Well, what makes a classic book? My eight-year-old asked this very question after spending several days with her nose buried in Charlotte’s Web. “Errr… I think it’s a very good book liked by lots people that stands the test of time,” I replied. “If people are still reading the book 50 years after it was published then it’s probably on its way to being a classic.”

Here’s the catch. For me, classic books also need to be readable because I’m not studying literature at university these days. There are many important books published decades or even centuries ago that have great significance but I’m not going to recommend them for your reading enjoyment. The prime example is Moby Dick, which I have read and I will never recommend. Life’s too short and that novel is too hard to read. The most challenging book on this list is The Seven Pillars of Wisdom because it’s epic in length and contains great detail about the Arab rebellion against the Turks.

This list covers 30 examples of fiction and 10 non-fiction books because that’s how the cookie crumbles. I actually prefer non-fiction books but I seem to focus on non-fiction published in the last 10 years, which doesn’t help for a list of this nature. As I put the list to together, I was surprised by how many ‘classics’ I had read and shocked by how many I had not. No Jane Austen. No Anthony Trollope. No Vonnegut. No Tolstoy. Sorry about that – I’ll try and cover them off in the next 40 years. I should also explain that becoming a parent opens the door to reading classics you missed as a child and rejuvenates your interest in books from the past.

Also some major examples of classic literature that make everyone else’s list did not make mine because they are not my cup of tea. I’ve tried to like F. Scott Fitzgerald but we just never got on. On the Road goes off the road for me. Holden Caulfield is a phony as far I’m concerned.

The most recent book on my list is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from 1974 and I am a bit worried that might be a little recent for the ‘classic’ tag. The oldest is Don Quixote, from 1605, which I read as a child and didn’t remotely consider as old-fashioned. Madness never goes out of fashion even if chivalry has.

This list of books includes three each from Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell, and two each from Charles Dickens and Ray Bradbury. The settings include two islands, an inn, a farm, a hospital and a garden. Through these books, you could visit the Yukon, Gloucestershire, Brighton, Paris, the Alps, Spain, Kansas and Cyprus, and meet pirates, smugglers, soldiers, spies and firemen.

Please add your own suggestions for must-read classics at the bottom of the page.


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