Although people are still divided on the importance of classical literature in the classroom and everyday life, there’s no doubt that America’s collective literacy is made up of key works. Instilled into classroom curriculums and deemed essential reading, these books have become part of a global canon, one whose motifs and themes pop up in our daily lives, inspiring and challenging us.
7 Essential Classic Books to Read!
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A quintessential American classic by one of the most revered American writers and satirists. Mark Twain’s novel is an excellent jumping-off point for those interested in the writer’s work and stories of irony, adventure, and Twain’s recurring motif: the Mississippi River.
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Describing the emotions and fears of a young girl trapped in tragedy, Anne Frank’s diary has served as a wrenchingly human portrait of the Holocaust. Told in waves of hope and despair, Frank’s diary captures a personal youth and global wreckage, making it one of the most impactful books in contemporary writing.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Often considered one of Steinbeck’s masterpieces, The Grapes of Wrath is an American epic following the lives of the Joad Family, as they are forced to leave Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. Painting a vivid picture of poverty and hope for a better life in the West, Steinbeck’s story remains clear and poignant today.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A coming-of-age classic and one that looks deep into the racial conflicts of the Harlem Renaissance. In Ellison’s novel, an unnamed young man moves to Harlem to help fight against white oppression but is ignored by all those around him. Filled with both the real and the obscure, Ellison’s description of a man’s search for identity in an indifferent America is a searing portrait.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Telling a story of love, abundance, and doom, Fitzgerald’s novel catalogs a man’s undying devotion and an era’s obsession with money. Told from the point of view of the observer, Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s fantastical parties and determination to charm the married Daisy create a spiral into an epic downfall. Moralless, volatile, and rich, Gatsby’s characters have become iconic.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Perhaps the most celebrated of Hemingway’s books, The Old Man and the Sea is a story of aspiration and futility. Following the story of an aging fisherman, Santiago, it details a lengthy struggle to catch a great marlin only to lose it to a shark. As the man deals with this disappointment, the novel becomes a portrait of humanity’s place in the world, struggling against apathy.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
In this autobiography, Angelou captures the struggle of children when caught between bigotry and cruelty. As Angelou describes the trauma of racism, rape, and neglect, she reveals the voice that persists despite oppression. Her work stands as an impactful inspiration and an unforgettable portrait of a legendary writer.
Classics are a great way for people to begin their reading journeys and find out what they enjoy while gaining a greater literacy for the icons and themes that permeate our everyday lives. The titles on this list serve as examples of essential reading for book fans and people just beginning to find time for reading. While there are no doubt many more titles to be added, this makes for a jumping-off point.