In this article:
- Classic books become classics because of their timeless topics and masterful prose, but many readers find them intimidating for those same reasons.
- This list of classic books tries to stick with books that have simple themes, simple prose, or both.
- Each book listed will come with a warning on what parts you might have difficulties with.
- This diverse selection of classic books contains novels from different centuries and countries.
Classic books are as widely loved as they are widely hated and that’s largely because high school literature classes seem to have the uncanny ability to make even the best books sound boring.
In reality, classic books are some of the best you’ll ever read in your life because, let’s be honest here, a book can’t stay famous for centuries if it isn’t insanely good. The classics are proof that time is the best literary critic.
That said, many classic books are hard to read because of their antiquated language or heavy themes. That’s why this list of classic books gives you a variety of options that are easy to follow and fun to read.
1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door…Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Unless you’re a very slow reader, Fahrenheit 451 can be finished in a day to as little as a couple of hours. This is the shortest book on this list and is written in very straightforward, unornamented language.
Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel about a future American society where ideas, knowledge, and history are outlawed through the destruction of books. It feels a bit heavy-handed, and maybe even paranoid, at first glance, but Fahrenheit 451 was written at a time when these concerns were very real.
In this dystopian America, firemen don’t put fires out, they start them. After new building methods allowed for homes to be built completely fireproof, firemen were repurposed as book burners.
It tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman, who slowly starts to gain an interest in books and the past, leading him to question whether the society he lives in is “right”.
If you find 1984 and/or Brave New World too dense but want a book that touches on similar themes, this is the novel for you.
You can get Fahrenheit 451 here.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
““I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s legacy may be a bit tarnished due to the recent controversy around Go Set a Watchman, but To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the giants of American literature. If you only have time for one great American novel, consider reading this one.
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the Deep South and deals with the harsh realities of racial inequality in 1930s America.
It’s certainly not the first novel to deal with these themes, but what makes To Kill a Mockingbird stand out is the perspective of its protagonist — we experience these events through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, the six-year-old daughter of Atticus Finch.
It’s Atticus who takes a more active role in the book. As the only lawyer willing to represent Tom Robinson, an African-American, in court.
The book is filled with warm moments between Jean Louise and her father which makes Jean Louise’s struggle to understand and struggle against the ways gender and racial inequality show up in her life more heartbreaking.
You can get To Kill a Mockingbird here.
3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help.”Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate
Like Water for Chocolate is a Mexican novel set on the Mexico – US border and the border between reality and the magical. In Like Water for Chocolate, food is brujeria and is intimately tied to the inner emotions that Tita de la Garza, its protagonist, tries to keep hidden for fear of upsetting her family.
The story revolves around Tita who is forbidden from marrying the love of her life because tradition dictates she stay unmarried and take care of her parents for the rest of her life. As a “solution,” the two are forced to split and her lover is married to her sister so he can stay close to Tita.
Saying anything more than that would be a spoiler (and would raise more questions than they could answer) so you should just go ahead and try reading the book yourself.
You can get Like Water for Chocolate here.
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” That’s one of the most famous opening lines in English literature and its home is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice, hereafter referred to as P & P, is a love story set in Regency England. It centers on Elizabeth Bennet, a strong-willed, wise-cracking young woman whose family is plagued by one problem: Her siblings are all women and if they don’t marry well, they’re all screwed.
When Mr. Darcy, a rich yet arrogant young man, comes to town, the two of them become embroiled in the most hilarious love-hate relationship in literature.
Before you skip this because of a bad first impression or hearing bad reviews about how boring P & P is, stop for a moment and consider reading the book in the voice of your most sarcastic aunt, the Lady Whistledown voice from Bridgerton, or a really sassy make-up YouTuber.
Because that is what the literature gods intended.
You can get Pride and Prejudice here.
5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
“Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”Bram Stoker, Dracula
You can almost hear an organ playing ominously in the background — Dracula!
Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror novel is just as much about the titular vampire and his Transylvanian castle as it is a whacky tale about an eccentric group of men trying to kill him — all while Mina, the woman they’re all trying to save, keeps getting them out of trouble.
Despite its surprisingly progressive portrayal of women, Dracula is very much of its time so keep that in mind for some passages of the book.
You can get Dracula here.
6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is the 1958 debut novel of Chinua Achebe.
Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the book gives a fictionalized account of how colonialism and its primary agents, Christian missionaries, have unbound the cultural, societal, and religious threads between individuals and tribes, thereby unraveling the very fabric of Nigeria.
The story follows Okonkwo, a local man who’s popular for being a talented wrestler and being, more or less, the ideal Igbo man.
Determined to not be defined by the weakness of his father, Okonkwo makes a show of being a big, strong, masculine man in front of the tribe — even when it hurts him and brings misfortune to his family.
All the while, Okonkwo grapples with the ways European colonialism has driven a wedge between him, his family, and his tribe.
Now, that probably makes Things Fall Apart sound like a very intellectual — even a bit grandstanding — book that’s too dense to be entertaining, but it’s really easy to read and transports you to the warm nights of Nigeria.
You can get Things Fall Apart here.
7. Dune by Frank Herbert
“There is no escape—we pay for the violence of our ancestors.”Frank Herbert, Dune
Dune is a sci-fi classic for people who liked the Lord of the Rings and/or Star Wars movies, but can’t be bothered to read Tolkien talk about trees for pages upon pages. It’s also a great book if you wish Game of Thrones were set in space and George RR Martin could actually finish the story.
Though previously called “unfilmable”, Dune did get a proper adaptation in 2021 with the release of Villeneuve’s Dune.
So what makes this book unfilmable yet gives it such wide appeal?
Dune is set in a distant future where humanity has conquered the stars. The noble houses each control their own planet and shares in the empire’s CHOAM company which is basically an intergalactic version of the Dutch East India Company.
Political power and economic power are intricately tied in the world of Dune and no planet is more economically valuable than the desert world of Arrakis, the only planet that can produce “melange”, the spice that literally runs the empire.
When House Atreides gets assigned rulership of Arrakis, the young Paul Atreides finds himself caught between a political plot that stretches centuries and the dream of the people of Arrakis — the dream that one day, Arrakis will have water.
You can get Dune here.
8. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
“Am I what they call an egoist? Or am I the opposite, a man of excessively weak spirit? I really don’t know myself, but since I seem in either case to be a mass of vices, I drop steadily, inevitably, into unhappiness, and I have no specific plan to stave off my descent.”Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human
No Longer Human is a modern Japanese classic published in 1948. There are two things to know about this book before you start it. First, it should come with a trigger warning, and second, it’s not a book for people who hate long-winded soliloquies.
If you can stand No Longer Human‘s protagonist, though, you’ll find a heartbreakingly realistic depiction of depression.
It follows Ōba Yōzō as he goes through misfortune after misfortune in life, some of which are self-inflicted because he’s in too deep to break his pattern of negative behaviors.
Ōba Yōzō is aware of this and often questions whether he’s even a human being for not being able to act and “feel” the way normal human beings do. At some points, he gets solipsistic and wonders if other people truly are human beings.
His internal turmoil is set against the backdrop of postwar Japan and has a very Japanese sensibility that you’re likely to notice if you’re familiar with the hikikomori.
You can get No Longer Human here.
9. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
“Love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once. As lightning strikes, as a Finnish knife strikes! She, by the way, insisted afterwards that it wasn’t so, that we had, of course, loved each other for a long, long time, without knowing each other, never having seen each other… ”Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Written by Mikhail Bulgarov during the days of the Soviet Union, The Master and Margarita is a surreal but enjoyable political satire that’s honestly too hard to explain briefly without spoilers and while still doing the book justice.
The premise is that the Devil comes to Moscow in 1930 to stage a magic show where he gives people ominous predictions of their fate and then weaves through time and space to tell two different stories at once. Also, the cat has magic powers.
You can get The Master and Margarita here.