classic literature for people who don't like classics

13 Great Classics to Read If You Don’t Like Classics

I’ll be the first one to say that I’m not a huge fan of classics. Probably for the reasons that most of us are not — they made us read them in school, and they were boring. I didn’t completely grow out of this dislike as an adult either (just talk to my abandoned copy of Count of Monte Cristo)

While I can’t deny that classics have immense literary value, I don’t generally enjoy them. However, I have read a few that were truly amazing and perhaps shaped who I am as a person. All of these are easy to get into, relatively short (see my recs for other great short books), and feature some wonderful stories and writing. 

So, if you’re a bit like me and classics have always frightened you, here are some that you might enjoy: 

1. Anything by Agatha Christie

Yes, Agatha Christie’s books count as classics. So, if you’re not a fan of the philosophical nature and slow pacing of other classics, her books will suit you well. As you probably know, she wrote detective stories, with just enough commentary on the society and world at the time that you’ll still gain a lot from reading them. 

The best part is that there are so many of her novels available, that you won’t run out of stuff to read soon. They read very quickly, have a cozy vibe, and will keep you entertained for a long time. 

To start with, you could pick any of them, but my favorites are The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, Cards on the Table, and Ordeal by Innocence. But you can pick and choose your favorites and read them as you like. 

2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper is one of my favorite short stories ever, and for a good reason. It explores mental health. Especially, how women’s health issues have often been dismissed as hysteria in the past. It also explores women’s role and rights in marriage and so much more — all in 64 very short pages. You’ll read it in one sitting, but you’ll be thinking about it for a very long time. 

The main character of this story is a woman, taken to the country to recover from her mental illness. She has just given birth to a baby, so many assume that her illness is postpartum depression. Her husband and his brother (both doctors) believe that rest will help her recover, so they confine her to one room and despite all her wishes, forbid her from doing anything but sleep and relax. 

And in this room is a crumbling wallpaper which (along with everything else) slowly drives this woman to a mental breakdown. She invents stories about it, specifically about a woman trapped in it. 

The ending is harrowing (and to me at least, a little funny). It’s a type of horror where you won’t be scared of the dark, but rather empathize with the main character and feel the pain that she’s feeling. 

I highly recommend it if you’re new to classics or simply don’t like them, because it’s very short and really easy to read, while still having the same qualities of a full-length classic novel. 

3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This little book packs a powerful punch. It’s only 96 pages long, but it tells a beautiful story of love, the adult world and how horrible it can be, friendship and so much more. It begins with a pilot who crash-lands in the desert and meets the titular Little Prince who abandoned his own planet and ended up on Earth. 

People think of it as a children’s book, but it’s not. The Little Prince is a book for grown-ups who still remember their childhood, the innocence of it, and it’s sad and a bit heartbreaking. But I highly recommend it because it has some beautiful messages and it’s very easy to read, especially if you’re not into classics. 

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

While I’m not sure if this is a classic, exactly, I do believe it could fit the category. I read it way too early in my life (I was probably thirteen), but I don’t regret it one bit because it expanded my world so much. And to this day, I’m still afraid to read it again because of the powerful emotions it holds and awakens. 

The Kite Runner is a story about Amir and Hassan, two boys from different backgrounds. It talks about their friendship in still peaceful Kabul, and how Amir’s father (and his opinions) affect it. One day, something terrible happens to Hassan that Amir sees and runs away from, which ends the boys’ friendship — and years later, as a grown-up, Amir still feels the guilt. 

This book is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful — the writing is exquisite, the social commentary powerful. But the story itself is very — well, I wouldn’t say easy to read, because it’s not — but very compelling in the sense that once you start, you won’t be able to stop. 

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marques

One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably my favorite classic of all time. It follows the Buendia family through generations, starting with the patriarch José Arcadio Buendía who founded the utopian city of Makondo. He believes his city to be surrounded by water and invents stories about the outside world. But strange and magical events keep happening in Makondo. And his family members keep getting wrapped up in them.

I’m not sure I’m describing it well, but it’s a type of book that you have to read to truly understand how amazing it is. It’s very readable — at least to me, it read somewhat like gossip. You know, this family member ran away with that girl, that family member is sleeping with this person and so on. But underneath it all, there’s so much commentary on society, the history of Latin America and culture, and so much more. 

The writing is beautiful, colors play an important role, and there’s magical realism in there too. While it’s on the longer end (my edition has 428 pages), you won’t really feel that length and you’ll enjoy every second of it. 

6. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

This book follows David, an American in Paris who’s pushing thirty but still looking for himself, while his girlfriend takes some time away in Spain to figure out whether she wants to marry him. His father cuts him off in hopes he’ll come home, so he borrows money from an old man in exchange for entertainment and that’s how he meets Giovanni, an attractive man, whom he ends up falling in love with (unwillingly). 

It’s really hard to describe this book and do it justice. It’s so full of sadness, loneliness, tenderness, lust, viciousness, love, despair and so much more that you have to read it to fully understand. 

The writing is beautiful, and this is absolutely one of the best books ever written. Even if you don’t like classics, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this one — it’s relatively short at 224 pages, but it will stay with you for a very long time. 

7.  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon broke my heart so many times. I read it maybe two years ago, but I still think about it a lot. If you watched the movie Lucy (with Scarlett Johanson), this is quite close to it, but so much better. 

It follows Charlie who was born with a very low IQ and is bullied constantly because of it (by everyone). But he’s kind, and he sees all people as his friends, even when they’re mean to him. Then he gets chosen for an experimental procedure that will hopefully increase his IQ (and has already been tested on a mouse named Algernon). The treatment is effective, but perhaps too much because he surpasses the intelligence of people who treated him, and that has a profound effect on his relationships and his happiness. 

The whole story is written from his point of view, as diary entries, so for example, the first entry is written very badly (misspelled words, bad grammar, etc.) and then it gets better from there. 

My heart hurt for Charlie, and sometimes because of Charlie. This is another very short classic at 311 pages that feel even shorter because the story is so well-written. You’ll be pulled into it and unable to leave until the very end. 

8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

If you’re looking for a thriller or mystery classic, this is the perfect choice. I read Rebecca at fourteen and since then, I probably reread it dozens of times. The horror here is quiet, and understated, but it still leaves you frightened and dreading what will happen next. 

The story follows an unnamed young woman, who meets a man while she’s working as a companion for a horrible old lady. The man (Maxim de Winter) and her have a whirlwind romance and end up marrying. Maxim is much older than her, and feels more like a father, but she’s in love with the idea of being Mrs. de Winter, the mistress of Manderley. 

But when they get there, Maxim turns moody and distant, and Manderley, however beautiful, is haunted by the ghost of former Mrs. de Winter. There is something sinister about her death, and as our heroine grows into her role as mistress of Manderley, she also uncovers the mystery. 

The writing in this book is hauntingly beautiful, with a lot of descriptions of flowers and nature, but also the eerie atmosphere at Manderley. It’s definitely the perfect classic novel for you if you’re not a fan of classics. 

9. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Master and Margarita is definitely up there for me with One Hundred Years of Solitude. However, I really don’t know how to describe it to you, at least not well. It feels a bit like a fever dream when you’re reading it because there are so many different elements to it, but you won’t ever find yourself bored with it. 

So, the story starts when the devil arrives in Moscow, one hot summer day in the 1930s, accompanied by a demon cat and other assorted demons. The people of Moscow refuse to believe in either God or the devil, but the strange group wreaks havoc over the three days. It’s also a story about Master, a writer working on a novel about Pontius Pilate (again, in a country where religion is all but forbidden), and Margarita, who’s so desperately in love with the Master that she will (literally) go to hell for him. There’s a naked witch as well. 

It’s a mythical tale of oppression (of women, people in general), love, loneliness, bureaucracy, and a lot more. The writing is easy to read but it’s also beautiful, full of humor, romanticism, and magic. 

So, if you’re interested in the Russian classics but generally dislike them or are intimidated by them, this is the perfect book to start with. It’s not overly long, my edition has around 300 pages, and you’ll definitely enjoy it (or be confused by it). 

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Obviously, this list can’t go without an entry by Jane Austen. But seriously, if you don’t normally like classics, I wholeheartedly recommend any of her books. My favorite is Persuasion, but I found Pride and Prejudice much easier to get into. 

Fair warning, it doesn’t resemble the movie with Kiera Knightley much, but it’s so worth reading. You could also read Emma which is perhaps funnier and lighter. 

But Jane Austen is loved for a good reason. Her books are quietly feminist and have tons of social commentary on the state of the world at the time, and the way women are treated. Her books are also not too long, so you won’t spend ages reading them. Just pick one that speaks to you the most and dive into it, I promise you won’t regret it. 

11. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I’ve probably reread this book more than any other on this list. As a teenager, it was my Bible. I used to carry it in my backpack and read at school whenever I had free time. My copy is so battered that I don’t know how it’s still holding together. 

When I was younger, I looked at it as this sweeping, tragic romance. And if I’m honest, a part of me still does. However, it’s also completely not a romance but a warning against selfishness, vengeance, and pettiness. It’s written beautifully, with a moody gothic atmosphere and violent weather (and characters).

Wuthering Heights starts when a man rents a house belonging to the mysterious and hostile Heathcliff. The man tries to become friends with him but fails miserably, and decides to ask his maid about his history. So, the maid starts telling him the story of Heathcliff and how he came to Wuthering Heights, how he was first loved, then abused, how he and Kathy, the daughter of the master of Wuthering Heights fell in love passionately, and how it all ended in absolute tragedy. 

If you normally read dark romances, or romances with moody, morally gray characters, this is the perfect book for you because Heathcliff is the grandfather of all of them (and much better at it). His love for Kathy is obsessive, passionate, and unstoppable.

This is a very easy classic to get into, especially because of the romance at the center of it, so you won’t have trouble enjoying it. Oh, I recommend reading it when the weather outside is rainy, gloomy, and windy — it will only make the experience better. 

12. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is a fantastic novel about love, human nature and arrogance, the treatment of anyone different or vulnerable in our society, memory and a lot more. It’s often classified as science fiction, but I don’t agree with it because this reads like a literary novel, and a great one at that. 

We follow Kathy, who used to go to a boarding school called Hailsham, as she remembers her days at the school and realizes the true nature of it. I won’t spoil anything for you, but it’s a quiet, sad book and you won’t be able to stop reading. 

Again, it’s not very long, but it packs a powerful punch. Some people don’t like it because of Kathy’s resigned nature, but I’d argue that’s the point of the story — she’s been conditioned to believe her life is not her own, that her existence doesn’t matter. I think we are so used to these sassy, spitfire heroines that we are almost unable to understand how anything else can be good. 

So yes, definitely give it a try, especially if you like literary fiction. 

13. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

This may be an unusual recommendation, but I’d argue it’s a good one anyway. Waiting for Godot is a play about two men who seem homeless as they wait for someone named Godot. And that’s pretty much it. 

Doesn’t sound very exciting on the surface, does it? But I guarantee you that it is. As the two men wait, they talk and it’s so full of humor and meaning, and lack of meaning that you’ll be endlessly entertained by their antics. 

This is a very minimalist play about man’s continuous search for meaning, the fact that there is nothing to be done about it, about laughter and how it can heal, and a lot more. 

It’s funny that I’m so bad at describing it now when I wrote a 20-page paper on it in high school. But there’s nothing to be done about it (hah). 

This is very short (about 100 pages, more or less, depending on the edition). It’s all dialogue, so you’ll read it even quicker than you’d expect. But it’s a great classic for beginners and one that will uplift your mood (and maybe make you wonder), for sure. 

And What If You Still Don’t Like Classics?

So, you’ve read all or some of the books on this list and you didn’t enjoy them at all? What now? 

Well, for one, this doesn’t mean that you won’t like any classics at all ever. There are so many out there that you’ll find a few that you’ll like. Also, keep in mind that people change throughout their lives. You might not like classics today, but you might like them someday. Maybe you’re currently in a phase where only romance books feel good or fantasy novels, or sad girl lit. 

All of this is completely fine. 

Reading classics doesn’t give people some moral high ground, and they’re not better than everyone else. Similarly, not reading classics or not enjoying them when you try doesn’t make you stupid or at fault in any way.

Classics are just books, just a form of entertainment like every other book available today. They are often hard to understand because they talk about the society at the time. This isn’t always interesting or insightful for people now. They may discuss issues that are no longer relevant or are written in a way that is just not very easily understandable today. 

The important thing is that you continue reading the books you enjoy and that you are getting something of value from them, whether it’s entertainment, knowledge, inspiration, lessons, etc. Classics don’t guarantee that, especially if they feel like a chore. 

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