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As much of a bookworm I am, I am woefully behind on many of literature's classic novels. Right now I'm reading Wuthering Heights (depressing but so well-written it's not a chore) and I have Pride & Prejudice next up. So for suggestions, I thought I'd ask the amazing readers here for their insight! Please list your top 5 (or less if you can't think of 5) classic novels of any genre that were published before 1940. Including a sentence about why you loved the book and/or why you'd recommend it would also be wonderful. Thanks so much!
For more suggestions check out the Classic Literature Forum. We've got a list for favorites going on there too.
Here's my 5 for today :)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (great story of an orphan fighting against the odds)
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (wonderful story about the French Revolution--unforgettable characters and conflicts)
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (the story of one man's search for spirituality...it's a thought provoking and moving book)
Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (my favorite Edith Wharton. I think it's better than Age of Innocence)
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (great story of deception and revenge.)
Just off the top of my head
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (romance and adventure in the frontier, good stuff).
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (very easy reading, I love his style of writing)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (I read this when I was a kid and loved it).
White Fang by Jack London (more adventures in the wilderness)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (the Count was so intriguing)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (what a freaky tale!)
Well. Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice are two good ones to start with. I would definitely recommend Count of Monte Cristo because it is so cleverly written and a great story about the guy's passion for revenge. (I feel like Wuthering Heights is a great story about passion too).
Those are my favorites off the top of my head. I'll have to come back if I think of any other.
Wow, third post down and already most of my favorites are already listed. OK, what's left. Lots.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque. Novel of World War I, heartbreaking.
O Pioneers by Willa Cather. Woman immigrant makes a life in Nebraska. My wife says it's one of the first truly feminist novels.
Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes mystery. The one everyone else imitates.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. So much better than any of the movies based on the book.
Rebecca by du Maurier. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
For some relatively new classics I suggest:
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
and a children's book, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
For older classics I suggest:
The Odyssey by Homer
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
As You Like It by Shakespeare (anything, really)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Paradise Lost by John Milton
eta: For my recommendations, I have read them all and loved them all. Obviously, some are harder to get into than others. But I like to mix my reading up with fluffy and highbrow, so I don't get burned out. I was an English major in college, and some of these are the ones that have stood out to me. Though others I read much before and after college and they've stayed with me too.
Last Edited on: 9/29/07 10:37 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Huckleberry Finn - a classic that continues to ressonate(spelling!) today (actually any Twain, as far as I'm concerned)
Three Musketeers, Prisoner of Zenda, etc. - exciting look into the time period
Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arther Conan Doyle - again, an interesting look at the time period
The Jungle - I read it in high school and have never eaten certain "processed" meats - nor has my family (Too bad he couldn't write one about baked goods!)
Last Edited on: 9/29/07 2:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
My Top 6 are:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Tess of the D'Ubervilles bu Thomas Hardy
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The first 5 are on my personal Top Ten list.
Do you really feel like you should read something that you would consider "a chore"? I'm glad you are enjoying Whuthering Heights. There is a fun sequel called something like H the true story of Heathcliff,
You might also consider the following (not a chore)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Uncle Tom's Cabin
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Individual taste enters so much into this. I'm old enough that I don't read anything because I "should."
Some people like Jane Austen and others are bored stiff. I haven't read her recently, but I've read almost everything.
I am quite odd because I loathed "Rebecca." It is memorable though.
I found The Prisoner of Zenda referenced so much that I tried it. I still haven't finished it but it's fun. (It's on my Palm Pilot and I've been reading it in doctor's offices when I was stuck. I should finish it.)
I suppose Little Women is more interesting if you read a bit about Louisa May Alcott but we preferred Little Men (not saying it's a better book).
I could never get into a thing by Thomas Hardy.
Time Machine - yes, although Yvette Mimieux is lovely in the 1960 movie :)
There are many good suggestions if they fit your interests, but you can't read everything and some almost need the background of a literature class to be appreciated properly.
Just to clarify, reading classics is not a chore to me :) I just meant that even though Wuthering Heights is very depressing and it usually takes me longer to get through a sad book, it's so well-written that the darkness isn't affecting me much. Great suggestions so far!
I love The Scarlet Letter. I always recommend that readers skip the first boring part called "The Common House." All it does is tell where the letter was found. Boring!!! The rest of the book is wonderful!
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
I love some of the listed books, but would love to add a few more contempory and modern novels. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger and Native Son by Richard Wright.
Something that I really enjoyed doing is reading The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper then immediately reading Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offences by Mark Twain (the later is available many places online for free). It gives a completely different view of Cooper and if nothing else makes people laugh.
I completely agree with Cather's My Antonia and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, those are two novels which I feel everyone should read at least once.
I had an exceptional literature teacher in high school and have been drawn to the classics ever since. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice are all good starters – engaging stories and wonderful characters that most people can easily identify with.
The Odyssey is a favorite of mine – I would recommend you read The Iliad first because one leads into the other. I just read finished reading Black Ships Before Troy to my son (age 8) which is a children’s version of The Iliad. He was so captivated by the story that he brought home a children’s version of The Odyssey (The Adventures of Odysseus) from the library. There are numerous translations of these two books so if you find one difficult to read you may want to try a different translation.
1984 by George Orwell – imaginative, dark story. This line, near the end of the book, has always stuck with me - “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.”
I am a big fan of George Steinbeck. I found all of his stories to be compelling but The Grapes of Wrath is the one I would recommend first. The Depression era is vividly evoked through his stories. Grim yet so profound.
My Antonia and Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather are both wonderful, easy to read stories.
A few others: The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck; Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence; The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; The Call of the Wild by Jack London; Edgar Allan Poe short stories; Middlemarch by George Eliot.
Most of my faves are listed. Jane Austen for sure.
I would add the Barsetshire Novels by Anthony Trollope consists of six novels. Fun read about the life and times of a small English village.
In addition to Pride and Prejudice, which is my all-time favorite book, I recommend the following:
1. Great Expectations
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
3. Brideshead Revisited
4. Silas Marner
5. Jane Eyre
"Kids'" books (but just as great to read as a grown-up)
1. Alice in Wonderland
2. Lassie Come-Home
3. The Magician's Nephew (the prequel to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe)
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
5. The Secret Garden
I haven't read too many classics yet, but I'd highly recommend:
Uncle Tom's Cabin- This is an amazing book. It really makes you think, and the characters are so memorable.
Ivanhoe- Some people find the beginning really boring, but if you get past the first 40 pages, it gets very interesting. It has a fascinating plot and lots of action.
Scottish Chiefs- This isn't a classic, but it should be. Please try it! It is the story of William Wallace and the Scottish Rebellion. (It isn't like Braveheart and it isn't historically accurate, but I love it anyway!)
I have no guarantee that you'll like any of these. I have a tendency to cling stubbornly to books few people like. :)
1) Jane Eyre - my all time favorite book first read when I was a teenager
2) House of MIrth - Edith Wharton, totally fascinated by the story
3) O Pioneer - Willa Cather, lovely
4) Blue Castle - LM Montgomery, I read this when I was kid and was captivated by it but my roommate in college thought it was awful, so who knows
5) can't think of a fifth...will have to ponder on this
I see a few people have Uncle Tom's Cabin on their list. This is a book I've been meaning to read ever since I learned that the actual Uncle Tom's cabin is located a few miles from my house. The book is based on Tom's autobiography, which he wrote after he escaped to Canada, but the cabin he lived in during most of the book's events is still in existence. A much larger colonial-style house was built onto the cabin, and the whole property was sold to the county historical society last year to be turned into a museum.
if you like wuthering heights, perhaps you should read jane eyre next. it's one of my all-time favorites. awesome writing, interesting characters (including the rather modern and very relateable heroine), suspense, horror, romance, and so on. to complement this book you could also read wide sargasso sea (the invented back story of mr. rochester's "mad" wife) by jean rhys and the eyre affair by jasper fforde (in which the villain dives into the book and kidnaps jane eyre; it's pretty entertaining).