For a lot of us readers, Classics tend to be must-reads if they haven’t been read yet or the ones that stay with us long after being read. We asked the First Look Club and the bookworms at Bookworm Corner about the classics they always recommend, the ones they’ve been meaning to read, and why they think we read classics outside of a class requirement.
PALO: I’ll never get tired of recommending William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It was required reading for a high school English class, but instead of just plodding through it like I did with earlier required texts, I re-read it multiple times in that year alone. This dystopian/castaway novel has always read timeless with its themes—but I think the tension between wanting to fit in with a group and ideas of individuality truly carved Lord of the Flies into my psyche.
I love this classic so much that I got two copies: a paperback version for lending and a special Penguin Drop Caps edition, which I got the cover designer Jessica Hische to autograph for me!
JED: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This is a book that has something to say to anyone who reads it. I recently had the pleasure of reading it again after more than a decade, and it really is true about what some have said: this book deserves to be read multiple times, at different stages of your life. It might just help you realize exactly what kind of person you've become.
REINA: If I were answering honestly, I would recommend The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It teaches you when to act, when to hold back, and how to read situations. Its ancient wisdom never gets old and can be applied to anything from business to video games.
Of course, it also says to never tell your competitors the secret to your success, so I would have to answer Little Women instead! ;)
JODY: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I am admittedly not much of a classics person. YA is much more up my alley, but I do love dipping into different genres for a change of pace these days. The House of Mirth is definitely one of the book reports I remember the most from my time in school. It was a rather lengthy read compared to the other novels we could have chosen from, but my friend and I were drawn to the blurb at the back and wanted to hear more about the story of Lily Bart. It is tragic and beautiful, and portrays very complex issues about women and their roles in society. I loved how the story unfolded slowly (and a little painfully), trying to catch the nuances of Lily's life was something that kept me turning the pages. I'm not sure how popular this is among readers, but it is one of the classics that I dearly appreciate.
DAN: To Kill A Mockingbird. It starts quietly and innocently, lensed through the point of view of Scout, a 6-year old girl, from Maycomb, Alabama. The story is set in a small town, but the events that happen teach powerful lessons on race and prejudice without being overly preachy. As the world becomes increasingly divided between political and colors, this novel is as timely then when it was released as it is now.
JOWANA: Choosing one from the brilliant bibliography of Agatha Christie is close to impossible but I always recommend The ABC Murders. Starring her greatest creation Hercule Poirot, the story is a genuine baffler that’ll keep readers guessing until the end. Plus, I always joke if I ever commit a murder, it’ll most likely end up as a copycat of this book.
PATTY: My all time fave classic is Anne of Green Gables! It's a light read and it will open one's eyes to the wonder of country life.
YURI: Every one should read Tolstoy's War and Peace at least once. Never judge a book by its reputation. Because I tell you - the reading experience is well worth the effort. And it truly is highly readable and, in many moments, deeply moving. I, for one, will confess to have wept near the end. Another favorite would be Dickens's Great Expectations. If you're looking to start reading his work, Great Expectations is a great place to begin. I'd even dare say that, among Dickens's many novels, this would be his best. Both are timeless reads that are definitely worth checking out.
ANGELICA: I highly recommend Little Women. Marmee is such a great character/mother. My favorite chapter is "Jo Meets Apollyon". Marmee's advice about patience is calming to an outrageous spirit.
KARL: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen will always be that one that I will recommend to be read by anyone to jumpstart their love for classics. It was very well-written and the characters were well-defined and developed throughout the story.
KEVIN: I am a Detective Nut...I always enjoy detective stories (Blame Meitantei Conan and Kindaichi)...for recommendations I always give A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes Novel. It has everything you’d look for in these types of stories; a gripping mystery, fun characters, an atmospheric setting and emotional hooks.
ERA: Jane Eyre and A Little Princess. Both books portrayed the strength and resiliency of women without the need of being aggressive or revengeful.
PALO: I think a reader of my age has read her fair share of classics—and sometimes, it feels like I’ve met my quota of classic reads (especially in fiction and poetry, thank you, English and lit classes!). But recently I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge of nonfiction classics, so I’m definitely putting Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood on top of my to-read list.
JED: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I know what it's about. I've seen the parodies and I've read the Mad Magazine musical. References to it surround us, from Starbucks to Star Trek. That makes me extra curious because I've never experienced the original story firsthand.
REINA: Sherlock Holmes. You'd think that after so many shows and movies made about it in the past ten years, I'd have spared a moment to sit down with it, but I haven't!
JODY: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I know it's kind of shocking for a bookworm not to have read this yet, but I remember trying to get through this back in high school and not getting very far. As someone who wasn't originally into reading, it was the first ever classic I had come across (even before The House of Mirth) and was such a huge hurdle—the words were alien to me and strung together in a way that I wasn't used to. I would need to crack open a dictionary every few sentences and then reread entire paragraphs again to understand what was happening. There was also just background context about English culture that I didn't have, so I was completely lost. I did, however, watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube, which was a web series that was produced by John Green. I completely loved that show and it has always made me want to give the classic another go.
DAN: Mrs. Dalloway. I have always wanted and meant to read it, because I've read a few books that reference it or was influenced by it—The Hours by Michael Cunningham, for one--but haven't gotten around to reading it just yet.
JOWANA: Since the pandemic hit, I have been going through different books and articles about feminism. My journey in feminist learning will always feel incomplete until I make time to read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
PATTY: I've been meaning to read To Kill A Mockingbird ‘coz I wanna know what the hype is all about.
ANGELICA: Jules Verne's works - I am always fascinated by Jules Verne's imagination. Who isn’t interested in time travelling, huh?
KARL: There's still a lot of classical works I would like to read particularly the works of Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, and Mark Twain.
KEVIN: I wanna read more SciFi/Horror...just to see how those authors imagine the future and the fears they have given the time period they wrote those stories.
ERA: I still have to read George Eliot's Middlemarch before the year ends.
PALO: I think reading classics is a wonderful way to connect to literary traditions and to explore perspectives that might seem alien to our modern world and sensibilities. It’s fascinating to learn how the writers we love today expand on the words and worlds built by those who came before them—it’s like being privy to conversations not bound by space and time. Classics endure because they were groundbreaking in their time, or have inspired countless writers and readers to go beyond trends. And personally, it helps me deepen my appreciation for newer reads—knowing that the books I love today, by authors I admire, are somehow part of a bigger, wider literary tapestry that I continue to uncover with every classic ticked off the required/non-required reading list.
JED: Classics endure for a reason: there's something about each one that is worth remembering and preserving for future generations to study and enjoy. Maybe it solidified the now-familiar formula of an ancient creature from myth arriving in the modern world (Dracula), or it stands as the platonic ideal of teenage angst in book form (The Catcher in the Rye). Classics endure because they contain ideas worth knowing and passing on.
REINA: I think that fiction in general tells the story of the human condition, and when we read classics, we are given a window into what it was like to be human hundreds of years before.
It's interesting to see how much the human condition has changed, and how much it hasn't; and it gives us insight on what humanity has gotten right since then, as well as where we need to do more work.
JODY: This is a funny question as I am an English teacher, but I think there is something about the classics that pulls us in and transports us to a very different time. I also think that they tend to touch on very relevant issues despite having been written so long ago already. I actually have a lot of slightly controversial questions about these so-called classics...like who decides what is a "classic"? And why do we tend to cling only to Western classics? I guess that's a discussion for a different time, but definitely something to think about as we move forward in our world in these strange circumstances.
DAN: Many reasons to read classics:
JOWANA: I read the classics out of curiosity and as an opportunity to assess its reputation of a book as “classic.” Dead white men wrote most of the books we consider classics and it is our responsibility to appraise our reading cannon – because, at the end of the day, these books say more about us than the past.
PATTY: Reading classics for me, is like an eye-opener to the old world, like they introduce you to what it was like to live before.
LOURDES: I recommend reading children's classic because it brought us back in time where we as readers can still learn life lessons. I can only describe reading a children's classic as pure, innocent, and carefree.
ANGELICA: Aside from we can learn wide vocabulary and unique writing style by reading classics, classics are the foundation of today's literature. In my opinion, every story that we have now is a remix of classic stories. Also, classics help us to understand why we're living with things and situations we have right now may it be personally or socially speaking. What were done in the past have implications to the now. And most events in the past were beautifully told in classic books.
KARL: Personally, I read classics because it's one way of knowing the thought processes of the writers and authors in the past, a kind of living and experiencing the circumstances before. It's also intriguing how relatable most of the works are until now when the times have change so greatly. There are classical works which are not well received before but are considered great by today's standards. So it's fascinating how that perspective or evaluation changed over the years by reading the book itself and judging it on your own.
KEVIN: Reading the Classics is a wonderful time capsule. It gives you a view and feel of the past, you'll become nostalgic of a more simpler time; it gives you the framework of what contemporary authors are trying to emulate in writing more modern stories and you'll appreciate the art of writing by seeing how it evolves from the classics to the Modern times
ERA: Classics are the core foundation of the modern literary works today. Even the brilliant writers we know always recommend their followers to try even just one classic. And many literary classics have themes that resonates with our current times.