This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it should give you an idea of a few great classics, which really are worth reading at least once. Read more about these must reads in literature, and then enjoy more works by these classic writers.
J.R.R. Tolkien spun his tales of fantasy and imagination with his legends of Middle-Earth–brought to life in his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Threaded through these pages is epic adventure, romance, heroism, the fight against evil, and the simple struggle of the smallest individual against the greatest odds. How could these few hope to overcome the overwhelming obstacles? How many horrific monsters could stand in the way?
While you’ll find more than one book in this Library of America collection, this volume is well worth it. You’ll get a sense of why Mark Twain is such a well-known, and beloved, American writer. This volume presents some of Twain’s most famous works: Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Pudd’nhead Wilson. These are works that are essential reading for young and old alike. You’ll find adventure, and the stuff that great classics are made of.
While not as famous as Ulysses, James Joyce’s Dubliners is an introduction to this Irish writer’s work, and these stories may leave you wanting to read more. This edition, from Oxford University Press, also includes eight specially commissioned maps of Dublin and an introduction by Don Gifford. Follow in the footsteps of some of Joyce’s most famous characters!
Middlemarch, by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), is one of the great classics from the Victorian period. The complexities in this novel are amazing, as she creates her great web of society. Virginia Woolf once wrote that this work is "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." Epic in scope (but about ordinary people), this novel is a must-read for every reader and writer. In this Norton edition, you’ll find the authoritative text from the 1874 edition (the version last corrected by the author). This book also features the larger typeface for easier reading.
The Great Gatsby is usually the novel for which F. Scott Fitzgerald is best remembered. With this and other works, Fitzgerald forged his place in American literature as the chronicler of the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. Written in 1925, the novel is a snapshot of the time period. We experience the glittery-splendiferous world of the wealthy–with the accompanying emptiness of morally decayed hypocrisy. Gatsby represents so much that is seductive, but his pursuit of passion–at the expense of all else–leads him to his own ultimate destruction.
Le Morte D’Arthur (the death of Arthur) is one of the first books about King Arthur and his knights (and it’s still one of the best-known examples of Arthurian literature); the work is a retelling of older legends and stories. Sir Thomas Malory likely started this work while he was still in prison. The first printing of Le Morte D’Arthur appeared in 1485, from Caxton. This Norton edition of Le Morte D’Arthur features the unabridged version, with the original spelling.
Gulliver’s Travels is an entertaining, madcap romp through fantasy. But, beyond the surface misadventures of Gulliver’s travels, we find a core that is ripe with political satire. Jonathan Swift managed to make digs at the ruling class, intellectuals, and to offer very profound statements about humanity–with its pettiness, greed, and violence. This Norton edition of Jonathan Swift’s satirical classic is based on the 1726 text, which is usually considered the most authoritative. The text of Gulliver’s Travels is accompanied by annotations, which will help you understand Swift’s references in a historical context.
Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out is a journey of self-discovery for Rachel Vinrace, who sets sail for South America. The book was Woolf’s first novel, first published in 1915. Clarissa Dalloway first appears in this novel. Woolf went on to write Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and many other works. This edition is from Oxford University Press. The wit of Virginia Woolf shines through in this novel. E.M. Forster once said this novel was "an americanca whose spiritual boundaries touch Xanadu and Atlantis."
Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens, and it’s often considered one of the greatest works of the 19th century. The book is a Bildungsroman–written between 1860-1861. In this novel, you’ll discover the story of Pip, an orphan who represents some autobiographical elements in the life of Charles Dickens.
10. Don Quixote
What can anyone say about Don Quixote that hasn’t been said? The book’s been around for four hundred years, has inspired virtually every literary movement from the eighteenth-century picaresque to the most obscure works of twenty-first century postmodernism, and has provided the impetus for critical works by everyone from Thackeray to Ortega y Gasset.