The Best Classic Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once

Four classic books on a table in the foreground with a bookshelf of additional classic books in the background

Classic books are known for being extraordinary and exemplary. They are (usually) the bestsellers of their time and have fascinated readers for ages. While the determining factor that makes a novel a “classic” has been discussed in depth, a proper conclusion has yet to be reached.

Most of us were forced to read these stories in English and writing classes. They are not just impactful, but they also provide insights into the period in which they were written. Societal norms, fashion, lawmaking, and family dynamics are some important themes often discussed in these works.

Below is some incredible classic literature that everyone should read at least once.

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

A tale of unrequited love, mental cages, and obsession, Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s first and only novel. Brontë weaved a complex story about the Earnshaw and the Linton families living in the West Yorkshire moors. Troubles begin when the Earnshaws bring in Heathcliff, a black adopted child, to live with them.

The storyline spans two generations as psychological issues are explored. Since Emily was a renowned poet, the book’s writing is insightful and nuanced.

2. 1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell explores a totalitarian regime in this early dystopian book. Written after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, various concepts like mass surveillance and a repressive government are examined. While we often think of The Hunger Games or Divergent as the pinnacle of the tyrannical genre, 1984 did it first.

The storyline follows two individuals determined to defy this regime and the consequences of their defiance. The book is imaginative and thoughtful. It is an excellent example of why literature must be read, taught, and assessed. To avoid the detrimental society that George Orwell writes about, we have to first acknowledge its possibility and work to redirect it.

3. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

The Rainbow (1915) emphasizes the struggles and personal growth of the women in the Brangwen family within a confining English society. Spanning almost 65 years, readers can see how the family’s ideologies and ambitions change and evolve.

The Rainbow was challenged and banned for a long time because of its candid treatment of sexual desire. Lawrence saw the importance of sexuality in the human experience and tastefully explored this theme. After all, literature is about breaking bounds!

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This 1925 American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is set in the Jazz Age on Long Island Beach. It is narrated by Nick Carraway as he meets and gets to know the mysterious multi-millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Nick is Gatsby’s neighbor who reunites him with his long-lost love Daisy.

The themes explored in the novel include the American dream, class permanence, gender relations, sexuality, and identity. It’s considered to be a masterwork of American literature. Most of us had to read The Great Gatsby in high school. But if you missed the boat, be sure to check it out!

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This novel focuses on personal and spiritual growth. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre takes it a step further. The book revolves around the life of Jane Eyre, in the first-person narrative, from childhood to adulthood. Having elements of social criticism, we also understand various themes like sexuality, love, religion, and feminism from the protagonist’s point of view.

Appreciated by scholars in modern times, the novel has received positive feedback and is considered to be one of the best classic romance books, along with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. When it was first released, it was thought to be too rebellious. Today, however, it is regarded highly.

6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird became an instant success after its 1960 release. Based on her observations from life in Alabama, the storyline covers themes of racism. Siblings Jem and Scout live with their father, Atticus. They befriend Dill, a boy who comes to visit in the summers.

Controversy emerges when Atticus is appointed as the defense lawyer for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping the white Mayella Ewell. The book happens through Scout’s eyes as it explores an unjust judicial system. Lee does an excellent job of addressing racism and how it can permeate a society.

Classic books provide immense insight into the minds of literary geniuses. They explore themes relevant to the human experience and can teach us a great deal about the world we live in. If you haven’t already, be sure to check these titles out!