40 Classic Books You Should Have Read in School

Earlier this month Jim Swayze challenged you to read Classic Literature, but if you are anything like me, you wonder when a book stops being a regular book and starts being a “classic.” Interestingly enough, no one really knows. In fact, essays have been found debating the topic since the early 19th century. The term “classic” is accepted to mean that the book is noteworthy and stands the test of time. However, the noteworthiness of the book is also very subjective.

So how are you to know whether the book you are reading is a classic? Well, lucky for you, our employees know books. We conducted an extensive and amusing poll, consisting of the ever-so-technical question, “So, what do you think?” Without further ado, here are our employees’ selections for 40 Books You Should Have Read in School, a.k.a. Classic Literature.





So, how many of you read that list saying, “Read it. Read it. Hated it. Want to read it. Never heard of it . . .” ? Wow! You are like me. If so, I know that you will be itching to read those books that you haven’t read, and why not enter to win a $50 HPB gift card in the process. You have one more week to sign up for the HPB Reading Challenge: Lit Classics.

Tip: Les Miserables is almost 1,500 pages. A Christmas Carol is a little more than 100 pages. I’m just saying.

Did we leave out your favorite classic lit from our list? Let us know in the comments below.

— Julie

37 thoughts on “40 Classic Books You Should Have Read in School

  1. So happy to see my favorite (Rebecca) on this list! And I've read the 1500 page behemoth of Les Miserables twice. It's that good.I did read at least seven of these in junior high or high school as part of a class (Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, A Farewell to Arms). So, yay Arkansas public schools?But I've only read 16 altogether, so I have some catching up to do.

  2. Shockingly, I have only read 15 of the 40 listed. I currently own 11 of the 15 I've read and I own 1 I have not yet read. Even though "The Great Gatsby" was a must-read in school, I preferred "Tender Is The Night". Great blog!

  3. I've read 18 of the 40 but only 5 were required reading in high school. Others I'd read because they were picks in my book club or because I thought they looked interesting or they were assigned in a lit class in college. I can see I still have a long ways to go.

  4. Rebecca and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are wonderful. Rebecca being my favorite. I read a few of these in high school and some in recent years. I have catching up to do as well!

  5. Ten of these I read in high school, and most of them I enjoyed. "Les Miserables" is my favorite novel (I have read it five times in my life, always unabridged), and "To Kill a Mockingbird" is right behind it on my list. Although it usually isn't read in high-school and isn't on this list, Wilkie Collins's "The Woman in White" is a must-read. And also not included in this list is "War and Peace," which I finally read a year ago, and it is definitely worth reading all 1300+ pages!I own about thirty books on this list and have read almost all of them. It's such a shame that most modern authors lack the genius, creativity, and copious vocabulary exhibited by the classic writers. Sure J. K Rowling and Stephen King create interesting stories, but you have to admit, nothing today can compare to Dickens, Shakespeare, or Tolstoy.

  6. An American Tragedy by Theodore DreiserMy Antonia by Willa CatherDavid Copperfield by Charles DickensVanity Fair by William Makepeace ThackerayTess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas HardyRamona by Helen Hunt JacksonEthan Frome by Edith WhartonThe Good Earth by Pearl BuckWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

  7. Two novels to consider:James Dickey's DELIVERANCE, (great movie too, look for Dickey as the sheriff and Ed O'neill as a security guard).Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDAN or THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST, (our angry American West).

  8. Great list. I loved Rebbecca and many others on this list. I would aree that My Antonia, Call of the Wild, and Ethan Frome should be added to the list. Also, The Power of One is a must read for young adults.

  9. You left out: "White Fang" by Jack London"Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe"Cry The Beloved Country" by Alan Paton"The Agony And The Ecstasy" by Irving Sone

  10. Great list. Have read about 11 of these. Rebecca & Great Gatsby I've read twice- great novels. Thought "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck, "House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton, and "Breakfast at Tiffany's"/"In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote would be worthy of the list.

  11. I've read at least half of these, all of which were required reading in school. Fortunately, I've read multiple books by multiple authors on the list as well. I would have liked to see some Poe or Chaucer on the list as well, though I realize they didn't write "novels", they were excellent authors!

  12. Definitely Left out "Of Mice and Men" and "The Black Pearl". Of all the books on your list I have only read 6 of them (from High School). Thanks for the list, it has inspired me to track down the other 34 I have not read and read them.

  13. As a relatively young person (who has admittedly only read six of the above selection), I wish younger readers would try some older literature on for size. Contemporary fiction is amazing, but the dedication to perfection with which older novels were written is not to be missed. I always come away from a classic novel with greater appreciation for the written word in general.

  14. I liked your list & some of the additions other readers added like Cry, the Beloved Country, An American Tragedy and A Separate Peace.I would add one of my favorite books: A Prayer for Owen Meany.

  15. The Stranger, Albert Camus. Using simple language, Camus involves the reader in the story so well that by the end of the book you feel like you have become Meursault

  16. I read 15 of this list in high school, but all these books were in the curriculum somehow. A few titles were among the required non-classroom reading options, and others were randomly assigned by lottery so each student had a different book. I got Brave New World that way, but not Ulysses or Grapes of Wrath.Honestly, of the 15, Their Eyes Were Watching God was my least favorite, and I adored Les Miserables, A Tale of Two Cities and Frankenstein.

  17. I grew up in England and read many of the classics in school, from age 11yrs up. I have read 24 from your list, others to add are:The Mill on the Floss by George EliotTess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas HardyAny Shakespeare play, I especially liked Henry V, Richard II and Henry IV Part 1. Novels by Daphne Du Maurier – Rebecca, Frenchmans Creek and Jamaica Inn.

  18. I've read 13 from this list and own 8 more that I have yet to read. I agree with the previous comment that a little Edith Wharton should appear here (I prefer The Age of Innocence). The Sound and the Fury I have picked up and put back down on multiple occasions, never making it more than 100 pages in. Perhaps it's time to wade into that one again. Thanks for the kick-start!

  19. Anne of Green Gables? Black Beauty? Animal Farm? I have read thirteen on this list and enjoyed all of them!!! I also saw a few of them in the form of a movie, does that count?

  20. Without the great Greeks and Romans, the philosophers, historians, poets and drqamatists; the masterpieces of the Medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment periods – all of which are more important that almost any of the books on this list, any education is fatally incomplete.

  21. The Jungle —Upton Sinclair The Rabbit series —John Updike (Rabbit, Run, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest)The Good Earth—Pearl S. BuckMila 18—Leon Uris

  22. I have many of these books, thank goodness. I too agree to have call of the wild by jack london on the list. Also, don’t recall seeing the old man and the sea. I remember reading animal farm as a teenager, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

  23. I would put Heidi on the list. Also the Betsy -Tacy books.
    Although children’s books, they influence our expectation for reading great books later on—-

  24. Pingback: A to Z: 26 Books Everyone Should Read | The Half Price Blog

  25. “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck. Books that have stayed in my mind my whole life.

  26. I don’t think a Confederacy of Dunces belongs on the list at all! And where is Shakespeare? Tolstoy?
    How about ‘Out of Africa’ by Isak Dinesen, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ or apparently seldom-read-but-very-good ‘The Green Hills of Africa’ by Ernest Hemingway? I agree with previous comments to add ‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair, ‘Cry, The Beloved Country’ by Alan Paton, ‘Animal Farm’ (although there are already several George Orwell books listed). In that vein, the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is a masterpiece and needs to be included with ‘The Hobbit’

  27. Why no Conan Doyle? What about Kipling (he did win a Nobel prize), and Rider Haggard? “Confederacy of Dunces” does not make my list, but “Vanity Fair” does. Pretty good list otherwise, although I would include some science fiction and an old guy called Homer. The Greek myths should be in there too. You just need to make the list longer. Happy reading everyone.

  28. Robinson Crusoe was the one I remember most in high school. Some of those others I would consider college material, would really bore a high schooler, at least in this modern age.

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