Classic literature is my heart-song. Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Shelley…If a book was written over 100 years ago, my heart flutters at the thought of turning those pages.
Though I’m happy to bury my head in an 800-page leather bound edition of “Anna Karenina”, classical literature is ultimately not for everyone all the time. Sometimes, the thought of focusing on the different syntax of ages past makes my head spin. In times like these, I look to modern classics.
For the purpose of this listicle, I’m deeming a modern classic any book written after 1935. The following list is a curation of stories that are essential for any bookworm looking to include some classic flair to their shelf. These are my Top Ten Modern Classics!
10. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (1939)
Agatha Christie is a long-seated master of suspense and mystery. Her book follows a party of people with sketchy backgrounds who are invited to an island for a mysterious gathering. As they are picked off one by one, it’s a race to find out who the killer is. Christie’s book is a blueprint for all mysteries and thrillers that came afterward. Originally printed as “Ten Little N**gers”, we’re extraordinarily happy that the title has gone through adjustments. It is a quick and easy read, but it is a guessing game of adventure, and it’s so interesting to see such early work in the genre.
9. The Crucible – Arthur Miller (1953)
Miller’s play details the Salem witch trials in a lens that examines innocence, darkness, and corruption. Later turned into the amazing movie led by ’90s-era Winona Ryder, this book is like the modern day Scarlet Letter, and its allegories to McCarthyism might still ring true in our turbulent day an age.
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey (1962)
If you’ve all seen the movie with Jack Nicholson and a young Danny DeVito, your heartstrings have already probably been pulled. Kesey tells us about a psych ward in a mental hospital that is turned upside down when prisoner Randle McMurphy is admitted. As he tries to disrupt the environment and liberate his fellow patients, the system presses against him. The horrors of 1960’s mental institutions has always strangely hit home for me, but this book makes it clear why. It’s hard to watch passionate, loving people restrained like animals in a pen. I like to think of this book as a reminder of how we need to always improve our institutional systems and treat people better. Kesey shows us that everyone is human.
7. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1962)
Alright, so this book is WEIRD. And challenging. And weird. Personally, I love it because it showed me how language and storytelling can used to transport us to other worlds. Burgess’s dystopia follows a violent crime gang as they commit truly terrible (and hard to read) acts, and their subsequent rehabilitation by the state. Trigger warning: The book is extraordinarily dark and features scenes of rape. Ultimately, the book asks us about morality, and if goodness is still good if t is forced upon us.
6. Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller (1949)
Arthur Miller, again! This 1949 play tells of a businessman in search of success, happiness, and the American Dream. The protagonist, Willy, desperately wants to measure up to his peers and lead his sons to the same achievement, but falls into depression when he can’t. Miller asks us to consider what really leads someone to happiness and success, and if societal achievement are healthy benchmarks, or if comparisons are the real danger.
5. The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck (1939)
The Joad family is a group of tenant farmers in Oklahoma who are pushed away from home and security during the Great Depression. Poverty and industrial change wreak havoc on the poor agricultural sector of the country, and the great movement of migrant workers sweeps thousands of people along to find peace and economic stability. Steinbeck’s book has always remained resonant, as it Details what happens when the country is run by greed-filled corporations and focuses on profitability over people. Honestly, capitalism is a flawed system, people.
4. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (1963)
“The Bell Jar” is one book of the modern bible of feminist literature. We follow a young girl named Esther who moves to New York to work in journalism, and it’s almost as if her’s is coming of age story. As she confronts her future and the expectation to join domestic life, she becomes depressed by the oppressive men around her and the attempt to pigeonhole her into a societal box. Semi-autobiographical, the book echos Plath’s tragic descent into depression, and shows us the effects of the societal rules placed around women.
3. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Let me begin by stating that any book by Vonnegut is required reading. His most notable work addresses war in the most distinct of ways. His antiwar themes are laced into a science fiction story, loaded with satire, criticism, and Vonnegut’s own perspective after witnessing atrocities of World War II. The book is at once otherworldly and strange, but it has such grounding in society’s very real tendency towards violence and war.
2. 1984 – George Orwell (1949)
1984 is one of the most widely-read books in history, and for good reason. Orwell creates a dystopia wherein Big Brother, a government figure, is always watching. The authority watches you through your television, individual thought is a crime, and the government is an omnipresent force of total power. The concept is terrifying, and the book was set in 1984, but each year that has passed, the world has paused to consider if we are headed in the same direction.
1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (1953)
I think I speak for all bookworms when I say that this book is a dystopian nightmare. Books are illegal. If you have books, the Firemen will throw them in a heap of fiery death. Censorship is a b*tch. The book tells of the resistance formed to share the memorized knowledge, art, and information of destroyed books, so that the true messages can never be lost. I love a good dystopia, and this is an AMAZING dystopia.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these books! Have you enjoyed them or disliked them? What books would be on your essential modern classics list?