Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Classic Books That Are Worth Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is books I love but haven’t reviewed or talked about. That’s a slight problem because I’m not shy about pimping my favorite books. If you come here often, you know what I like. To find favorites that I don’t scream about in every post, I had to cast my mind way back to before I started blogging. Before the blog, I was in school and mostly read classics. That’s how I ended up with this list of the best classic books I’ve read.

Before I could write the list, I had to figure out how I’m defining “classic.” Should my list only include old stuff, like Beowulf? Or should I include modern classics, like The Handmaid’s Tale? Since I have a lot of modern classic favorites, and I blather about them constantly, I decided to make a list of not-modern classics. So . . . what’s “not modern”? My college literature professors defined “modern” as “anything after WWII.” I’m running with their definition.

Basically, this introduction was a long-winded way of saying, “I made a list of books published before 1945 that I think are readable and culturally relevant.” I put them in order by publication date. Let me know which ones you loved and hated.

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Classic Books That Are Worth Reading

1. Complete Stories And Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

First published in 1849

This single volume brings together all of Poe's stories and poems, and illuminates the diverse and multifaceted genius of one of the greatest and most influential figures in American literary history.

Why I love it: I’m starting this list by cheating. I couldn’t pick a favorite Poe story or poem, so I’m picking all of them! I was obsessed with Poe as a middle schooler. I had parts of “Annabel Lee” memorized because I was a very over-the-top thirteen-year-old. I loved The Pit and the Pendulum, too. It gave me nightmares. Poe’s work is weird and full of angst. (Much like myself when I first discovered him.) He was a literary innovator who helped shape the modern horror, mystery, and thriller genres. If you’re a fan of those genres, you might love seeing their origins.

2. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

First published in 1865

When Alice sees a white rabbit take a watch out of its waistcoat pocket she decides to follow it, and a sequence of most unusual events is set in motion.

Why I love it: Another childhood favorite. I read my copy so many times that the covers fell off. The plot is unpredictable and imaginative. Alice finds herself in a world where literally anything can happen. You won’t forget these bizarre characters. (My favorite is the Cheshire Cat.) There’s a reason why the characters have been beloved by readers for nearly 150 years. They’ll stick in your mind and never leave.

3. Around The World In 80 Days by Jules Verne

First published in 1873

One night in the reform club, Phileas Fogg bets his companions that he can travel across the globe in just eighty days. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, he immediately sets off for Dover with his astonished valet Passepartout. Passing through exotic lands and dangerous locations, they seize whatever transportation is at hand—whether train or elephant—overcoming set-backs and always racing against the clock.

Why I love it: Have you seen the reality show The Amazing Race? This is The Amazing Race in book form! Well, 1800s book form. Phileas can’t just drive to the nearest airport and hop on a plane to the other side of the world. He has to get creative. This novel is a fast-paced, plot-twisty adventure. Phileas calmly and confidently navigates deadly surprises as he speeds around the globe with his reluctant valet.

4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

First published in 1877

Black Beauty spends his youth in a loving home, surrounded by friends and cared for by his owners. But when circumstances change, he learns that not all humans are so kind. Passed from hand to hand, Black Beauty witnesses love and cruelty, wealth and poverty, friendship and hardship . . . Will the handsome horse ever find a happy and lasting home?

Why I love it: I remember reading this book as a kid, sitting straight up in bed, with my heart pounding. I was totally invested in this horse story! I was scared when the horses were in danger and angry when they were abused. The animal (and human) characters are loveable and have distinct personalities. This is a must-read for horse lovers. Or history lovers. Even if you don’t care about anthropomorphic animals, you might appreciate the vivid descriptions of life in 1800s London.

5. The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

First published in 1890

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890.

Why I love it: This is one of the better novels that college forced upon me. It’s a thought-provoking story that’s full of angst and darkness. You’ll watch in horror as the main character, Dorian Gray, slowly disintegrates before your eyes. Every time you think he’s had enough and learned his lesson, he pushes things farther and sinks deeper into trouble. It’s scary in a relatable way. I think we’ve all met people like Dorian.

6. The Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum

First published in 1900

When Dorothy and her little dog Toto are caught in a tornado, they and their Kansas farmhouse are suddenly transported to Oz, where Munchkins live, monkeys fly and Wicked Witches rule. Desperate to return home, and with the Wicked Witch of the West on their trail, Dorothy and Toto—together with new friends the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and cowardly Lion—embark on a fantastic quest along the Yellow Brick Road in search of the Emerald City. There they hope to meet the legendary, all-powerful Wizard of Oz, who alone may hold the power to grant their every wish.

Why I love it: Another childhood favorite that I reread until it fell apart. It’s like an American fairytale. This novel is such a massive part of American culture that most Americans know the plot and characters, even if they’ve never read the book. I promise the book is worth reading, though! You’ll find a lot more adventure than what’s shown in the movie. It’s a cute, fast-paced story that will help you escape from the real world for a while.

7. The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

First published in 1901

Generations ago, a hound of hell tore out the throat of devilish Hugo Baskerville on the moonlit moor. Poor, accursed Baskerville Hall now has another mysterious death: that of Sir Charles Baskerville. Could the culprit somehow be mixed up with secretive servant Barrymore, history-obsessed Dr. Frankland, butterfly-chasing Stapleton, or Selden, the Notting Hill murderer at large? Someone's been signaling with candles from the mansion's windows. Nor can supernatural forces be ruled out. Can Dr. Watson—left alone by Sherlock Holmes to sleuth in fear for much of the novel—save the next Baskerville, Sir Henry, from the hound's fangs?

Why I love it: This is the best Sherlock Holmes book, which is odd because Sherlock is barely in it, but leaving Watson on his own adds a ton of tension to the narrative. Is Watson up to solving a murder without Sherlock? The mystery is set in a creepy mansion that’s surrounded by ancient ruins, haunted moors, and strange locals. Like every Sherlock Holmes book, this one is full of plot twists that will keep you up way past bedtime. You won’t be able to sleep until you figure out who—or what—is murdering the Baskervilles.

8. The Call Of The Wild by Jack London

First published in 1903

Buck is a dog born to luxury, but his life changes dramatically when he is sold to be a sled dog in the Yukon Territory. First published in 1903, this masterpiece of adventure and survival continues to enthrall readers almost a century later.

Why I love it: Jack London’s powerful writing brings Gold-Rush-era Yukon Territory to life in this stunning novel. Like Black Beauty, it’s a must-read for people who are interested in history or animals. I don’t know what goes on inside a dog’s head, but the author does a nice job of writing convincing dog characters. Buck is an easy hero to love. When he’s stolen away from his easy life, he learns to be tough and fearless. Even though this is a book about dogs, it has a valuable message about resilience.

9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

First published in 1932

The astonishing novel Brave New World, originally published in 1932, presents Aldous Huxley's vision of the future—of a world utterly transformed. Through the most efficient scientific and psychological engineering, people are genetically designed to be passive and therefore consistently useful to the ruling class. This powerful work of speculative fiction sheds a blazing critical light on the present and is considered to be Aldous Huxley's most enduring masterpiece.

Why I love it: College forced this book upon me, and I actually enjoyed it! There are parts of the book that feel extremely modern. Even though it was published nearly 90 years ago, you’ll recognize the 24/7 media, the drugs that numb bodies and minds, and the selfishness of the people in charge. It’s an unsettling reading experience.

10. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

First published in 1938

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives—presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

Why I love it: This does not feel like a novel that was published in 1938. The introverted characters are so relatable! I guess it shows that some things never change: Introverts have always gone to great lengths to avoid parties. The mystery in this novel is compelling. What happened to Rebecca? Why is Mrs. Danvers so creepily loyal to her dead mistress? Is the narrator’s new husband a murderer? My feelings about the characters were constantly shifting. I never knew what to believe or who to trust. It is brilliant.

What is your favorite classic?


  1. I got 7 out of 10... not too bad, right?


  2. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe was an amazing writer for sure.

    My TTT .

  3. I've read eight and Around the World in 80 Days is my Classics Club spin. I love this idea for a list. You should suggest it to the Artsy Reader Girl.

  4. My favorite from this list is Call of the Wild -- it's the first novel I ever read! I've read it several times over the years. I remember reading Black Beauty as a kid, too...I should track down the 'real' version.

  5. Mpve the list! I have to admit I don't think I've read any classics since high school, but I do want to pick them up again. I especially want to read Alice in Wonderland, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Picture of Dorian Gray from your list!

  6. I am surprised I have actually read some of these. As a kid, I was exposed to a lot of those children's classics, but I think I developed a resentment for "the classics" in high school, when they were being thrust down my throat.

  7. Hi there AJ! Your post gave me chills and thrills. Love it!! And yes!!! All these books are soooo great! I need to go and have a look, I think I've reviewed Rebecca and The picture of Dorian Gray. Or maybe I just went on and on about it... Quite possible.

    Don't unfriend me please, but I didn't like Brave new world. Sorry.... I just couldn't get into it at all. And I've never read The call of the wild... My bad. I know.

    The rest I did read!

    Great post, here's my TTT

  8. I too read loads more while I was younger, for some reason. I love how much depth you've gone into with the books here. Classics definitely are difficult to review but I think you've given great info here. Rebecca has been on my TBR for the longest time!

  9. Great list! I love Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, it's still one of my favourite classics, and I'm so excited for the new adaptation of Rebecca.

  10. Rebecca is one of those that I've been meaning to read for years but it just hasn't happened yet.

  11. I've only read a few of Poe's short stories, but I've enjoyed them all. I should really dig into the rest of his writings. I really enjoyed Call of the Wild when I read it for fun back in middle school. Dorian Gray is one I've always meant to get to!

  12. Black Beauty is one of the only classics that I've actually genuinely enjoyed, it was a lot more accessible to me than a lot of the denser classics and of course I love horses!
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/top-ten-tuesday-276/

  13. Great idea for a list! I've read a few of these, but there are some I really, REALLY need to get to. Like REBECCA. I can't believe I haven't read it already. I even have a copy on my Kindle ...

    Happy TTT!

  14. I've at least read all of these! :D The Oz books are favorites of mine. And I do like Poe and his unique stories. Verne, too. Fun list!

  15. I loved Rebecca and The Picture of Dorian Gray - I feel like it had some humor in it?

  16. I've read six of the books on your list, and - I agree - they're great!
    Here is my Top Ten Tuesday list this week.

  17. I don't read a lot of classics, but Rebecca is one I hope to read one day. I'm glad to hear you recommend it.

    My TTT.

  18. Yours is a great list. Black Beauty tore me apart! I need to read Rebecca. One classic I loved was Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa ... from 1937.

  19. I loved reading BLACK BEAUTY and THE CALL OF THE WILD as a child!

  20. Hi AJ - I have been looking around your blog. It is very cool.

    Your list of books is very impressive. I need to get to the ones that I have not read such as The Hound of the Baskervilles. Some books like Call of the Wild I haha not read in a long time.if I only had time to get to everything that I want to!

  21. I liked Black Beauty and The Wizard Of Ozas a kid but haven't re-read them in many many years. I didn't like Alice or Dorian. I haven't read the others as classics never much appealed to me growing up! I always had my nose in Enid Blyton!

  22. Great list! I've read about half of these and would like to read the others. I loved the whole Oz series as a child and still do. I would add The Secret Garden as a childhood favorite. I remember finding Alice in Wonderland really unnerving (the pig baby stands out in my mind). Dorian Gray is a fascinating book.

  23. I have not read Rebecca, but it sounds like I'd love it. I'm adding it to my Goodreads TBR now!

  24. Let's see...I love all of Jane Austen's books but probably Pride and Prejudice best. I was completely captivated by The Age of Innocence, The Yearling, Bridgehead Revisited,Bless Me, Ultima. Of course I loved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though so many people are put off by the language in it. To Kill a Mockingbird is the best! I haven't read The Picture of Dorian Gray, though it has been on my TBR for years. My Sunday Post is a snapshot of my brain

  25. This is a great list. Black Beauty was a major favorite of mine when I was a kid.