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15 Books That Make for the Perfect Beach Read
Summer is in full swing and there’s nothing like heading to the beach — or the park — sitting by the water, contemplating the view, grabbing a good book and just immersing ourselves in it. That’s why we’re throwing out some ideas for the perfect summer novels.
We are adhering to “beach reads” rules though: most of the titles here are either total page-turners or grant some instant gratification — or both. And all of them will transport you to faraway places or the kind of setting you’d enjoy spending a vacation at, either because of when they were written or where they are set.
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
The oldest book on this list is the first one in a series of five psychological thrillers that Patricia Highsmith wrote about her infamous Tom Ripley character. Even if he’s a sociopath with more than murderous tendencies, the reader can’t avoid being on Ripley’s side while reading Highsmith’s engrossing novels.
The whole series is set in Europe with the first book taking its protagonist and the reader to San Remo, Rome, Palermo and Venice. Plus, there’s a constant longing for a trip to Greece.
“Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay (1967)
This Australian classic is set in 1900 and features a group of boarders from an all-girls school in Victoria as they take a day trip to the nearby geological formation Hanging Rock . There are plenty of descriptions of proper picnic attire, the beauty of the landscape and the relationships that bond this group of teenagers and their teachers.
And while Joan Lindsay’s writing style and the setting for this novel may have you drawing some parallels with other classic coming-of-age novels written by and starring women, the ending of Picnic at Hanging Rock could only have been written in the 1960s.
“Los mares del Sur” (Southern Seas) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1979)
Allow me the hometown reference with this Spanish novel set in Barcelona in 1979. Written by the Galician-Catalan author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Southern Seas is the most famous of his novels starring the private detective Pepe Carvalho. He’s a gourmet who’s equally obsessed with food, literature and the city of Barcelona.
Besides a methodical description of the city in the late 1970s, the book also includes references to a trip to the Southern Seas that never was.
“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami (1987)
Written by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, this coming-of-age novel follows the story of Toru Watanabe, a college student who is obsessed with American literature. He’s trying to figure out his life in Tokyo in the 1960s and ends up in relationships with two women who couldn’t be more different: there’s Naoko, the former girlfriend of his best friend, and Midori, one of his classmates.
The story takes the reader from the bustling streets of Tokyo to the peaceful quietness of a rehab center lost in the mountains nearby Kyoto.
“Get Shorty” by Elmore Leonard (1990)
Small-time Miami loan shark Chili Palmer travels to Las Vegas, hoping to get a debt paid, and ends up in Los Angeles, where he learns about the movie-making business and how to become a producer. Set in Hollywood in 1990, this California classic masterfully blends suspense, thrills, humor and even the slightest hint of a Western.
This story is so quintessentially Hollywood that there’s a 1995 movie adaptation starring John Travolta and a 2017 TV show with Chris O’Dowd, but you should definitely start with the Elmore Leonard novel.
“Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon (1992)
American novelist Donna Leon has been calling Venice home for years. Her first book in the mystery series that stars the Venetian police detective Guido Brunetti follows the investigation of a music conductor’s death after he’s poisoned during the intermission of a Verdi opera at La Felice.
Leon has been steadily publishing one new Commissario Guido Brunetti installment a year for decades . So if you love the Venitian setting, crime stories and the constant descriptions of all the delicious foods (and drinks) that Brunetti ingests on a daily basis, this could definitely be the series for you.
“Call Me by Your Name” by André Aciman (2007)
Chances are we’ll never get to see Luca Guadagnino’s sequel to his Call Me by Your Name movie adaptation. And while André Aciman’s follow-up novel, Find Me , may leave hardcore fans of Elio and Oliver a little bit underwhelmed, there’s nothing like going back to the original material.
Set against the backdrop of the Italian Riviera, this coming-of-age story follows the precocious Elio as he falls in love with Oliver, a graduate student and Elio’s parents’ guest for the summer. This iconic summer read perfectly captures the feeling of longing for someone and it features plentiful, engaging conversations, early morning swims, leisurely bike rides, a furtive relationship and a passionate trip to Rome.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sets this story — that deals with immigration, race and the feeling of belonging — in Lagos, London and New Jersey. Her protagonist is Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who moves to the United States to further her studies.
Americanah makes for a great read not only as an engaging and entertaining novel but also as a study about race in America from the perspective of a non-American Black person. The novel also packs a complex love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, who moves to London and has to live there as an undocumented immigrant.
“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty (2014)
I don’t care if you’ve already seen the star-packed HBO miniseries and know not only who the killer of this story is but also the identity of the person who dies and whose investigation propels the whole plot, Liane Moriarty’s soapy thriller still very much deserves a read.
On the one hand, instead of the rugged coast of Northern California, the novel Big Little Lies is set in the suburban Northern Beaches of Sydney. On the other hand, the book jams enough humor and sharp banter — especially when it comes to the inclusion of dialogue from the police interrogations among the many parents who take their kids to the same school as our protagonists — that you’ll find enough nuggets of new material to more than justify the read.
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s historical fiction bestseller is set between the publishing world of present-day New York and the classic Hollywood of the 1950s, 1960s and onward. When the relatively unknown journalist Monique Grant is tasked with writing a profile on the legendary actress Evelyn Hugo, she can’t believe her career-changing luck.
The novel guides the reader through a series of interviews between Monique and Evelyn in which the former star tells her origin story and the reasons behind her many marriages throughout the years.
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (2017)
Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel stars Arthur Less as a novelist with a dwindling career and a broken heart. As if all of that wasn’t enough already, Less is on the brink of turning 50. When his former long-time boyfriend invites Less to his wedding, our hapless protagonist decides to embark on a series of back-to-back international trips with a “ramshackle itinerary” to avoid the much-dreaded event.
Greer’s fun and never-quiet novel takes the reader and its protagonist from the foggy shores of San Francisco to New York City, Mexico City, Turin, Paris, Berlin, Morocco, India and Japan.
“Agent Running in the Field” by John le Carré (2019)
The last published novel of late spymaster John le Carré is a return to some of his career-defining themes in the world of international espionage, which he describes with precision — and without a glimpse of glamour or spectacle.
The novel stars Nat, a reluctant-to-be-out-of-the-field agent in his late forties, who has had a long career developing sources in Russia. Nat’s back in London and somehow can’t avoid getting himself involved in yet another surveillance plot. The book is set in 2018 and there’s constant chatter among its characters regarding Brexit and the Trump administration. Le Carré favors none of those.
Even if you don’t like international thrillers featuring double agents that much — who doesn’t though? — Agent Running in the Field is still worth a read if only to appreciate Le Carré’s succinct yet masterfully rich and descriptive prose.
“Beach Read” by Emily Henry (2020)
Let’s add Beach Read to this list of beach reads because Emily Henry’s romance novel truly does its title justice. Set in a small Michigan town, the novel tells the story of bestselling romance author January and acclaimed fiction writer Gus. They end up being neighbors and living side-by-side in lakefront cottages.
One thing leads to another and they end up making a deal: by the end of the summer he’ll be the one to pen a romance book and she’ll write a dark and bleak one. They both need to teach the other everything they need to know to be able to produce something in a genre they’re not used to working in. Of course, besides all the procrastinating and writing, there’s also time for love.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett (2020)
Last year’s revelatory novel The Vanishing Half tackles the subject of passing when it comes to racial identity. The Brit Bennett-penned historical novel, which is already being developed into a limited series by HBO , tells the story of two identical twin sisters from a small town in rural Louisiana where the majority Black population is so light-skinned that one of the sisters passes as a white woman for most of her life after fleeing town.
The action encompasses several decades starting in the 1950s and weaves together the life of the assimilated sister — who’s leading a double life in New Orleans first and then Los Angeles — with that of the other one, who is forced to return home.
“Velvet Was the Night” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2021)
Let’s close this list with an August release from one of 2020’s bestselling authors. After her Mexican Gothic was chosen as Best Horror novel last year by the Goodreads users, author Silvia Moreno-Garcia returns with Velvet Was the Night .
The Mexican Canadian author sets the action in 1970s Mexico City and writes about Maite, a secretary obsessed with romance stories and her beautiful neighbor Leonora. When the object of her fixation disappears, Maite starts looking for her — but she isn’t the only one.
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The best novels in English: readers' alternative list
After Robert McCrum finished his two-year-long project compiling the best novels written in English, you had a lot to add . Here are the 15 books that received most votes to join the list
- The 100 best novels written in English: the full list
- Robert McCrum reflects on his choices
- One in five doesn’t represent over 300 years of women in literature: a response
- The world’s 100 greatest novels of all time (2003)
W hich are the 100 best novels ever written in the English language? No list could possibly satisfy everyone, as is always the case with listicles . When writer Robert McCrum completed his own , after developing it over the course of two years , it was greeted with a mix of enthusiasm and criticism. Most of the scepticism centred on the lack of diversity , though many readers had their own favourite omission. So we asked you to nominate the books you thought should have made the list. Here are the novels that received the most nominations, in no particular order – we have included all that received a minimum of two votes.
1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
“It’s the ideal postcolonial novel. Its inventive idiomatic prose highlights the malleability of the English language: no other writer (or translator) has evoked the true essence of another language in English. Period.” Steven Ikeme
“Brilliant, distinctive, thought-provoking and illuminating of a sense of place and time. Also quite readable.” Ryan
“This book is a seminal piece of great story telling. Set in the advent of colonialism and its implications for the native people, the clash of cultures of two different worlds.A story of how a way of life was replaced by another culture.” Kinnie Hindowah
“It’s an excellent example of black African writing in English of which I felt your list was sadly lacking. Black African novelists are often sorely under represented in literary criticism and lists of this kind. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe explores the colonial experience by arguably using the tools of colonialism itself, ie the English language. The story is told from the African perspective and his use of African colloquialisms and proverbs is genuinely subversive and innovative.” Nathan Loughran
2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
“As a non-native English speaker and someone who grew up in an Asian culture, English as a language appears very articulate and clear to me. And most well written English literature works, including poems, embody such almost straightforward characters, both in their wording and storytelling ... until I read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I still remember how struck I was to see the English words be played in a way that’s mostly familiar to me in other Asian literature. The gentle singsong wording and wave-like storytelling combined with the vividness of English captured me like a dream. I’ve read many more English novels since, some as captivating and clever, but none carries the same magic.” Ling
“The God of Small Things – though a fairly recent book – resonates very strongly with me. It explores caste, sexism, colonialism and the strange unspoken rules that tie Indian families together. Like in most great novels, the prose itself is stunning, with imagery fresh and original and at the same time, somehow familiar. I’m a girl from a South Indian village and I was raised by a single mother and my grandmother. Perhaps it is this coincidence that ties me so strongly to the book, to see in tangible words the burden that history passes along to Indian women.” Sita
“I have never been so moved by a book as this one. Every character is complete and completely human; the plot is intricate and perfectly woven; the sentences sparkle with lapidary precision. When common words fail, she creates her own lexicon (a device I usually loathe in lesser hands) and creates poetry within the prose – ‘Furrywhirring,’ ‘Sariflapping,’ ‘ OrangedrinkLemondrink Man’, ‘fatly baffled.’ The description of the God of Small Things or mundane tragedies as a flippant, skipping boy in short pants is as evocative as it is heart breaking. Roy frames tragic personal stories within the context of the greater tragedy of Indian social strictures and politics. And the ending made me cry for two solid hours. I read the book four years ago and writing this critique is making my throat tighten even now, such is its incandescent power and brilliance.” Pam Norris
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
“Brutal, heartbreaking and beautiful.” Tanith
“Beloved is one of the greatest novels ever written – in any language or culture, any genre or generation, any time or clime. It is a measure of Morrison’s rare and remarkable gift as a writer that one can say of this innovative novel: all humanity is here. It is the most extraordinary excavation of the bones and ghosts of American history (slavery, lynching, Jim Crow segregation), limned in a deeply haunting, profoundly moving multi-layered epic tragedy. With compelling candour, courage and conviction, Morrison’s imperishable masterpiece distils an eerie evocation of mood, setting, landscape and atmosphere, a complex, even complicated deployment of character and characterisation, multiple points of view from an interlude of astutely individuated voices. [...] Toni Morrison’s Beloved is, as TS Eliot wrote of James Joyce’s Ulysses, ‘a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.’” Idowu Omoyele
“This novel is important to English literature in three respects. Firstly, it not only broaches a significant historical topic (American slavery), but in many ways prescribes solutions to our treatment of slavery’s history. The novel also uses a beautiful and poetic style to hone in its themes. Lastly, Morrison utilises magical realism to enhance the setting and the characters that occupy it. Morrison is one of the first American authors to use magical realism as a primary stylistic choice.” Sean Fortenberry
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
“Despite the passage of time, I have not forgotten how prescient The Handmaid’s Tale was, and how prescient it felt. She described a future that didn’t seem so far-fetched. Living in America gives you a sense, sometimes, that the fundamentalist Christians, with their literalist readings of the Bible, would be capable of reading the story of an infertile woman who had her husband impregnate her handmaid and see that as a solution to infertility in the modern age. And Atwood not only gets the reading of the Bible correct, she also foresaw that we would wreck the planet at the level of reproduction, too. Sometimes, when another “crazy” thing comes to pass in American politics/culture, I find myself thinking that we’re moving closer to Atwood’s nightmare future. If you combine that prescience with Atwood’s deft handling of language – she really is a prose virtuosa – and you have the making of a classic.” Lorraine Berry
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
“McCarthy is certainly one of the finest living authors in the world today and this novel is his best ... A Texan, his dark descriptions of the American West are second to none. His voice is unique and unmatched in its originality. This is a novel which hypnotises, horrifies and leaves the reader as dazed as man who has stood too close to freight-train as it has roared by his head. Jolting and vividly spattered with blood, the pages brand themselves deeply into the readers memory and imagination: A true American masterpiece crafted by a true master.” Mark Hall
“It is the best novel written in the twentieth century. It tells a fascinating and complex story with incredible power. It demonstrates McCarthy’s total mastery of both language and narrative. It has arguably the greatest villain ever written. It shows the utter superfluousness of punctuation. It evokes a little-known period in American history with startling beauty and incredible realism.” TheMarxOfProgress
“Mccarthy’s novel is a masterpiece with a nihilistic bent and lurid prose. The Judge is one of the most sinister characters in the history of literature.” Jay Tucker
6. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
“This is the one book that whisked me away to India. It shows you a world that you’ve maybe never thought about before, it makes you feel empathy for the struggles of Indian beggars, it shows you what life was like in the countryside and in the city. It’s a caleidoscope of people and stories. It educates you about Indian politics and history. And it’s a very moving book as well. It can bring tears into your eyes (not mine of course, I’m talking about a friend...)” Isabelle Meyer
“A great and fluid command of the language, an achingly accurate portrayal of the complexity of human choices, startling humour in places you least expect, tender treatment of the tragedy that is the human condition... This book takes you right into the drama of ordinary, seemingly forgettable lives.” Vivian Ligo
“It is a beautifully written, tragic tale of how four characters from different backgrounds join together, but how their lives follow different paths because of their caste. Even though it’s so very sad, there is so much love and humour and the irony that it’s the ‘luckiest’ character who is the most miserable!” Kim
7. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996)
“David Foster Wallace was a creative force that measured the disillusion and sadness of a generation of people who felt emptiness that took a shape that no-one could really identify or wrestle with. Infinite Jest, his magnum opus, represents all of these feelings and more. It is a work that confronts the substance of how happiness is truly fleeting. A work over-brimming with intelligence, humour, pathos and insight. I can think of few works that capture the mood of a time as Infinite Jest does. It is prescient, chilling, hilarious, comforting, and all of it simultaneously.” Ben James
“The best writer of his generation has to have a spot on the list. The best novel of the past 20 years is hilarious, sad and absurd – often within the same page. At over 1,000 pages you’ll struggle through bits of it, and suddenly you’ll realise you’ve finished and want to immediately start again.” Jay Tucker
8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
“Slaughterhouse Five is an eclectic telling of a tragedy told by Vonnegut, who was there during the Dresden bombing. It brings a unique satire to an otherwise terrible event and it is told with poignancy. Vonnegut’s anti-war story was a triumph of literature.” Mario Velarde
“Such a short and easy to read book, it takes an interesting, quirky and meaningful approach to a horrific event in our history. Very imaginative, poignant and at times shocking, it has stayed with me for a long time each time I’ve read it.” Ciara Dawson
9. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (1954 - 1955)
“Tolkien defined the Fantasy genre with his epic storytelling and world building.” Gerd Duerner
“Setting up the genre for the next six decades, there is simply no other work of literature this ambitious. Powerful, profound, poignant, and linguistically pure.” Jorge
“It is an incredibly well written book by a very talented man. A masterpiece that inspired many writers in the genre. To me, it was a book that helped me through some dark times. It inspired me with the beauty of the writing (Tolkien is a masterful writer), and the great messages within the story.” Kim Anisi
10. I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan (2003)
“It makes a protagonist of he who is literature’s all-time ultimate villain and simultaneously the personification of all villainy. With this character at the book’s heart, the author explores, amongst many other themes, some of humanity’s darkest and most dreadful moral transgressions. Duncan manages this with unflinching clarity, intelligently devised detail and a craftsman’s weave of one-liners, observational humour, hilarious characters and broadly applied satire. To me, while first reading it, then returning immediately to the first page for another go, it was clear that I may never enjoy a novel so much again. That has stuck true for over ten years now.” David Pooley
“It manages to answer the primal questions about the relationship between God & the Devil. A reasonably good theologian could probably shoot it down in flames, but like Milton’s Satan, he is beautiful, bright and flawed. Duncan writes like an angel and Lucifer ... well, you’ll just have to read it.” Laura Andrus
11. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (1997-2007)
“A good novel will leave you a different person than when you began it, and I honestly don’t think there are any books that have changed so many people’s lives like Harry Potter novels have. While perhaps not the best written books when compared to other masterpieces on the list, the detail of the Harry Potter universe and the engaging characters and storylines are works of genius. Rowling captures the imagination like no other author can, and that is why she deserves to be on the list of greatest novels.” Andrew Thornbury
“I have chosen this series because it means something to me both as a reader and a teacher. I have seen children that wouldn’t usually choose reading as a way to pass the time become completely engrossed in these books. It is also true to say that if you enjoy reading something as a young person, there is a likelihood that you will also enjoy re-reading the same text. As a child I very much enjoyed reading these, and I still do today!” Charlotte Fox
12. Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray (1981)
“This is the key work in contemporary Scottish fiction, which initiates the renaissance in Scottish writing. Its influence can also be detected across the wider ‘postmodern’ context, by pushing the frontiers of the novel. No Ali Smith, David Mitchell, Will Self et al without Lanark.” Edmund Smyth
“The greatest Scottish novel of 20th century: personal and political, parochial and universal, it strides across the realist and fantasy genres with a playful but urgent post-modernism.” Grant Rintoul
13. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein (1961)
“Why no sci-fi? Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein’s masterpiece, transcends the genre, as it is as much a groundbreaking social, political, religious, and sexual commentary on what it is to be human, obliterating taboos of the era. It was way ahead of its time. As if that wasn’t enough, Jubal Harshaw has to be one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction.” Michael Yaros
“This novel correctly defined ‘love’ for me, as ‘the state in which the welfare and happiness of another become essential to your own.’” Spider Robinson
14. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
“As a non-white, non-Western reader of English language fiction since early childhood, I had begun to internalise the idea that good fiction needed to meet the standards set by dead straight white men. Then when I was 18 I read this novel and it blew my mind – the narrative voice, characters and plot sensitised me to racism and sexism in ways that I had never encountered (and have yet to encounter) in novels authored by straight white men. And though I am not an African-American woman, it validated and enlarged my existence, which is what I think the best fiction is capable of.” Shanon Shah
“Any list of great books needs to include this, or is simply incomplete. The Color Purple was the first book that truly touched me and really forced me to think.” Denise Paradise
15. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (1976)
“This was a life-changing work for me. It totally changed the way I looked at time, gender, race, sanity, utopia and dystopia. I first read it in my late teens and I’ve reread it frequently. I always find something new, or interpret it slightly differently. It questions why we need gender designation, offering a gender neutral ‘per’. It offers a three-parent society. It contrasts sexism, racism and the chemical coshing of a mental health patient with a utopia that doesn’t contain any of these issues. It leaves us with the idea that, in interfering with the mind, as the central character’s brain is operated on, we change the possible future available to us. It touched on so many issues that matter in my life, and in society generally, that the added question of what reality means became academic.” Laura Albero
“The book is inspired and is aesthetically superb and socially salvific.” The Revd Linda Isiorho
Do you have a book to add to the list? You can still take part by leaving a comment below.
- The 100 best novels
- Chinua Achebe
- Arundhati Roy
- Toni Morrison
- Margaret Atwood
- Cormac McCarthy
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The Best “Best Sellers”: 22 Popular Books to Learn English From
When you want to read a book in English , it can be hard to know where to start.
There are millions of books for you to choose from!
Which books should you try reading ?
Why not start with the same books native English speakers are reading?
You might think that best sellers (popular books) are too difficult for an English learner to read. But actually, popular books are perfect for learning English , since they’re often written in simple English.
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks For Books To Learn English
- OUR TOP PICK: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
- 1st to Die by James Patterson
- Three by Ted Dekker
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
- Silent Scream by Angela Marsons
To become really popular, books have to appeal to many people. This means they need to be interesting and easy to understand .
The benefit of reading best sellers is that you’re reading the same books actual English speakers read .
You can learn a lot of vocabulary from them, and more importantly, you can learn more about the culture of native speakers .
You’ll also be able to discuss current books and popular authors with other readers (even native speakers), since best sellers are read by many people.
All of this means that best sellers can teach you a lot, and that you can definitely read them!
Before you pick a book, though, you should pick a genre .
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
What’s a Genre?
A genre is a category of book, or a specific kind of writing . There are many genres, and you probably know some of them already. Some examples of genre include horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy …you get the point!
What kind of books do you like to read? Decide on a genre before you decide on a book. Otherwise, you might end up trying to read a book you aren’t that interested in.
You might love historical fiction but dislike sci-fi (that’s science fiction for short!). Or you might hate romance but love a good adventure story.
Learn what books you like, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the books you study from!
The videos are organized by level (beginner through advanced) and topic (“arts and entertainment,” “business,” “science and tech” and more).
Let’s read some popular English books and improve your English reading skills!
22 of the Best Popular Books You Can Use to Learn English
Thriller and suspense.
A thriller is the kind of book that makes your heart pound fast. Many thrillers are “page-turners.” They make you want to keep reading and turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Suspense books are a lot like thrillers, and may be even more exciting or scary. They’re the kind of books you don’t want to read alone at night.
These two are often considered almost the same genre, because they’re so similar. You’ll like them if you’re interested in crime dramas, murder mysteries or just a good fast-paced novel.
Thrillers and suspense novels use a lot of action words and usually have lots of realistic dialogue . So if you’re looking for a fun way to learn exciting new words and phrases, these books are the perfect place to do that.
1. “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult
What this book is about: A 13-year-old girl searches for her mother, who disappeared after a terrible accident. She gets some help from a psychic and a detective. Together, they find out that sometimes asking questions gets them answers they didn’t want to know…
The English in this book: This book might be a little difficult, since it’s not a typical thriller. It’s focused more on how people think than on their actions. More advanced readers will enjoy this one.
2. “1st to Die” by James Patterson
What this book is about: Four women join together to catch a killer who’s murdering people in terrible ways. This is the first in a series, so if you like this one, you can continue reading about this team of women.
The English in this book: Patterson’s writing is fairly easy to understand, and has tons of great action words to learn.
3. “Three” by Ted Dekker
What this book is about: Imagine that you’re driving your car when a phone rings. The person on the line says you have three minutes to confess your sin to the world, or your car will explode. What do you do? In this book, Kevin Parson is chased by a killer for something he’s not sure he did. Follow the thrilling ride.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is about as easy as Patterson’s writing, but the story might be a little more difficult to follow.
4. “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King
What this book is about: This book is the first in a trilogy, or a set of three books. In it, a retired cop tries to stop a man from killing thousands of people. Will he be able to stop the terrible event in time?
The English in this book: Stephen King is one of the best-known authors in the horror ( scary story ) genre today. His language is a little more advanced, and his characters are very realistic, which makes this a good book for seeing how people talk.
5. “Silent Scream” by Angela Marsons
What this book is about: Someone is killing children. Detective Kim Stone is about to find out that they’ve been killing for a much longer time than anyone realized. But will Stone be able to stop the murderer before they strike again?
The English in this book: This book is a little more advanced in its writing style, but it should still be readable for high- intermediate level learners. Marsons is a British author, so some of the language and dialogue are specific to Britain (like calling people “guv”). This is a great book for learning “Britishisms” —ways of speaking that are specific to the UK.
Romance books explore relationships , finding Mr. Right (a perfect boyfriend or husband for someone) or characters dealing with love or sex. Some romance novels have sexual content and themes. Others, often called “chick lit,” have a lighter tone, and are more about interactions between people. Romance novels are usually written for women, but anyone can enjoy a well-written story about relationships.
Some of the language in romance books can get “steamy,” or sexual in nature. But romance novels are also fantastic at describing what people look like, feel like or act like. Many of the books show ways that women might talk to men, for example, or ways men might talk to women. You might even get some ideas for how to flirt in English.
6. “Until the End of Time” by Danielle Steel
What this book is about: Does love last forever? The couples in this story believe so. This is a story about love that even death can’t destroy.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is a little verbose (it uses a lot of words), but the language is simple enough for an intermediate learner to follow.
7. “One for the Money” by Janet Evanovich
What this book is about: Stephanie Plum needs money, and she needs it fast. So she turns to hunting down people who should be in jail, starting with a guy she has a history with.
The English in this book: Fast-paced and easy to follow, this is a great book for intermediate readers. The book is written from the point of view of the main character, and it uses a very conversational tone. It’s written the way Stephanie Plum would actually speak. Perfect for learning how native English speakers talk!
8. “I’ve Got Your Number” by Sophie Kinsella
What this book is about: A woman preparing for her wedding loses her cell phone. No problem! She decides to just use the cell phone she found in the trash at her hotel. So what if the man the phone belongs to doesn’t think that’s a good idea?
The English in this book: This is another great book to learn how people talk, since it’s written in the first-person point of view. In other words, it’s written as if the main character is speaking or thinking. It’s a fun read that isn’t too difficult to follow.
9. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
What this book is about: When Ana Steele goes for an interview, she is fascinated by the handsome and smart Christian Grey. The two begin a very physical relationship that’s all about control. This book is full of unconventional (less common) sexual material, and is for mature (adult) audiences only!
The English in this book: The language in this book uses plenty of colorful words to describe even the smallest moments. It’s a great place to learn many new words, especially adjectives (words that describe).
10. “Sincerely, Carter” by Whitney Gracia Williams
What this book is about: What happens when you fall in love with your best friend? Watch a relationship slowly go from close friendship to romance.
The English in this book: This is a fun, simple book that uses realistic conversations and moments. It’s told from a man’s point of view, making it different from many other romance novels.
Sometimes a good fantasy book lets you explore magical lands. Other times, it brings otherwordly (not from this world) creatures into our own ordinary world. Whichever fantasy you prefer, this genre takes you away from the real world.
Fantasy books often have interesting descriptions and characters , which makes them great for learning synonyms (words that mean the same thing as others) and common words to describe a person . Since fantasy doesn’t have to follow the laws of reality, anything can happen in these books!
11. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
What this book is about: Young Harry Potter lives a sad life in a tiny closet under a staircase. One day, he gets an invitation to Hogwarts, a school where kids learn magic. His life changes forever.
The English in this book: “Harry Potter” is written for young adults, so the writing is very simple but still full of life. It’s also a British book, so if you’re learning British English, you can find some UK-specific writing here.
In fact, the strength of the “Harry Potter” series is that it is available in multiple formats.
As explained by our host on FluentU’s YouTube channel , you can read “Harry Potter” as a book, listen to the audiobook and watch the movies with subtitles in English and in your native language. This makes it easier for you to understand, and you can grow your English language skills while enjoying Harry Potter’s world!
Further, “Harry Potter” is available in many languages worldwide. In fact, it is very likely that you already know the plot and that you may have even already read or watched “Harry Potter.” This makes understanding easier, and you will be able to focus on growing your vocabulary and mastering English grammar.
12. “The Girl with All the Gifts” by M. R. Carey
What this book is about: A young girl has special gifts, but they don’t make her happy. Instead, she’s researched and treated like a lab animal (who might turn on her protectors at any moment…).
The English in this book: This book is different because it’s written in the present tense —everything is happening now . Since it’s also told from the point of view of a young girl, the writing is very simple, so you can focus on the strange story.
13. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
What this book is about: One day, a boy discovers that the family that lives down the lane is a bit…strange. This doesn’t stop him from becoming friends with the family’s little girl, and starting a strange and magical journey.
The English in this book: Gaiman is a master storyteller. This book goes from simple to difficult, making it more fitting for an advanced reader.
Often shortened to “sci-fi,” science fiction is a kind of fantasy that has to do with technology, science or outer space. A lot of the time, the books are based on real science, but aren’t actually about real things that happened. One of the most famous examples of science fiction is “Star Wars.” So if you’re a fan of the movies, you might like these sci-fi books.
Science fiction books can teach more than just simple English—they can teach science and technology terms . Even if the way science and tech is used in the books is not real, many of the words and terms are real. You can learn words about outer space, words that you would hear in a science laboratory and much more.
14. “The Martian” by Andy Weir
What this book is about: An astronaut becomes the first man to walk on the planet Mars, but then things go horribly wrong. Presumed (thought to be) dead and completely cut off from the rest of the universe, the astronaut has to use his skills and intelligence to find a way back home.
The English in this book: This book is full of space words and terms! There is very little dialogue since the main character is alone on Mars, but you can learn a lot of words about Mars, astronauts and other space topics.
A movie was made of this book, so you can read the book then watch the movie and compare the two. What did they change?
If you’re interested in how accurate the information in this book is, there’s a video of a NASA scientist talking about this on FluentU .
You can watch this clip on FluentU, as well as many other native English videos like movie trailers, news segments, funny commercials and more. You can also practice your reading with these videos since each clip has accurate subtitles and a transcript. You can even click on a word in the subtitles to see a definition or add it to your flashcards for later practice.
Using a program like FluentU along with your reading is a great way to work on different areas of your learning with topics you enjoy.
15. “The Atlantis Gene” by A.G. Riddle
What this book is about: Scientists uncover a secret that’s been around since the beginning of humanity. Now it’s up to two people to keep this secret from an organization that will stop at nothing to get it (even killing nearly the entire human race).
The English in this book: “The Atlantis Gene” is like a sci-fi thriller. It has lots of action words, with some science terms. This combination makes it a little more difficult to read, and great for more advanced learners.
16. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
What this book is about: The universe is at war and children are taken into the military when they’re young. One extraordinarily smart little boy must grow up in this world filled with fighting—fulfilling Earth’s hopes to defeat alien enemies, whether he wants to or not.
The English in this book: Even though “Ender’s Game” is about a young boy, the language can be a little tough at times. This book is about leadership and being accepted by society, but it’s also a book about government and military. There is plenty of vocabulary to be found for all those topics.
Mystery novels are also called “who-dun-its” because they have you trying to figure out who committed a crime. Many mysteries are also thrillers—but a lot of times the mystery books have a slower speed, and focus on the, well…mystery part of things.
It’s fun to read a mystery novel and try to guess who the criminal is before the book’s detective does it. Since many of the characters in these books lie, if the author is good, you can learn how to recognize that someone is acting suspicious (guilty) from their body language and the way they talk.
17. “Evil Under the Sun” by Agatha Christie
What this book is about: Agatha Christie’s books are older than many of the other books in this list, but they’re some of the best examples of classic mystery books. In this one, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a woman during a holiday. It seems trouble just follows Poirot wherever he goes!
The English in this book: Since this is an older book, some language is old and hard to read. The way people speak in the book might not be how people speak in real life anymore, either. If you’re interested in beautiful, less-known words like picturesque (beautiful, like a picture) or protuberance (something that sticks out from something else), you’ll find them here!
18. “Nine Lives to Die” by Rita Mae Brown
What this book is about: A small town in Virginia is having some trouble with suspicious deaths and bloody fingers. Who is causing all this trouble? In this mystery, the animals have their own opinions about the case!
The English in this book: This is a “cozy” mystery, a simply-written story about a small, sleepy town. The characters are listed in the beginning, so you won’t have trouble keeping up with them. Simple language and realistic dialogue (even among the animals!) makes this a great one for learning about how natives speak.
19. “The Cinderella Murder” by Mary Higgins Clark
What this book is about: This series is about a TV show that looks at old, unsolved cases. In this book’s episode, the TV show looks at a woman who was found dead and missing a shoe…just like in the fairy tale of Cinderella.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is a bit more advanced, but it’s fast-paced and easy to follow.
It’s hard to recommend non-fiction books (books about things that are real or really happened), because what you like depends on your interests! There are many interesting non-fiction books, and you’ll need to explore until you find a topic you find interesting.
You can learn anything you want from non-fiction books. If you’re interested in food, fashion or horses (or anything!), you can learn terms and words relating to those subjects from a book.
Here are a few good places to start.
20. “Stiff” by Mary Roach
What this book is about: What happens to our bodies after we die? If you’ve left your body to science, you can end up anywhere from a “body farm” to a beauty stylist college.
The English in this book: Mary Roach writes in a very conversational, friendly way, and explains anything scientific as if she was talking to a friend. Here you’ll find scientific and more common words about life and death.
21. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough
What this book is about: Learn the story about the two brothers who built the very first airplane in this bestselling biography (a story about someone’s life).
The English in this book: This biography is more advanced, written beautifully but using lots of difficult language. There are words about history and growing up, and lots of description of both things and people. This book is full of great vocabulary words!
22. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
What this book is about: What makes a person successful? You might think it’s all about intelligence and personality, but Malcolm Gladwell writes about how important your environment (the things and people around you) is to how successful you become.
The English in this book: “Outliers” is a great book for more advanced English learners who are interested in learning words and phrases about psychology and how people work.
There are even more genres that we haven’t explored in this article—you can find a book about anything!
For more bestselling book ideas, visit Amazon’s best sellers section or the New York Times’s best sellers list.
Curl up with a good book and a drink—and enjoy learning !
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100 Best Novels Written in English by The Guardian
Respected literary critic Robert McCrum selects the definitive 100 novels written in English.
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
One of the most powerful dramas of Christian faith ever written, this captivating allegory of man's religious journey in search of salvation follows the pilgrim as he travels an obstacle-filled roa...
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Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A shipwreck’s sole escapee, Robinson Crusoe endures 28 years of solitude on a Caribbean island and manages not only to survive but also to prevail. A warm humanity, evocative details of his struggl...
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
From the preeminent prose satirist in the English language, a great classic recounting the four remarkable journeys of ship's surgeon Lemuel Gulliver. For children it remains an enchanting fantasy;...
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
It tells the tragic story of a heroine whose quest for virtue is continually thwarted by her family, and is one of the longest novels in the English language.
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neig...
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But it is one of the central jokes of the novel that he cannot explain anything simply, that he must make expla...
Emma by Jane Austen
Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, ...
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
At this challenge, Mary Shelley began work on the 'ghost story' that was to evolve into the most celebrated horror novel in literary history. Frankenstein was published the next year and become the...
Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock
Nightmare Abbey is a topical satire in which the author pokes light-hearted fun at the romantic movement in contemporary English literature, in particular its obsession with morbid subjects, misant...
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe
The only complete novel written by Edgar Allan Poe which follows life of the young Arthur Gordon Pym aboard a whaling ship called the Grampus. Shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism befall Pym, before ...
Sybil: Or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli
Sybil was written by Benjamin Disraeli, future Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was greatly concerned with the poverty of the working classes, and this novel, with its in-depth exploration of th...
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character, a small, plain-faced, intelligent and honest English orphan. The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane's childhood at Gateshead...
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and two primary narrators: Mr. Lockwood and Ellen "Nelly" Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Mr. Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange,...
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her senti...
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The story of the abandoned waif who learns to survive through challenging encounters with distress and misfortune.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbors she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter, Pearl, is the product ...
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
First published in 1851, Melville's masterpiece is, in Elizabeth Hardwick's words, "the greatest novel in American literature." The saga of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal pursuit of the white wh...
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
In 1862 Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a shy Oxford mathematician with a stammer, created a story about a little girl tumbling down a rabbit hole. Thus began the immortal adventures of Alice, perhaps th...
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins is a 19th-century British epistolary novel, generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. The story was originally serialised in Cha...
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Written and set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, it was published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Am...
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, later Marian Evans. It is her seventh novel, begun in 1869 and then put aside during the final i...
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
'Trollope did not write for posterity,' observed Henry James. 'He wrote for the day, the moment; but these are just the writers whom posterity is apt to put into its pocket.' Considered by contempo...
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Revered by all of the town's children and dreaded by all of its mothers, Huckleberry Finn is indisputably the most appealing child-hero in American literature. Unlike the tall-tale, idyllic worl...
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Kidnapped is a historical fiction adventure novel by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Written as a "boys' novel" and first published in the magazine Young Folks from May to July 1886, th...
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Conceived as a fairly serious guide to amateur boating on the Thames in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome's best-known novel ended up as a hilarious account of the misadventures of three friends and a dog as ...
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
When an Englishwoman receives mysterious gifts of pearls and a letter promising to right wrongs done to her, she calls upon Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Celebrated novel traces the moral degeneration of a handsome young Londoner from an innocent fop into a cruel and reckless pursuer of pleasure and, ultimately, a murderer. As Dorian Gray sinks into...
New Grub Street: A Novel by George Gissing
New Grub Street is a novel by George Gissing published in 1891, which is set in the literary and journalistic circles of 1880s London. Gissing revised and shortened the novel for a French edition o...
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
In 1895 Hardy’s final novel, the great tale of Jude the Obscure, sent shock waves of indignation rolling across Victorian England. Hardy had dared to write frankly about sexuality and to indict the...
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The Red Badge of Courage is an 1895 war novel by American author Stephen Crane. It is considered one of the most influential works in American literature. The novel, a depiction on the cruelty of t...
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula. Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literat...
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The story details an incident when Marlow, an Englishman, took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Although Conrad does not specify the name of th...
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
When a girl leaves home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse....
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Kim is an orphan, living from hand to mouth in the teeming streets of Lahore. One day he meets a man quite unlike anything in his wide experience, a Tibetan lama on a quest. Kim's life suddenly acq...
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The plot concerns a previously domesticated and even somewhat pampered dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events finds him serving as a sled dog in the treacherous...
The Golden Bowl by Henry James
Set in England, this complex, intense study of marriage and adultery completes what some critics have called the "major phase" of James' career. The Golden Bowl explores the tangle of interrelation...
Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe
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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
A classic in children's literature The Wind in the Willow is alternately slow moving and fast paced. The book focuses on four anthropomorphised animal characters in a pastoral version of England. T...
Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
Zuleika Dobson is a highly accomplished and superbly written book whose spirit is farcical," said E. M. Forster. "It is a great work--the most consistent achievement of fantasy in our time . . . so...
The History of Mr. Polly by H. G. Wells
The History of Mr. Polly is a 1910 comic novel by H. G. Wells. The novel's principal conflict is Mr. Polly's struggle with life, told "in the full-blooded Dickens tradition." This moral struggle is...
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford wrote The Good Soldier, the book on which his reputation most surely rests, in deliberate emulation of the nineteenth-century French novels he so admired. In this way he was able to...
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
In The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), the best-known of his thrillers (made into a popular movie by Alfred Hitchcock), John Buchan introduces his most enduring hero, Richard Hannay, who, despite claimin...
The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
Set in the rural midlands of England, The Rainbow revolves around three generations of the Brangwen family over a period of more than sixty years, setting them against the emergence of modern Engla...
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
The first and most autobiographical of Maugham's masterpieces. It is the story of Philip Carey, an orphan eager for life, love and adventure. After a few months studying in Heidelberg, and a brief ...
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence centers on an upperclass couple's impending marriage, and the introduction of a scandalous woman whose presence threatens their happiness. Though the novel questions the assump...
Ulysses by James Joyce
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Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
When Babbitt was first published in 1922, fans gleefully hailed its scathing portrait of a crass, materialistic nation; critics denounced it as an unfair skewering of the American businessman. Spar...
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
A Passage to India is set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. The story revolves around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Cyril Fi...
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady by Anita Loos
The incomparable adventures of Lorelei Lee, a little girl from Little Rock who takes the world by storm. Anita Loos first published the diaries of the ultimate gold-digging blonde in the flapper da...
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Created from two short stories, "Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street" and the unfinished "The Prime Minister", the novel's story is of Clarissa's preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess. Wit...
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The novel chronicles an era that Fitzgerald himself dubbed the "Jazz Age". Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the "roar...
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The novel explores the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation," chronicling the experiences of Jake Barnes and several acquaintances on their pilgrimage to Pamplona for the annual San F...
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster's struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while addin...
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, ...
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The book is told in stream of consciousness writing style by 15 different narrators in 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family's quest—noble or selfish—to honor he...
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Set in the London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embod...
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doo...
Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos
With 1919, the second volume of his U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos continues his "vigorous and sweeping panorama of twentieth-century America" (Forum), lauded on publication of the first volume no...
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Set in France (primarily Paris) during the 1930s, it is the tale of Miller's life as a struggling writer. Combining fiction and autobiography, some chapters follow a strict narrative and refer to M...
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
In Scoop, surreptitiously dubbed "a newspaper adventure," Waugh flays Fleet Street and the social pastimes of its war correspondants as he tells how William Boot became the star of British super-jo...
Murphy by Samuel Beckett
Edited by J. C. C. Mays Murphy, Samuel Beckett's first novel, was published in 1938. Its work-shy eponymous hero, adrift in London, realises that desire can never be satisfied and withdraws from li...
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep (1939) is a crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first in his acclaimed series about hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe. The work has been adapted twice into film, once in 1946 and a...
Party Going by Henry Green
A group of rich, spoiled and idle young people heading off on a winter holiday are stranded at a railway station when their train is delayed by thick, enclosing fog. PARTY GOING describes their fou...
At Swim Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
At Swim-Two-Birds is a 1939 novel by Irish author Brian O'Nolan, writing under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien. It is widely considered to be O'Brien's masterpiece, and one of the most sophisticated ex...
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. In a ...
Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse
“To dive into a Wodehouse novel is to swim in some of the most elegantly turned phrases in the English language.”—Ben Schott Follow the adventures of Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, J...
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
All the King's Men portrays the dramatic political ascent and governorship of Willie Stark, a driven, cynical populist in the American South during the 1930s.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
To describe his perennial theme, Lowry once borrowed the words of the critic Edmund Wilson: "the forces in man which cause him to be terrified of himself." You see exactly what he means in this cor...
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
Set in war-time London, this book is probably the nearest thing to a novel of suspense that Elizabeth Bowen has written. All the elements of a thriller are here, but what Bowen makes of them is an ...
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
The story follows the life of one seemingly insignificant man, Winston Smith, a civil servant assigned the task of perpetuating the regime's propaganda by falsifying records and political literatur...
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The End of the Affair (1951) is a novel by British author Graham Greene, as well as the title of two feature films (released in 1955 and 1999) that were adapted for the screen based on the novel. ...
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye is a 1945 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, the novel has become a common part of high school and college curricula throughout the English-speaking wo...
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
The Adventures of Augie March (1953) is a novel by Saul Bellow. It centers on the eponymous character who grows up during the Great Depression. This picaresque novel is an example of bildungsroman,...
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lord of the Flies discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves, but with disastrous results....
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The book is internationally famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle aged Humbert Humbert, becomes obsessed and se...
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the post...
Voss by Patrick White
Set in nineteenth-century Australia, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura. As Voss is tested by hardship, mutiny, and betrayal during his cro...
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a Southern Gothic novel and a Bildungsroman, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses is...
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A slender novel but far from flimsy, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enrolls the reader at Edinburgh's fictional Marcia Blaine School for Girls under the tutelage of one Jean Brodie, a magnetic, unco...
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cite...
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
This book, as well as the couple that followed it, enters the realm of what Margaret Drabble in The Oxford Companion to English Literature has called Lessing's "inner space fiction", her work that ...
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The title is taken from an old Cockney expression, "as queer as a clockwork orange" and alludes to the prevention of the main character's exercise of his free will through the use of a classical co...
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Welcome to sunny suburban 1960s Southern California. George is a gay middle-aged English professor, adjusting to solitude after the tragic death of his young partner. He is determined to persist in...
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no appar...
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is American writer and poet Sylvia Plath's only novel, which was originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of...
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Of course it's vulgar. How could it not be? The sustained cry of a ferociously perplexed, ferociously lucid New York City Jew—you expected maybe Jane Austen? Roth's barbaric yawp of a book was a li...
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
All but abandoned by her family in a London retirement hotel, Mrs. Palfrey strikes up a curious friendship with a young writer, Ludovic Meyer. Fate brings them together after she has an accident ou...
Rabbit Redux by John Updike
Rabbit Redux finds the former high-school basketball star, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, working a dead-end job and approaching middle age in the downtrodden and fictional city of Brewer, Pennsylvania, ...
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
It follows the life of Macon "Milkman" Dead III, an African-American male living in Michigan, from birth to adulthood. The main theme in the novel is Milkman's quest for identity as a black man in ...
A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
In the "brilliant novel" ("The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man--an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isol...
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India, which took place at midnight on 15 August 1947. The protagonis...
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Ruth narrates the story of how she and her younger sister Lucille are raised by a succession of relatives in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho (some details are similar to Robinson's hometown...
Money by Martin Amis
Money tells the story of, and is narrated by, John Self, a successful director of commercials who is invited to New York by Fielding Goodney, a film producer, in order to shoot his first film. Self...
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
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20 Classic Books for English Literature Students to Read
Literature has depicted, commented on, and helped shape the world as we know it today. Filled with everything from classic love stories and tales of heroism to contemporary criticisms on changes in society and dystopian tales – there are a wealth of exciting and nail-biting stories to read out there. One of the most difficult decisions can be to decide which ones to read!
Whether you’re planning to study English Literature or just want to reminisce about your days back at school, be inspired with our list of 15 classic books to read. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it should just give you the inspiration you need to start exploring some new authors. You never know, perhaps you may just find yourself a new favourite novel!
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has long been considered a classic novel to read, and often ranks among the top pieces of fiction of all time.
The tale follows Jay Gatsby, a man who lives his life in chasing for his one desire: to be reunited with his one true love, Daisy Buchanan – a love he lost five years before we meet him at the start of the novel. During his quest for love, Gatsby – unsurprisingly – faces many peaks and lows, including a journey from poverty to wealth; from love to heartache, and ultimately, to tragedy.
Capturing a cross-section of American society at the time, Fitzgerald’s novel explores themes around class, gender, and unsurprisingly, of triumph and tragedy. Students will enjoy having detailed discussions and learning more about the decline of the 1920s, prohibition, and other social issues of the time, while dissecting how Fitzgerald cleverly uses recurring symbols to best reflect the characters’ thoughts and feelings around these contexts.
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
Set in London in the late 19th Century, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an important examination of class, perspective, and the purpose of art – which was a noticeable talking point for society at the time.
At the start of the novel, we meet three central characters: when talented painter Basil Hallward and his close friend Lord Henry Wotton are discussing the subject of Hallward’s latest portrait: a charming and captivating young man named Dorian Gray. Impressed by the painting and the apparent buoyant and innocent nature of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry asks Hallward if he can meet him.
Despite his initial hesitancy, Hallward introduces Dorian to Lord Henry, who, after a few hours in his company, totally transforms his perspective on the world – instead of innocence and gratitude, he begins to see life as Lord Henry does, as a succession of pleasures, irrelevant of good and evil. What ensues is a life full of thrill-seeking and impulsive decision-making, which ultimately, leads to Dorian’s downfall.
For students, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers so many interesting points of discussion, including the superficial nature of societies and the negative consequences that influence can have. As such, it’s quite rightly earned itself recognition as one of the must-read books for English Literature students.
3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
It would be impossible not to include Wuthering Heights on a list of must-read books for English Literature students. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have already studied or at least heard of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as it’s a popular text selected for those studying English Literature at GCSE and A-Level .
The story is one of love and revenge, which revolves around those who live in the desolate farmhouse, named ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Mainly, it centres around Heathcliff, an orphan boy, and Catherine, who are both raised at the property. Despite the difference in their social positions, they eventually fall in love. However, what follows is a story of heartache; with Catherine choosing to marry a wealthy neighbour named Edgar Linton and Heathcliff leaving Wuthering Heights.
We follow the pair over the years, including some traumatic events within the family which prompt Heathcliff to act vengeful towards those who destroyed his and Catherine’s young romance.
4. 1984, by George Orwell
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
No matter who you ask, 1984 will always rank as one of the best books for English Literature students to read during their studies. Exploring themes of totalitarianism, dictatorship, and mass media control, it offers plenty of interesting themes for discussion and debate.
This dystopian novel is considered one of the greatest works of art by writer George Orwell, who is famous for other works including Animal Farm . Published in 1949, follows the life of Winston Smith – a low-ranking member of ‘the Party,’ a new societal group overlooked by the ruler ‘Big Brother.’
In this classic, we learn that ‘Big Brother’ controls every aspect of people’s lives. From choosing what its residents read, speak, say and do, cameras circulate everywhere to monitor the residents’ every action. The language ‘Newspeak’ is created in an attempt to completely eliminate any possibility of political rebellion, with ‘Thoughtcrimes’ created as a way to stop people even thinking about things which are considered rebellious.
5. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
As one of the greatest coming-of-age stories ever told, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations had to be the one novel of his included on our list of classic books to read, thanks to its wit, carefully crafted language, and unique tales.
The story follows the tale of Pip, an orphan who learns a valuable lesson in life after a sudden change in wealth is granted to him from a secret benefactor. However, what follows is a tale of learning and understanding our morals.
In his own greed and selfishness, Pip drives away those who have ever loved him, losing touch with the man he once was. Along the way, he meets many colourful characters, including the eccentric Miss Havisham, an old lady who had been left at the altar many years ago, and has refused to move on from the past. In a sad, but poignant message, Dickens depicts an image of her wedding cake, which still sits on the table, covered in mould, but reminds us to reflect on how our actions affect others.
6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
“Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything.”
The Kite Runner is one of the newest on our list of best books for English Literature students, but it’s still considered one of the greatest classic novels.
Written in 2003, The Kite Runner is a stellar example of postcolonial literature. This important novella explores the devastating legacy which is left behind after the effects of an empire. Told from the perspective of a young Afghan boy named Amir, we begin in the year 1985, when twelve-year-old Amir is trying to win the local kite-fighting tournament with his friend Hassan.
However, the events that unfold that day are nothing that either of the boys foresee; the Soviet military invades their country and changes their lives forever. In an attempt to save their lives, Amir’s family flee to America. However after a considerable amount of time in America, Amir decides that one day he must return to Afghanistan while under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new life cannot give him: redemption.
7. Emma, by Jane Austen
“Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”
For those who have never read a Jane Austen novel before, Emma is the perfect start – a funny, romantic, and easy-to-read novel. Set in the early 19th Century, the novel centres on Emma Woodhouse, a precocious young woman whose misplaced confidence in her ability to matchmake others leads to several romantic misadventures of her own.
Jane Austen’s Emma recently rose to fame once again when the blockbuster film hit our screens in 2020. However, Emma has long been hotly contested as the best work by Jane Austen and rightly earned itself on the list as one of the classic books to read for literature students. It’s also starred in other adaptations, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma , and the 1995 film Clueless , which surrounds the lives of the ‘handsome, clever, and rich,” with the modernised lead character Cher Horowitz, playing matchmaker at her high school.
8. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
*“The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.” *
Having studied at Exeter College in Oxford , J. R. R. Tolkien was one of the original members of “The Inklings,” a notable group of budding writers, including C. S. Lewis, who met for conversation, drinks, and readings from their works-in-progress. Taking inspiration from his almighty circle of companions, his works have gone on to earn him international fame and have had him considered one of the greatest writers ever.
In particular, his collection of books, The Lord of the Rings are his best-known collection of work. Not read the series? Then you must have almost certainly seen or at least heard about the epic three-part movie adaptation of the original books written by Tolkien. However, as great as movies are, they’re often never as well-received as the original book.
To summarise, in the novels we follow the protagonist and Hobbit, Frodo, who has to undertake a terrifying and dangerous mission to the Dark Land of Mordor to destroy the powerful ‘One Ring’ – a weapon so powerful it can corrupt everyone who comes under its power. As simple as the plot may sound, you’ll find yourself lost in the magnificent details of the 1137 page trilogy, with quirky characters, intricately-detailed worlds, and rich backstories immersing you in this truly fantastical world that Tolkien has created. It’s a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how to master the craft of writing, including those interested in pursuing Creative Writing themselves in the future.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Set in the 1930s in the small and sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by Scout Finch, a six-year-old tomboy who lives with her ten-year-old brother, Jem, her father Atticus – who is a lawyer in the local community.
Exploring complex themes such as civil rights and racism in the segregated southern United States in the early 20th Century, we follow a case Atticus is working on, who is striving to prove the innocence of a black man who has been unjustly accused of a crime he hasn’t committed. Through the eyes of Scout, we also explore traditional roles of class and gender, and how these affect judgement in our daily lives.
We also follow Scout and Jem, along with their friend Dill, as they obsess over an abandoned house which once belonged to the mysterious Boo Radley. Through courageous acts of kindness, this unique side-story offers another perspective on injustice and race at the time, encouraging you to think critically about the treatment of others under the lens of different identities.
10. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
This coming-of-age tale is a classic book to read, and one which has featured on many UK GCSE and A-Level syllabi. Written by J.D. Salinger in 1950, the novel – which is set in the same decade – follows the life of Holden Caulfield, who we don’t learn much about other than that he is undergoing some mental health treatment in a hospital, which we are quickly shied away from as he recounts a previous tale.
The events Holden narrates are about his sixteen-year-old-self, after recently being expelled from Pencey Prep, a private school in the USA for fighting with his roommate, Stradlater.
Illustrating the emotional turbulence of ‘growing up,’ Holden chooses to spend two days exploring in New York before he returns home to his parents and admits to his expulsion. During this time, he meets and interacts with people of all different backgrounds; teachers, nuns, an old girlfriend, and even his sister along the way. The story ends with Holden about to return home. He leaves the story here, as he doesn’t want to recount how he got ‘sick.’ Instead, we end with Holden’s optimistic outlook at the prospect of starting a new school in the autumn and looking at future prospects.
11. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
“It was a place of brilliant sunlight, never undappled. Shafts of lemon-gold brilliance lanced down to the forest floor between bars and pools of brown-green shade; and the light was never still, never constant, because drifting mist would often float among the treetops, filtering all the sunlight to a pearly sheen and brushing every pine cone with moisture that glistened when the mist lifted. Sometimes the wetness in the clouds condensed into tiny drops half mist and half rain, which floated downward rather than fell, making a soft rustling patter among the millions of needles.”
Philip Pullman’s trilogy named His Dark Materials is a compilation of three classic novels, inspired by the beautiful city of Oxford . Written in the late 1990s, Pullman’s novels are a fantasy fiction collection, which follows the adventures of Lyra, a young woman who has been brought up in ‘Jordan College.’ During her time here, we learn that her mysterious college is undertaking lots of research into a new particle named Dust, while a secret organisation in the area seems to be kidnapping local children – there are lots of questions for the reader to journey along with.
Feeling confused? The plot elevates further throughout the trilogy and explores complex ideas on theology, physics , and philosophy . It’s deeply intricate and filled with exquisite details and side-stories to keep you inspired – making it one of the best books for English Literature students to read, analyse, and enjoy falling deeply into discussion about.
12. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a tale almost everybody knows – thanks to films, media, and all the derivations from Halloween. But not many students have ever read the original text, unless it’s featured on their English Literature syllabus.
For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, Frankenstein tells the story of gifted scientist Victor Frankenstein, who succeeds in bringing to life a being of his own creation. However, what he ends up creating isn’t the perfect specimen he once imagined, but instead a hideous creature that is rejected by both Victor and the wider society in which he exists.
Fans of science fiction will appreciate the novel for its inspiring themes and future-forward perspective for the time (it was written in 1817), while students with an eye for critical detail will enjoy diving into Shelley’s important points for discussion; Shelley was writing at a time of great industrial change, and this Gothic novel explores a myriad of themes including humanity, robotics, and life and death.
13. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
“If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ’cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he’s poor in hisself, there ain’t no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an’ maybe he’s disappointed that nothin’ he can do ‘ll make him feel rich.”
One of the best-known novels of John Steinbeck’s is The Grapes of Wrath , which was published in 1939. Evoking the harshness of the Great Depression and arousing sympathy for the struggles of many migrant farmworkers of the time, it’s no surprise that the novel has come to be regarded as an American classic.
The plot follows the life of Tom Joad and his family, who are forced from their family farm in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during America’s Great Depression years. Along with thousands of others in their community, the family set out in search of job opportunities, land, and hope for a brighter, more prosperous future.
As a story filled with hardship, worry, and determination, Steinbeck explores many interesting themes around humanity; of unity and love, as well as the need for collaboration across communities during difficult times. The universal shift from an emphasis on “I” to “we” teaches readers an important lesson on what it means to preserve selflessness, even in times when we may be most in need.
14. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
“It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself.”
Vivid, impressionistic, and a novel which requires a lot of concentration, To the Lighthouse is a must-read book for English Literature students who want to explore the art of those who go against the ‘rules’ of writing.
This daring novel holds little regard for the traditional theories of what it means to produce a ‘great’ story; there’s no consistent narrator, it’s filled with scant dialogue, and there’s almost no coherent plot – making it a really interesting book to dissect and discuss in class.
The overarching plot follows the Ramsay family, who have spent each summer in their holiday home in Scotland. Expecting summers to follow this trajectory of years to come, the integrity of the family is suddenly changed as WWI looms on them. The novel is deeply introspective, using memory and reminiscence to depict much of the plot, while giving it a deeply intimate feel for the reader.
15. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”*
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a timeless children’s classic, and a must-read for any English Literature student. At over 150 years old, the tale has truly stood the test of time, and become a much-loved staple of British literature.
For those unfamiliar with the title, the charming tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins on an ordinary summer afternoon, when Alice tumbles down a hole and begins an extraordinary adventure. What follows is a strange world with even stranger characters; on her journey she meets a rabbit with a pocket watch, attends a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and even plays croquet with the Queen! Alice finds her curiosity leading to even more discovery, before waking up dazed and confused, only to discover she has returned home happy with her family.
The novel is inspired by Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford in the 1860s. It was here that Carroll both studied and worked as a mathematician in Oxford , where he spent much of his life dedicated to research and teaching. His passion for sharing and adapting theory for students can be traced in the novel, where numbers and complex riddles dominate much of the complexity of the text. It’s a deeply unique and interesting read and demonstrates the fantastical craft of another Oxford writer.
16. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
“Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.”
Dating back to 1954, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of schoolboys from Britain who wind up stranded on an uninhabited island after their evacuation from their war-torn hometown goes wrong.
During the course of the book, we watch the boys establish themselves as a group and as residents on the island; we see roles be delegated amongst them; we watch them learn how to forage; how to hunt; how to defend themselves, and overcome their fears. Ultimately, we watch these young boys learn the most basic elements of adulthood (in a rather historic sense) and the demands that come with this newfound responsibility.
It’s a deeply fascinating fiction about the psyche of young adults and their ideas on the future world; there are themes such as morality, rationality, and groupthink explored in the book, often rather complex themes for school children to comprehend.
The story symbolises how dependent we as individuals are on social structure - in fact, it’s the only thing that distinguishes us from ‘savagery.’ Whilst on the island, the children need to learn how to overcome their anxieties around the most basic elements of survival - of hunting and defense. We see that they’re capable of doing things that can go against human nature when the threat of punishment is removed from their understanding of the world.
For anyone with an interest in philosophy, psychology and sociology, it will open up plenty of interesting discussions for future classes, especially when examined against the context of when it was written - shortly after the Second World War. A great read on this list!
17. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
“For thirty years," he said, "I've sailed the seas and seen good and bad, better and worse, fair weather and foul, provisions running out, knives going, and what not. Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come o' goodness yet. Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don't bite; them's my views—amen, so be it.”
One of the oldest books on our list is Treasure Island, an 1881 tale written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in the days of sailing ships and active pirate expeditions, it tells of the adventures of Jim Hawkins and his search for the buried treasure of an evil old pirate, Captain Flint.
Jim, a young boy, who helps his mother and ill father run their family inn, sets on the adventure after a new guest at the inn, Bill, is descended upon by his enemy pirates in an effort to murder him and ransack his belongings. However, just before the pirates burst in, Jim and his mother are able to escape with a number of coins and a pouch which has a treasure map hidden inside.
What ensues is an exciting adventure on the sea, with Jim joined by a number of men to head the voyage to find and share the treasure. Of course, they are met with disorder, especially as they reach closer to where ‘X’ marks the spot to find a mini fort-like structure.
It’s definitely a story that explores the satisfaction of desires, and, indeed, the motivation of greed. Everyone wants the treasure, and it’s a tale of whose desires can out-play the others in a conquest for wealth.
18. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
“If you asked me now who I am, the only answer I could give with any certainty would be my name. For the rest: my loves, my hates, down even to my deepest desires, I can no longer say whether these emotions are my own, or stolen from those I once so desperately wished to be.”
Number eighteen on our list is one of our favourite books, featuring not only in this article, but also on our list of recommendations for students looking to read a selection of books set in Oxford .
Set between the First and Second World War, Brideshead Revisited is a tragicomedy set at the University of Oxford which explores themes of classism, wealth, and happiness.
The book tells the story of Charles Ryder – a history graduate at Hertford College – who meets the aristocratic Sebastian Flyte. Ryder becomes fascinated by Flyte and his family’s freedoms and privileges - which undoubtedly leads to certain challenges.
Touching on the old preconceptions of snobbery and elitism that once circled the University of Oxford, the book stands as testament to the advances we have made to a fairer society, as well as a more accessible and inclusive educational system.
It’s a great early twentieth century novel for fans of that period, capturing a quintessentially British Oxford from back in the day. But it’s also an interesting insight into the class system which ruled over the country for many years. Another great read for fans of period fiction.
19. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Despite being primarily aimed at younger children, The Wind in the Willows rightfully earns itself a place on our list of classic literature recommendations for students.
Published in 1908, Kenneth Grahame found motivation to write the book when he retired from his position as secretary of the Bank of England and moved to Berkshire, where had lived as a child.
Spending much of his time relaxing by the River Thames, doing much as the characters in his book do - “simply messing about in boats,” he took his newfound freedom to expand on the animal bedtime stories he used to tell his son Alastair and transform them into a finished manuscript.
The Wind in the Willows shares the adventures of several animal friends and neighbours in the English countryside - primarily Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. Although each of them are animals with their own distinctive habits and behaviours, they converse, philosophise and behave like humans with one another - even driving their own cars and eating sit-down meals - their resemblance to the human profile is quite uncanny.
On top of this, Grahame writes some beautifully descript passages about the natural area in which the novel is set. With hints to the lush green landscapes and portraits of Edwardian life here in the Britain, the incredible writing craft of Grahame is what has really allowed it to stand the test of time.
20. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
"I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman,' and not be rough and wild; but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else."
Finally, for English Literature students looking for classic books to read during their A-Levels or even university studies, Little Women is a must for your list! Not only is it a great book in itself, but it’s also a coming-of-age novel for four sisters on the path from childhood to adulthood - something we’re sure will strike a chord with many readers.
Alcott took inspiration for the book from her own life, loosely basing the characters on the lives of herself and her three sisters, making it a semi-autobiographical read. This authenticity is perhaps what led the release of the book to have such success when first published, with Alcott immediately requested to write a part two, named Good Wives.
The book starts at the sisters’ family home in Massachusetts at Christmas time. where they live at home with their mother in genteel poverty. Having lost all his money, their father is serving as a chaplain in the American Civil War, far from home. As such, the sisters struggle to support themselves and ensure the household keeps running - a process which leads them to become close friends with their wealthy neighbour, Theodore Laurence, known informally as “Laurie.”
As we watch the girls grow older, each faces their own personal struggles and moral decision-making. Jo, the beloved protagonist, must learn to become more ladylike while pursuing her ambition to become a published author; Meg, the oldest, must put her yearning for wealth to one side in order to follow her heart; Beth, the shy one, must conquer her bashfulness; while Amy, the youngest, needs to overcome her aristocratic pride.
It may seem to some a simple story; four young women’s development through adolescence, centred around societal obligations and personal growth. But the character tropes, small plot developments and beautiful written prose make it a popular read for many today, especially thanks to the recent film re-vamp starring A-List celebrities including Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothée Chalamet.
##Summary The authors and titles in this list have quite rightly, earned themselves the title of classic novels in the heart of modern English Literature. From classic love stories to unique and status-quo-questioning novels each book can teach us something new about the study and writing of Literature, and help us to unearth more insight into our own interests and writing skills.
We’ve seen works from some of the world’s most recognised authors, many of whom have been crafted by some of the world’s greatest writers here in Oxford. For more reading inspiration and discovery, why not take a look at our list of 11 must-read books set in Oxford ?
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- 12 Essential English Novels Everyone Should Read
The classic novels on this list are my (non-exhaustive) selection of ‘must-read’ books for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of English literature. What counts as English literature spans over a thousand years, but you’ll find most of the great classics that well-educated people are often expected to have read – what’s known as the ‘canon’ – were primarily written in the 19th century or a little after, so this list focuses on that time period. Whether you’re a native English speaker or just learning, add these books to your reading list and make it your mission to read them all before the year is out.
1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
This tumultuous tale of life in a bleak farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors is a popular set text for GCSE and A-level English study, but away from the demands of the classroom it’s easier to enjoy its drama and intensity. Populated largely by characters whose inability to control their own emotions leads to violence and revenge, it’s a tale that spans two generations and two families. At the heart of the story is the mysterious ‘gypsy’, Heathcliff, adopted as a ragamuffin child into the Earnshaw family to live at Wuthering Heights. As he grows up, he becomes close to his adopted sister Cathy, falling in love with her only to be met with crushing disappointment when she marries Edgar Linton, a kind and gentle man from neighbouring Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff disappears and returns a rich, educated man bent on revenge.
2. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Middlemarch, subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life”, is the story of the inhabitants of a Midlands village in the 1830s. Masterfully weaving together several plotlines, the novel charts the fortunes of an interesting cast of characters, exploring their motivations, delusions and preoccupations. The remarkable thing about Middlemarch is the detail and realism with which George Eliot describes emotions. Feelings you thought were unique to you are described here in a way that could be describing your own thoughts. It’s one of the reasons why Middlemarch has been described the likes of Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as one of the greatest English novels ever written; read it and you’ll soon find yourself agreeing with them.
3. Nineteen Eighty-Four , by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four makes depressing but essential reading. Published in 1949, it’s the author’s vision of a dystopian future dominated by totalitarian state surveillance, mind control and perpetual war. At the centre of the novel is Winston, whose job is to rewrite old news stories so that they toe the party line, whom we follow in his quest for rebellion against the government he works for. Its memorable opening line sets the unsettling tone for the rest of this uncomfortable novel: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” You probably already use phrases from this influential book without necessarily knowing it; “Big Brother” and “Room 101” are both references taken from this novel. As you read Nineteen Eighty-Four, ask yourself: how close do you think Orwell’s vision is to how society is today?
4. The Lord of the Rings , by J.R.R. Tolkien
If you haven’t read the book, you’ll almost certainly have seen Peter Jackson’s epic three-part movie adaptation of it. Incredible though the films are, there’s inevitably a lot missing from them and it’s well worth persevering with the book’s slowish start to follow the journey of Frodo and friends more closely. If you’re not familiar with the story, The Lord of the Rings tells the story of a hobbit, Frodo, who must undertake a dangerous mission to the dark land of Mordor to destroy a powerful ring – a weapon that absolutely corrupts those who come under its power. As you’ll soon find out, that’s a highly simplified plot summary! Reading the book, you’ll be hard-pressed not to gain a deep admiration for the detail and thought Tolkien put into creating his imaginary world; languages, detailed family trees, maps, rich histories and backstories – all add to the sense of realism one feels when absorbed in Tolkien’s work. You’ll also spot some of Tolkien’s influences, such as Nordic mythology and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (read this poem alongside Tolkien and you’ll notice where his inspiration for the Golden Hall came from). If you’re new to Tolkien, you might like to read The Hobbit beforehand; it’s a lighter read than The Lord of the Rings and it sets the backdrop for the events of the tome that follows it.
5. Diary of a Nobody , by George and Weedon Grossmith
If you’ve ever in need of a little gentle comic relief, you can’t do much better than the delightful Diary of a Nobody. It’s the (made-up) diary of a self-important Victorian lower-middle class gentleman, Charles Pooter, in which he details the day-to-day household quandaries and social embarrassments we can all relate to. It was serialised in Punch magazine in Victorian times, and it’s a charming insight into what the Victorians found funny – but in many places, it’s still laugh-out-loud funny to the modern reader.
6. His Dark Materials , trilogy by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is comprised of three novels: Northern Lights (known in the US as The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. The story is set in a fantasy world that contains numerous parallel universes, some of which bear some resemblance to real-life Oxford. Lyra, the protagonist, inhabits the fictional Jordan College, Oxford, in a world in which human beings are accompanied by animal embodiments of their souls, called daemons. The initial similarities and intriguing differences between Lyra’s world and real life will draw you in right from the start, and you’re sure to be gripped as you accompany Lyra on a journey that sees her coming of age and discovering that space and time are not what she expected. If you want to do some background reading, try Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, of which Pullman’s trilogy is a partial reinvention.
7. Jane Eyre , by Charlotte Brontë
This novel by Emily Brontë’s elder sister Charlotte has inspired numerous film adaptations, and tells the tale of a young governess, Jane Eyre, who goes to live and work in a foreboding country house with an eccentric master, Edward Rochester, who hides a dark secret in a remote wing of his sprawling home. The story focuses on Jane’s transition to adulthood, told from her perspective in the first person. Throughout the novel we observe her sense of morality, which is tested by the situations she finds herself in – first during her abusive childhood and then in her response to the passionate feelings she experiences towards Mr. Rochester.
8. Great Expectations , by Charles Dickens
Here is another coming-of-age story, and arguably one of the greatest ever told. If you think Charles Dickens is boring, or you’ve been put off him by studying him at school, please give him another chance. Like all his novels, Great Expectations is full of humour and populated by an entertaining cast of brilliantly-named characters. It tells the tale of Pip, an orphan from a poor background who learns a valuable lesson in life after his acquisition of personal wealth proves an unsatisfying experience that changes him for the worse, driving him away from the only people who’ve ever loved him. Along the way he meets the enigmatic Miss Havisham, an old lady jilted at the altar decades ago, who has frozen everything in her house at the moment at which her life was so tragically altered. The image of her wedding cake, still on the table but covered in cobwebs and mould, is one of many enduring and vivid scenes in this brilliant novel, which explores a number of moral themes including what it means to be a gentleman.
9. Rebecca , by Daphne du Maurier
Even if you’re not normally into the Gothic, Rebecca is sure to have you gripped. Its nameless narrator tells the chilling tale of her experiences at Manderley, the house at the centre of the story, after marrying Maxim de Winter, its owner. Manderley proves to be haunted by memories of Maxim’s previous wife, Rebecca, who drowned the previous year; and the creepy Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, is determined to show Maxim’s new wife that she is no replacement for her beloved Rebecca. We follow the second Mrs. de Winter as she struggles to fit in at Manderley and uncovers the truth behind who Rebecca really was and what really happened to her. Its opening lines will haunt you as they’ve haunted the millions of readers who’ve enjoyed Rebecca since its publication in 1938: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”.
10. Any Jane Austen novel
It was impossible to choose just one Jane Austen novel for this list, as they’re all absolutely brilliant and packed full of interesting and sometimes amusing characters – and heroines you can’t fail to love. As well as being entertaining stories in themselves, Jane Austen’s novels are recognised for their historical importance thanks to their social commentary on the Georgian aristocracy. Austen herself was on the outskirts of the aristocracy, well-placed to write about the people and situations she undoubtedly met with in real life. Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey; take your pick, but if forced to choose, my personal favourite is Emma, the tale of a well-meaning but headstrong young woman who makes it her mission to act as matchmaker to local villagers – with disastrous consequences both to them and to her own chances of romance.
11. Far from the Madding Crowd , by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s evocative novel Far from the Madding Crowd is set in ‘Wessex’, an early region of south-west England that no longer exists but is used to conjure up a sense of a place neither real nor made-up – an agricultural England that, during Hardy’s lifetime, was under threat from industrialisation. Rural life is a central theme in a story that follows the shepherd Gabriel Oak and his love for Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful and independent newcomer to the local farm she’s just inherited. Unfortunately, Oak isn’t the only one with his eye on the wilful Bathsheba, and two rivals appear on the scene in the shape of another farmer, Mr. Boldwood, and a dashing but rakish soldier, Sergeant Troy. Love and its sometimes dangerous and destructive power are explored among a number of other themes, including luck and tragedy.
12. Brideshead Revisited , by Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh’s portrayal of the trials and tribulations of an aristocratic family and their friend, the narrator Charles Ryder, has been an inspiration to plenty of Oxford applicants, who hope to recreate the evocative Oxfordian scenes described in the early parts of the book – complete with Sebastian’s famous teddy bear, Aloysius. But there’s a lot more to Brideshead Revisited than idyllic Oxford life and decadent scenes involving Champagne and quail eggs. At its heart is the tale of a young man’s struggle with Roman Catholicism and with his own family, but there are many other themes running through it, including the decline of the English stately home after the two World Wars and a longing for the bygone era of the English nobility. Brideshead Revisited was adapted into a landmark television series with Jeremy Irons in the role of Charles Ryder; once you’ve read the book this makes wonderful viewing, sticking closely to the book. With Irons’ velvet tones vividly bringing to life Waugh’s words, this is one television adaptation that, in my opinion, will actually help you gain a deeper appreciation of the book.
These remarkable novels have all left their mark on popular culture and embedded themselves into the English psyche. Once you’ve read them all, you’ll have more of an idea of where your own literary tastes lie and you can make up your own list by taking from this one and adding your own. To explore great literature even further, join us on ORA’s English Literature Summer School .
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40 Books Everyone Should Read: Must Read Books of All Time
Must-read books: There are so many out there – so don’t waste your time on average books!
Still, it can take time to find books worth reading. That’s why we’ve compiled this epic must-read book list to make your life easier . It features 40 top books to read in popular categories, such as fiction, business, personal development, travel, and more.
So, if you’re wondering, “what book should I read next?” we’ve got you covered. This list is jam-packed with great books to read!
Now, let’s get into it. Just use the contents to jump to the section you’re most interested in, or start scrolling.
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Classic Novels to Read
1. 1984 by george orwell.
1984 tells the futuristic story of a dystopian, totalitarian world where free will and love are forbidden. Although the year 1984 has long since passed, the prophecy of a society controlled by fear and lies is arguably more relevant now than ever.
2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s fantasy epic is one of the top must-read books out there. Set in Middle Earth – a world full of hobbits, elves, orcs, goblins, and wizards – The Lord of the Rings will take you on an unbelievable adventure.
3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is a moving story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. Set in Afghanistan during a time of tragedy and destruction, this unforgettable novel will have you hooked from start to finish.
4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
This global bestseller took the world by storm. So, if you haven’t read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, now may be the time. Join Harry Potter and his schoolmates as this must-read book transports you deep into a world of magic and monsters.
5. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five is arguably one of the greatest anti-war books ever written. This rich and amusing tale follows the life of Billy Pilgrim as he experiences World War II from a peculiar perspective.
6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is undoubtedly one of the great books of all time. This renowned fantasy novel is set in Narnia, home to mythical beasts, talking animals, and warring kingdoms. The story follows a group of school children as they become entangled in this incredible world’s fate.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the top must-read books of all time. Published in 1960, the story explores life in the Deep South during the early 20th century through the story of a man accused of a terrible crime. It’s poignant, humorous, and gripping.
8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a story of bravery, hope, and friendship in a time of Nazi tyranny. Narrated by Death itself, this novel will have you holding your breath for chapters at a time.
9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is a classic novel published way back in 1847. This harrowing story, set on a lonely English moorland, follows Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff’s struggle with love, betrayal, and revenge. If you love dramatic novels, add this to your must-read book list.
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye is the classic coming-of-age story. It follows sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield’s adolescent journey of angst and alienation as he leaves his prep school and moves to New York City.
11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is often considered one of the must-read books of all time. It follows the emotions and experiences of a strong, unbroken woman who continued to grow morally and spiritually despite a troubled childhood and a sexist, repressed Victorian society.
12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell tells a fairy tale of a revolution against tyranny that ends in even more unjust totalitarianism. The animals on the farm are rife with idealism and desire to create a world of justice, equality, and progress. However, the new regimen attempts to control every aspect of the animals’ lives.
13. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s dystopian world shines a light on Western societies’ dependence on the media. The main character’s job is to find and burn any books he can find – until he begins to question everything. Considering the state of current politics and world affairs, this is one of the absolute must-read books in life.
14. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This is a tale of four sisters with their own very different and very prominent personalities. The novel draws the reader deep into their lives as we get to know each of their flaws, joys, struggles, and fears.
15. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is a great reminder to be kind to all living creatures. This magical story takes place on a farm where a little girl tries to save her piglet from slaughter. Fern, the little girl, enlists the help of her farm friends to execute her clever plan.
16. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
English author Mary Shelley tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a monster and brings it to life. This gripping novel evokes questions about what makes us human and what love and kindness truly mean.
17. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men should be on every must-read book list. Set in the Great Depression, this is a controversial tale of friendship between two migrant workers in California. Filled with hope and tragedy, the two work towards the dream of owning land and pets.
18. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Arthur Dent sets off on a hilarious and fantastic adventure across the stars. He learns not to take the universe seriously as he meets all kinds of interesting characters.
19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is said to be the quintessential novel of the Jazz Age. Set in 1922 amongst unfathomable indulgence and decadence, the novel highlights a man’s struggle to earn the love of the woman he’s obsessed with.
Business and Money Must-Read Books
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20. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Think and Grow Rich is a classic bestseller that has sold millions of copies worldwide. It’s packed full of money-making tips, techniques, and strategies. If you want to improve your mindset around money, this book can potentially change your life completely.
21. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Rich Dad Poor Dad explains how wealthy people and poorer people think differently. It challenges commonly held beliefs about money and explains how you don’t need to have a high income to become rich.
22. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
If you want to learn how to invest, add this to your list of must-read books. Author Benjamin Graham is considered one of the greatest investment advisors of the twentieth century. In The Intelligent Investor , you’ll learn about Graham’s philosophy of ‘value investing’ and how to develop long-term strategies that are used by the most successful investors in the world.
23. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
Ray Dalio’s investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history. In Principles , Dalio shares everything he’s learned about investing, business, and life over the years.
24. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
In this New York Times bestseller, DR. Robert B. Cialdini reveals the psychology behind influence – and how to apply the principles of persuasion in business and everyday life.
Personal Development Books Everyone Should Read
25. how to win friends and influence people by dale carnegie.
First published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book has stood the test of time. How to Win Friends and Influence People will teach you straightforward methods to improve your relationships – and as a result, your business and personal lives.
26. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
If you’ve ever tried to change a habit unsuccessfully, this should be one of your must-read books. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg reveals the empowering nature of how habits are formed and – crucially – how you can change them.
27. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now has sold more than two million copies and has been translated into over 30 languages. This groundbreaking book has the potential to completely revolutionize how you experience life – making life far more joyous and prosperous in the process.
28. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma – something that virtually everyone experiences to some degree. The Body Keeps the Score unravels the science behind emotional and psychological trauma and offers new paths to recovery.
Science and Technology Books You Must-Read
29. a brief history of time by stephen hawking.
Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is one of the most famous books in science. It discusses the history of cosmology and its development from Ancient Greece through to the 1980s.
30. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
If you’re interested in the truth behind controversial social issues, this book should be on your must-read book list. The authors reveal the facts behind issues, such as crime, shopping, and drugs.
31. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is one of the top must-read books on technology. The author gives us a look at how personal data has become a new form of capital.
32. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Anna Wiener writes about the frantic, self-important, and often delusional work culture in Silicon Valley, and how millennials in tech are consumed by living a productive life. The Uncanny Valley is one of those books everyone should read.
Travel and Adventure Books You Must-Read Before You Die
33. on the road by jack kerouac.
Inspired by Kerouac’s real-life adventures, On the Road tells the tale of two friends searching for meaning and rich experiences on a cross-country road trip.
34. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
In Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson shares a hilarious commentary of his jaunt through the United Kingdom – from the center of government at Downing Street, London, to the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.
35. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Vagabonding is perhaps the only travel guide you’ll ever need. This must-read book provides practical tips on how to travel safely and spontaneously – and the philosophies you’ll need to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
36. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed thought she’d lost everything at 22. Then, her mother’s passing, family trouble, and divorce drove her to an impulsive decision – to walk more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild will inspire you to see your true self-worth and capabilities.
History and Biography Books Worth Reading
37. sapiens: a brief history of humankind by yuval noah harari.
If you’re looking for interesting books to read, Sapiens should be on your list. It details the development of human beings from the earliest stages until now. The author also shows how our current world systems will banish natural selection and adaptation.
38. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Lists of must-read biographies almost always include this wonderful book. Mandela started writing this autobiography in prison and finished it right before becoming the president of South Africa. This inspiring story provides a glimpse into the end of apartheid and the blatant inequality in the country.
39. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte
Do you find dinosaurs fascinating? If so, this is one of the must-read books on the subject. Steve Brusatte reveals the different dinosaurs that roamed the planet – and the different worlds in which they lived.
40. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson attempts to summarize the history of the Earth. He talks about nearly every aspect of the planet – how it formed, how much it weighs, it’s size, the stages it went through, the dangers inherent to it, and how humans have evolved. If you love science and history, this is a must-read book for you.
What Should I Read Next?
If you’re wondering “what book should I read next,” look no further. In summary, here are 40 must-read books of all time:
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki
- The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
- Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
- The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
- Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
- Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Must-Read Biographies and History Books
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Have we missed any must-read books? If so, leave a comment below to recommend some top books to read!
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12 Novels Considered the “Greatest Book Ever Written”
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Literary critics, historians, avid readers, and even casual readers will all have different opinions on which novel is truly the “greatest book ever written.” Is it a novel with beautiful, captivating figurative language? Or one with gritty realism? A novel that has had an immense social impact? Or one that has more subtly affected the world? Here is a list of 12 novels that, for various reasons, have been considered some of the greatest works of literature ever written.
Any fan of stories that involve juicy subjects like adultery, gambling, marriage plots, and, well, Russian feudalism, would instantly place Anna Karenina at the peak of their “greatest novels” list. And that’s exactly the ranking that publications like Time magazine have given the novel since it was published in its entirety in 1878. Written by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy , the eight-part towering work of fiction tells the story of two major characters: a tragic, disenchanted housewife, the titular Anna , who runs off with her young lover, and a lovestruck landowner named Konstantin Levin , who struggles in faith and philosophy. Tolstoy molds together thoughtful discussions on love, pain, and family in Russian society with a sizable cast of characters regarded for their realistic humanity. The novel was especially revolutionary in its treatment of women, depicting prejudices and social hardships of the time with vivid emotion.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee , believed to be one of the most influential authors to have ever existed, famously published only a single novel (up until its controversial sequel was published in 2015 just before her death). Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and became an immediate classic of literature. The novel examines racism in the American South through the innocent wide eyes of a clever young girl named Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch. Its iconic characters, most notably the sympathetic and just lawyer and father Atticus Finch, served as role models and changed perspectives in the United States at a time when tensions regarding race were high. To Kill a Mockingbird earned the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962 , giving the story and its characters further life and influence over the American social sphere.
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald ’s The Great Gatsby is distinguished as one of the greatest texts for introducing students to the art of reading literature critically (which means you may have read it in school). The novel is told from the perspective of a young man named Nick Carraway who has recently moved to New York City and is befriended by his eccentric nouveau riche neighbor with mysterious origins, Jay Gatsby . The Great Gatsby provides an insider’s look into the Jazz Age of the 1920s in United States history while at the same time critiquing the idea of the “American Dream.” Perhaps the most famous aspect of the novel is its cover art—a piercing face projected onto a dark blue night sky and lights from a cityscape—an image that is also found, in a slightly different configuration, within the text itself as a key symbol.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
The late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez published his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude , in 1967. The novel tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family and follows the establishment of their town Macondo until its destruction along with the last of the family’s descendents. In fantastical form, the novel explores the genre of magic realism by emphasizing the extraordinary nature of commonplace things while mystical things are shown to be common. Márquez highlights the prevalence and power of myth and folktale in relating history and Latin American culture. The novel won many awards for Márquez, leading the way to his eventual honor of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 for his entire body of work, of which One Hundred Years of Solitude is often lauded as his most triumphant.
A Passage to India
E.M. Forster wrote his novel A Passage to India after multiple trips to the country throughout his early life. The book was published in 1924 and follows a Muslim Indian doctor named Aziz and his relationships with an English professor, Cyril Fielding, and a visiting English schoolteacher named Adela Quested . When Adela believes that Aziz has assaulted her while on a trip to the Marabar caves near the fictional city of Chandrapore, where the story is set, tensions between the Indian community and the colonial British community rise. The possibility of friendship and connection between English and Indian people, despite their cultural differences and imperial tensions, is explored in the conflict. The novel’s colorful descriptions of nature, the landscape of India, and the figurative power that they are given within the text solidifies it as a great work of fiction.
Often confused with H.G. Wells’s science-fiction novella of nearly the same name (just subtract a “The”), Ralph Ellison ’s Invisible Man is a groundbreaking novel in the expression of identity for the African American male. The narrator of the novel, a man who is never named but believes he is “invisible” to others socially, tells the story of his move from the South to college and then to New York City. In each location he faces extreme adversity and discrimination, falling into and out of work, relationships, and questionable social movements in a wayward and ethereal mindset. The novel is renowned for its surreal and experimental style of writing that explores the symbolism surrounding African American identity and culture. Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.
Miguel de Cervantes ’s Don Quixote , perhaps the most influential and well-known work of Spanish literature, was first published in full in 1615. The novel, which is very regularly regarded as one of the best literary works of all time, tells the story of a man who takes the name “Don Quixote de la Mancha” and sets off in a fit of obsession over romantic novels about chivalry to revive the custom and become a hero himself. The character of Don Quixote has become an idol and somewhat of an archetypal character, influencing many major works of art, music, and literature since the novel’s publication. The text has been so influential that a word, quixotic , based on the Don Quixote character, was created to describe someone who is, “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially: marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.”
Toni Morrison ’s 1987 spiritual and haunting novel Beloved tells the story of an escaped slave named Sethe who has fled to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the year 1873. The novel investigates the trauma of slavery even after freedom has been gained, depicting Sethe’s guilt and emotional pain after having killed her own child, whom she named Beloved, to keep her from living life as a slave. A spectral figure appears in the lives of the characters and goes by the same name as the child, embodying the family’s anguish and hardship and making their feelings and past unavoidable. The novel was lauded for addressing the psychological effects of slavery and the importance of family and community in healing. Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
Possibly the most idiosyncratic novel of this list, Virginia Woolf ’s Mrs. Dalloway describes exactly one day in the life of a British socialite named Clarissa Dalloway. Using a combination of a third-person narration and the thoughts of various characters, the novel uses a stream-of-consciousness style all the way through. The result of this style is a deeply personal and revealing look into the characters’ minds, with the novel relying heavily on character rather than plot to tell its story. The thoughts of the characters include constant regrets and thoughts of the past, their struggles with mental illness and post-traumatic stress from World War I, and the effect of social pressures. The novel’s unique style, subject, and time setting make it one of the most respected and regarded works of all time.
Things Fall Apart
The Western canon of “great literature” often focuses on writers who come from North America or Europe and often ignores accomplished writers and amazing works of literature from other parts of the world. Chinua Achebe ’s Things Fall Apart , published in 1958, is one such work of Nigerian literature that had to overcome the bias of some literary circles and one that has been able to gain recognition worldwide despite it. The novel follows an Igbo man named Okonkwo, describing his family, the village in Nigeria where he lives, and the effects of British colonialism on his native country. The novel is an example of African postcolonial literature, a genre that has grown in size and recognition since the mid-1900s as African people have been able to share their often unheard stories of imperialism from the perspective of the colonized. The novel is frequently assigned for reading in courses on world literature and African studies.
Charlotte Brontë ’s Jane Eyre , another novel often assigned for reading in school, was initially published in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell to disguise the fact that the writer was a woman. Fortunately, a lot has changed with regard to women in literature since 1847, and Brontë now receives the credit she deserves for one of the most groundbreaking novels about women in history. At a time when the author felt compelled to hide her true identity, Jane Eyre provided a story of individualism for women. The novel’s eponymous character rises from being orphaned and poor into a successful and independent woman. The work combines themes from both Gothic and Victorian literature, revolutionizing the art of the novel by focusing on the growth in Jane’s sensibility with internalized action and writing.
The Color Purple
Though the epistolary novel (a novel in the form of letters written by one or more characters) was most popular before the 19th century, Alice Walker became a champion of the style with her 1982 novel The Color Purple , which won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award . Set in the post-Civil War American South, the novel follows a young African American girl named Celie into adulthood in letters she writes to God and to her sister Nettie. Celie faces sexual abuse by her father and eventually her husband, chronicling her own suffering and growth as well as that of her friends and family. The novel explores themes of sexism, racism, gender, sexual orientation, and disability through its grouping of disadvantaged and damaged characters who, over time, grow to shape their own lives. The story was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film in 1985 that, despite widespread critical acclaim, was notoriously snubbed of all 11 awards it was nominated for.
Top 20 Greatest Books of All Time, Written in English
By bizhan romani.
Everyone has different opinions and preferences when the debate of “What are the Greatest books ever written” comes up. From casual readers to historians, avid readers and even literary critics, the debate continues to earn new arguments. Is it a novel that left a subtle impact on the world? Or is it a novel with captivating figurative language?
Here is a list of 20 novels that, for different reasons, have been considered some of the greatest books literature has seen. Also, this is in no particular order.
1. to kill a mockingbird.
Many people consider Harper Lee to be one of the most influential authors to have ever existed. She famously published only a single novel up until 2015 when she published its controversial sequel, just before she died.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published July 11, 1960, and it immediately became a literature classic. The novel discusses racism in the American South through the perspective of a clever young girl named Jean Louise Finch. The novel features some iconic characters, most notably the sympathetic and just lawyer ‘Atticus Finch’ who changed people’s perspectives and served as role models at a time in the United States when tensions regarding race were high.
To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1962 and was adapted into a feature movie the following year. The movie won an Academy award in 1962, giving its characters and the story further influence and life over the American social sphere.
2. The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a must-read book by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald for anyone who is pursuing a future in literature or English -that means you may have to read it in school.
The novel follows a young man (Nick Carraway) who recently moved to New York City and is befriended by an eccentric nouveau riche neighbor with mysterious origins, Jay Gatsby. The novel criticizes the idea of the “American Dream” and provides an insider’s look into the Jazz Age of the 1920s in United States history.
Written by Irish novelist, James Joyce , the book was first published in the year 1922. Largely considered a masterpiece, Ulysses is stylistically dense and exhilarating. It has also been a topic of numerous volumes of analysis and commentary. The plot of the novel is loosely similar to events in Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan War.
The novel has three central characters, Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly who are intended to be modern counterparts of Ulysses, Telemachus, and Penelope respectively. All the events and activities that make up the plot takes place on a single day and in and immediately around Dublin.
4. The Catcher in the Rye
The book is written by J. D Salinger and was published in 1951. The novel is centered around the life of the main character, Holden Caulfield after he was expelled from prep school in two days. Disillusioned and confused, Holden begins to search for the truth and rails against the “phoniness” of the adult world.
The center theme of this classic novel is the “loss of innocence.” The protagonist, Holden, wants to be the “catcher in the rye” -a person who saves children from falling off a cliff. This is a metaphor for entering into adulthood. The name Holden is also significant as it can be read as “hold on.” Holden’s wish is to remain innocent and true in a world full of “phonies” as he puts it.
According to Salinger in an interview, the novel was intended to be a semi-autobiography.
5. Pride and Prejudice
Initially titled “ First Impressions “, this book is fondly regarded as one of the most-loved books among the reading public and literary scholars. This romantic novel of manners was published in 1813 and is written by Jane Austen . This classical novel centers on the turbulent relationship between Fitzwilliam Darcy; a rich aristocratic landowner and Elizabeth Bennet; the daughter of a country gentleman. “ Pride and Prejudice ” is written with superb character delineation and incisive wit.
The book takes us into the Regency era in Great Britain, and its humor lies in Jane Austen’s honest depiction of manners, marriage, education, and money during this period. Austen portrayed that world in all pride and prejudice, with unwavering accuracy and satire.
6. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, now known as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a novel by Mark Twain , published in the year 1884 in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1885. The novel is one of the most celebrated works of American fiction; with the 1885 novel condemning the institutionalized racism of the pre-Civil War South.
Huck, the novel’s central character and narrator runs away from his abusive father, together with his companion, Jim the runaway slave. Both of them make a long and repeatedly interrupted journey down the Mississippi River in a raft. During the journey, Huck comes in contact with different characters and types in whom the book memorably portrays almost every class living on or along the river.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry brought a change to America’s view on children’s literature and American literature in general. It presented the first deeply felt portrayal of boyhood.
7. Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland
Now popularly shortened to Alice In Wonderland , this book by Lewis Carroll is the most widely beloved British Children’s book. Written by Lewis Carrol, the book was published in 1865 and it quickly became one of the most popular works of English-language fiction.
The story centers around a young girl named Alice, who falls asleep in a meadow and dreams that she follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole. She has many astonishing, often extraordinary adventures with thoroughly illogical and strange creatures. Alice often changes in size unexpectedly as she grows as tall as a house and shrinks to 3 inches in another part of the book.
The story was originally told by Carroll to Alice, Lorins, and Edith Liddell; Henry George Liddell’s daughters on a picnic in July 1862. Alice asked Carroll to write out the stories for her to which he responded by giving her a hand-lettered collection titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. A visitor visited the Liddell home, saw the Storybook and advised Carroll to publish it. Carroll revised the hand letters, expanded them and this classic was born.
The book appeared at a time when children’s literature was generally about teaching moral lessons. Critics were harsh on the book and failed to appreciate the nonsense that so captivated young children. But Carrol understood how children’s minds worked, and the way he turned logic on its head appealed to them. The work gained so much popularity, leading Carroll to write consequent books in the series like “Through the Looking-Glass, and “What Alice Found There.” The book has also inspired numerous theatrical performances, ballets, and films.
8. To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse is a novel by the British author, Virginia Woolf . The novel is centered around the Ramsay Family, as well as their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920.
The novel includes little dialogues and almost no direct action; instead, most of the book is written as thoughts and observation. “To the Lighthouse” is often cited as an example of the literary technique of multiple focalizations. The book follows and extends the tradition of modernist novelists like James Joyce and Marcel Proust.
Virginia Woolf highlights adult relationships and recalls childhood emotions. The novel has numerous themes, and among them are those of subjectivity, loss, and the problem of perception and the nature of art.
The Modern Library named To the Lighthouse No. 15 on its list of the 100 best English-Language novels of the 20th century, and in 2005, Time magazine chose the novel as one of the hundred best English-language books since 1923.
9. The Sound and the Fury
The Sound and the Fury is another masterpiece on our list written by William Faulkner . The book employs many different narrative styles, including stream of consciousness. Published in the year 1929, the book did not immediately get the ground running in terms of sales or popularity. It wasn’t until 1931 when Faulkner published his sixth novel –which he later claimed was written only for money– did “The Sound and the Fury” also become commercially successful, earning Faulkner the critical attention and respect he deserved.
The book is set in Jefferson, Mississippi, the first third of the twentieth century. Faulkner’s novel revolves around the Compson family, former Southern aristocrats who are facing a hard time dealing with the dissolution of their family and its reputation. In the next three decades or so in the novel, the family goes bankrupt, loses its religious faith and the respect of the town of Jefferson. As a result, many of them die tragically.
10. Nineteen Eighty-four
Nineteen Eighty-four is an English Novel written by George Orwell . The book was written as a warning against totalitarianism; mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behavior in a society. The novel takes place in a distant future, the year 1984. In this futuristic world of the novel, more than 50% of the world had fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and propaganda.
The chilling world of the book where people lead wretched, fearful lives left a big impression, and his ideas entered mainstream culture in a way that only a few books ever achieved. The title of the book, as well as many of its concepts such as the Thought Police , Big Brother became common words used for modern social and political abuses.
George Orwell was a democratic socialist himself and he modelled the authoritarian government in the novel after Stalinist Russia. Extensively, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and how they are manipulated.
11. Great Expectations
Great Expectations is Charles Dickens 13th novel. The book illustrates the education of an orphan nicknamed Pip . It was initially published in Dickens’ weekly periodical “All the Year Round” between the 1st of December 1860 to August 1861. It wasn’t until October the same year the series ended that it was published in three volumes by Chapman and Hall.
The book is set mainly in London from the first part of the 19th century to the mid-19th century, and it encompasses some of Dickens’s most popular and celebrated scenes.
Great Expectations is punctured with extreme imagery -fights to the death, prison ships and chains, and poverty. The book also has a numerous cast of characters who have entered popular culture. Some of these characters include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the cold but beautiful Estella and many others.
12. Absalom, Absalom!
Absalom, Absalom! is a novel by American author William Faulkner , and was first published in 1936. The novel tells a story about three families of the American South, with a primary focus on the life of Thomas Sutpen. The story takes place before, during, and after the American Civil War.
Absalom discusses the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen, a white man born into poverty in West Virginia who moves to Missipi with the ambition of gaining wealth and becoming a powerful family patriarch. Quentin Sutpen mostly narrates the events that sum up the plot of the novel to Shreve, his roommate at Harvard University, who repeatedly contributes his own suggestions and surmises. One of the unique things about this book is its use of flashbacks, as the whole book is completely told in flashbacks.
Additionally, the novel Absalom, Absalom! is an allegory of Southern history. If you look at the title itself, it is an allusion to a wayward son fighting the empire his father built. This is similar to the story of King David and Absalom in the Bible.
Middlemarch : A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans). The original novel was published in 8 parts between the year 1871-1872, and it was subsequently published in four volumes in 1872.
The book is a realist work that examines every class of society in the town of Middlemarch –from laborers and farmers to professional men, clergy, and manufacturers. It follows diverse, intersecting stories with many characters. However, the center focus of the novel is its two central characters, Tertius Lydgate and Dorothea Brooke; both of whom marry disastrously. Some of the themes the novel discusses include idealism, self-interest, hypocrisy, political reform, education, the status of women, and religion.
Middlemen uses realism to integrate historical events such as the accession of King William IV, the 1832 Reform Act, and early railways. It took Ann more than a year to write the two pieces that formed the book, completing it in the year 1871. Even though the book was initially given mixed reviews, it is now widely seen as Eliot’s best work and one of the greatest English novels ever written.
Beloved is a 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, written by Toni Morrison . Published in 1987, the novel analyses the destructive legacy of slavery as it chronicles the life of a Black woman named Sethe.
The events that make up the plot of this prize-winning book is based on a true story of a Black Slave Woman, Margaret Garner , who escaped from a Kentucky plantation with her husband and children, and follow the events of the book through flashbacks. The novel is set after the American civil war, and it opens up with Sethe and her teenage daughter Denver, leaving their city of Ohio as their home is haunted by a malevolent spirit.
Beloved tells a story of the long-lasting effect/trauma of slavery. The book was also a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award and was later adapted into a movie of the same name in 1998, starring Oprah Winfrey. Beloved was ranked by the New York Times as the best work of American fiction from 1981 to 2006.
15. The Invisible Man
The Invisible man is narrated by a young black man whose name is not given. He moves in a twentieth-century where reality is nothing but a dream and survival is managed only through pretense. That’s because the people our narrator meets “see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination.” He retreats to New York City from the racist South, yet the events and people he meets continue to disgust him. He gives up and then retreats to a hole in the ground, which he furnishes and makes his home. It is here he seeks his identity under a roof brilliantly illuminated by stolen electricity.
The Invisible man is a novel by Ralph Ellison (his only novel) and is widely considered by many literary critics and the general public alike as one of the greatest novels of African-American literature.
This brilliant novel discusses what it means to be a black man and addresses many of the intellectual and social issues faced by African Americans in the early 20th century. The novel also touches on the subject of Black Nationalism, the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, the issues of personal identity and individuality, as well as the relationship between black identity and Marxism.
In 1998, the invisible man was ranked 19th on a list of the 100 best English-Language novels of the 20th century by Modern Library. The book also won the U.S National Book award for Fiction in 1953.
16. Mrs. Dalloway
Mrs. Dalloway is one of the best books by Virginia Woolf , published on the 14th of May 1925. The book follows the life of a fictional high-society woman in post -First World War England, Clarissa Dalloway.
The novel is created from the short stories of –the unfinished– “The Prime Minister” and “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” and it addresses Clarissa’s preparations for a party she will host that evening.
Mrs Dallowway is practically plotless as ‘action’ takes place primarily in the characters’ consciousness. Following an interior viewpoint; the story travels forth and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to create an image of Clarrissa’s life and the interwarp social structure.
Mrs. Dalloway examines the nature of time in personal experience through various interwoven stories like that of the mentally damaged war veteran Septimus Warren Smith, and particularly that of the centre character, Clarrisa.
Many critics believe this is the novel where Virginia found her voice using stream-of-consciousness, which was particularly influenced by Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a style she further refined in her following novels.
In 2005, Time Magazine listed Mrs. Dalloway in its list of the 100 best English-language novels written since Time debuted in 1923.
17. David Copperfield
It’s not surprising to find another Charles Dickens ’ novel on this list as he is regarded by many people as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. David Copperfield was published serially between 1849-50 and was published in book form the same year the series ended.
According to Charles Dickens, the novel was his own “favorite child” and remains one of his most popular books to date. The book is semi-autobiographical. Even though the title character is not the same as Charles Dickens in many ways, Dickens related early personal experiences that had meant a lot to him. Some of these experiences include his schooling and reading, friendships and love life, his work in a factory, and even more curiously, his emergence from a parliamentary reporter to a successful novel writer.
However, despite the many similarities, there are many differences between the lives of the two. For instance, while David grew up in the country as an only child, Dickens was a city boy with many sisters and brothers. Also, Dickens never had any great aunt or wicked stepfather.
All through the novel, David is scarcely called by his birth name (except by Mr. Murdstone) rather, he is called Trot, Trotwood, Davy, Doady, and Daisy. Here is a fun fact, David Copperfield’s birth name is gotten from Dickens inverted initials.
18. The Lord of the Rings
There are only a few novels in the world that have managed to be more successful commercially and critically than The Lord of the Rings. The novel is an epic, high fantasy novel written by the English tutor and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien . A sequel to his 1937 children’s book, “The Hobbit”, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is set in Middle-earth; the world at some distant time in the past.
The Lord of the Rings follows the saga of a group of sometimes hesitant and unwilling heroes who set forth to save their world from consummate evil. The book became an instant success and eventually developed into a larger work with the novel selling over 150 million copies.
The novel takes readers on a great adventure mainly through the eyes of the hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. Lord of the Rings is largely known to readers as a trilogy, however, one thing many fans are not familiar with is that the work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set along with “The Silmarillion.” However, this was dismissed by his publisher due to economic reasons. It was eventually published in three volumes over the course of a year from the 29th of July 1954 to 20th October, 1955. The titles of the three volumes are the Trilogy fans around the world are familiar with; they are; The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
Tolkien’s novel initially received mixed reviews by literary critics, but it has now become a subject of extensive analysis of its origins and themes. Some of the subjects that influenced this awe-inspiring novel include mythology, religion, philology and Tolkien’s experiences in the First World War. The Lord of the Rings in many ways has had a tremendous effect on modern fantasy.
The book’s lasting popularity has seen it reprinted many times and translated into more than 35 languages. Its lasting popularity among fans and audiences alike has also seen it adapted into award-winning films, stage performances, board games, video games, and subsequent literature. The book was named by The Big Read as the greatest British novel of all time.
Also known as “The Modern Prometheus”, the 1818 novel is written by Mary Shelley . Frankenstein narrates the story of a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment by which he is eventually killed. Shelly began writing the story at the age of 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London on the first day of January 1818. Her name didn’t appear until the second edition, which was published in 1821.
The novel is a combination of science fiction and a Gothic horror story. Although the creature created by Victor Frankenstein initially seeks affection, the monster inspires loathing in everyone who comes across it. The novel has had a considerable influence on popular culture and literature, and it has since been adapted into horror films, stories, and plays.
20. Things Fall Apart
A debut novel by Nigerian Author, Chinua Achebe . Things Fall Apart tells the story of pre-colonial life in the southeastern part of Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans on the shores of the country during the late 19th century. The book was first published in 1958.
Things Fall Apart is widely considered to be an archetypal modern African novel in English and one of the first African novels to gain global critical recognition. It is a common book in schools all over Africa and is widely read and studied in English-speaking countries across the world.
In addition, the book became the first work published in Heinemann’s African Writers series after it was published in the UK in 1962 by William Heinemann Ltd.
The novel details the life of its central character, Okonkwo, an Igbo man and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian clan of Umuofia. Traditionally structured and heavily punctured with Igbo Proverbs, the novel describes the simultaneous disintegration of Okonkwo and his village.
5 thoughts on “Top 20 Greatest Books of All Time, Written in English”
Your list of the greatest books almost matches my list. If I wanted to make a list, it would look very similar to this list but with 2 or 3 exceptions.
Thanks for your feedback!
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is my favorite. I consider that the best book ever written.
I agree that is an excellent choice. However, an alternative title for this article could be “Introducing 20 Great Books” because choosing the top greatest books is subjective.
GRAPES OF WRATH should be on that list, John Steinbeck wrote many excellent books
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100 must-read classics, as chosen by our readers
They broke boundaries and challenged conceptions. We asked you for your must-read classics; from iconic bestsellers to lesser-known gems, these are your essential recommends.
They broke boundaries and challenged conceptions. We asked you for your must-read classics; from iconic bestsellers to lesser-known gems, these are your essential recommends.
Everyone loves a classic novel , but where to start? From Jane Austen to Charles Dickens , Toni Morrison to Fyodor Dostoevsky , the fiction canon is so vast you can easily get lost in it.
So we asked our readers to tell us about their favourite classic books. The resulting list of must-reads is a perfect way to find inspiration to start your classics adventure. There's something for everyone, from family sagas and dystopian fiction to romances and historical fiction.
And if you enjoy this, you can also learn about our reader's favourite books by female authors , most loved children's books and the best memoirs they've ever read.
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
We said: A psychiatric ward in Oregon is ruled by a tyrannical head nurse, but when a rebellious patient arrives her regime is thrown into disarray. A story of the imprisoned battling the establishment.
You said: A story that shows there is more to life than following rules. Having joy and being spontaneous are as important as anything else in life.
Darren B, Twitter
24. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
We said: The definitive dystopian novel, George Orwell ’s vision of a high surveillance society is gripping from the first page to the last.
You said: I first read this book years ago, and was glad I would never have to be a part of that kind of society. Yet, here I am in 2018, and so much of that novel has come true.
Donna J, Twitter
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91. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916)
We said: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was James Joyce ’s first novel and details the young artist discovering his voice, craft and identity through his literary alter ego, Stephen Dedalus. There are echoes of his techniques here before they are refined in his later works such as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake .
You said: Joyce is not only the greatest stylist in English, but the novel contains one of the most complex discussions of aesthetics in the 20th century. Donald K, Twitter
What's your favourite classic read? Let us know at @penguinukbooks .
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The best novels in English: readers' alternative list · 1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) · 2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
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1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë · 2. Middlemarch, by George Eliot · 3. Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell · 4. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
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Works (202) ; Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,  ; The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, 1950s ; Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, 1950s ; Babette's Feast and