It should be noted that “easy-to-read” is a subjective descriptor, so you really should take this post with a grain of salt. Just the same, as a reader who was always intimidated by classic literature, I’ve found these classics to be quite approachable. Classics no longer intimidate me, and I probably have some of the books below to thank for that. If you’ve ever been intimidated to pick up a classic, try starting with these and see where they take you.
Classics sometimes get a bad rap for being dense, dated, and difficult, and while that may be accurate at times, classics are often timeless and easily accessible to modern readers. I’ve only been reading classics seriously for the past two years, but I’ve found several of the ones I’ve picked up to be surprisingly refreshing and easy-to-understand. Here are my favorite classics for anyone new to the genre or looking for a good place to start. I’m sure I’ll be updating this list as I read more classics myself.
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
I read this book just this year and was astounded by how much I loved it. This short novel is full of suspense, sets an unbelievably vivid atmosphere that makes your skin crawl, and is fast-paced and easy to understand. The dialogue can get a little bit tricky, (what’s up with all the italics?) but don’t let that stop you. This book is an incredible, quick read that I would recommend to anyone.
Tales from the Thousand and One Nights
There’s adventure, magic, sex, and murder all wrapped into this complex frame narrative. It becomes clear pretty quickly that these stories were written by several different authors and then later combined, and sometimes the framing devices don’t mesh perfectly together, but this is still a delightful read. Despite some of the sexy, obscene subject matter, I felt like a kid reading these stories. Action-packed and easy to follow.
The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
You may disagree that this is a classic (and I don’t blame you), but I own the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of this book so I stand by my decision to include it on this list. If you enjoy hiking, meditation, or hitching rides around the U.S., you’ll probably enjoy this book. This is a lot easier, I think, to get into and get through than On the Road. I say that as someone who couldn’t get through On the Road… but I genuinely think that’s primarily because I was reading the smelliest, wrinkliest, mildew-riddenest library copy ever to exist. You’d give up on a book that stinky, too.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Despite everything I was told, I genuinely expected this novel to be dense and difficult to follow. I should’ve listened. This book is witty, captivating, and the dialogue is much more straightforward than I was expecting. I loved that this gave me a little snapshot into 1800s America. I got a little bored with it near the end (sorry Jane Austen enthusiasts!), but overall enjoyed it. It’s the first and only Austen novel I’ve read, but everyone says this is a good novel of hers to start with. I’ll be reading Emma next.
That’s it for now, guys! Aside from several years of reading them in high school and college, I’m still quite new to the classics, so this list is simply a primer based upon my personal reading experiences. Please add your suggestions to the comments section below!