Podcasts & Books

20 Classics You Should Read At Least Once In Your Life

By Esté Swanepoel
20th Nov 2022

20 Classics You Should Read At Least Once In Your Life

​In a world where there are movie adaptations of just about every book ever written, we’re at risk of forgetting the joy actually reading a book can bring. A fancy front cover, the feel of the paper, that new book (or old book) smell—these are things a film just can’t provide.

Here are a couple of our favourite classic novels to help you reconnect with reading:

1. The Catcher In The Rye | J.D. Salinger

The original coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first novels written from a distinctly adolescent viewpoint. The main character, Holden, is pretty intense but if you pretend you weren’t that angsty as a youth, you’re lying to yourself.

2. To Kill A Mockingbird | Harper Lee

Despite being known for its warmth and humour, To Kill A Mockingbird touches on some pretty heavy topics. Harper Lee covers racial inequality, prejudice, class, sexual abuse and corruption in this classic novel. Telling it from a young girl’s perspective provides an interesting twist on the examination of racism in America’s Deep South.

3. The Outsiders | S.E. Hinton

A pioneering novel of its time, The Outsiders was written for teens while the author was a teenager herself. Published when she was just 18, Hinton’s work deals with issues of family, friendship, identity, violence and alcohol – things Hinton was surrounded by at home and at school. Hinton’s honest and passionate voice will have you laughing, crying and rooting for the outsiders in no time. Stay golden, Ponyboy.

4. The Great Gatsby | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Considered one of the greatest American novels, The Great Gatsby unpacks the idea of the American Dream in a way few other books have. Whether it’s the flowing prose, the social critique, the opulence of the Flapper decade or simply cos the movie has your boy Leo in it, you’re sure to fall in love with this tale of ambition, desire and betrayal like so many others before you.

5. Wuthering Heights | Emily Brontë

The dark and twisted romance of Cathy and Heathcliff is one of the most famous love stories of all time. In a tale where no one is the good guy, you’ll find it hard to decide who you dislike the most but the passion at the heart of the novel will have you spellbound from beginning to end.

6. The Grapes Of Wrath | John Steinbeck

Steinbeck’s brutal presentation of life during the Great Depression has made The Grapes of Wrath a modern classic.  Follow the Joad family’s journey from Oklahoma to California as they seek a better life. You’ll hope and dream along with them and feel every bump in the road as if you were right there too. Don’t worry if you shed a tear—worry if you don’t.

7. Pride And Prejudice | Jane Austen

 Mr. Darcy is surely one of the most famous romantic heroes of all time and it’s easy to see why upon a reading of Pride and Prejudice. His strong, silent demeanour contrasted with Elizabeth’s spirit and sass seems an impossible pairing but the pleasant predictability of Austen’s storylines means you know it’ll all work out.  There’s some pretty fantastic universal truths about life and love and relationships in there too - after all, everyone knows that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

8. 1984 | George Orwell

1984 is pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare come to life. No, it’s not giant spiders taking over the city, but it’s pretty close! The dystopian novel sees the world fall to Big Brother, an omnipresent governing body constantly keeping tabs on the population. 1984 is even more chilling these days, in our society of technology and information. Watch out, you’ll be changing the privacy settings on all your devices and social media platforms after just a few pages.

9. Frankenstein | Mary Shelley

Written by a woman in a time when women didn’t write, Frankenstein is one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Shelley blurs the lines between human and monster and finds elements of each in the other. Scary stuff!

10. Great Expectations | Charles Dickens

You can’t make a list of classic books without including at least one Dickens novel. Great Expectations follows the story of Pip, a young orphan, and details his growth and development. This novel’s pretty long, but Dickens’ colourful cast of characters will keep you coming back for more.

11. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes | Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Surprise! Sherlock Holmes existed long before Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch—who knew? Well hopefully you, because each and every Sherlock Holmes novel is a classic in its own right and you’d better get your hands on it ASAP. Prepare to have your mind blown by the legendary Sherlock Holmes as well as the brains behind him, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

12. Romeo And Juliet | William Shakespeare

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?  If this is as far as your Romeo and Juliet knowledge goes, please educate yourself right now. This bittersweet story of young love has it all – humour, passion, innocence, blood, betrayal. Don’t be put off by the Shakespearean language, just add –est to everything and you’ll be sweet.

13. The Odyssey | Homer

A classic from the Classical period (see what we did there?), The Odyssey is by far the oldest book on the list. Dating back to the 8th century BC, The Odyssey is an epic poem following the travels of the Greek hero Odysseus. If you’re into myths, gods and Cyclops, this is the one for you.

14. The Picture Of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde

Most of Oscar Wilde’s works are pretty light-hearted, but his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray is much more serious and philosophical. Part horror and part social critique, Dorian Gray tells the terrifying tale of a young man so consumed by vanity that he would sell his own soul to protect his beauty.

15. The Old Man And The Sea | Ernest Hemingway

Perhaps Hemingway’s most famous works, The Old Man and the Sea describes the woes of an aging and unlucky Cuban fisherman, Santiago. He sets out on a grand voyage to end his unlucky streak and is greeted by challenges that test his courage and tenacity. For a novel that’s essentially about a man going fishing, The Old Man and the Sea is pretty damn inspiring. 

16. A Room of One’s Own | Virginia Woolf

More of an extended essay than a novel, this work explores women in fiction—both as writers of it and characters in it. As a woman in fiction herself, Woolf creates a literal and figurative space—A Room of One’s Own—for female writers in an area traditionally dominated by men.

17. On The Road | Jack Kerouac

Considered a defining novel of the 1950’s Counterculture movement, On the Road is based on Kerouac’s own travels across the United States. Set in a world of jazz, poetry and drugs, On the Road is both gritty and glamorous and voices the angst of the entire Beat generation.

18. Breakfast At Tiffany’s | Truman Capote

Behind every great movie is a great novel and this certainly rings true for the classic Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Uncovering details, thoughts and motivations unable to be communicated through the screen, Capote’s American geisha Holly Golightly will both shock and delight you.

19. The Secret History | Donna Tartt

Most murder mysteries begin with the murder and end with the exposing of the murderer, but not The Secret History. The mystery in this novel is not who did it, but why. The eerily slow pace of this tale builds tension and heightens the horror of the deed.

20. Going Solo | Roald Dahl

This is really a two-for-one deal, as Going Solo is a continuation of Dahl’s autobiography, Boy, which is also a hoot. If you think Roald Dahl’s fictional works are wild, they’ve got nothing on the crazy adventures he had during his stint in the Royal Air Force. Told in his signature style, Going Solo will have you in stitches and unable to put it down.

Are you a bonafide bookworm? Here are 10 Books That Will Change The Way You Think.

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