Essential Classic Novels For The Girl Who Doesn't Like Classics

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When I hear the word “novel”, I automatically get thrown back into memories of my high school English teachers practically force-feeding us information about a book I had no interest in, and frantically reading SparkNotes in order to prepare for the seemingly endless daily quizzes. Clearly, this is NOT how reading should be. It’s meant to be an enjoyable pastime. Additionally, many people wouldn’t equate the word “enjoyable” to classic novels. But I promise these 6 classic pieces of literature really are. Check them out below:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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You’ve heard of it. You may not have read it. If you saw the 2013 remake of the movie with Leonardo Dicaprio, that is still no substitute for actually reading this classic. While the title may trigger some unpleasant “sophomore year of high school English class” memories, this is a simple, fast read. If you enjoy the Roaring Twenties’ culture, including flappers, speakeasies, and extravagance, then this book is a must read. The culture of the 20’s is weaved into every aspect of this book, which I found interesting and compelling. Besides these surface level aspects, it’s truly a beautiful and brooding story about trying hopelessly to reclaim the past. Cue Lana Del Rey’sYoung and Beautiful.

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Alcott wrote the volumes of this novel from 1868-1871, and to say it was ahead of its its time is an understatement. She drew her inspiration for the characters in her book from strong women in her own life. Little Women showcases the four March sisters as self-sufficient and interesting main characters as they face the hardships of middle class life, including romance, illness, and loss. I loved reading about each character and their unique traits as it really made them feel real to me. I also appreciated the fact this book reads like a soap opera - it's most definitely a page turner. This book inspired generations of women and has been acclaimed for its revolutionary feminist ideals, making it a definite must-read.

3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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The unique and complicated relationships that the seven boys, or Greasers, have in this story is what makes the this novel so impactful. The Outsiders has endured the test of time is because these characters are so relatable. It highlights family, friendship, youth, loss, hope, strength, and perseverance all the while facing so much adversity. It takes on social issues, like discrimination and the implications of social and economic status. It’s definitely not a stereotypical classic as the book is a bit more modern, and at times it can read like YA novel (in the best way possible). Do yourself a favor and read it, and remember to “stay gold, Ponyboy”. 

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4. Emma by Jane Austen

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Are you a fan of Clueless? That iconic 90s movie starring Alicia Silverstone as Cher, the archetypal Valley Girl? Well, if you’re a fan of this movie, chances are you’ll similarly enjoy this novel from the quintessential female novelist powerhouse, Jane Austen. This novel happens to be one of the most accessible of her works to the young female audience. Its language is simpler than other classical works, giving the story a good flow. Overall, Emma is a strong female character -- not a helpless damsel in distress -- a very rare thing to see in works during this time.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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TKAM is another high school English staple - which means many people have been turned off by it due to the endless amounts of over - analyzing every minor interaction, minor detail, etc. However, there’s a good reason why this book is praised in the academic literature world. Lee was ahead of her time when she wrote so articulately about racial discrimination in the U.S., particularly about African Americans in the criminal justice system. The narrator and protagonist of the story is six year old Scout. Lee takes her age into consideration when writing so the language is very simplistic and straightforward. So not to worry, there are no extended metaphors -- or anything of that sort -- in this novel. *Sighs in relief*.

6. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

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Following the journey of titular character Siddhartha, this novel is about the path to finding oneself and ultimately finding Nirvana, a spiritual Buddhist goal of achieving ultimate peace. The novel is inspiring because of the theme of self betterment and doing what you need to feel in order to become a better person. I also enjoyed learning about concepts of Buddhism and Hinduism. I found this book really fascinating and easy to read. The language isn’t overly flowery like some classics tend to be. In the end, it teaches readers that there is so much more to life than material goods like money, and that happiness cannot be simply taught; it has to be personally found. It’s only 152 pages, though you’ll really wish it was more!

These are just a few of the many amazing novels out there that have received so much critical acclaim and remained relevant across several decades (and even centuries for some) that they can be considered classic. Even if you are of the belief that classic novels should be reserved for the high school classroom setting, these few are great examples to start with due to relative ease it takes to read most of them. And these stories are so uniquely captivating that you may even become so engrossed in them that you finish the whole book in one sitting!