I’ve read a lot of classics, and for the most part I can find something interesting in just about any of them! Here, however, is a list of some of my favorites. With the exception of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Middlemarch, these are all stories I’ve read multiple times–and I hope to reread them all again in the future! For the sake of variety, I also listed only one book by each author.
What are some of your favorite classics?
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”
I must have read Anne of Green Gables at least 20 times, and it has lived up to my expectations with every single reading. L. M. Montgomery is such a skillful writer and such a keen observer of both human nature and the natural world that her stories are poignant and immersive. Her books also always make me think the world is an immensely beautiful place.
Beowulf by Anonymous
“And a young prince must be prudent like that,― Seamus Heaney, translator
giving freely while his father lives
so that afterwards, in age when fighting starts
steadfast companions will stand by him
and hold the line.”
Beowulf is a powerful and sweeping story about a man who vanquishes monsters that no one else can. But it is also a story of loss and changing times. The writing, even in translation, is beautiful, and I find myself with new questions to ponder and new dreams to imagine every time I read the story.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
“How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.”
I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in eighth grade, and I devoured the book, unabridged. I was swept into the life of Edmund Dantes who so justly deserved revenge and so cleverly executed it– even when I didn’t agree with every action he took. If you want a book with twists and intrigue, look no farther!
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
If you read this blog at all, you know The Lord of the Rings is my very favorite book– and it’s often difficult to explain exactly what is so wonderful about it. It is not, in my opinion, the action or adventure or even fantasy aspect; it’s that it’s thoughtful and beautiful and makes me wish our world were as deep and wise and wonderful as Middle-earth and its inhabitants seem to be.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
Middlemarch is an intricate and complex novel that weaves together the lives of multiple characters while keeping readers invested in Dorothea, the protagonist. It is remarkable for both its scope and its focus on the details that make us human.
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
“I do not know what evil is when it comes to art. I only know what is good art and what is bad art.”
My Name Is Asher Lev offers a thoughtful and moving look at art, sacrifice, and being true to yourself vs. staying connected with your roots and your community. It’s a book I return to frequently to reread.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
“As I said, this was my sarcastic summer. It was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak.”
A Separate Peace is both heartbreaking and a bit horrifying, as it forces readers to look inside Gene’s soul– and then possibly their own. I’m not sure every sentence is as wise as I thought it was when I was younger, but the book always makes me think.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
The Green Knight on the ground now gets himself ready,― JRR Tolkien, translator
leaning a little with the head he lays bare the flesh,
and his locks long and lovely his lifts over his crown,
letting the naked neck as was needed appear.
This is one of the stories that helped me fall in love with medieval literature. It’s magical but also firmly grounded in reality, addressing questions of honor, temptation, bravery, and more. I’ve read it multiple times, in multiple translations, and always come away with something to think about.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
“You may think it all very fine, Mr. Huntingdon, to amuse yourself with rousing my jealousy; but take care you don’t rouse my hate instead. And when you have once extinguished my love, you will find it no easy matter to kindle it again.”
The remarkable insight that Anne Brontë offers into protagonist Helen Graham’s psyche, however, as well as the unflinching portrayals of men giving into different temptations and debaucheries to the suffering of the women around them make The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a masterpiece I am sorry I did not read sooner.
The Wanderer by Anonymous
“Often alone, every daybreak, I mustTranslation
bewail my cares. There is now no one living
to whom I dare articulate my mind’s grasp.
I know as truth that it is a noble custom
for a man to enchain his spirit’s close,
to hold his hoarded coffer, think what he will.”
An alliterative poem in Old English that recounts the past happy days of one who once served his lord but now lives in exile. Like Beowulf, this poem is powerfully moving, and it demonstrates that emotions can speak across centuries.