Classics You Should Have Read But Probably Haven’t

2002 design of Penguin Classics

2002 design of Penguin Classics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m fascinated by this list over on LibraryThing: Classics you know you should have read but probably haven’t. Periodically, in a fit of self-improvement, I vow to read more classics. And I do, for a while. Then something new and shiny catches my attention, and I ignore the classics again. But I keep returning to them, and I’m always glad to have tackled another great work of literature and put another notch in my belt.

However, this list challenges and confounds me. Out of the top 10 books on the list, I have only read one, and that was in college. I’ve read bits and pieces of some others, but I didn’t sit down and read them all the way through. The top 10 list represents some of the longest and most challenging classics you could put on such a list. (Excepting Oliver Twist, which I just find overly sentimental and insipid.) I guess that’s why they are the top 10 classics you should have read — everyone thinks they should have read these books, but not many people actually have.

The top 10 classics you know you should read but probably haven’t, based on group opinion at LibraryThing, are:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  3. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  8. Ulysses by James Joyce
  9. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville*

* Moby Dick is the one I’ve read. Which ones, if any, have you read?

Will I ever tackle this top 10 list and try to read them all? Probably not. These are classics, sure, but they are not really the classics I want to read. If I’m going to immerse myself in an epically long classic, I have The Count of Monte Cristo, patiently waiting for me to get around to it. I also hear that it’s a ripping good read, which is what I’m really after.

The classics** on my must-read list are not too long and not too challenging. They are all entertaining, emotionally engaging, thought-provoking reads, though. Isn’t that what we read for? Here are the top 10 classics I’d recommend that everyone read, if you haven’t already. (And if you have, you might be due for a reread.)

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  10. 1984 by George Orwell

**A book is a “classic” if it’s generally labelled as one, or if an edition has been issued by a well-established list of classics, such as Penguin Classics.

What classics would you recommend that everybody read?

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