10 Classics for People Who Don’t Read Classics
It seems that a lot of readers have made it a New Years’ resolution to try to read more “classic” novels (find out what we think makes a book a “classic” here). Yet many people struggle with these older works of literature, partially because they are not used to the style of writing. It’s unfamiliar and can seem alienating, or even intimidating. This is a shame: the classics contain some truly memorable stories that have stood the test of time. It is important that they continue to be read, even as writing styles change.
We have read quite a few classic novels, and have definitely found some easier to understand than others. As a result, we have made a list of ten classics that we believe can act as a gateway to older works of literature. In other words, these are classics for people who don’t read classics.
#1 – The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
The Castle of Otranto is the oldest book on this list, but is also an excellent gateway to classic novels. For one thing, it is very short, and can easily be read in a single day. For another, the writing is extremely accessible. In fact, the main critique of this book is often that the writing is too simplistic. As a result, this book can be easily understood by modern readers.
Blurb: On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Fearing the end of his dynasty, Manfred, Conrad’s father, determines to marry Conrad’s betrothed. Yet a set of mysterious, supernatural set of events stand in his way. The Castle of Otranto established the Gothic as a literary form in England. With its compelling blend of psychological realism and supernatural terror, it has influenced writers from Ann Radcliffe to Stephen King.
#2 – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of short stories, and although it may not mark the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes series, it is an excellent starting point for anyone new to this franchise: the stories are short, sharp, and easy to follow. At the same time, both the writing and the narratives are extremely compelling.
Blurb: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the series of short stories that made the fortunes of the Strand magazine and won immense popularity for Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. The detective is at the height of his powers and this volume is full of his famous cases, including “The Red-Headed League”, “The Blue Carbuncle”, and “The Speckled Band”. Although Holmes gained a reputation for infallibility, Conan Doyle shows his realism and feminism by having the great detective defeated by Irene Adler – the woman – in the very first story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
#3 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an excellent book for those people who don’t read many classics. It may be a children’s book, but it is actually quite complex; this is a book that can capture your imagination whilst getting you used to reading older styles of writing.
Blurb: Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in middles, and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase, “off with their heads!”. This is a land where rules have no boundaries, eating mushrooms will make you grow or shrink, croquet is played with flamingos and hedgehogs, and exorbitant trials are held for the theft of tarts.
#4 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
Dickens’ writing is, compared to many of his Victorian contemporaries, relatively easy to follow. Yet it is difficult to recommend Great Expectations or David Copperfield to someone who hasn’t read a lot of classics: these are long novels. A Christmas Carol, on the other hand, is a reasonable length and really demonstrates Dickens’ descriptive writing.
Blurb: Dickens’ story of the solitary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Chrismas by a series of ghostly visitors, has proved one of his most well-loved works. Ever since it was published in 1843, it has had an enduring influence on the way we think about the traditions of Christmas.
#5 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
If you enjoy romance novels, you should consider reading Wuthering Heights. The beginning is a little slow, and the style can be difficult to understand at first, but this book really gets going, and, when it does, it forms a fantastic story that is sure to keep any reader entertained.
Blurb: Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gipsy foundling Heathcliff, and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class.
#6 – Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853)
Villette is a surprisingly compelling novel that, like Wuthering Heights, takes a little time to get going. Once you get past the first few pages, however, you are sure to enjoy Villette. The writing is easy to follow and the characters are enormously entertaining.
Blurb: Lucy Snowe, in flight from an unhappy past, leaves England to find work as a teacher in Madame Beck’s Villette school. Drawn to the fiery autocratic schoolmaster, Monsieur Paul Emanuel, Lucy is compelled by Madame Beck’s jealous interference to assert her right to love and be loved. Based in part on Charlotte Brontë’s experiences in Brussels ten years earlier, Villette is a cogent and dramatic exploration of a woman’s response to the challenge of a constricting social environment.
#7 – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
The Picture of Dorian Gray is an extremely lovable classic. It is a great story that contains a good mixture of beautiful descriptions and narrative drama. The writing is on the complex side, but the poetic nature of this novel is sure to keep its readers compelled.
Blurb: Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This youth, who remains forever unchanged, is petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral. Meanwhile, there is a painting of him that ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years.
#8 – Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Although Dracula is a lengthy novel, it is broken up into quite small sections. It is an epistolary novel, told through a variety of different formats that include letters and diary entries. This makes it a gripping story that can be appreciated by a range of different readers.
Blurb: Awareness of Dracula as a masterly gothic thriller has increased ever since its publication in 1897, and the novel is regarded as one of the most seminal horror stories ever written, having inspired countless copycat tales and literary spin-offs. The tale of young Englishman Jonathan Harker’s journey to Transylvania, into the very heard of Count Dracula’s evil realm, is compelling, but is perhaps the journey of the vampire to England – and the dangers he poses to Jonathan’s beloved Mina – that is more horrifying.
#9 – The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne (1858)
The Coral Island was originally published as a children’s novel. Now, it is more commonly known as a young adult book; the writing is not overly complex and the story is absolutely packed with action and adventure (it even features pirates!).
Blurb: When the three sailor lads, Ralph, Jack and Peterkin are cast ashore after a storm, their first task is to find out whether the island is inhabited. Their next task is to find a way of staying alive. They go hunting and learn how to fish, explore underwater caves and build boats – but then their island paradise is rudely disturbed by the arrival of pirates.
#10 – Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1873)
Most people are familiar with this novel; it is extremely famous, and this is for one simple reason: it is a good story. Yet it is also another book with short chapters and a lot of action in its narrative. For this reason, it is sure to entertain those who are not used to reading many classics.
Blurb: One ill-fated evening at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire world in just eighty days – and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant, Passepartout. Travelling by train, steamship, sailing boat, sledge, and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, and natural disasters.
Thank you for reading. We hope that you have enjoyed this list of ten classics for people who don’t read classics. If you would like to see more of our book recommendations, why not check out some of our reviews?