Reading has been here long before all the movies, computer games, social networks and other sources of entertainment young people enjoy today. Apart from being one of the oldest leisure activities, reading is also one of the most helpful ones. By reading you expend your horizons, learn new things, develop your creative imagination and simply relax. It is especially vital for students to try to read a lot as books make you smarter andhelp you formulate your thoughts in a clever way. No books can do a better job with it than the classic ones. Let’s take a quick look at some of the best American classic books that are definitely worth your attention.
1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn written by Betty Smith (1943)
This book shows you an inspiring story of a young and optimistic girl Francie Nolan who has to make it in this world through all the hardships that come on the way. Poverty, sexual harassments, unhappy love and devastating solitude are the things this girl has to fight to become someone in this cruel world.
2.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain (1884)
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is the sequel to the popular book about young boy Tom Sawyer. It continues the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, who now sail across the Mississippi with a freed slave Jim. When Jim got slaved again, Tom and Huck go to rescue their friend. This book become very popular among children and although many people criticize it due to the racial stereotypes, it still is one of the most popular children book ever.
3. Atlas Shrugged written by Ayn Rand (1957)
This book is the last and most powerful work of Ayn Rand. It has been translated into many languages and has influences many minds. A unique mixture of fiction and realism, utopia and anti-utopia, romantic heroism and sizzling grotesque helps the author ask the everlasting questions and give her own unexpected and sometimes paradoxical answers to them.
4.The Awakening written by Kate Chopin (1899)
It is a story taking place at the end on the 19th century where a married woman fights for her right to be happy. She doesn’t like her husband and doesn’t care about her children and her only passion is Robert, her young lover. This novel is one of the first ones that tells about a woman’s feelings, needs and desires so openly. It was considered provocative and unacceptable at time it was published, however afterwards it was accepted when the feminist groups appeared and women started to fight against inequality.
5. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson written by Emily Dickinson (1890)
Unappreciated in her own life, Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the best and most unique poets in the literary world. She was a very reserved person and in her late years she didn’t even leave her place. However, her poems show how deeply she felt and understood the human nature. She enriched the world of poetry with more than 1 700 beautiful poems which are still very timely.
6. The Color Purple written by Alice Walker (1982)
This very serious book is created in a very interesting and unique style. The book is consisted of the letters to God from a black and almost illiterate girl living in a provincial town. This girl, Celia, tells about the horrors of her life in a very innocent, pure and naïve manner. The problems described in the novel are still peculiar to many women. Sexism, racism and gender stereotypes are the key problems Celia has to face. The book won several awards including the Pulitzer Prize.
7. The Crucible written by Arthur Miller (1953)
“The Crucible” is a playwright describing the events in the 17th century when several women were accused in conspiracy with the devil and sentenced to death. Arthur Miller describes the process of trial and the tragedy of women who cannot justify themselves not because they are guilty, but because the judges are driven by the absurd prejudices and beliefs.
8. Fahrenheit 451 written by Ray Bradbury
When people talk about anti-utopia books, this one comes up among the first ones. Ray Bradbury created the world where printed books are forbidden by law and should all be burnt down and people who can think critically become outlaws. The main character, Guy Montag, works as a firemen who burn the book and honestly believes that he does it for the greater good. But soon he disappoints in the ideals of the modern society, becomes a social outcast and joins a group of people, who learn books by heart to save them for the descendants.
9. The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales written by Edgar Allan Poe
The name of Edgar Allan Poe can be considered a synonym to the suspense writing. He was able to create stories that made and are still making people catch their breath and wonder what happens next. This book of tales proves that.
10. The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck (1939)
John Steinbeck made a very important contribution to the world of American literature and got The Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. Steinbeck describes the times of the economic depression in the USA in 1930. A poor family of immigrant farmers has to leave their home in Oklahoma due to the drought, economic troubles and other hardships. Along with numerous other families, they go to California in hope to find a better life.
11. The House of Mirth written by Edith Wharton (1905)
This is a fascinating story of a young woman Lilly Bart who has to marry a wealthy man to get back into the high society after her father’s bankruptcy. However, she ruins several opportunities of successful marriage because she waits for a true love. However, when the true love comes, she turns it down in fear of being poor. This is a tragic story that keeps you interested from the very first page.
12. How the Other Half Lives written by Jacob Riis (1890)
Jacob Riis is well known as a photo-journalist and activist fighting against social inequality. In his works he portrayed the life of industrial workers and poor people and the hardships they have to face every day. His works inspired mane people to do something and to fight for their rights.
13. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings written by Maya Angelou (1969)
Maya Angelou mad a big impact in the literary world and civil rights activists. She published seven autobiographies and helped create many movies and shows. “I know why the cage bird sings” is also an autobiography that describes her life during the great depression till she was 16. In this book she raises the problems of racism, family, travel and individuality. She describes her life struggles and the way became an independent woman.
14. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl written by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
The story in this novel is based a detailed description of Harriet Jacobs living as a slave. She wrote about horrifying things that slaved women had to go through including sexual abuse since the very young age, having to sell their children, every day beatings, etc. The book was noticed and appreciated in 1970.
15. Invisible Man written by Ralph Ellison (1952)
“Invisible man” is the biggest work of Ralph Ellison that made him well-known. The novel is written by an anonymous black man living in New York in the forties. The storyteller described how he got to the thought that he is invisible. No one sees a personality with feelings and emotions in a black man in the US. On the contrary, he is a priory seen as a useless and aggressive person.
16. The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair (1906)
In “The Jungle” Upton Sinclair describes the life of the immigrants trying to make it in Chicago. They get roughly exploited by their employers. The main character goes through the imprisonments, the struggle and death of his family. The author also describes the dark machinations of businessmen which were actually investigated after the book was published.
17. Leaves of Grass written by Walt Whitman (1855)
18. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets written by Stephen Crane (1892)
This is a heartbreaking story about a young girl Maggie who had to become a prostitute due to the cold indifference of her close ones. The book was published by Stephen Crane himself because no publishers agreed to that. At that time the book wasn’t popular at all but with time people and critics recognized its true value.
19. On the Road written by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Jack Kerouac is an irreplaceable figure in the culture life of the 20th century. The novel “On the road” made him famous all over the world and became a true American classic. This is a story of the destiny and the pain of the whole generation. The book is about a trip of Jack Kerouac and his friend across the US and Mexico. It seems simple from the first sight, but it gained the love and respect from millions of people from all over the word.
20. The Portrait of a Lady written by Henry James (1881)
This book is one of the best works of Henry James. It is a very realistic story about a rich girl Isabel who turns down all the wealthy men to show her independents and marries a poor con who doesn’t love her at all. All her hopes, dreams and illusions are broken and she has to bear all the difficulties of this situation.
21. The Things They Carried written by Tim O’Brien (1990)
22. Their Eyes Were Watching God written by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Zora Neale Hurston is well known for her witty words and peculiar style of writing. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a story of a woman searching her place in the world and marrying man after man. The story is extraordinary and very touching.
23. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee (1960)
“To kill a mockingbird” became a bestseller shortly after it was published. The story is told by the eight year old girl who tells us about her life, the life of her family and neighbors and her father’s work. Her father is a lawyer and he defends a black man who is thought to rape a girl. Although the book raises some serious and difficult matters, the style of writing and the positive attitude makes it very warm and pleasant to read.
24. Slaughterhouse-five written by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
“Slaughterhouse-five” is one of the most popular works of Kurt Vonnegut. There are some autobiographic notes in it, particularly the author’s war memories. The novel combines fiction and grotesque, burlesque and dark satire, humor and sadness.
25. Walden written by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
“Walden” is one of the bright and memorable examples of the American classic literature. The author’s extraordinary personality is shown on the pages of this book. The main ideas include anticapitalistic and romantic utopia thoughts that were quite popular in the USA in the first half of the 19th century.
Alyce is an inspired blogger, private tutor and educational consultant who is passionate about everything related to writing. Now she has found herself as a private consultant/educator, providing seminars and workshops to teachers of English. The focus of her presentations is how to motivate students to enjoy writing and to help them in becoming creative and proficient writers both for their pleasure and coursework assignments. She loves to share her experience in these fields. Stay tuned to get more actionable tips about writing!