It’s hard to narrow down all the literature to just 20 books, and everyone will have different opinions. However, if you’re looking for classics to boost your academic knowledge, this list is a good place to start.
1) The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best known and most influential novel; this book tells the story of the mysterious and elusive Jay Gatsby, and his impossible desire for Daisy’s, his first love. Ranked as one of America’s most distinguished novels, this novel’s metaphors and whimsical tone are sure to get you thinking.
The well-known story of Captain Ahab’s obsessive search for Moby Dick, the white sperm whale that bit his leg. Herman Melville’s masterpiece tells the story of the long journey taken by the Captain and his crew, tracking down something many don’t even believe.
To be or not to be? Arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet tells the story of a tortured Danish prince and his quest as he searches for his father’s killer. Along the way, Hamlet loses control of his sanity, delivering some of the deepest and most significant lines in all of literature.
4) Heart Catcher
Originally aimed at adults, this novel by JD Salinger is now widely read by teenagers around the world for its themes of coming of age and alienation. Holden Caulfield is a troubled young adult coming to terms with his place in the world and his relationships with people. Profound and touching, this book is often hailed as a timeless and relatable masterpiece.
5) Kill a mockingbird
Harper Lee’s novel is known worldwide for its delicate yet provocative treatment of themes such as racism and sexual assault. Narrated by six-year-old Scout, the novel’s dark and heartbreaking concepts are told with childlike simplicity and innocence, making it a classic and moving read.
6) The Odyssey
The oldest book on this list, yet a timeless classic, Homer’s Odyssey is the original adventure story. Set after the infamous Battle of Troy, the narrative follows Odysseus’ journey home and the trials he must face to get there.
7) The Divine Comedy
It is a trilogy, and can be considered a slightly harder read, but a masterpiece nonetheless, giving us valuable insight into early Christianity as well as the early accounts. The overarching plot follows Dante, the author, as he imagines traveling from the human world to heaven, going through hell and purgatory to get there.
8) Pride and prejudice
Arguably Jane Austen’s best novel, Pride and Prejudice follows the lives of the Bennet sisters and the different relationships each encounter. Best known for the romance between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, this book is hailed as one of the most realistic and feminist texts of the time.
9) Wuthering Heights
Similarly, based on a tumultuous, if slightly more toxic, romance, Emily Bronte’s most famous novel follows the lives of two families in the stormy moors of England and the hatred between them, spanning generations.
10) Catch 22
Joseph Heller’s novel has become an iconic part of American literature and can be found in any contemporary school curriculum. The story of a pilot’s struggles and thoughts during the war is a metaphor for the paradoxical nature of human suffering.
11) Brave New World
Precursor to all modern dystopias (1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc.), Aldous Huxley’s timeless novel tells the story of a futuristic and idealized society, in which children are created in batches, and relationships are considered scandalous and taboo.
Written in 1987 but still as relevant today, this novel was Toni Morrison’s most critically acclaimed work. The story follows the life of an African American mother as she becomes convinced that her dead daughter, whom she killed to save from slavery, is haunting her.
13) Jane Eyre
One of the most famous self-titled novels of all time, Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte’s best-known work, following the story of a schoolteacher as she begins working for the mysterious and handsome Mr. Rochester .
14) Grass Leaves
For those who prefer poetry to fiction, this is one of the most famous and influential collections of poetry, written by American author Walt Whitman. It covers several topics and themes, focusing on the human body and experience, and reveling in nature.
15) Crime and Punishment
Arguably one of the most controversial and insightful novels of all time, Dostoevky’s story follows an impoverished ex-student before and after he commits murder, providing interesting insight into his feelings. first of justification and satisfaction, then of guilt and regret.
16) Les Miserables
Although we’ve all heard of the musical, Victor Hugo’s original novel was, and remains, an incredible look into the complicated and uncertain lives of poor and rich in 1800s France.
17) High Expectations
Arguably Charles Dickens’ most famous novel, this story deals with themes of poverty, wealth, death, abandonment and more. It follows Pip, an orphan, as he navigates life and society, learning lessons about money, love and death as he goes.
18) Things Fall Apart
Considered the archetype of a modern African novel, Achebe’s book follows the life of an Igbo man facing the threat of British colonialism. Dealing with issues of race, religion and society, Things Fall Apart is just as relevant and necessary today as it was in 1958.
Widely considered to have the best opening line in English literature, Rebecca is Daphne Du Maurier’s masterpiece. The story follows an anonymous and naive protagonist, as she falls in love with a mysterious older man and is taken to his wonderful country home, haunted by the ghost of his dead ex-wife, Rebecca.
20) The bell jar
Considered one of the most influential pieces of modern feminist literature, Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel follows the life of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world, and her ensuing depression, which tightens it like a bell.
And There you go! Choose the ones that interest you the most, and you never know, you might find your new favorite book!