15 must-read classics for beginners

October 13, 2019

I'm by no means a book snob - and by that I mean I read a wide range of genres, predominantly focusing on YA and mysteries/thrillers. But I do believe that there must be a reason why classics are so revered and have stood the test of time so well, and get a great sense of pride out of finishing one. They are often more difficult to read than your average fiction book, however, so here is a list of 15 classics perfect for beginners. 



The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story is of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession," it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

The Great Gatsby is one of my all-time favourite books, so I had to put it at the top of this list. It's very tragic and enigmatic, and is only around 100 pages long, so even if you find the prose difficult, it shouldn't take you too long to get through. 


The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment.

Another short classic, this book is a masterpiece on vanity, written in such a beautiful style that you won't want to put it down. 


Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

I think this is a great one for beginners because it shows how so many classics are misrepresented in the countless adaptations of them that have appeared overtime. Frankenstein isn't just a scary story about a monster, but a very complex narrative surrounding what happens when science progresses without moral limits, and the tragedy and heartbreak that this can lead to. It's a lot more touching than people think!


Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

I read this book for the first time this year and loved it so much. I've recommended it in so many blog posts before, but I'll just say that the prose is very easy to read, it's at points very scary, and it carries important moral messages which will resonate with any reader. 


The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.

This book is not a personal favourite of mine, but I'm definitely in the minority with my opinion and actually want to reread this book to see if my feelings have changed on it years later. Although I didn't like it as much as others, it's certainly a good starter classic because of its short length and easy-to-follow narrative. 


I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

I really enjoyed this one, and it's definitely one of the easier books on this list to read. I would say beware that it gets a little slower around the middle of the book, but picks up towards the end. 



Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream--a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. 

I'm a huge fan of John Steinbeck, particularly East of Eden, but Of Mice and Men is a good place to start to get a feel for his work and style because it's only a short novella. 


Animal Farm - George Orwell

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of George Orwell, but Animal Farm is another quick novella to blast through if you're looking for a socio-political work. 


Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

It's New York in the 1940s, where the martinis flow from cocktail hour till breakfast at Tiffany's. And nice girls don't, except, of course, Holly Golightly. Pursued by Mafia gangsters and playboy millionaires, Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease. She is irrepressibly 'top banana in the shock department', and one of the shining flowers of American fiction.

Like Gatsby, this book is full of glamour but goes much deeper than that 



To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.


















This is one of the few books I was made to read for school that I genuinely enjoyed and which stuck with me in the long term. It's such a clever exposure of prejudiced attitudes from the point of view of innocent children. 


The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandra Dumas 

In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.

If you've seen the size of this book, you may be thinking that I'm mad to recommend it as a beginner's classic. However, despite its length, The Count of Monte Cristo is fast-paced, highly engaging, and relatively easy to read. 


War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

In Russia's struggle with Napoleon, Tolstoy saw a tragedy that involved all mankind. Greater than a historical chronicle, War and Peace is an affirmation of life itself, `a complete picture', as a contemporary reviewer put it, `of everything in which people find their happiness and greatness, their grief and humiliation'. Tolstoy gave his personal approval to this translation, published here in a new single volume edition, which includes an introduction by Henry Gifford, and Tolstoy's important essay `Some Words about War and Peace'. 

Similar to The Count of Monte Cristo, War and Peace is one of those books that looks a lot more intimidating than it actually is. Once you get immersed into the story you won't want to put it down. 


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle




Sherlock Holmes is perfect if you're new to classics, particularly the short stories, which are essentially mini-mysteries which you'll easily fly through in no time. I would recommend beginning with the short stories and then moving onto the novels!







Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?


This is probably one of the harder classics to read on this list, but it's definitely worth it. Once you've got into the story it's very mysterious and engaging, and definitely worth getting your head round the more complicated prose. 


Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work "her own darling child" and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print." The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen's radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

This classic is a good place to start because the cast of characters are very varied and there's a lot of witty/engaging dialogue which will pull you along into their developing relationships. 

2 comments:

  1. Yay! P&P made your list <3 Its my favorite! I have tried to listen to Monte-Cristo three different times on audiobook and couldn't get into it, maybe I need to try and actually read a physical copy? I wonder if it would make a difference

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