If you love to read but haven’t given the classics a chance, now’s the time to change that. Even as a person who got a degree in English, I sometimes find it difficult to pick up a classic. It’s hard to get away from the stigma that they’re boring and hard to read. But fear not, readers. Here’s a list of classic American literature that’s definitely worth reading.
Books I’ve Loved
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
I loved this Southern gothic novel so much more than I expected to. It was one of those rare books assigned to me for school that I actually finished because it was fun. It’s disturbing and thought-provoking, which is not always my taste in literature. I found myself somewhat confused from the stream of consciousness narrative throughout, but it was fun puzzling together what was actually happening. I have a feeling this is a book I could read again and again.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This is one of the first American books written throughout in vernacular English. I’ve heard people criticize the book as coming across as racist. Keep in mind, however, that it’s satire that was really against the grain during the time it was written and caused a lot of people to think in ways they hadn’t been forced to before.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is certainly a well-beloved book that you’ve surely heard of. If you haven’t read it by now, here’s a gentle nudge to give it a shot. There’s a reason so many people love it.
White Fang by Jack London
I got so much more into this book than I expected to. Fair warning: it may make you want to adopt a dog into your life. I’ve banned my dog-obsessed husband from reading it until we have the space to keep a puppy happy.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To be honest, I remember almost none of the details of this book, even though I’m pretty sure I read it twice in high school. It’ll all come back to me when I start re-reading it. I do remember loving the story. This book certainly has stellar reviews.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I listened to the audiobook, read by Maya Angelou herself. It’s a heartbreaking and inspiring story certainly worth reading at least once. The Audible version is phenomenal. There’s something extra special about hearing a work read by the author, especially such a poetic work.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This is another one of those books I was assigned in school but completely enjoyed reading. It’s about the Dresden bombings during World War II, with science fiction and dark humor woven throughout. It has a strong commentary on war which I don’t 100% agree with, but it’s thought-provoking and brilliantly written. I wrote a paper about how Vonnegut wrote this book as a commentary on the Vietnam War as much as it is a commentary on World War II.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
This autobiography is also heartbreaking and inspiring. Harriet Jacobs lived from 1813 – 1897 and tells the story of being born into servitude in the south and eventually finding freedom and family in the north.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Don’t let the glamour fool you. This book is chock full of deep thoughts and darkness barely kept at bay. The symbolism and character development is any literature lover’s dream come true.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I enjoyed this book quite a lot, despite my dissatisfaction with the ending. The prose is beautiful and the critique of the human condition excellent. If nothing else, this classic is certainly worth reading for understanding the cultural references alone. The book certainly takes you back to a fascinating era of American history.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This is one of those books that I thought was sweet and light-hearted when I read it as a child and then found all the deeper meanings as an adult. The writing is simple but Louisa May Alcott raises some serious questions and bucks the status quo in this book. Jo has long been a beloved character for her spunk and ability to forge her own path.
Books on my TBR
These are books that I’ve heard so much about but haven’t had a chance to read myself yet. I can’t personally vouch for them, but they’re well-beloved books by people in general (not just boring English professors).
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“This is the story of two sisters—one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence. Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
“From the moment she entered the world, Francie needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior—such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce—no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
“Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.”
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.”
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
“Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.”
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
“The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.”
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
“The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.”
Leave a comment and let me know what books stood out to you? Are any of these your absolute faves already? Least favorites? Tell me all the things.