If you’d like to spend your isolation doing something productive, but you can’t quite bring yourself to learn 17 languages or hone your harmonica skills, why not entertain yourself with a book instead?
Have a crack at tackling one of these “always-meant-to-but-never-quite-got-round-to-it” reads. There’s no better way to tick off something on your to-do list while being able to lounge around on the sofa. These are our picks of the top 10 classic novels that everyone should try to read at least once in their life, even if it’s just to impress other people at parties with all that literary knowledge.
10. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
If you love a detective story, you have to explore where they all began – with Chandler’s novel-noir, The Big Sleep. Following the discoveries of private investigator Phillip Marlowe, it’s the archetype of a detective mystery. We’re talking stake-outs, chloroform, trench coats, illegal gambling and blackmail. Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, you’ll be transported into a world of dark crimes and old-fashioned detective work. The plot is fast-paced and twisting and is bound to have you gripped as you speed through this classic novel.
9. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Sure Charles Dickens is known as one of the acclaimed authors of the 19th century, but that doesn’t mean he’s always the easiest read. His weighty and intricate text is as Victorian as it comes, and it doesn’t always suit modern reading. However, he’s been so influential, that we do think tackling Dickens should be a must on everyone’s list. For this, we recommend Great Expectations, whose mysterious and thrilling plot is filled with colourful characters such as the jilted lover Miss Havisham who will help sweep you through the hefty text and grip you into this coming-of-age tale.
8. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you haven’t seen the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio adaptation yet, make sure to read this novel first. On the smaller side, you’ll zoom through this tragic yet romantic tale of the mysterious Mr Gatsby, with an enigmatic past and lavish parties. When he encounters newlyweds Tom and Daisy through his neighbour, not everything is quite as it seems and it quickly begins to unravel. A combination of human drama, poignant one-liners and thrilling mystery, it’s a must-read.
7. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
This 1938 novel is a suspenseful thriller which will leave goosebumps all down your spine. When a young woman spontaneously marries an older wealthier man after a whirlwind romance, she joins him in his English mansion only to discover that nothing is as simple as it appears. Haunted by a figure of the past, this novel is as threatening as it is enchanting, and is a must-read for anyone with an intrigue for dark drama.
6. 1984 - George Orwell
It’s not just the inspiration behind naming a CCTV-based reality TV show Big Brother. There’s no way you can read 1984 without being astounded by how ahead of its time it was. Written in the first half of the 20th century, it explores a society in which a totalitarian government and mass surveillance led to a culture of thought and behaviour control. In a world where the ‘Thought Police’ ensure you don’t put a toe out of line, 1984 tells the tale of an average man who dreams of rebellion. If you’re worried about the idea of ‘fake news’ or leaders who try to manipulate reality or ‘truth’, then you have to read this book
5. The Private Memoir and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
If you’re a fan of horror movies, the supernatural or the gothic, then you have to read the novel which started them all. Published in 1824, this novel by Scottish writer James Hogg has often been overlooked due to the apparently uneducated background of its author, but the influence it had on other writers is clear. Inspiring later works including Jekyll and Hyde and the Picture of Dorian Gray, it follows the figure of Robert Wringham who’s dark dealings and brutal behaviour haunts the misty moors and gloomy cities of Scotland. Plus, it’s also viewed as the origin of crime fiction, and has modern fascination with the role of religious fanaticism.
4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Love romance, love drama, love mystery? Then look no further than Jane Eyre, an offering from one of 19th century England’s most prolific writing families. It explores the story of an orphaned girl who becomes the governess to a wealthy man’s ward. It follows all the plot twists you can imagine, from secret wives to family reunions, all while sweeping you up into one of our favourite love stories of all time. If that doesn’t quite sound action-packed enough for you, we can add in supernatural mysteries and ancient family grudges.
3. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Not just an option for those who enjoy novels of an ominous nature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a must-read for anyone. Most people know the tale of the crazed scientist who creates a man out of body parts, and many can also tell you that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist and not the monster. However, there’s way more to the story than even that. Delve into this novel which was written by one of literature’s most influential female writers and get to know the real story of one of the world’s most famous monsters.
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
This 18th century novel by Jane Austen might seem imposing at first, but it shouldn’t be left to the likes of Keira Knightley to bring it to life. It really is the original rom-com. Despite being 300 years old, it’s filled with relatable humour, whether you’ve suffered social embarrassment at the hands of your siblings, or have that snobby colleague who worships their boss – yes, we’re looking at you Mr Collins. Plus, if you’re after a bit of a love story, can you get it more iconic than the ultimate it-boy, Mr Darcy?
1. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
If you’re a fan of dystopian dramas like Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale (another iconic book you could add to this list), then Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the novel for you. Published by the British writer in 1932, Huxley was well beyond his time when he envisioned a future global state which featured genetic engineering, reproductive technology and the prioritisation of leisure above all else. It raises some of the deep questions about humans and their purpose, with the ultimate question left to you – utopia or dystopia? Read it and decide.