18 Classic Books You’ve Probably Never Read But Should

While we all may have leafed through the pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Pride and Prejudice” at some point, the vast ocean of classic literature holds many treasures yet to be discovered by the majority. This list ventures beyond the usual high school syllabus, spotlighting 18 classic gems that deserve a spot on your reading list for their timeless insight and narrative brilliance.

“Middlemarch” by George Eliot

Often hailed as one of the greatest novels in the English language, “Middlemarch” offers an intricate look at English provincial life with an emotional depth that continues to resonate with readers today. Its exploration of societal change and personal destiny feels as relevant now as it did in the 19th century.

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

This surreal and captivating novel set in Soviet Russia interweaves the story of the Devil visiting Moscow with a retelling of Pontius Pilate. It’s a wild ride that critiques Soviet society with wit and wisdom, proving both profound and profoundly entertaining.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas

Beyond a simple tale of revenge, Alexandre Dumas’s magnum opus offers layers of complexity in its exploration of justice, mercy, and the consequences of one’s actions. Its thrilling plot and rich character development make it a captivating read from start to finish.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

This powerful novel tells the story of Janie Crawford’s journey through three marriages and her quest for identity in early 20th-century Florida. Zora Neale Hurston’s rich narrative voice and deep emotional insight make this a compelling exploration of race and gender.

“The Good Soldier” by Ford Madox Ford

Told through the unreliable narration of John Dowell, this novel unravels the complex relationships between two couples in the early 20th century. Its exploration of truth, morality, and deception has made it a study in the art of narrative.

“Buddenbrooks” by Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann’s novel chronicles the decline of a wealthy German merchant family over four generations, and it is a masterpiece of realism. Its detailed portrayal of societal changes and family dynamics offers a timeless reflection on ambition, duty, and happiness.

“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

Acting as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” this novel gives a voice to Bertha Mason, the “madwoman in the attic.” Jean Rhys’s work is a haunting exploration of colonialism, racial prejudice, and the complexity of identity and cultural displacement.

“The Plague” by Albert Camus

Set in the Algerian city of Oran, Albert Camus’s novel explores human resilience in the face of an existential crisis. Its relevance seems only to increase with time, offering profound insights into society, solidarity, and the human spirit.

“The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

This evocative novel set during the Italian unification tells the story of Prince Fabrizio Corbera of Sicily, capturing the changing tides of time and tradition. The only novel is a poignant meditation on mortality, change, and the enduring power of beauty.

“Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset

This trilogy of novels set in medieval Norway paints a richly detailed picture of the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, exploring themes of faith, love, and social upheaval. Sigrid Undset’s deep dive into the human soul and its struggles earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling

This novella tells the story of two British adventurers in British India who become kings of Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan. Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale explores the themes of imperialism and the British Empire, wrapped up in Kipling’s signature storytelling prowess.

“Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s novel, set in mid-20th century Paris, tackles complex issues of identity and societal norms through the tumultuous relationship between an American man and an Italian bartender. Its honest and poignant exploration of love and loss is as moving as it is thought-provoking.

“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy

This novella offers a profound exploration of mortality and the search for meaning in life, told through the final days of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia. Leo Tolstoy’s masterful depiction of existential crisis and redemption is both intimate and universal.

“The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s critique of New York’s high society at the turn of the 20th century is as relevant today as it was upon its release. Following the life of Lily Bart, it examines the pitfalls of social status and the sacrifices made for it.

“Zeno’s Conscience” by Italo Svevo

This novel, often considered Italo Svevo’s masterpiece, explores the self-delusions and contradictions of Zeno Cosini as he recounts his life to his psychoanalyst. Its psychological depth and humor make it a standout work of modernist literature.

“The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins

Regarded by many as the first true detective novel in the English language, “The Moonstone” weaves a tale of mystery, theft, and betrayal centered around a priceless Indian diamond. Wilkie Collins’s narrative techniques and plot twists have influenced generations of mystery writers.

“The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s piercing analysis of upper-class New York society in the 1870s offers a scathing critique of its mores and morals, told through the lens of a man caught between duty and desire. This novel earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize, making her the first woman to receive the honor.

“Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen

Often overshadowed by Jane Austen’s more popular works, “Mansfield Park” offers a complex examination of morality, education, and the social hierarchy through the eyes of the shy but morally steadfast Fanny Price. Its subtle critique of the British class system and the treatment of women offers layers of depth often missed at first glance.

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