You’ve probably seen this kind of list countless times, but while most tend to be dozens of books long and heavily skewed towards classics, we’ve curated a definitive mix of genres written by diverse authors that won’t take you years to get through. Every one of these books has proven itself essential, whether by withstanding the test of time or wowing us with its prose and characters.
Calling all bibliophiles, your next great read is waiting below.
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Arguably the first science fiction novel ever written, British-born Shelley was only eighteen years old when she wrote the story of Dr Victor Frankenstein, a young and ambitious scientist who achieves the impossible when he creates a monstrous creature, cursed with the ability to think and feel. A pure rejection of the laws of science, Shelley’s novel explores the danger of the pursuit of knowledge, nature vs nurture, isolation and revenge, with a gorgeous prose that has proven so successful it has cemented itself in our popular culture, inspiring literature and film for over two hundred years.
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
This classic revenge story written by French author Alexandre Dumas follows Edmond Dantès, a young man at the cusp of his career and set to marry his childhood sweetheart. On the eve of his wedding, he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and taken to live out the rest of his days in the hellish Château d’If. This sets him on a bitter path of revenge against those who framed him, and readers are taken on an intricately woven journey that spans a whopping 1,000+ pages. While the length may be intimidating to some, its dramatic scenes read like a Hollywood blockbuster that’ll keep readers coming back for more.
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
A charming slice-of-life story, Little Women follows the four March sisters as they navigate the highs and lows of family life in 1860s Massachusetts. Partly inspired by Alcott’s own childhood, this book is so popular it has inspired countless adaptations. The tale of sisterhood remains timeless and beloved by each new generation – reading this is guaranteed to leave you feeling warm and cosy.
4. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
This dystopian novel about an authoritarian government acts as a cautionary tale against dictatorships and mass surveillance. The protagonist Winston must navigate a society where even your unspoken thoughts could make you a criminal. Since its release over seventy years ago, 1984 has been noted as being uncomfortably prophetic, with so many of Orwell’s terms becoming part of the English vernacular (Big Brother, 2+2=5) that its influence is undeniable.
5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
While many may be familiar with Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it may come as a surprise that he wrote this non-fiction account detailing the 1959 murders of a family in rural Kansas. Hailed for its eloquent prose, attention to detail, and story structure, In Cold Blood is considered a pioneer in the true crime genre. At the time of its release, it was a ground-breaking introspection on a real-life murder case, where Capote not only details the narratives of the victims and the wider community, but speaks face-to-face with the killers to provide unique and in-depth character profiles of everyone involved.
6. Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)
The first science fiction story written by a black female author, the story follows Dana, a black woman living in contemporary America, who is inexplicably transported back to the time of her ancestors in 1815. Continuously wrenched between timelines, Dana must survive in a world of slavery and the consequences felt by it. Butler does an effective job combining historical and science fiction to explore a bleak period in American history through a modern lens.
7. Maus by Art Spiegelman (1991)
You may have heard this non-fiction graphic novel making its rounds online after it was banned by an American school board for its depictions of violence. This is an autobiographical account of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew, and how he survived the Holocaust. In a stylistic choice noted for its metaphorical link to race and prejudice, Jews are depicted as mice and the Germans as cats. This is a harrowing true story that not only tells a story of one of the darkest events in human history, but a personal story about the relationship between a father and son.
8. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (1995)
This fantasy coming-of-age novel is the first in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It follows Lyra, a young girl living in an alternate-Oxford where peoples’ souls manifest physically in animal form. Her adventures take her to the frozen Arctic as she searches for her missing friend, where she is unwittingly involved in a plot that could alter the world as she knows it. This is a wonderful exploration of innocence vs experience, religion vs science, and a fantastic introduction for those wanting to dip their toes in the fantasy genre.
9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
Set in Afghanistan over thirty years, Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Amir, and the relationships he forms through childhood to adulthood. This is a poignant story of innocence lost and a country torn apart by the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban. A real tear-jerker – so don’t forget the tissues.
10. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
A modern classic of love and loss, this best-selling debut follows four friends as they arrive in New York – broke and uncertain of themselves – and try and find their way. Often lauded as one of the most depressing books ever written, if you can handle the material, you will be rewarded with beautiful writing and a hauntingly powerful character study about overcoming trauma.
Make room on your bookshelf with Zapper
If you’re looking to make room on your shelves for any of these amazing titles, why not trade in your old books with Zapper? It’s easy and totally free – either download the app or check out our homepage to learn how you can earn money from your pre-loved items. If your books are not in a re-sellable condition, we will recycle them for you free of charge. That way, you can expand your library totally guilt-free!