Disclaimer: please be advised that all of these novels deal with serious topics. Relevant trigger warnings should be researched prior to reading.
If you’re anything like me, it can sometimes feel difficult to make it through older novels. Whether it’s from the language or content, these works can sometimes seem to drag or feel irrelevant.
With that said, here are 5 relatively ‘classic’ novels that I think are definitely word a read.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
The popular dystopian novel focuses on the protagonist Offred and her oppressive experience in a futuristic America. Atwood eerily centers the themes of female subjugation and the violent patriarchal structure. It is no surprise that this book is often considered the pinnacle of feminist literature.
While caving into watching the Hulu series may seem an easier method of engaging with the story, nothing beats the original text. Atwood’s nuance is powerful in a way that cannot possibly be reproduced, on film or otherwise.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Written by the legendary Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God follows a 40-year-old Janie as she recounts her life story.
Often considered one of the quintessential novels of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston’s work poignantly highlights the plights of Janie as she falls in and out of love, eventually leading her to personal revelation. The novel directly touches on the topics of womanhood, true love, power structures, human flaw, and morality.
According to Hurston’s website, “When first published in 1937, this novel about a proud, independent black woman was generally dismissed by male reviewers.” However, now the book is known to be a classic among the American novels.
Novelist Alice Walker (famous for her Pulitzer-prize winning The Color Purple) explained about Hurston’s work, “There is no book more important to me than this one.”
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
One of my personal favorites, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, tells the story of a troubled woman and her involvement in a doomed affair.
In addition to powerfully conveying passion, Tolstoy delves into the intricacies of marriage, family, death, societal pressures and positions, politics, and poverty. Many famous quotes from this novel, along some of the book’s plot points, are often alluded to in popular culture (like that ‘sad train’ Rory mentioned in Gilmore Girls).
The book has gained popularity in the past decade due to Joe Wright’s innovative film adaptation; other notable film adaptations were produced in 1997, 1948, and 1935. However, this comes as no surprise, as Anna Karenina has notably been regarded as one of the best novels of all time.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Known for its decadent imagery and iconic romance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been revered for decades. The book shows the dark side of the American Dream, exploring its influence on love, morality, money, friendship, and legacy as narrator Nick Carraway explains how Jay Gatsby once pined for his true love.
Although the book was not initially received well, it has come to be considered as one of the premiere American novels. Many movie adaptations have led to revived interest, such as Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version which featured music by artists such as Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey.
This novel is also well-known for annually inspiring flashy Halloween costumes (which, ironically, contrast the moral of the book).
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is nothing less of an international success; it even made TIME’s “All-Time 100 Novels” list in 2010. The story focuses on Okonkwo as he deals with his daily life and eventually the dissipation of his clan, Umuofia.
Through the work, Achebe weaves together themes of loss, death, tradition, family, and colonization. The book’s greatest asset lies in the depth of its content, and the twisted viewpoint shift that lurks in the novel’s final paragraph.
Generally, the book has been well received since its publication in the UK, as is often now included in US high-school curriculums. Several screen adaptations have been crafted of this book, primarily by Nigerian production companies.
While reading classics can sometimes feel like a dated activity, there are some novels that truly stand the test of time. I hope you all enjoy reading them as much as I have.