So, you’ve been advised to “read the classics”. But what does that mean? The author is dead? It was published before 1900? Although there is much debate over which books should be considered classics, there is general consensus about what makes a classic.
- “A classic usually expresses some enduring quality, be it an expression of life, truth, or beauty.”
- “A classic stands the test of time. The work is usually considered to be a representation of the period in which it was written; and the work merits lasting recognition.”
- “A classic has universal appeal. Great works of literature contain themes that are understood by readers from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience. These themes includes love, hate, death, life, and faith – they touch on our most basic emotional responses.” Source here
This may or may not make things clearer. In any case, we’ve put together some lists to help you out if you are still stuck. Whatever book you choose, one thing is for sure: many, many people throughout history have enjoyed that book before you. You are becoming part of that “classic”.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Intimately rooted in the author’s own biography and written as a first-person narrative, “David Copperfield” charts a young man’s progress through a difficult childhood in Victorian England to ultimate success as a novelist, finding true love along the way.
Library Call Number: F DICK
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This parable tells the story of an air pilot who meets a Little Prince when he has to make a forced landing in the Sahara Desert. The Little Prince tells him wise and enchanted stories.
Library Call Number: INT F SAIN
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes 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 becomes determined not only to escape but to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. A huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s, Dumas was inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment when writing his epic tale of suffering and retribution.
Library Call Number: F DUMA
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.
Library Call Number: F GASK
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him who’s parents have been killed in a ‘car crash’. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd hiccup (like his hair growing back overnight!) to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day
Library Call Number: FAN F ROWL
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Alan Quartermain tells of the search by Sir Henry Curtis and companions for his brother, who has been lost in the interior of Africa for two years in his quest for King Solomon’s Mines, the legendary source of the biblical King’s enormous riches.
Library Call Number: F HAGG
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Years ago Michael Henchard committed a terrible act in a fit of drunken rage. Now he has put his past behind him and become a respected member of the town of Casterbridge, but behind his success lies his shameful secret and his self-destructive temper. As Henchard’s deeds gradually catch up with him, he is forced to face up to his true nature – and risks losing everything he has ever had.
Library Call Number: F HARD
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
When Milo finds an enormous package in his bedroom, he’s delighted to have something to relieve his boredom with school. And when he opens it to find — as the label states — One Genuine Turnpike Tollbooth, he gets right into his pedal car and sets off through the Tollbooth and away on a magical journey! Milo’s extraordinary voyage takes him into such places as the Land of Expectation, the Doldrums, the Mountains of Ignorance and the Castle in the Air. He meets the weirdest and most unexpected characters (such as Tock, the watchdog, the Gelatinous Giant, and the Threadbare Excuse, who mumbles the same thing over and over again), and, once home, can hardly wait to try out the Tollbooth again. But will it be still there when he gets back from school?
Library Call Number: FAN F JUST
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn
Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbours she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter, Pearl, is the product of an illicit affair but no one knows the identity of Pearl’s father. Hester’s refusal to name him brings more condemnation upon her. But she stands strong in the face of public scorn, even when she is forced to wear the sign of her shame sewn onto her clothes: the scarlet letter ‘A’ for ‘Adulteress’.
Library Call Number: F HAWT
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
Library Call Number: FAN F LEGU
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers.
Library Call Number: F DUMA
The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Lucy steps into the Professor’s wardrobe, but steps out into a snowy forest. She’s stumbled upon the magical world of Narnia, a land of unicorns, centaurs, fauns and the wicked White Witch, who terrorises all. Lucy soon realises that Narnia, and in particular Aslan, the great Lion, needs her help if the county’s creatures are ever going to be free again.
Library Call Number: FAN F LEWI
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Terror has begun. Paris, 1792. Each day scores of the French nobility feed the guillotine. They are trapped in the capital. There is no escape. But rumours whisper of a league of young English gentleman of unparalleled daring who are risking their lives to spirit aristocrats across the Channel. They leave no trace behind them except a note from the Scarlet Pimpernel . The ruthless spy master Chauvelin is determined to stop the rescuers by fair means or foul, and, desperately outnumbered, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men must use all their wits to evade capture and stay alive.
Library Call Number: HIST F ORC
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby had once loved beautiful, spoiled Daisy Buchanan, then lost her to a rich boy. Now, mysteriously wealthy, he is ready to risk everything to woo her back.
Library Call Number: F FITZ
White Fang by Jack London
White Fang is part dog, part wolf – and the only one of five tiny cubs to survive. In his lonely world, he soon learns to follow the harsh law of the North – kill or be killed. But nothing in White Fang’s life can prepare him for the cruel owner who buys him and turns him into a vicious killer – a pit dog forced to fight for money. Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce killer?
Library Call Number: ACT F LOND
A room with a view by E. M. Forster
A witty observation of the English middle classes as they holiday abroad in Florence. One of these tourists is Lucy Honeychurch, a young girl whose ‘undeveloped heart’ is awakened by her experiences in Italy and her encounter with the unconventional George Emerson. Lucy finds herself torn between un-English passion and stifling Victorian propriety, personified in her pretentious fiance Cecil Vyse and her dismal cousin Charlotte, until she learns to follow the power of her own heart.
Library Call Number: F FORS
Northern lights (His Dark Materials bk. 1) by Philip Pullman
In a universe somewhat like our own, children are beginning to disappear from cities around England. For Lyra Belacqua, a half-wild orphan girl living at Jordan College, Oxford, the kidnappings are just another excuse for games, battles and tall stories – until her best friend Roger is reported missing. Vowing to rescue him, Lyra embarks upon a journey to the savage North, where physicists and theologians alike are conducting controversial research into the nature of something known only as ‘Dust’. Apart from her friends the Gyptians, her only guide is a curious golden instrument called an alethiometer. If she is to survive her ordeal, she will have to learn to interpret its cryptic and peculiar messages.
Library Call Number: FAN F PULL
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
This is the story of sixteen-year-old David Balfour, an orphan, who after being kidnapped by his villainous uncle manages to escape and becomes involved in the struggle of the Scottish highlanders against English rule.
Library Call Number: ACT F STEV
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce
‘Once upon a time and very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nice little boy named baby tuckoo…’ So begins this novel. A novel which charts the intellectual, moral, and sexual development of Stephen Dedalus, from his childhood listening to his father’s stories, through his schooldays and adolescence to the brink of adulthood and independence, and his awakening as an artist.
Library Call Number: F JOYC
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of northern Britain-and they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. It’s a mystery that’s never been solved, until now . . . So begins the story of The Eagle of the Ninth , set against a backdrop of Roman Britain and featuring a young soldier, Marcus Aquila, who sets off into the unknown north to find out what happened to the lost legion.
Library Call Number: F SUTC
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
On the banks of the Mississippi, Tom Sawyer and his friends seek out adventure at every turn. Then one fateful night they witness a murder. The boys swear never to reveal the secret and run away to be pirates and search for hidden treasure. But when Tom gets trapped in a cave with the murderer, can he escape unharmed?
Library Call Number: F TWAI
On the road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road swings to the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, generosity, chill dawns and drugs, with Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty, traveller and mystic, the living epitome of Beat.
Library Call Number: F KERO
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services — as a burglar — on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon.
Library Call Number: FAN F TOLK
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
One evening, while relaxing after dinner at his gentlemen’s club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions that he can travel around the entire globe in eighty days – and he is determined not to lose.
Library Call Number: F VERN
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest by Ken Kesey
Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the seminal novel of the 1960s that has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome powers that keep them all imprisoned.
Library Call Number: F KESE
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Following a wild and raging storm, the Swiss family Robinson are stranded at sea. But the thundering waves have swept them off to a tropical island, where a new life awaits them. Their ship is laden with supplies and the island is packed with treasures, so they soon adapt and discover new dangers and delights every day.
Library Call Number: F WYSS
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
Paul Morel is the focus of his disappointed and fiercely protective mother’s life. Their tender, devoted and intense bond comes under strain when Paul falls in love with Miriam Leivers, a local girl his mother disapproves of. The arrival of the provocatively modern Clara Dawes causes further tension and Paul is torn between his individual desires and family allegiances. Set in a Nottinghamshire mining town at the turn of the twentieth century this is a powerful portrayal of family and love in all its forms.
Library Call Number: F LAWR
To kill a mockingbird by 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 with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man’s struggle for justice—but the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
Library Call Number: F LEE
Three men in a boat : to say nothing of the dog! by Jerome K. Jerome
I had the general symptoms, the chief among them being a disinclination to work of any kind. So begin the hilarious misadventures of a merry, but scandalously lazy band of well-to-do young men-and a plucky and rather world-weary fox terrier named Montmorency-on an idyllic cruise along the River Thames. Feeling seedy, muses one of them dreamily, “What we want is rest.” What they find instead is one hapless catastrophe after another.
Library Call Number: F JERO
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road changes his life forever. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons and poison. One of the most famous examples of the Victorian era’s obsession with Gothic horror and psychological realism.
Library Call Number: CRI F COLL
Heart of Darkness and Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness is a chilling tale of horror which, as the author intended, is capable of many interpretations. Set in the Congo during the period of rapid colonial expansion in the 19th century, the story deals with the highly disturbing effects of economic, social and political exploitation of European and African societies and the cataclysmic behaviour this induced in some individuals.
Library Call Number: F CONR
Carry on, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
From the moment Jeevs glides into Bertie Wooster’s life and provides him with a magical hangover cure, Bertie begins to wonder how he’s ever managed without him. Jeeves makes himself totally indispensable in every way, disentangling the hapless Bertie from scrapes with formidable aunts, madcap girls and unbidden guests. His ability to dig assorted fellows out of sundry holes is nothing short of miraculous. In short, the man is without equal.
Library Call Number: F WODE
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
A young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something malevolent is stalking the children in her care. But are the children innocent victims or do they know what haunts the governess?
Library Call Number: HOR F JAME
How green was my valley by Richard Llewellyn
Growing up in a mining community in rural South Wales, Huw Morgan is taught many harsh lessons – at the kitchen table, at Chapel and around the pit-head. Looking back on the hardships of his early life, where difficult days are faced with courage but the valleys swell with the beautiful sound of Welsh voices, it becomes clear that there is nowhere so green as the landscape of his own memory.
Library Call Number: F LLEW
The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
Some of the celebrated tales contained in this volume include: the world’s first two detective stories -“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter; ” and three stories sure to make readers’ hair stand on end -“The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”.
Library Call Number: SHO F POE
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
Library Call Number: OTH F ADAM
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent”. Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his 16-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive), capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
Library Call Number: F SALI
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books. The classic novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 is a prophetic account of Western civilisation’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity
Library Call Number: OTH F BRAD
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the bombardier Yossarian, who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Library Call Number: F HELL