
And apparently I’m also losing out from a wellness perspective. Did you know that reading books offers some amazing (scientifically proven) health benefits? If you don’t believe me, check out this article.
So I’ve decided to challenge myself to start reading again.
While I’m in the process of compiling a TBR list of newer releases, I thought I’d start by revisiting some beloved classic novels. These are my absolute favorites. The ones that I love just as much now as I did when I first read them as a teen or twenty-something. And by some perfect coincidence, five were written by British authors and five were penned by American authors 🙂
So in case you’re also planning to add a few classics to your reading list, and in need of some inspiration, here are my top, not-at-all-boring, oldies but goodies!
10 Favorite Classic Novels
I have to start with this, my favorite novel of all time. I love it so much that it actually inspired the name of this blog (you can read about that here).
Pride and Prejudice is Austen at her very best in my opinion. Her writing is sharp, the dialogue is witty, the themes are progressive, and her characters are just brilliantly developed (especially the heroine, Lizzy Bennet).
I’ve probably read this book a million times but don’t think I’ll ever tire of it!
Gone with the Wind also has a special place in my heart. It was the first novel I read after moving to Atlanta and joining a local book club (with whom I was lucky enough to visit Margaret Mitchell’s house, right here in Midtown ATL). Talk about a great introduction to Southern history and culture!
This epic masterpiece, set during the Civil War era, does such a good job of capturing the collective sense of loss and devastation of the time, that you can just about get past the fact that Scarlett O’Hara is probably one of the most unlikable characters ever written!
Groundbreaking in its anti-war sentiment, this satirical novel can take a while to get into, but it’s worth sticking with, trust me. Catch-22 does a truly wonderful job of stirring the imagination as it explores humanity and the tragedy of war.
And while it surpassed my expectations in many ways, it was the humor above all else that won me over. Simply put, it’s really funny (in a somewhat absurd, weird and quirky way that appeals to me!).
When I first read 1984 as a teen, the themes and concepts still seemed somewhat far-fetched. Nowadays? Not so much! So whenever I re-read it, I can’t help but feel astounded by Orwell’s prescience.
There’s not much I can say about this dystopian vision of the future that hasn’t already been said many times over. It’s disturbing, it’s depressing and it’s brilliant.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
A brilliant piece of fiction, set during the Jazz age, and designed to explore the themes of ambition, social mobility, decadence and morality.
I love it because it’s a wonderful commentary on “the American Dream”, written years before the term was even invented. It’s both a scathing critique of economic privilege and excess, and a tribute to an America full of possibility and optimism.
The prose is beautiful with the extra benefit that it’s on the the short side relative to most other classics, making it a nice easy read!
As someone who has absolutely no interest in modern-day horror stories whatsoever, I think that Frankenstein is a fabulous read! I’d say that it’s more moving and thought-provoking than it is scary, and it’s certainly a fascinating commentary on humanity and compassion.
Did you know that Shelley started writing the novel when she was still a teenager? She went on to publish it at just 20 years old, which I think is a remarkable feat in itself.
Like many of us, I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and loved it right away. But re-reading it as an adult I realized how truly wonderful it is. It’s a fantastic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, that so expertly handles the issues of race, tolerance and moral decency.
Also, Atticus Finch is just an amazing character:
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
At some point I really do want to read Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set A Watchman, which was finally published 55 years after her first.
Another story with a strong female lead (and a brooding male counterpart)? Hmmm, I’m possibly sensing a theme here!
This became a huge success in Victorian England when it was published, and with good reason. It’s so much more than a Gothic romance story.
Not only is this tale about love, pain and loss beautifully written, but its portrayal of female intellectual equality is extremely progressive for the time. Jane’s such a strong and courageous heroine that we can’t help but root for her from beginning to end.
J. D. Salinger
As a teenager myself, I loved reading this story of teenage angst. Undoubtedly an American classic, I think that Salinger does a great job of capturing the experience of growing up and mourning the loss of childhood.
This novel tends to divide opinion. The narrator, Holden Caulfield, is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s a bit spoiled and whiny, and is in many ways just as fake as the phonies he detests. But he was deliberately written this way. Even though I don’t necessarily identify with Caulfield these days, I still like a book that’s thought-provoking and puts the world into someone else’s perspective.
J. R. R. Tolkien
I must admit that I resisted this trilogy for a long time (thinking it wouldn’t be my thing), but my husband convinced me to watch the movies and I was hooked. So I had to go on to read the novels. In my view, The Lord of the Rings is a riveting story, imaginatively told and featuring some amazing characters.
Truth be told, I’m a bit of a geek about it all now 🙂 But still, this is just an awesome, epic narrative.
Over to you now! Go on, let me know… what are your favorite classics? What else to I need to read??!
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