Classics Club


The idea of The Classics Club  is to make a list of fifty or more classics you want to read within the next five years. There is no strict definition of what constitutes “a classic”. 

What is a classic?  For the purposes of your project list, it’s your choice, really. Modern classics, ancient classics, Eastern canon, Western canon, Persephone, Virago, African literature, children’s classics… You make your own goal, and you decide what is “a classic.”

My Goal: Read 50 ‘classics’ in five years

Start date: August 2012

End date:  Long since elapsed 

Progress so far: as of November 2019 I’ve read 47 of the books from my list. I started another four but failed to finish them so I haven’t counted those. Clearly the ‘deadline’ came and went without completion of the list but the Classics Club never sent around the classic cops so I suppose I can just continue to read the books. 

About my Classics Club list 

My list is an attempt to fill in the gaps in my reading of the great and the good from the literary world. The eagle eyed among my readers will notice that there are more than 50 titles listed here. The reason is simple: I want plenty of choice so I can pick a novel to suit different moods. 

Some of the authors listed here are people I have never read before (mainly the non British authors like Maupassant or Voltaire).

Others are novels I feel I ought to have read but somehow never got around to it (Crime and Punishment; Washington Square for example).

There is a third category of novels I read long long ago as a teenager (Mrs Dalloway; The Plague) and frankly didn’t understand so I’m hoping my more mature self will do better.

And for those days when I need a book that feels as comfortable as a hot water bottle, there are my old favourites of George Eliot and Jane Austen.

Books I’ve read are in blue and link to my reviews

    1. Medea:  — Euripedes 431 BC Read 2012
    2. Pamela  —  Samuel Richardson 1740 did not finish
    3. The Vicar of Wakefield  — Oliver Goldsmith 1766. Read March 2019
    4. Evelina  — Frances Burney 1778
    5. **Mansfield Park   — Jane Austen 1814 Read May 2015   
    6. Ormond – Maria Edgeworth 1817
    7. Old Goriot  — Honore Balzac 1835 Read October 2015   
    8. Old Curiosity Shop  — Charles Dickens 1840 Read March 2015
    9. The Black Sheep  — Honore Balzac 1842
    10. Mary Barton —  Elizabeth Gaskell 1848 Read May 2019
    11. Bleak House  — Charles Dickens 1852 (did not finish)
    12. Basil – Wilkie Collins 1852
    13. Little Dorrit  — Charles Dickens 1855  read Feb-March 2013
    14. North and South  — Elizabeth Gaskell 1855 – read Oct 2012
    15. Dr Thorne  – Anthony Trollope 1858 – read February 2017
    16. Adam Bede  — George Eliot 1859 Read Nov 2015
    17. Tale of Two Cities  — Charles Dickens 1859 – did not finish
    18. Framley Parsonage  – Anthony Trollope 1861 
    19. Wives and Daughters  — Elizabeth Gaskell 1864 read Dec 2014
    20. ** Can You Forgive Her  — Anthony Trollope  1864
    21. Crime and Punishment  — Fyodor Dostoevsky 1866 read Feb-March 2013 
    22. The Fortune of the Rougons  — Emile Zola 1871 Read May 2015
    23. The Kill/La Curée – Emile Zola 1871-2
    24. ** Anna Karenina  — Leo Tolstoy 1873-77
    25. The Way we Live Now  by Anthony Trollope – 1875
    26. Daniel Deronda  — George Eliot 1876
    27. L’Assommoir  — Emile Zola 1877 read March 2014
    28. Washington Square/Daisy Miller  — Henry James 1879 read January 2015
    29. The Brothers Karamazov  — Fyodor Dostoevsky 1880
    30. The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola — read March 2018
    31. The Diary of a Nobody  — George Grossmith 1888 read April 2017
    32. New Grub Street – George Gissing 1891
    33. The Turn of the Screw Henry James 1898  Read June 2015
    34. Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad 1899
    35. My Brilliant Career — Miles Franklin  1901 Read January 2019
    36. Anna of the Five Towns  — Arnold Bennett 1902
    37. The Secret Agent  — Joseph Conrad 1907
    38. Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett 1910
    39. O pioneers —  Willa Cather  1913
    40. A Room with a View  — E M Forster 1915  Read March 2014
    41. The Voyage Out  — Virginia Woolf 1915
    42. Return of the Soldier  — Rebecca West 1917 Read January 2019
    43. Gone to Earth  — Mary Webb 1917
    44. My Antonia Willa Cather 1918 Read May 2017
    45. Age of Innocence  — Edith Wharton 1920 Read August 2018
    46. **Mrs Dalloway  — Virginia Woolf 1925 Read February 2016
    47. **The Lighthouse  — Virginia Woolf 1927
    48. The Last September —  Elizabeth Bowen 1929
    49. Farewell to Arms — Hemmingway 1929 Read March 2013 
    50. All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville West 1931 Read September 2019
    51. A Room of One’s Own  — Virginia Woolf 1932 Read August 2017
    52. **Frost in May  — Antonia White 1933
    53. Old Soldiers Never Die – Frank Richards 1933
    54. Turf or Stone  — Margiad Evans 1934
    55. South Riding Winifred Holtby 1936. Read November 2018
    56. Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier 1936  Read June 2017
    57. Of Mice and Men  — Steinbeck 1937  Read April 2013
    58. The Grapes of Wrath  — John Steinbeck 1939
    59. **The Power and the Glory  — Grahame Greene 1940 Read December 2013
    60. Never No More – Maura Laverty 1942
    61. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith 1943
    62. Cannery Row  — John Steinbeck 1945 Read Dec 2013
    63. **The Plague  — Albert Camus 1947
    64. **Cry, the Beloved Country  — Alan Paton 1948 Finished April 2015
    65. Heart of the Matter  — Grahame Greene 1948 Finished August 2013
    66. The Franchise Affair – Josephine Tey 1948 Finished May 2019
    67. Love in a Cold Climate  — Nancy Mitford 1949  Read August 2018
    68. The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles 1949
    69. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote 1950 Read July 2019
    70. Troy Chimneys  — Margaret Kennedy 1952
    71. The Quiet American  — Graham Greene 1955
    72. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore 1955 Read November 2019
    73. The Fall  Albert Camus 1956
    74. Things Fall Apart  — Chinua Achebe 1958 Read March 2015
    75. The Leopard  — Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa 1958 did not finish
    76. The Country Girls  — Edna O’Brien 1960 Read June 2013
    77. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson 1962 Read August 2017
    78. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  — Maya Angelou 1969 – Read Nov 2012
    79. Bottle Factory Outing  — Beryl Bainbridge 1974 Read August 2013
    80. The Human Factor — Graham Greene 1978 Read October 2017
    81. The Girls of Slender Means  — Muriel Spark Read Dec 2012
    82. Love in the Time of Cholera  — Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1985
    83. The Infinite Plan  — Isabel Allende 1991 Read June 2014
    84. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont  — Elizabeth Taylor 2005 Read April 2014
  1. I like how you list the changes you’ve made to your list by year. I just revised my list for the second time and color-coded it a bit, but during the first revision, I didn’t keep notes. Sad to see you’ve removed Moby Dick. I hope he gets back on your list one of these days.

  2. A v good list (I do The Classics Club as well). I saw the “did not finish” by Tale of Two Cities, haha – an honest reader 🙂 I have a few of those myself (Moby Dick, Midnight’s Children and Ulysses, come to mind). I’ll keep an eye on your blog.

  3. I love how you add to your list with changes. I suspect I’ll end up doing that as well. And you’re making great progress! I might add a couple of these to my list. 🙂

  4. Just googled it and I am right, it’s Old Goriot. I read it fifty years ago so I wasn’t sure, but it appears in this instance my memory didn’t fail me!

  5. I’m pretty sure it’s Old Goriot by Balzac, not Old Gariot!!

  6. I love Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and The Master and Margarita…well, I guess I love Russian literature. The Tale of Two Cities had an ending I’ll never forget, but it is tough getting there. As Bleak House was a bit tough going.

    • The tale of two cities is one book I absolutely cannot get through and I struggled with bleak House so much I’m not sure I will finish it. Brothers Karamazov does have an attraction for me though.

  7. Great list you have here, we have some of the same books on our lists.

    I really look forward to reading your review of North & South, not sure yet whether I”ll read it before or after I read the book myself.

  8. Karen, please please please read Half of a Yellow Sun very soon! I saw Chimamanda at the Hay Festival. She is well worth travelling to see. Something very magical about her, she’s totally delightful! It has opened my eyes to Nigeria and sparked (another) interest. I haven’t read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart yet but have just started his latest novel which tells the history of the Biafran War which is the backdrop of Half of a Yellow Sun. Without a shadow of a doubt it is the book that has probably had most influence on me 🙂

  9. Dragonflydaydreams

    We share lots of the same titles…but you are the only other person, so far, that has Silent Spring on their list as well.

    • I love being different don’t you!. It’s been on my shelf for a long time – I keep dipping into it periodically and though i don’t understand a lot of the science, the beauty of her writing is astonishing. Karen Heenan-Davies


  10. I have Gaskell on my list as well – somehow I’ve never read anything by her. Unfortunately, I just finished The Moonstone – the day before I signed up for the challenge. 😉

    • Moonstone could still count – I don’t think anyone is paying that close attention!

      The only Gaskell I have read is Cranford which I found rather insubstantial but others who know her work better tell me that North and South has much more depth Karen Heenan-Davies


  11. This seems like a good list, got a bit of everything. 50 classics in 5 years, would be like 10 a year — sounds maybe manageable eh? I’m considering whether join the club as well. I’m a bit on the fence

    • I’ve no idea whether I can do 10 a year to be perfectly honest, particularly since I’m also doing a Booker prize challenge and studying for a children’s lit degree. But I thought I would give it a go on the basis that if I read 40 or 30 its still more than I would have done without the challenge. Give it a go – you may be surprised. Karen Heenan-Davies


  12. Welcome to the club! The Quiet American is on my list as well.

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