I am an avid reader. It is one of the best ways to pass the time while traveling—between all the airports, trains and planes, distractions are a necessity. But, even at home a good book will have you off to a place you’ve never been or even a time different from your own. That’s the thing about books—they let you travel without moving your feet.
My tastes on books to read run the gamut, from romance to science fiction to entrepreneurial to fantasy. It doesn’t matter much as long as it’s entertaining, educational or inspirational. With that said, the one genre that seems to always be last on the reading list is classic novels. This probably due to the fact that so many were mandatory reading way back in high school, which turns enjoyable reading into homework. I never liked homework. That’s why I decided to create this list of must-read classic books.
From books I was assigned while in school to good reads I’ve come across in my adult life, leaf through the pages of this bucket list and let these must-read classics take you to new places. Lucky for you, many of them are free (or close to free) on Kindle, so this list will be cheap to complete.
Must-Read Classic Books + 10 Free Novels to Download
1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A well-known Christmas tale where Charles Dickens tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was a wealthy man with a very cold heart who was paid a visit by the spirits on Christmas Eve and faced to make a choice about changing.
2. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell’s books always give me a heavy feeling after reading. Animal Farm is an allegory to Stalin’s tyranny. It’s about a farm where the animals rebelled and overthrew the humans for treating them poorly. The pigs led a new system and established the Seven Commandments.
The farm prospered at first, but then the pigs began to fight for power. From a democratic system, it became a tyranny. Over the years, the pigs began to act like men—wearing clothes, sleeping on beds, and drinking scotch. While the common animals in the barn have barely to eat, shivering in the cold, hopeless.
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
A young English solicitor travels to Count Dracula’s castle for a business visit and encounters a series of unfortunate incidents. The Count has set his sights on the young man and his friends, but with a legendary vampire hunter by his side they embark on a nightmarish adventure.
Take it one step further and visit Bran Castle, Dracula’s Fortress in Transylvania!
4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The bookworm in me shuddered upon reading Fahrenheit 451. I can’t even imagine a world where reading is a crime and books are burned. In Bradbury’s novel, technology was becoming advanced and people were choosing simpler forms of entertainment like televisions and radio.
Books were no longer favored because the contents are the same for fear of offending some groups. The book didn’t state why the books are banned, but it may be to censor the people from certain truths; and to give the people equal levels of knowledge (by burning all the books, no one can be more knowledgeable than the other).
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Originally called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, this novel is about the inner struggles of a woman caused by social norms, moral obligations, and personal desires. It describes how from a young age she was able to withstand the hardships she experienced after losing her parents and how she grew to be a good woman with a straight moral compass.
Jane Eyre rose above social standards, choosing not to get married just because society dictates. She was independent and self-reliant. She did marry in the end, though, but only for love. Now, that’s my kind of hero!
6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women may be a simple story about the life of the four March sisters, but the message is far from trivial. This classic novel for children shows the struggle of balancing the personal growth of each woman and their familial responsibilities. Aside from that, the sisters showed the different kinds of a woman as per norms during the nineteenth century.
I recommend this book as a must-read to every young adult who’s struggling to find one’s identity. Don’t be restricted by what society dictates you to be. Be your own person and express yourself freely, but don’t forget to be responsible too.
7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a story Ishmael’s whaling expedition aboard the ship named Pequod. The ship’s captain, Ahab, was in search of the legendary whale named Moby Dick to exact vengeance on the beast for losing his leg. The voyage was eventful as storms ravaged their ship, men lost their minds, and lots of accidents occurred.
A prophet from another ship warns Ahab that doom awaits for whoever pursues the whale. However, Ahab didn’t listen. The voyagers then found Moby Dick but were unsuccessful in killing it. Only Ishamael lived to tell the tale.
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
A world in total control by the government. You’re enslaved by their policies and have nothing to do but obey. Freedom of expression is prohibited and even thinking differently would send you to jail. Nineteen Eighty-Four gave me a glimpse of that kind of world—a Totalitarian world.
Despite living in this nightmare, the hero of the story, Winston Smith, fought tooth and nail to find out the truth and rebelled in the government. He fell in love with a like-minded person named Julia, but the government eventually found out their secret affair which led to their imprisonment. 1984 is the depiction of Nazism and Stalinism and Winston represented the civilians and their pursuit of freedom.
9. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
It’s a story about two migrant friends, George and Lennie, who’s about to start work on a farm in California. Lennie has a mild mental disorder who likes to pet soft things but accidentally kills it. They share a dream to own a piece of land and to farm it. As they were employed, they met some farmhands who have become their companions.
Lennie, being gullible and a bit weak, was often bullied by some of the men. George and Lennie were very fond of each other and regard one another as brothers. Then, Lennie accidentally killed Curley’s wife. George then shot Lennie in the head, not out of anger, but out of mercy for his beloved friend. This tragic turn of events broke my heart into little pieces.
10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude illustrates the history of the fictional Colombian town Macondo which was established by the incestuous Buendia family. The town was isolated until the gypsies came along to trade with them. Before long, the town was opened to other towns in the region. It suffered from civil wars, weather-related destruction, and plagues.
Regarded as Márquez’s best work, One Hundred Year of Solitude depicts a colorful saga that captures the magic realism of social and political allegory.
Paperback | Kindle
11. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
This is the story of a 16-year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, and his two-day experience in the phoniness of the adult world. After being expelled in prep school for having low grades, Holden wanted to be the “catcher in the rye”—someone who prevents children from falling off the cliff, which can be a metaphor for adulthood.
He wanted to stop his sister Phoebe, and every child, from growing up, being an adult and saying goodbye to their innocence. Who can blame him? If only all of us can be as innocent as children forever, there’ll probably be no hate in the world.
12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Did you know that The Great Gatsby wasn’t a hit at the time it was published? Fitzgerald died while there were still unsold copies left from the second printing. Nevertheless, this was considered as Fitzgerald’s best work. It’s about the life and tragedy of self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby being narrated by Nick Carraway.
Gatsby was living the American Dream while trying to win over the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. Set upon the Jazz Age, the novel is filled with themes such as greed, prejudice, and elitism. Reading The Great Gatsby made me realize that materialism can only do so much. The key to being happy is to be content and to live by values and good principles.
13. Persuasion by Jane Austen
Anne Elliot fell in love with a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but with the disapproval of her family and the persuasion of a friend she breaks off the engagement. Years later, Anne reencounters Frederick as he is courting another woman.
14. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
A story that follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, through issues of manners, morality, status and marriage. Living in the English countryside and of no great means, her father must marry off his five exuberant daughters
15. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
This classic novel chronicles the escapades of a young man and his best friend, Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer’s pranks and mischief takes a dramatic turn when he witnesses a murder.
16. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
A man ashamed by his appearance and feared by all is obsessed with the lovely Christine Daae. Who will win her heart? The handsome, childhood sweetheart or the masked man.
17. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Basil Hallward, a well-known artist, meets Dorian Gray in the home of his aunt. The artist is infatuated by Dorian’s beauty and paints several portraits of him. Dorian meets aristocrat Lord Henry who believes the only thing in life worth pursuing is beauty and pleasure. The youth then sells his soul so he can remain the same appearance as the portrait will age and fade.
18. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
One of the most well known of the classic novels, it tells the story of a London lawyer who is intrigued by the strange occurrences between his good friend, Dr Jekyll, and the evil Mr Hyde.
19. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The adventures of d’Artagnan who travels to Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He then embarks on legendary ventures with his friends who make up the books title: Porthos, Athos and Aramis.
20. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
In 1895, there is an invasion of Earth by aliens from Mars. Using chemical weapons, lasers and superior technology, they destroy everything in their path.
21. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
From summertime picnics to wanders in the fields to sitting fireside on winter nights this story follows animal pals Ray, Mole, Toad and Badger. The tale follows these friendships in the natural world.
22. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” This was the lesson Atticus, the Father of Scout and Jem has imbued upon his children. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel about a child’s awakening to racism, prejudice, and that the good and the evil can co-exist in a community. The mockingbird in the story represented innocence. In a world where it’s so easy to hate, one must do his best not to kill the mockingbird.
23. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is a historic novel centered upon the French invasion in Russia in 1812. Tolstoy created a novel so real from the original events that it was as if you’re living right into the story. Even the names used in the story were based on Tolstoy’s family, only altered a little, so that the Russians can relate well.
Although the book is about war, it shows underlying concepts like searching for the meaning of life. The characters in the story came very close to death that upon recuperating from the accident, they began to question their purpose. I ask myself the same question every once in a while to assess my way of life and improve myself.
24. White Fang by Jack London
An adventure novel where the main character, White Fang, is a ferocious half dog and half wolf. The story tells of the experiences of this magnificent animal while living in the wilderness and finding companionship with man.
25. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Love is the most powerful force on earth. It can build and destroy lives. This is what I gathered as I closed the book and put it down on my nightstand. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine was so powerful that it never changed even when she married another man or even after she died.
Their unchanged love caused a lot of conflict and pain from their lives and the lives of the people around them. It made Heathcliff bitter and vengeful. In contrast, the love between the young Catherine and Hareton flourished and ended happily.
I fell in love with classic novels now that I’m an adult. Some may not be easy to understand, but you can always research to help you. Whether you’re on the hunt for a new classic book to read or re-reading your favorites, books are always a free source of knowledge.
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