Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Shelley was still a teenager when she created the iconic mad scientist and monster. Frankenstein never loses its grip on our imaginations, because the questions it raises about science, ambition, and our humanity remain as urgent as ever. Here's the science behind why you love the smell of old books.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
A deeply religious woman, O'Connor wrote about morally flawed characters with humor, compassion, and a razor-sharp mind. She was a master storyteller, as evidenced in her best known and most-loved collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find. Flannery O'Connor's Georgia home is one of the stops on our American literary road trip.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Disaffected teenage narrator Holden Caulfield—thrown out of prep school, surrounded by "phonies"—has touched millions of readers. For decades, almost every book about alienated adolescents was invariably compared to The Catcher in the Rye, but none has matched the original. Salinger had his finger on the pulse of a generation in a way that few writers can match, and he broke with tradition by writing in a colloquial voice, which had everyone wanting to talk like Holden. If you're a fan of memorable covers like this one, check out these classic book covers that got gorgeous redesigns.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Yes, The Chronicles of Narnia are children's books and no, they don't age. These complex fantasy novels, which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide (and clearly influenced, among others, J.K. Rowling), have been praised and criticized for their Christian themes, but there's a lot more going on here than simple allegory. Read them again. Better yet, find a child to read them to. You'll be amazed by the richness of storytelling. Here are some more "kids' books" that both kids and adults will appreciate.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This much-more-grown-up sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is widely considered to be Mark Twain's masterpiece. It's part coming-of-age story, part cross-country adventure, part biting social satire. Twain makes brilliant use of irony as Huck, raised in the pre-Civil War south, gradually comes to understand the evils of slavery. Huck Finn has endured, despite its notoriety as one of the most banned books of all time.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
When a rich American businessman is killed on a train, it's up to detective Hercule Poirot to figure out which of the passengers is responsible. Published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express's conclusion still stuns readers. This famous whodunit was just made into a hit movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, and Judi Dench. On a book budget? Check out these great websites where you can read free books online.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Few authors have captured the essence of Depression-era America with more raw emotion than John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men follows two farm hands looking for work: the protective and sharp-witted George and the disabled but big-hearted Lennie, who doesn't know his own strength. The two men learn that even the simplest of American dreams are often out of reach before the tale comes to a heartbreaking end. James Franco and Chris O'Dowd starred in a 2014 Broadway adaptation. Though short, this novel packs a serious emotional punch. Here are some more classics you can read in a day.
The Odyssey by Homer
OK, so this one's technically an epic poem, not a book, but we think it still counts. As an epic poem, The Odyssey was recited, or sung, for years and years before it was written down. It tells the (fictional) story of Ancient Greek war hero Odysseus's perilous 20-year journey home from the battlefield. He outsmarts a Cyclops, chats with dead people, and endures the repeated wrath of a seriously angry sea god before finally arriving home. The second-oldest known work of Western literature has stood the test of time. The Coen brothers reimagined The Odyssey in the American South in the comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? starring a young George Clooney. Plus, some of the best scenes in the popular Greek myth-inspired kids' series Percy Jackson and the Olympians were also inspired by Odysseus's journey.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
This fictional, but meticulously researched, thriller will make you wish you paid more attention in art class. A murder at the Louvre museum leads symbologist Robert Langdon on a high-stakes treasure hunt through Europe with the police on his tail. It's got just the right mix of page-turning action and brainteasing historical information. This is one book that (Tom Hanks's coolness notwithstanding) is way better than its movie adaptation. The Da Vinci Code's mind-bending "what if" questions will stay with you long after you put it down.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Generations of readers have fallen in love with Elizabeth Bennet. Pride and Prejudice's delightful heroine chooses to marry for love rather than money and isn't afraid to put an arrogant suitor in his place. With the novel itself still a staple of many an English class, the story also lives on through its many—and very diverse—spinoffs. These include the true-to-the-novel 2005 film starring Keira Knightley, the rom-com Bridget Jones's Diary, the fun web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and even the satirical paranormal adaptation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Here are our other favorite female book characters of all time.