There are assigned classic books, and then there are must read classic books. Trust me when I say that, as someone whose major in college was Writing, Literature, and Publishing, some are worth the Cliff’s Notes. But others? Suck it up, buttercups, and deal with the Olde English because your lives will change once you make it to that last sentence.
Here is my list of Must Read Classic Books!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I don’t know about you, but I see Frankensten/Frankenstein’s monster parody jokes on Twitter pretty much constantly. (“Call me Crunch. Captain Crunch was actually my father.” etc. etc. They’re lame.) But if you’re looking for a relatively easy classic book to read and are a modern sci-fi fan, you have to read Frankenstein. Personally, I love the fact that the first science fiction book ever was written by a woman, and the lessons about technology, medicine, and morality are still obviously very applicable today.
Bonus: it shouldn’t take you more than a day to read or so.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I should note that I’m actually a HUGE Hawthorne fan, and find his short stories equally as compelling as his novels. Nowadays, it seems as though people see the public shaming of Hester Prynne as a prescriptive on how to treat women in the United States, but it takes a real sicko (IMHO) to not see Hester as a noble, truly strong female. Hester’s A was the original SlutWalk, and she’s a fantastic feminist character from a book published in 1850– long before women had really any rights in the United States.
Bonus: Watch Easy A, starring Emma Stone, after.
If you ever want to read a book that is dripping in Victorian BS White Guy Privilege, this would be it. It’s like, “What would Donald Trump do if he was ever smart enough to understand physics?” levels of colonialism in this book– and that’s why I love suggesting it. If you read this book and find The Time Traveller’s account to be, like, reasonable and accurate, I suggest you examine your life choices. You’re the friggin’ reason our country is so screwed up.
Bonus: I mean, it’s short. And it’s important. I think there’s an old Wishbone episode about it, too.
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
More, sci-fi, I guess, so you might be noticing a theme here, but this sucker tackles everything. Family relationships. Gender expectations. Poverty. Government censorship. Time travel. Omniscient Earth goddesses. Written in the early 60s, I’m fairly certain that an ugly teenaged girl wasn’t the subject of a science fiction novel up until this point. And Meg Murray is a total badass.
Bonus: I mean, really it’s YA so it’s not hard to read.
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner.
Let’s be real honest here: I hated this book when I read it. And Faulkner is friggin’ impossible to read most of the time. This is stream-of-alcoholic-consciousness in its purest form. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the really gross White Savior underpinnings of the book. But compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a much more visceral representation of post-Civil War south, and you should definitely read it.
Bonus: After this book, As I Lay Dying seems almost easy to read.
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I didn’t manage to read this until college, but I really loved it. I had signed up to take a world literature class, but the professor for that course left Emerson before classes began– and the school thought it was fine to replace the course with Literature of Continental Europe. Kind of a big difference, right? But the professor turned out to be my favorite lit prof i had in all of school. She made everything approachable and understandable, especially something like Faust, the ultimate tale of lust and greed. Totally read it, guys.
Bonus: The devil is a poodle because of how much the Germans hated the French.