Let’s admit it: We’ve all been guilty of skimming or skipping required readings in high school or college. Maybe you were too overwhelmed with a busy course load, or perhaps the book just wasn’t your cup of tea. What we have to acknowledge, though, is that these literary classics were chosen for a reason. From Little Women to Frankenstein, we’ve compiled 28 classic books that you might’ve read (or avoided reading) in school, so you can give them another chance. After all, now that you’re a little bit older and wiser, why not take a walk down memory lane?
Little Women has been a been a big name in the literature world for over 150 years, and for good reason. Set during the Civil War era, the coming-of-age novel centers around four very different sisters bound by their love for each other. What makes this book so special is that the March sisters aren’t a picture perfect family; but at the end of the day, they’re always there for each other. If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that family is everything and we must never them for granted.
“Empowering, beautiful historical fiction about sisters & independent women in turbulent times.” – Sara S. (Likewiser)
Even though To Kill a Mockingbird was written 60 years ago, it couldn’t be more relevant today. The Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee is about a young narrator growing up with a father standing up against a racist criminal justice system in the Deep South. Lee manages to shine light upon difficult subject matters like racial discrimination and sexual assault with humorous yet respectful prose. If you’re looking for a heartwarming book with excellent social commentary, To Kill a Mockingbird is a great place to start.
“I was struck by the relevance of the book today although it was written in 1960 and set in 1936.” -Jane T. (Likewiser)
The Great Gatsby was written and set in the roaring 20s. When many of us read the novel as a teenager, it was easy for all the wealth, parties, and bling of the era to overshadow the book’s literary merit. But as we follow Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy Buchanan in the story, we realize that there are also themes of love, death, class, greed, corruption, dreams, and so much more. I’m telling you this book is deep, and if you were to read it again, you’ll definitely pick up some hidden gems.
“A classic!! This novel is so beautifully and eloquently written. If you haven’t already dipped your toes into the excitingly mysterious life of Mr. Gatsby, I 10/10 recommend you do soon!!” -Alexis R. (Likewiser)
It’s likely that no classic work of literature has been referenced as frequently as George Orwell’s 1984. This science-fiction novel presents a dystopian picture of a totalitarian government operating a surveillance state. In this historic look at a chilling future, readers will notice that the same questions about control and individuality brought up in this mid-20th century book will continue to be pertinent to modern discourse. You’ll be fascinated by the parallels between what you read in 1984 and the current state of American democracy.
“A must read or re-read as an adult in today’s political climate. Surprisingly relevant.” -Lisa M. (Likewiser)
Like most people, you might have known Frankenstein as the hulking green monster. But after reading the original horror fiction novel by Mary Shelley, you’ll understand that Victor Frankenstein is actually the scientist who brought the monster to life. Originally written in 1818, Frankenstein is an incredible book that includes vivid descriptions of nature and explores the dangers that come with an endless pursuit of more knowledge. As the wonders of modern science continue to amaze, surprise, and at times, horrify us, Shelley’s Frankenstein reminds us of the precautions we must take and questions we must ask ourselves as we venture into realms that mankind never thought were possible. The fact that Frankenstein‘s legacy continues to live on is a testament to this story’s remarkable qualities.
“It’s not what I thought it would be after being raised on the classic image of a green square headed monster… It was a lot more interesting.” -H Ky (Likewiser)
When it comes to coming-of-age female protagonist stories, there are few that can match the heights of Jane Eyre. This famous romance novel was written by Charlotte Brontë in 1847 and takes a first-person approach to the protagonist’s development, which was unique during Brontë ‘s time. Jane’s journeys through Lowood Institution, Thornfield Hall, and the Moor House bring her face-to-face to not only St. John and the mysterious Edward Rochester, but also themes of family, romance, fidelity, faith, and purpose. Even if you read (or tried reading) Jane Eyre during your younger years, it’s worth a re-read.
“This classic is often relegated to HS English classes, but it needs to be reread through a modern eye. It captures a strong female character who lives through terriblet imes and is still true to who she is.” -Anita S. (Likewise)
This tale of morality and justice will strike many of the natural emotions that humans aren’t so proud of, including jealousy, greed, and shame. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky’s protagonist, Raskolnikov, commits a senseless crime for money and is forced to deal with the aftermath as he comes to terms with his own actions. Most of us will certainly relate to the tough positions and hard questions presented in this Russian classic. After finishing this read, you’ll be left with the question: What does it mean to do the right thing?
“An epic story worth of people’s current obsession for true crime podcasts. Definitely worth a read!” Isaac G. (Likewiser)
Catch-22 is a 20th century classic written from a unique omniscient narrator perspective. Set during World War II, Heller’s story follows the wartime experiences of Milo Minderbinder. As we experience the perspective of different characters, the reader is brought further into the moral conundrums that are meant to challenge the reader’s understanding of what is right and wrong. Today, the phrase “catch-22 situation” continues to describe seemingly impossible situations with mutually conflicting forces–proof that this book has stood the test of time.
“I tried to ‘get into’ this book for decades, because it was my mother’s favorite. When I finally did (in my 50s), I read it straight through – finally old enough to be able to laugh at the random absurdity of humans who are running things.” Molly H. (Likewiser)
This British literature classic invites readers to explore the colorful world of English gentry. From the book’s very first line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” the premise is set for a thoughtful exploration of the qualities that constitute an appropriate marriage. The Bennet sisters, Mr. Darcy, and a whole slew of compelling characters bring this story to life. Although Pride and Prejudice is no easy read, I can’t recommend it enough.
“A very sophisticated book written in 1833, so it is not for everyone. But it is a wonderful romance and really highlights the struggles of what women dealt with when it came to money and property.” -Madison F. (Likewise)
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