An homage to classic literature that can stand the test of time
Book genres can be pretty subjective. To some, American Psycho is an unadulterated horror; to others, it’s a simple dark comedy. Cloud Atlas encompasses about 10 different genres, from spy thriller to historical naval tale to terrifying dystopian fiction.
Classics, however, are pretty staunchly agreed upon. Most lists bring up novels by Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Hardy — and these books offer wonderful depictions of life at the time. But while their themes and messages might be relevant today, they’re not necessarily accessible to the modern reader.
This list is an homage to classic literature that can stand the test of time. They’re as riveting and relevant today as they were when they were first published. Dive in and see what you think.
Truman Capote — In Cold Blood (1966)
It’s been said plenty that Capote was fond of ‘blurring the lines between fiction and truth’ in his work. But if you’re a fan of true crime stories, it won’t matter if In Cold Blood exaggerates the truth a little.
Capote — the master of reportage — really goes for the bristles on the back of your neck with this one. His bleak retelling of the murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas plays into the recent fervour for true crime stories (who doesn’t love a good serial killer podcast, or American Crime Story dramatization?).
Plus, there’s a whole other layer of intrigue that you just don’t get with yet another Ted Bundy documentary — Capote knew the murderers. He met them, interviewed them, and became infamous for his sympathetic relationship with Perry Smith. Read this book for its delectable twists and turns.
Harper Lee — To Kill A Mockingbird (1960)
This might seem like an obvious choice, but it’s arguably more important than ever to read this book. It’s the ultimate morality tale — but because it’s delivered by Scout, a young impressionable girl from the scorching American South, you don’t resist.
Lee and Scout draw you into the story, gently making you acknowledge the importance of your decisions: if not for you, then for your children. In a world where older generations make decisions they may not live to see the impact of, To Kill A Mockingbird should be obligatory reading for basically everyone.
Anthony Burgess — A Clockwork Orange (1962)
A Clockwork Orange is relatively short, but it’s challenging — in a good way. The Russian language-inspired slang used by Alex and his cronies takes a little while to get used to, but it’s worth it. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name (notorious for being banned in Britain in the 70s), you’ll know what you’re in for.
You won’t like book-Alex any more than you like film-Alex — his psychopathic obsession with music and milk are vaguely reminiscent of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman — but, like Bateman, he draws you into his world, showing you how he became the monster he is, proving that society made him the way he is.
If you liked Trainspotting, American Psycho, or Fight Club — the books or the films — A Clockwork Orange is for you. Alex is a fabulously avant-garde precursor to all your favorite literary reprobates.
Daphne Du Maurier — Rebecca (1938)
Rebecca is an incredible Gothic read, full of tension and sadness and one of the best plot twists of all time. First published in 1938, the story’s treatment of its female characters (particularly by each other) is harrowing but astute.
The first-person narrative draws you into the titular character’s every thought, doubt, paranoid whisper — apparent parallels with Du Maurier’s own personal life are sobering. Still, this story is so gripping, the setting so powerful, that it should be read just by virtue of being immensely readable.
Mary Shelley — Frankenstein (1818)
Everyone has an idea of what happens in Frankenstein. That it’s arguably the most famous book on this list — and the oldest by some way — speaks for itself. But while it’s a fascinating read — the mother of science fiction, perhaps — the context behind the novel is perhaps even more mind-boggling.
Shelley was a teenager when she started writing Frankenstein, and it was published when she was just 20 years old. Today, read it as a serious kickback against gender stereotypes; Shelley wrote the most enduring sci-fi novel in history, while her future husband wrote Romantic poetry. It’s a novel of rebellion — something we seriously need right now.
These classic novels will never get old — the themes, characters and stories are totally timeless. In fact, they’re sure to inspire writers around the world to pick up a pen and start creating a new generation of future classics.