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Summer Reading List: Classics Edition

Looking for a Challenge in Your Summer Reading?

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • June 16, 2021

The perfect beach book doesn't need to be fluffy! If you're looking for a reading challenge this summer, we've rounded up a list of classics, reflecting a variety of genres, styles, and time periods. And we've made an effort to go beyond the perennial tomes you may have been assigned in high school. (Moby Dick anyone?)

High Adventure

From frontier tales to would-be knights to the high seas, here are three wild, adventurous sagas to consider. These are the authentic edge-of-your-seat thriller prototypes.

Angle of Repose
In Wallace Stegner's Pultizer Prize-winning novel, a retired historian sets out to write his grandparents' remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America's western frontier. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family.

Don Quixote
Widely regarded as one of the funniest and most tragic books ever written, this masterpiece by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra depicts the adventures of the self-created knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they journey through sixteenth-century Spain.

The Count of Monte Cristo
Robert Louis Stevenson called it "A piece of perfect storytelling." Based on actual events, this novel, considered to be Alexandre Dumas's finest work, recounts the story of Edmond Dantes, a gallant young sailor whose life takes a bitter turn when he is falsely accused of treason and condemned to lifelong imprisonment.

Love Stories

Passion, desire, and tragedy are some of the earmarks of these great classic stories of people falling in love.

Anna Karenina
As the legend goes, Leo Tolstoy set out to write a cautionary tale about adultery, but ended up falling in love with his magnificent heroine. Filled with a rich cast of characters, this tragic romance set in mid-nineteenth-century Russia still belongs entirely to the tempestuous woman at its center.

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to 1930s audiences' rejection of its strong Black female protagonist—Zora Neale Hurston's epic Southern love story has, since its 1978 reissue, taken its rightful place as one of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century.

Terms of Endearment
You may have seen the Oscar-winning movie, but did you know that it was the late, great Larry McMurtry, who wrote this story of an unforgettable mother and daughter struggling to find the courage and humor to navigate life's hazards—and to love each other as never before.

Dramatic Epics

Looking for a complex, character-driven story that may make you cry in public? These dramas offer layers galore and emotional depth.

East of Eden
Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, John Steinbeck's sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons. Across generations, the clans helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Native Son
Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness felt in inner cities across the country and of what it meant to be Black in America. Bigger Thomas is a young Black man caught in a downward spiral.

There are endless conversations to be had about George Eliot's deeply layered novel, making it a great pick for book club. A passionate young woman searches for a meaningful life in an English town taking its first steps toward modernization. It's a microcosm of political and social change during the 1830s.

Foundational Sci-Fi and Fantasy

These classic dystopian thrillers of yesteryear are remarkably prescient as we reach (and pass) the years of their settings. These titles laid the building blocks for future speculative fiction.

Nineteen Eighty-Four
While 1984 has come and gone, George Orwell's 1949 dystopian vision of a government that will do anything to control the narrative continues to keep its riveting hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers.

Parable of the Sower
The great Octavia Butler racked up several Nebula and Hugo Awards for her groundbreaking afrofuturism. This timely post-apocalyptic thriller imagines an early 2020s California—full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez's landmark novel tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love. The rich, imaginative story, described by some as a metaphor for Colombian history, represents a forerunner in the magical realism genre.

You might call them the original beach books! If you're looking to move beyond formulaic rom-coms and run-of-the mill thrillers. Try one of these enduring classics that broke the mold in their own times.

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