A Modern Classics Reading List

Posted July 1, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Literary Lists / 21 Comments

Modern Classics
Genres: Classics, Fiction

Happy Tuesday, lovelies! Like a true blue book nerd, I love a good list.

This week for Top Ten Tuesday, the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish ask bloggers to list their top ten favorite classics or the ten classics that they most want to read. I’m going to share my favorite classics, but since it’s really freaking hard to define what exactly a classic is, I’m only going to write about a very particular brand of classics: the modern ones. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define a modern classic as a book written between the 1920s and the 1980s. (I realize this is not a meaningful date range; it was just a helpful parameter for me to narrow down my list.)

I’ve realized that a lot of my very favorite books are modern classics, so I’m excited to share this week!

Modern Classics

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). Often touted as the Great American Novel, Fitzgerald’s most famous book follows Nick Carraway as he becomes involved in the life of his exceedingly wealthy, mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby. The writing is stunning, and I each time I read this novel about the American dream, I get new things out of it.

2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925). I was surprised to like this book as much as I did. This short novel follows Clarissa Dalloway as she goes about her day, preparing for a party she will throw that evening. I was blown away by the beauty of Woolf’s sentences, her stream of conscious style, and the way Clarissa looks back on her life and decisions.

3. 1984 by George Orwell (1949). This book was assigned summer reading for my high school AP English class, and I remember blitzing through it while on vacation at the lake. For the first time in a long time, I was reading something for school that really excited me. I haven’t read this frightening dystopian novel since then, but it’s a book that’s always stuck with me.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). Teenage me really dug classic dystopias, if you couldn’t tell. This book provided a really different and interesting take on censorship: what if we weren’t allowed to read books because, first, no one WANTED to?

5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957). Guys, I fell in love with this classic road trip novel in college. When my sister and I went on a road trip to California, I literally wrote a bunch of glorious quotes from this book in a notebook and read them throughout our journey, like when we were “rolling in the foothills before Oakland.” You may now make fun of me forever.

6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961). This book is so delightfully bizarre. Yossarian is a bombardier in the US Air Force. He wants to leave the military, but can’t because of a Catch-22; only an insane man would willingly put himself in danger by flying more missions, but asking to be grounded shows that he is no longer crazy, and if he’s sane, he has to fly. I loved the brain-twisting humor of this novel.

7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962). Randal McMurphy pretends to be insane in order to be committed to a psychiatric institution rather than face prison time. The hard-drinking gambler turns life on the ward upside down as he does battle with the frigid Nurse Ratched. I remember being captivated by this book when I read it, but I’m lately realizing how terribly it portrays women. I’m kind of afraid I wouldn’t like it so much if I were to re-read it now.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963). One of my all-time favorite books, Plath’s autobiographical novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a bright college girl with a promising future, as she descends into madness. I love the language in this book, as well as the way it portrays the sexual double standards that frustrated Plath.

9. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969). I can’t sum up this book in a sentence. There’s a man named Billy Pilgrim, he time travels, and he is held captive for a time on a planet called Tralfamadore — that’s the best I can do. But anyway, this darkly comic, absurd book about war is one of my very favorites.

10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985). This book completes the trifecta of my absolute favorite books ever. In this near-future dystopia, women have all of their rights stripped away by an extreme Christian group that seizes power over the US. It’s incredibly powerful and thought-provoking, and it raises really interesting questions about women’s freedom to vs. freedom from.

Bonus: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943). I couldn’t help it! I just love this book and had to include it. A coming-of-age story about a bookish girl named Francie who grows up in a poor family in Brooklyn, this novel totally captured my heart.

What are your favorite modern classics?

  • Elena

    Such a great list, Leah! But what I love the most is that you chose modern classics and include lots of women writers. I am usually fighting the idea of THE classics because they’re mainly writen by white, English-Speaking, medium-to-upper class men; but the 20th century did challenge that and your posts shows it. Would love to reblog but can’t see the WordPress toolbar on top (as previously) 🙁

    • Thanks, Elena! I get frustrated by the imbalance of men and women writers in the classics, too. But there are some truly amazing classics by women! If you haven’t read it already, I think you’d really like O Pioneers! by Willa Cather; it was published too early to make this list, but it’s about a woman in Nebraska who takes over the family farm and makes it successful when everyone else has given up. Such a great powerful woman story!

      The WordPress toolbar is gone because I moved to self-hosting! The site isn’t actually on WordPress anymore.

      • Elena

        I read it and I loved it. Alexandra is such a role model, even for nowadays’ standards! And I thought so about self-hosting. I RT the link though, let’s see if we can make more people aware of modern classics 🙂

  • Great post Leah! Your passion for these books really shines through.

  • We have TONS of overlap (or would have if I’d made a list. 🙂 )

  • I love Fahrenheit 451 and would like to read quite a few others on your list 🙂

  • Great list! Lots of great titles mentioned that I read and enjoyed (Catch 22, The Great Gatsby, 1984, etc.) and some titles I have yet to read still (namely the Handmaid’s Tale, but I hope to read Mrs. Dalloway soon too) 🙂

    My TTT

  • kerri

    Great list! I might steal my son’s copy of 1984 to read next.

  • I’ve only read the first two on this list, but the rest are on my TBR. I really need to make time for Betty Smith. 🙂 My favorite modern classic might be The House of Mirth? I’m not sure if that counts as a modern classic… (1905). Otherwise, East of Eden.

    • Words for Worms

      So many great books on this list! We have some overlap, and I absolutely adore your inclusion of Atwood (which for some unknown reason I deemed as too modern for my own list. I don’t know what happens in my own brain most of the time…)

      • “Classic” is just so subjective! I don’t know something written in the ’80s can really be called a classic, but Handmaid’s Tale is a book I’m certain WILL be considered a classic in 50 years. So it counts.

    • I haven’t read either of those, but I should!

  • Sooooo many great choices, and I see several I still need to read. cough1984cough

  • I still need to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve only heard good things about it! Great list, thanks. 🙂

  • Great list! So many good ones, and a few I still need to read.

  • Great list! I loved A Handmaid’s Tale. Am yet to read The Bell Jar