I am a classics reader--of course, that's not all I read--I believe in supporting contemporary authors and I love to read hot new books to see what the fuss is about, and I like memoirs and travel books, and on and on, but back to the classics.
I think everyone should read at least something by each of the following authors, so here are my top 20 recommendations for enjoyable, accessible, memorable British/American classics.
- Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing or A Midsummer Night's Dream - don't just read the play, get a good movie version and read the text while watching!
- Jane Austen - Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice
- Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
- Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist or Great Expectations
- Mark Twain - short stories (The Mysterious Stranger, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaverous County)
- John Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men or Cannery Row
- F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
- Thomas Hardy - The Return of the Native or Tess of the D'urbervilles
- Elizabeth Gaskell - North and South
- George Eliot - Silas Marner (short) or Middlemarch (long)
- Louisa May Alcott - Little Women
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - any of the Sherlock Holmes stories
- E.M. Forster - A Room With a View
- Washington Irving - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
- Bram Stoker - Dracula
- Edith Wharton - Ethan Frome
- E.B. White - Charlotte's Web
- Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
- William Thackeray - Vanity Fair
I think these are the books that will whet one's appetite for more classics. They all have good stories, are well written and interesting. Not chock full of arcane language and topical references that are incomprehensible or irrelevant to a modern reader. They also tend not to have long tangential flights of fancy that bore many readers--Dickens does this in some of his long novels, as does Trollope.
Then, when you've read all these books, go back and reread them! That's what I do. Good books are meant to be enjoyed and revisited and savored, not just checked off.