Classic literature books often don’t belong to one specific genre, instead, they’re categorized based on quality. Many books classed as ‘classic literature’ are older and have had years of reviews that decide whether they’re reputable enough to be classed as classics.
However, don’t be put off by this. Many readers dislike the old language or historical settings within some of these novels but the moral lessons, artistic motivations, and conceptualizations of life experience make these novels thought-provoking and have the potential to change perspective.
Many reviews have claimed some of the following books to be ‘life-changing’ and that’s no exaggeration. Depending on which one communicates best with you, these books are powerful and are so well-written that they not only tell engaging stories but speak to the reader on a deeper level.
You may find that some of these books resonate with you for long after you’ve read them – they have the ability to stick in your mind and can change the way you view your life, your relationships, and your aspirations.
Classic literature is one of the most compelling and well-read literary genres. There’s a reason why people are still regularly reading books that were written hundreds of years ago. Although they may seem archaic or contain some outdated references, the moral messages remain relevant today and these books can still provide an entertaining and insightful read.
No Longer Human is a 1948 novel written by Japanese author Osamu Dazai. It is a semi-autobiographical novel that beautifully conveys the struggles of childhood, adolescence, and mental illness. It’s elegantly written and portrays the human psyche and the limits of the human experience perfectly.
If you want to delve into the classic literature genre or you’ve read some of Dazai’s work and you’re intrigued to read something else similar, this is the perfect article for you. It will be the ultimate guide to classic literature and will help to ease you into the genre.
Without further ado, here are 35 classic literature books like No Longer Human that will provide you with thought-provoking and captivating reading experiences.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This is one of the most famous feminist novels of the twentieth century. Written by one of the leading American authors of her generation, The Bell Jar documents the protagonist’s mental decline, dealing with stress, personal issues, and previous trauma, Esther gets admitted into an institution.
The Bell Jar is one of the most accurate and interesting portrayals of mental downfall, as Esther’s narrative allows the reader to experience her mental decline alongside her and illustrates how rational insanity can seem for the patient.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Written by one of the most profound Russian authors of all time, Crime and Punishment is action-packed, thought-provoking, and insightful. It follows Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor and suffering ex-student living in St. Petersburg. He faces several moral conundrums and the plot line follows his mental distress.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This epic book delves into the details of friendship and love and walks through some of the darkest themes possible. Yanagihara creates a character-driven story that covers the deepening of relationships over decades.
A Little Life incorporates childhood, fear, trauma, dependency, friendship, love, and endurance. It is a brilliant and vivid read that will help you to understand more about yourself, your relationships, and your emotions.
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
Written through excellently written prose, Sartre creates an excellent portrait of human existence, through a man dissatisfied with his life. The novel is set out as the diary of Antoine Roquentin, who details every thought, feeling, and emotion he has, making for one of the most intense, accurate, and fluid portrayals of the human psyche.
Nausea won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature and has become one of the most influential works of the 20th century.
The Life of a Stupid Man by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Akutagawa was Dazai’s favorite author and inspired many of his works, so if you’re looking for something similar in style and theme, this couldn’t be a better choice.
This is a short story, perfect for those with a short attention span, and is an autobiography of the author’s history. It covers his emotional turbulence as he deals with grieving his mother, father, and sister. The Life of a Stupid Man is a quick read but it’s insightful and very powerful, guaranteed to provoke an emotive response.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
This is probably Kafka’s most famous novel and is fairly whacky, so if you enjoy a weird premise, you’ll love this one.
The Metamorphosis follows an ordinary salesman Gregor Samsa who suddenly transforms into a giant insect and must learn to adjust to his new body, capabilities, and restrictions. Despite its odd themes, this novel still manages to incorporate some fantastic moral lessons such as identity, society, the limitations of human existence, and nature.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Arguably the first sci-fi novel ever written, Frankenstein was ahead of its time at the time of writing and has had significant literary and cultural implications – it’s no underestimation that the science-fiction genre would be very different (if around at all) without Shelley’s innovative contribution.
This book follows a scientist that created an artificial man or ‘monster’ and explores themes of obsession, mortality, nature, human capacities, and alienation.
As the daughter of renowned feminist and political thinker Mary Wollstonecraft and wife of the radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley’s work is unsurprisingly revolutionary and includes innovative ideas that would come to shape the future of literature, science, and technology.
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
This Japanese author brilliantly merges history, morality, and tradition. The story follows Sadako, who lives in the recovering Japanese society following the Hiroshima bomb. 10 years after the disaster, Sadako is 12 years old and struggling with leukemia. She learns of a healing ritual that involves folding origami cranes a thousand times until it captures the attention of the gods.
Thousand Cranes covers various themes and concepts, including disease, psychological strain, endurance, humility, and friendship. It’s a fantastically written novel and is didactic in its construction of friendship and human existence.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer is one of the most iconic books in the science-fiction genre, delving into themes of technology, science, culture, and reality.
Gibson is one of the most innovative authors of his generation and paved the way for the digital age. This novel is fascinating in its portrayal of the internet and technological advancement and serves as a fascinating hindsight read.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
As one of the first dystopian novels ever written, Brave New World was innovative, intriguing, and completely different from anything previously written. It remains one of the most creative and well-read books in literary history.
It is set in a highly technologically advanced society in which humans are genetically bred and indoctrinated in order for the authoritarian society to function efficiently. This is a must-read for anyone interested in literature.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
After a group of schoolboys gets stranded on an island, they are forced to live far removed from the world, and without the influence of adults or rules, order crumbles and they begin living in desperation and squalor.
Lord of the Flies was an influential novel that often creeps onto school curriculums and is suitable for younger readers. It tackles some significant moral issues such as the importance of regulation and order, the extent of human desperations, and the strength of friendship.
Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima
Written by one of Japan’s greatest writers of the modern age, Forbidden Colors is an intriguing and devastating story that intertwines the utilization of sexuality with beauty, aggression, and desire.
The protagonist, Yuichi, is good-looking and admired by many women. However, as he begins noticing his obvious attraction for other men, his life gets complicated and he is driven down a path of loveless relationships and misery, as he is forced to repress his feelings and adhere to societal regulations.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is a brilliant novel jam-packed with moral instruction, wisdom, and adventure. It follows a young Andalusian shepherd who sets out on a journey looking for a better life. This adventure takes him to new areas, discovering new cultures, and opening up new opportunities.
The Alchemist is the journey of this boy who sets out to find out more about his identity and aspirations. Coelho is known for his fantastic storytelling abilities and the way in which this story makes you reflect on your own life, choices, and desires has made it a modern classic.
1984 by George Orwell
Arguably the best dystopian novel of all time and potentially one of the most popular international favorites, 1984 is set in an authoritarian society in which ‘Big Brother’ overlooks civilians and monitors their every move to ensure no one is disobeying.
This novel is very interesting especially when read from a modern society like ours in which technological advancement allows governmental authorities a similar kind of dominance. This book explores thought-provoking themes and emphasizes the importance of personal freedom.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This novel is perfect for younger readers and takes the reader through 2 days of Holden Caulfield’s life following his expulsion from school. It’s a brilliant book that goes into depth about the differences between adult and child mentalities.
The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden’s mental instability, his confusion, and his search for truth in a world he can’t understand. It delves into themes of disease, endurance, appearance, religion, and adolescent struggles.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Set in modern Japan, The Housekeeper and the Professor is a great tale that follows friendship, love, and loyalty. It concentrates on the unstable mentality of a mathematician, ‘The Professor’, who, after a road accident, has only a portion of his previous mental capacity.
He talks with ‘The Housekeeper’, who helps him recover his memories and remember his mathematical genius.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is an excellent story that has captivated the lives of millions worldwide since its release in 1960. It uncovers the mind and life of ‘Scout’, the young girl who narrates the story of herself, her father, and her brother as they witness racism and prejudice.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of those books that everyone has to read. It brilliantly encapsulates the fear and innocence within a child’s mind as they uncover the evils that lurk within the pillars of their community.
The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
Written by the same author who wrote No Longer Human, The Setting Sun encapsulates the turbulence of post-war Japan as it embarks on a long journey of social change.
It centers on an aristocratic family, as they endure affairs, grief, and military service. This story details the personal impacts of war and industrial development.
Osamu Dazai has a tragic history and unfortunately died of suicide at the age of 39. His work dives into human psychology, limitations, and suffering and provides a fantastic insight into the working mind of someone struggling mentally.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
From the great mind of one of the most impressive Russian authors ever to write, Anna Karenina tells a wonderfully gripping story of love, affairs, scandal, and freedom. This story focuses on the affair between Anna and Alexei, a cavalry officer. It unravels order within the St. Petersburg social circle and forces the couple to flee together in order to live harmoniously without intrusion or limitation.
Tolstoy is a brilliant writer, whose characters are brought to life through vivid depictions and imagery. However, many have criticized Tolstoy’s focus on description – some think it adds an immersive layer to the book’s setting, while others believe the descriptions are dreary and pointless. Why not read it yourself and give your view?
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
From the author of the famous book The Kite Runner, Hosseini brings this ‘splendid’ book. It follows the unlikely relationship between Mariam and Laila, who are different in age and life stages but brought together by war and loss.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is heart-breaking, influential, and suspenseful, demonstrating the power of love, friendship, and sisterhood in a time of international crisis.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This extraordinary novel details the vivid experiences of Viktor Frankl, a true holocaust survivor. Man’s Search for Meaning concentrates on the terror, love, strength, and psychological endurance of those living in concentration camps.
Frankl tells his harrowing truth and survival story. Although his story may be so far away from your reality, this book can teach you so much about your own life, through its expertly written passages of inner strength and psychological perseverance.
Ring by Kōji Suzuki
This is the first of a 3-book series that took over the Japanese literary scene. Ring is a story of death, investigation, and digital mystery.
A week after watching a mysterious tape, four teenagers die from heart problems. Asakawa’s niece was one of these victims and driven by personal loss, dedicates himself to investigating the cause. This soon becomes a chilling horror story that will keep you gripped until the very end. Its gripping plot lines captivated readers and transformed Suzuki into one of the most influential Japanese writers of his era.
This trilogy will be made into a new film called Rings, which will undoubtedly encourage a new load of Japanese and international readers to Suzuki’s work.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This psychological thriller has gone down as one of the leading novels in American literary history. Randle McMurphy is admitted into a mental hospital that is organized and controlled by Nurse Ratched. McMurphy is a loud rebel who will not let anyone tell him what to do, so soon enough, he and a group of other patients begin a revolt, which advances into a war between strict, powerful authorities and vulnerable patients.
With a suspenseful plot, captivating and complex characters, and one big twist, it’s no wonder why One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has become a favorite for millions across the globe.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Reviewed as ‘required reading’ by many organizations and readers, One Hundred Years of Solitude was the novel responsible for Marquez’s Nobel Prize in Literature.
This is the story of Macondo, the imaginary town, told through the lens of the Buendiá family, led by matriarch Ursula. It is a story of perseverance, survival, love, relationships, family, and grief. It follows this family throughout the generations, spanning one hundred years and incorporating a multitude of events that have contributed to the history of Latin America.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Known predominantly for Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck was one of the canonic American authors who steered American literature into the modern age. Steinbeck’s literature is emblematic of its time, frequently centered around the real issues faced by Americans during (or just before) the time of writing. They concentrate on the Great Depression and the American Dream, shedding light on the cracks of the idyllic movement that took place in the late 1930s.
The Grapes of Wrath is no different. Set during the Great Depression, this novel follows the Joads family, poor, desperate, and with little left. They were forced to leave their Oklahoma farm as a result of drought and changes in the agricultural system and were therefore driven to live in California with the hope of a more prosperous life. This is the tragic and powerful story of this family’s adjustment, forced to move with the times and neglect everything they know.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
This novel has become an icon of black literature, demonstrating the pain, suffering, and torment experienced during slavery. It is set during the late 1800s in Ohio and illuminates the long-term impacts of discrimination and anguish.
Beloved is a tragic but engrossing story that is bound to have you reaching for the tissues. It details the extent of desperation faced by so many slaves and dives into the life of a mother enveloped in fear and determined to prevent racial suffering from continuing down through the lives of her descendants.
Toni Morrison has a wide repertoire of powerful and influential books which have completely transformed racial writing. She has given a voice to the slaves who were silenced and illustrated the continuation of racism throughout the decades. Her writing is emotive, raw, and guaranteed to help you understand the realities that so many of us will never experience.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This is one of the most important novels in African literary history. Things Fall Apart has been revolutionary for modern Africanism and remains thoroughly read and studied globally. Published in 1958, this novel tells the story of an Igbo village as they live through the destruction and upheaval attached to British colonialism. It follows the leader of the Igbo community personally, as he experiences a long journey that includes exile, death, and cultural erasure.
This novel was banned in multiple places due to its criticisms of European colonization but it conveys an authentic and vivid portrayal of the personal and communal impacts of colonial oppression. It details Okonkwo’s relationships and his attempt to hold on to his culture, despite every attempt of cultural assimilation.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This is a coming-of-age story that really doesn’t read like one. This novel incorporates history, cultural differences, familial experiences, and relationships. It follows the life of a young man whose family was torn apart by the Vietnamese War.
Ocean Vuong is a poet by nature and his writing style very much reflects it. This story is beautifully written and he captures the beauty of landscape and emotion perfectly. If you don’t read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous for its captivating and fascinating story, read it for its eloquence and metaphorical beauty.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The Brontë sisters are known for vivid descriptions, emotive insights, and complex relationships. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights engrosses the reader in the Yorkshire countryside and allows them to fall in love with her characters through in-depth and engaging personal narratives.
This is the tragic story of Heathcliff and Kathy, two very complex characters who experience a journey of love, grief, and emotional turmoil. If you want to delve into the dramatic English countryside and follow a beautiful and emotive love story, this is your pick. This book transformed the English literary scene and did wonders for female authors after Brontë’s true identity was revealed.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is one of the most influential feminist novels written in the 19th century. It follows the four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. As they navigate growing up, careers, friendships, and family and romantic relationships.
Alcott has become known as one of the most famous American authors in the nation’s history, simply as a result of this novel. It was one of the first novels that honed in on female relationships, emotions, and issues. It sheds light on the everyday struggles of being a female in a male-dominated world, as the protagonists follow desires and aspirations despite societal pressures and limitations.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
This is one of the most famous adventure novels ever written and it follows a small boy called Jim Hawkins who embarks on a dangerous journey with the aim of retrieving hidden treasure.
Treasure Island incorporates fantasy, adventure, and even touches on horror. It is a multidimensional book that is suitable for readers of all ages.
Emma by Jane Austen
As one of the primary literary giants, this name could not be left off the list. You may be surprised to see Emma on this list instead of Pride and Prejudice. Well, although Pride and Prejudice is a fantastic novel and well-deserving of the praise it has received, Emma is many readers’ favorite due to its intriguing subplots, gossip-like narratives, and complicated characters.
Austen is known for being a fantastic writer, even though her reputation of creating love-oriented, happily ever afters has limited her modern readership. Some readers consider her novels to be predictable and perhaps boring but when you place these novels within their historical context, it’s more obvious to recognize their social, moral, and political implications.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This masterpiece examines identity, endurance, race, and survival. Through beautiful metaphors that brilliantly encapsulate the gorgeous scenery of Florida, Hurston conveys the implications of slavery, racial injustice, and discrimination.
Their Eyes Were Watching God covers emotional, physical, and racial abuse, telling a fantastic survival story that delves into gender expectations, the role of women, and above all, endurance and liberation.
A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro is one of the most innovative and poetic writers of his time. This Japanese-British author has written many best-sellers and his books are always highly anticipated after being announced.
A Pale View of the Hills is one of his most successful novels, delving into the emotional and psychological impacts of mental illness and suicide for close relatives. With elegantly-written settings and characterizations, A Pale View of the Hills dives into themes of human memory, psychological change, and reflection.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a short story collection, so will easily keep the most uninterested reader engaged. Adichie cleverly intertwines personal and national issues, exploring the relationships between family members, genders, and nationalities.
The Thing Around Your Neck is highly thought-provoking and provides the reader with important moral lessons. Adichie correlates the relationships between family members and nations, delving into the complex and rich relationship between Africa and the United States.
Millions have read these classics over the years. They have become both favorites and moral directors, and remain at the core of literary education. Classic novels are fantastically written, driven by compelling characters, and provide moral lessons, insights, and depictions.
If you’re looking to delve into the classic literary genre, any of these 40 books would be a great start but be sure to read about what themes these books tackle and how they are written. Many of these books are considered outdated or use complicated language or storytelling techniques. Be sure to pick something suitable to your interest and capabilities so that you aren’t put off by the first book.
This list includes a wide range of classic literature books both modern and archaic and covering a variety of themes. So, we hope this list has been helpful in finding you the right one!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between classic literature and classical literature?
Classic literature references highly-rated novels that are thought-provoking and have been received positively throughout history. Whereas, classical literature refers to epics that cover mythological stories written by ancient Greek or Roman authors.
Names like Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Emily Brontë, and George Orwell are all among the authors that have produced brilliant stories that have come to be known as examples of classic literature.
Where do I start with classic literature?
If you want to ease yourself into classic literature, start with modern classics such as George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. The language used is less archaic and you’re likely to follow the story better.
What is the best classic literature book?
Pride and Prejudice with Jane Austen is one of the most famous classic literature books out there.
Why should you read classic literature?
Not only are they all examples of great stories but they also provide insight into historical, political, and philosophical workings and will give you a greater understanding of the literary scope.
What are the most popular classic literature books?
1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
8. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
9. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
10. 1984 by George Orwell
11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
12. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
13. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
14. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
15. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
16. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
17. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
18. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
19. No-No Boy by John Okada
20. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy