The 28 Best Classic Novels to Read in the Modern Era

THe best classic novels
The 28 Best Classic Novels to Read in the Modern Era 32

I’ve been a fan of classic books since reading The Odyssey in High School. Ever since then, I’ve been constantly searching for the best classic novels to read.

The biggest issue I have is that some classics are too dense or have too many outdated or offensive references. While I try to contextualize each classic that I read, I find that some are still unreadable. No matter what, I’ll never love Moby Dick for example.

In choosing which classic novels we included on this list, I tried to pick stories that would appeal to modern readers.

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Best Classic Novels

little women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I remember reading this coming-of-age novel with my grandmother when I was young. It features a family of four girls who are trying to support each other and their mother while their father is away at war.

The classic story by Alcott has survived for generations for a reason, the way she wonderfully encapsulates what it’s like to be in a family. The highs and lows of the personal and collective lives of Beth, Jo, Amy, and Meg are an endearing testimony to the bonds of sisters.

Find this book in Books for 13-year-olds / Literary Classics / Books about Motherhood

of mice and men and other picks for the best high school books

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This book is another one of my favorites and it also happens to be a short one.  George and Lennie have stuck with me for the last 20-plus years.

There is something about Lennie’s innocence that is haunting.  There is a moment (if you have read it, you know what I am talking about) that makes this book unforgettable.

Find this book in Literary Classics / Banned Books, Thought-Provoking Books

The Odyssey 1

The Odyssey by Homer

There is a reason this boat book is one of my favorite books of all time. I find this classic tale to be so entertaining. This is one of the OG adult fantasy novels.

  It’s a classic for a reason. Odysseus’s struggle to get home to his family is truly epic. Those Greeks sure knew what they were doing.

I’m constantly picking up something new and reading it along with A Thousand Ships and The Lost Sisterhood gave me so much to think about.

Find this book in Literary Classics / Long Books / Boat Books

One Hundred Years of Solitude and other Oprah Book Club List Books ranked.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

For the record, I read this book BEFORE Oprah picked it! We spent a semester learning about this family saga during my Senior Year. Each person was assigned a symbol to report on throughout the book each week.

Mine was goldfish -part of the symbolism of amnesia and the duality between amnesia and nostalgia. Yep. I still remember the lesson. Maybe it was the teaching that contributed but, this remains one of my favorite books ever.

Find this book in Kirsten’s Favorites / Magical Realism Books / Classic Books

The Great Gatsby and more books for Downton Abbey Fans

Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Are you a fan of Rose’s storyline from Downton Abbey? Well, our swinging-dancing, jazz-loving, rebellious debutante would be perfectly happy inside Fitzgerald’s famed novel.

The book might take place in America, but the same ideas of the class divide and resistance to change in the most opulent of settings could be felt in England too.

Daisy and Gatsby’s story still seems so relevant today too. This tragic love story is a classic for a reason.

Find this book in Books set in New York / Classic Books

Must-Read Classic Books

beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison

HOW HAVE I NEVER READ TONI MORRISON BEFORE? I swear I thought I had read this book, but after reading The Toni Morrison Book Club, I realized I hadn’t. When my library hold finally came up for this one, I realized I was so excited to read it.

Morrison is easily one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever read. Beloved, which is based on the true story of a runaway slave, haunted me while I was reading it. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Find this book in Magical Realism Books / Best Classic Books / Books about Motherhood / Ghost Books

brothers karakazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read this MASSIVE text for fun when I was a sophomore in college. It took me an entire semester but it was worth it. Dostoevsky’s classic features a mystery, multiple love triangles, and brother relationships.

It’s about the four sons of Fyodor Karamazov and the change in their worlds after he is murdered. As with most families, each brother is very different and their reactions to the murder are as well. It’s a SUPER complex book but it’s seriously worth it.

Find this book in Literary Classics

the count of Monte Cristo 1

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

The first time I read this book was actually before I saw the movie Shawshank Redemption. I read it a bunch of times and loved it.  I did not realize, however, that it was an abridged version.

When I was at University, I embarked on a journey to read the unabridged version of this book.  I was so amazed at the brilliance and detail that it has been a favorite ever since.

Edmund Dantès is thrown into the Chateau D’if for a crime that he did not commit. There, he meets a fellow prisoner who teaches him within the confines of their cells before telling him of a treasure. Dantès escapes and seeks his revenge.

Find this book in Jackie’s Favorites / Must-read Classic Books / Boat Books

rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

The OG psychological thriller book, Rebecca is a book set in Cornwall that will leave you checking behind you when you walk down a dark hallway. 

The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by her husband’s first wife, Rebecca.  The deceit will have you second-guessing everything you read while you yell at the pages.

One of the most acclaimed psychological thriller authors, this novel is Daphne Du Maurier at her best. It is a chilling novel about a naive second wife discovering the truth behind the wife who came before her.

The Netflix book adaptation stars Lily James – and it reignited this popular thriller book’s success. If you have not read this book, it is a perfect book for fall.

Find this book in Best Mystery Novels / Popular Thriller Books / Unreliable Narrator Books / Best Classic Books

Sci-fi and Fantasy Classic Books to Read

the alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Coelho’s classic book is a one-sitting fantasy read that is an utter delight.

Santiago embarks on an adventure to look for treasures in the desert of Egypt after meeting a mystical being. Along the way, he makes friends, learns lessons, and finds love.

This fable holds a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that opens the reader’s mind up to the true joys of life.

Find this book in Best Classic Books

sleepy

Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

In the secluded glen of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman haunts the residents. He’s the ghost of a soldier from the Revolutionary War.

New schoolmaster Ichabod Crane encounters the ghoul, and the legend lives on. This classic fantasy novel is a must-read around Halloween.

Find this book in Literary Classics / Halloween Movies Based on Books

Lord of the Rings and more of the best long historical fantasy books over 500 pages

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkein

It is hard to believe that this trilogy was published in 1954. This epic fantasy has definitely withstood the test of time. Hobbits and elves, humans, and wizards join together in Middle-Earth to destroy a ring.

This is the ultimate story of the fight between good and evil and the fight to overcome the evil within.

If you love fantasy and have not read this book, it is an absolute must.

Find this book in Must-read Classic Books / Books like Game of Thrones / Adult Fantasy Novels / Long Books

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s dystopian classic is one of the most well-known pieces of modern literature but I hadn’t read it! I don’t usually gravitate to books like this, but I’ve heard so many people speak about the relevance of this novel today.

It’s so true. This book offers a grim look at our future if our society continues down the road of this technology obsession we seem to have. If you liked 1984 or The Circle, you will devour this book.

Find this book in Best Classic Novels / Sci-Fi Books, Thought-Provoking Books / Books about Books

Classic Romance Novels

frenchmans creek

This book is my favorite book of all time. After reading Du Maurier’s Rebecca, I was eager to read more of her novels. At the time, my grandparents had a home in a Florida enclave by the same name so I picked it up and read it.

Only after I fell in love with this tale of

Find this book in Kirsten’s Favorites, Books set in Cornwall, Pirate Books, Classic Romance Novels

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet is usually covered during the high school years, but if you haven’t learned about this classic book, you need to read it!

Shakespeare’s beloved story is a tragic romance set in Verona, Italy. It’s about the children of two warring families, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet who start meeting in secret away from their parent’s machinations.

Find this book in Books Like Disney Movies / Classic Romance Novels

Pride and Prejudice BN

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

We love this classic love story. This love story has everything you could want. Elizabeth Bennet is a smart and stubborn woman who was ahead of her time. With 5 Bennet girls, one of them must marry well to support the other sisters.

There are so many new and wonderful adaptations of this novel, that we did an entire post on it. And you don’t want to miss the other Jane Austen adaptations in the post as well.

Austen is a master of romances and this book is the original enemies-to-lovers novel! It’s my favorite of all the Jane Austen books.

Find this book in Books About Sisters / Enemies-to-Lovers Books / Jane Austen Books in Order / Grumpy Sunshine Books / Classic Romance Novels

More Literary Classic Books to Read

the bell jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Not all books with unreliable narrators are mysteries and thrillers. Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical work shows Esther Greenwood’s mental breakdown. While working as a summer intern in New York City, Esther is sexually assaulted and returns home to recuperate.

With her academic dreams on hold, Esther falls into a deep depression and attempts suicide, eventually sent to a psychiatric hospital to recover. With its deep insights into mental health and gender roles, Plath’s novel is a great classic book to read.

Find this book in Literary Classics / Unreliable Narrator, Books Set in New York

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The only Charles Dickens book I’ve ever read and was recently nominated for PBS’s Great American Read.

The story features orphan Pip who comes into an unexpected fortune. His life is changed forever when he becomes a man of leisure and meets beautiful but aloof Estella. It’s a great tale that could just as easily have been set in modern-day London.

Find this book in Must-Read Classic Books

The scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

If you didn’t read this book in high school, you should consider reading it now! Set in Puritan Massachusetts, The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman condemned to wear the letter A for the rest of her life after giving birth to a bastard child.

When her husband who is presumed dead finds out about the baby, he takes up a new name and vows to find the unknown father. As her daughter, Pearl, grows, we learn of the impact Hester’s shunning has on her life as well.

Find this book in Classic Books to Read

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Chopin’s The Awakening was considered scandalous when it was first published back in the Victorian era. This literary classic involves a woman in a loveless marriage who turns away from her husband to ignite a passionate romance. It’s one of the best classic romance novels ever written.

Find this book in Literary Classics

The Best Classic Mystery Books

and then there were none

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I was so hooked by this British murder mystery/thriller. A mysterious person is trying to right the wrongs of the past by luring unsuspecting criminals to a deserted island…and then murdering them one by one.

But who is the killer? Why are they killing? And just how long have they been stalking their prey? You have to figure out whodunit in this unreliable narrator book.

Find this book in Unreliable Narrator Book / Best Classic Novels / Historical Mystery Books / Agatha Christie Books in Order / Best Mystery Books / Locked Room Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I am a HUGE detective story lover and no one does detective stories better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes’ ability to solve the crime is fascinating. His observations are astute and I can never, ever guess who committed the crime. If you are looking for the best mystery books of all time, Sherlock Holmes cannot be missed.

Again, love all the various adaptions of this series, but Sherlock on the BBC is my absolute favorite.  (Narrated by Stephen Fry – the British narrator of the Harry Potter series and Mycroft Holmes in one of the adaptations.)

Find this book in Sherlock Holmes Books / Literary Classics / Best Mystery Books / British Mysteries

Classic Books for Teens

Anne of green Gables by LM Mongtogery and more great Canadian Novels by Canadian Authors

Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomeryir?source=bk&t=beyondth06 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=5c9b77d29546960eec62ffcf6e66c0aa& cb=1590237272404

My mother was the first person to read this middle grade book to me and I was immediately drawn to Anne. She was smart, precocious, and had a way of making everyone love her while simultaneously finding new ways to get into trouble. 

Anne is an orphan who is sent to live with siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert who wanted a male orphan to help them on the farm. Anne was sent to them instead. She is bright and loquacious and wins their hearts.

Something is comforting about this cozy book that makes me read it over and over. This is a beautiful book about friendship and found family. I am not sure if it is more popular in Canada but, one day I hope to visit Prince Edward Island. This is one of my (Jackie) all-time favorite books.

Find this book in Coming-of-Age Books / Friendship Books / Realistic Fiction

the curious case of benjamin button by f scott fitzgerald

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I listened to this one while doing the laundry the other night, it’s only an hour long but I really rather liked it! I liked it so much that I was frustrated that it wasn’t a full-blown novel.

That’s my problem with short stories. They are never satisfying enough! This one revolved around a man who aged in reverse – born as a 70-year-old and ending his life as a newborn.

Find this book in Best Classic Books

things fall apart

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I recall being enraptured by this first book in Chinua Achebee’s African trilogy when I first read it in high school. Achebee’s story about colonization opened my eyes to the roots of our society and the destruction that colonizers did to the people they enslaved and oppressed.

This story will forever be one I thank for opening my eyes and teaching me lessons in a way I could feel in my soul. It’s a perfect example of how a well-told fictional story can leave a lasting impact on young minds.

Find this book in African Novels / Literary Classic

Classic Novels for Kids

Treasure Island and more novels set in cornwall

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

This swashbuckling tale of piracy and treasure is perfect for children and adults alike. Long John Silver is quite a scary villain, whose legacy lives on in Halloween costumes everywhere.

One-legged, parrot-wearing, map-loving pirates everywhere can thank Robert Louis Stevenson for the inspiration. Why not read this book set in Cornwall to your little buccaneer at bedtime?

Find this book in Pirate Books / Best Classic Books / Books Set in Cornwall

The Little Prince and other picks for the best high school books

Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine Se Saint Exupery

I read this book in both English and French.  After all, I am from Canada.  This is not a long book, it is easy to read.  Yet, the full meaning is deep and poetic.  This is the perfect classic to tackle if you are intimidated by very long books.

Find this book in Classic Books

Peter Pan

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is one of Kirsten’s favorite childhood stories. The magical world of Neverland with it’s pirates, mermaids, and natives is so engrossing.

The story of Peter Pan and his adventures with the Darling children have inspired countless spin-off books, movies, and theatrical productions for a reason. It’s a must-read classic children’s book for everyone.

Find this book in Pirate Books / Classic Kids Books / Cozy Books / Tween Fantasy Books

classic books for kids

35 of the Best Classic Books for Kids by Age

For more classic novels for kids, head over to this article.

Which of these classic books have you read?

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