The Classics Project —reading literary classics

Image showing shelves of old books and headline The Classics Project describing a project to read literary classics one book at a time

This page shows a list of books I’m interested in reading to fill in some gaps in my reading of what can loosely be described as “literary classics”. They are personal choices reflecting my interests in literature from the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth century. I’ve included a number of books that can be found in lists such as “1001 Books To Read Before You Die” or the BBC’s Big Read Top 100 but there are notable omissions such as Moby Dick, Finnegan’s Wake and Don Quixote.

Why the omissions?

Quite simply there are numerous books that you’ll find on such lists, that hold no appeal to me. I recognise they are considered exemplary or noteworthy works of literature but I don’t feel any compulsion to read them.

Reading isn’t meant to be an ordeal or a chore and I don’t buy into the idea that anyone “should” have to read certain texts just because they are considered classics. I’m choosing only books that I think I will enjoy.

I’m not setting any deadline for this project though I will do my best to follow the guidelines of the Classics Club and read 50 of them within the next five years

Which literary classics to read?

My list falls into four categories:

19th Century Classics: My favourite period in literature. This list includes much-loved authors such as George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell but there are a few names I’ve not read previously like Mary Braddon and George Gissing.

20th Century Classics: My cut off point is 1959. I’m figuring that a book has to have been around for at least 60 years for it to be deemed a classic

International Classics : I’m including countries other than UK, Canada and USA. France is well represented through Emile Zola and Honoré De Balzac. Germany includes Thomas Mann and Hans Fallada. There are smatterings of Russians and one or two authors from Japan and Africa.

Celtic Classics: Here I’m listing authors from Wales, Scotland and Ireland

19th Century Classics
  1. Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801)
  2. Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853)
  3. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot (1859) Read October 2022
  4. No Name by Wilkie Collins (1862)
  5. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Braddon (1862)
  6. Armadale by Wilkie Collins (1864)
  7. Can You Forgive Her by Anthony Trollope (1865) – Removed August 2023
  8. Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (1869) Removed August 2023
  9. The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope (1875)
  10. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)
  11. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)
  12. What Masie Knew by Henry James (1897)
  13. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1899)

20th Century Classics
  1. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James (1902)
  2. Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett (1902)
  3. Ambassadors by Henry James  (1903)
  4. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (1904)
  5. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907) Abandoned August 2022
  6. The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennet (1908) Read January 2023
  7. The Man Who Was Thursday by G K Chesterton (1908) Abandoned August 2022
  8. Ethan Frome  by Edith Wharton:  (1911)
  9. Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather (1913)
  10. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham (1915)
  11. The Man Who Knew Too Much by G K Chesterton (1922)
  12. Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby (1923)
  13. The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton (1924)
  14. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)
  15. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)
  16. Quartet by Jean Rhys (1929)
  17. The Well of Loneliness by Radcylffe Hall (1928)
  18. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville West (1930)
  19. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield (1930)
  20. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley  (1932)
  21. To The North by Elizabeth Bowen (1932)
  22. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  23. Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge (1933)
  24. Tender Is The Night by Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  25. They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple (1934)
  26. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936)
  27. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)  Read February 2023
  28. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
  29. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winnifred Watson (1938) 
  30. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  31. Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood (1939)
  32. Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (1940)
  33. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940)
  34. Fisherman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (1941)
  35. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
  36. No Highway by Neville Shute (1948)
  37. The Third Man by Graham Greene (1949)
  38. The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (1950)
  39. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)
  40. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
  41. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952)
  42. Who Calls the Tune by Nina Bawden (1953)
  43. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)
  44. The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkein (1954)
  45. An Impossible Marriage by Pamela Hansford Johnson (1954)
  46. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (1956)
  47. Voss by Patrick White (1957)
  48. The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (1957)
  49. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (1958)

International Classics  
  1. The Nose  by Nikolay Gogol (1836) — Ukrania/Russia
  2. Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol (1842) — Ukrania/Russia
  3. The Black Sheep by Honoré De Balzac (1847) — France
  4. Cousin Bette by Honoré De Balzac (1846) — France
  5. The `idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1868) — Russia
  6. A Sentimental Education by Gustav Flaubert (1869) — France
  7. The Conquest of Plassans by Emile Zola (1874) — France
  8. The Sin of Father Mouret by Emile Zola (1875) — France
  9. The Dream by Emile Zola (1888) — France
  10. Money by Emile Zola (1891) —France
  11. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1879) — Russia
  12. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912) — Germany
  13. Skylark, by Dezső Kosztolányi (1924) — Hungary
  14. Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand (1935) — India
  15. On the Edge of Reason by  Miroslav Krleža (1938) — Croatia
  16. Nada by Carmen Laforet (1944) — Spain
  17. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1947) — Germany
  18. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952) — Japan
  19. The Hills Were Joyful Together by Roger Mais  (1953) — Jamaica
  20. In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming (1953) — Barbados
  21. The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas (1957) — Norway
  22. To Sir, With Love – E. R. Braithwaite (1959) — Guyana
Celtic Classics
  1. A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1886) — Scotland
  2. Stranger Within The Gates by Bertha Thomas (1912) — Wales
  3. Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915) — Scotland
  4. The Battle to the Weak, Hilda Vaughan (1925) — Wales
  5. The Informer by Liam O’Flaherty (1925) — Ireland
  6. Winter by Dorothy Edwards (1928) — Wales
  7. Glastonbury Romance by  John Cowper Powys (1932) — Wales
  8. Black Parade, Jack Jones (1935) — Wales
  9. The Citadel by A J Cronin (1937) — Scotland — Read May 2023
  10. The Rising Tide by Molly Keane (1937) — Ireland Read August 2022
  11. Fame Is The Spur by Howard Spring (1940) — Wales
  12. Farewell Innocence by William Glynne-Jones (1950) — Wales
  13. The Feast of Lupercal by Brian Moore (1957) — Ireland
  14. A Toy Epic by Emyr Humphreys (1958) — Wales
  15. The Bitter Glass by Eilis Dillon (1958) — Ireland
  16. The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958) — Ireland
  17. Strike for a Kingdom, Menna Gallie (1959) — Wales

I may swap out some of these books at a later date if I discover other titles that I think are of interest. I’ll keep track of my progress and include links to my reviews as I make headway.

Progress to Date

Started June 2022

Status June 2023: 5 read, two abandoned.

2 responses to “The Classics Project —reading literary classics”

  1. John Davies Avatar

    An admirable list. Just a small point – the Chesterton to read is surely the Man Who Was Thursday, not The Man who Knew Too Much?

    1. BookerTalk Avatar

      Thanks John for spotting that – I somehow mixed it up with the name of a Hitchcock film. Most bizarre

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2 thoughts on “The Classics Project —reading literary classics

  • An admirable list. Just a small point – the Chesterton to read is surely the Man Who Was Thursday, not The Man who Knew Too Much?

    • Thanks John for spotting that – I somehow mixed it up with the name of a Hitchcock film. Most bizarre


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

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