Reading fiction is akin to a work out — you generally feel like you should do it more often, and when you eventually do you’re always astonished by how great it feels. But, who has the time to be well read in this busy world? Here is a list of twenty classical novels that are not only phenomenal works of literature, but are also ripping yarns that require your attention from the first page to the last. Attempt to place any one of them down. I bet you can’t.
1. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll
A young girl tumbles down a rabbit hole into a lamentably ludicrous world. Alice’s fantasy turns into a nightmare. Written mainly to entertain children, it has stood the test of times and has received critical acclaim by well established writers as well as by philosophers, psychoanalysts, linguists and others.
2. ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain
Young, mischievous Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn bounce from one bad situation to another. Mark Twain’s story of a dissident kid and a runaway slave looking for freedom upon the waters of the Mississippi remains a defining classic of American literature.
3. ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne
Phileas Fogg, a rich English noble man, risks his fortune on a wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Readers will love speeding through the continents in this action-packed adventure stuffed with danger, mystery, drama, and even romance.
4. ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens
A classic made into innumerable movies; everybody knows this tale of a stingy entrepreneur, who withholds both bearable pay and general kind-heartedness from his workers, even on Christmas Day. This all changes, however, when he is accidentally confronted with his past and learns what others think about him.
5. ‘Candide’ by Voltaire
Candide is a young fellow brought up in extravagance, who, on stepping out into a chaotic world, is shell shocked by the catastrophe, disorder, and agony around. Filled with humor, outrage, adventure and wit, Voltaire’s magnum opus is not to be missed.
6. ‘Nightwood’ by Djuna Barnes
A short read, yet not a light one. This novel, well known for being one of the earliest to expressly depict homosexuality, is thick and intense, with more ache and surprise than novels three times its size.
7. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger
This novel beautifully captures teenagers’ angst and the need to rebel. The storyteller’s sharp sensibilities and his frank assessment about the world, spellbind numerous youthful readers, despite the fact that the writer had penned the book for an adult audience.
8. ‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton
This novel grips the reader with a love triangle ending in a tragedy. Ehtan Forme, the title character is obsessed about a friendship with his debilitated wife’s cousin, who has come to live with them and help around the house. The critical reception to Wharton’s work was mixed, but who have read it remember it as a convincing story.
9. ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley
Considered to be the first science fiction novel, this book by famous poet PB Shelly’s wife is a classic. The short book narrates a story of a researcher who constructs a human life machine, breathes life into it, but soon is nauseated by his very creation. The novel at first got mixed reviews but its stature has steadily grown.
10. ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F Scott Fitzgerald
A young fellow gets involved with the universe of riches during the thundering Twenties that rotate around the confounding tycoon Jay Gatsby. On watching the petty passions of the rich from close quarters, soon he is disillusioned by the emptiness and shallowness of the American dream.
Gatsby, like great wine, only gets better with time. All of it in only 180 pages, it is worth a re-read.
11. ‘Heart of Darkness’ Joseph Conrad
A riverboat commander in the Belgian Congo looks forward to meet Kurtz, director of a disconnected upriver station. His aspirations are crushed when the man he meets is not the type he has envisioned. Despite the fact that it is short novel, it is one of the densest, darkest books you could lay your hands on.
12. ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel
The memoir is about the author’s experience in Nazi concentration camps with his father during the Holocaust. Often morbidly graphic, it demonstrates his repugnance with mankind’s ability to treat others unfeelingly.
13. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde
The classic stands on its own as a tragic morality tale. A young, handsome man sells his soul to stay young and beautiful forever. A portrait of him painted with all his great looks, however is a frightful one, for the contemptible creature is one with no heart. Like all rare, brilliant minds, reading Wilde makes you feel unique.
14. ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ by Stephen Crane
A young Civil War soldier conquers his initial weakness, but though he acts heroically in a later battles, his humanity is lost. Crane, who finished the novel when he was only twenty-four, was immensely adulated for the authentic detail about the conduct of war, though he had never been in one himself.
15. ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Composed fundamentally in the form of a series of letters, this semi-autobiographical story narrates the tragedy of a young man who falls in love with a woman officially promised to another.
16. ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus
Meursault, a Frenchman living in Algiers, mysteriously slaughters a Bedouin man. Him confronting his trial and potential execution with atypical detachment makes for a typical Camus classic. This quintessential novel questions the absurdity of human existence.
17. ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin
Edna Pontellier, a wife and mother living in New Orleans towards the end of the 19th
century, gradually starts to defy societal standards by turning out to be fiscally and sexually independent. This classic records the early stirring of women’s liberation and rise of feminism.
18. ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote
Heartbreaking and beautiful, this is an impeccable novella. Appealing to all age groups, it is impossible not to adore this novel. Holly Golightly and her antics simply enchant you. It’s never too late to pick up this classic, and don’t dismiss it just because you’ve seen the film. The book is distinctive!
19. ‘Sleepless Nights’ by Elizabeth Hardwick
A lyrical blend of memoir, fiction, hopes, dreams, and thoughts, Hardwick’s novel is as undefinable as it is splendid.
20. ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson
This mystery novel is brimming with dark humor and unease. The main characters of the story are intriguing but convincing. The ending, open to different interpretations, itself makes this novel an extraordinary short read.