Finding ourselves with so much time on our hands at the beginning of the pandemic, we dove into old classics that we’d long been meaning to read. While the bookish interests have ebbed and flowed throughout the past year, it seems that the classics are coming ’round again, especially with all the buzz around Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s new PBS Hemingway documentary premiering on April 5 and the new collection THE HEMINGWAY STORIES (releasing today!). Given all the burgeoning classics love, we wanted to hear from readers so we took to Facebook to ask: What’s your favorite classic novel? Here are some of your—our readers’—excellent choices, along with our recommendations for a modern-day equivalent to read next!
If you’re looking for the Jazz Age glitter and intrigue of the iconic THE GREAT GATSBY, Claire McMillan’s THE NECKLACE delivers, interweaving a present-day family drama with an ill-fated Prohibition-era love triangle. When Nell’s great-aunt Loulou passes away, Nell is summoned to the family manor and learns that Loulou has left her a fantastically valuable heirloom: an ornate necklace from India. As Nell’s predatory relatives circle, she places her trust in the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer, and comes to find out that the necklace also carries a long-buried family secret dating back to the 1920s.
In this “glittering, Gatsby-esque” (Publishers Weekly) novel, two generations of Quincy women—a bewitching Jazz Age beauty and a young lawyer—are bound by a spectacular and mysterious Indian necklace.
Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: an ornate necklace from India that Nell finds stashed in a Crown Royal whiskey bag in the back of a dresser. As predatory relatives circle and art experts begin to question the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old-money crowd.
More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret involving Ambrose Quincy, who brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return, he discovered that May had married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gave May the necklace anyway.
Crisp as a gin martini, fresh as a twist of lime, The Necklace is the charming and intoxicating story “written with wit, compassion, and a meticulous attention to period and cultural detail” (Kirkus Reviews) of long-simmering family resentments and a young woman who inherits a secret much more valuable than a legendary necklace.
CLASSIC: The Crucible by Arthur Miller
GOOD NEIGHBORS is THE CRUCIBLE with a suburban twist. Taking place in a seemingly perfect neighborhood on Long Island, community relations start to crumble when a new, offbeat family moves to town. But when a sinkhole opens up and then a child falls in, the tensions erupt as secrets are unleashed. A second, metaphorical sinkhole of doubt and suspicions plunges the perfect neighborhood into darkness. Just as Miller’s classic explores a community bitten by hysteria during the Salem witch trials, GOOD NEIGHBORS is a twisted psychological exploration of the darkest sides of humanity.
“A modern-day Crucible….Beneath the surface of a suburban utopia, madness lurks.” —Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
“Sarah Langan is a phenomenal talent with a wicked sense of wry humor. Good Neighbors knocked me out. Like Shirley Jackson, Langan’s work blends a bleak streak with an underlying sense of the humane that wrung my heart.” —Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
Celeste Ng’s enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson’s creeping dread in this propulsive literary noir, when a sudden tragedy exposes the depths of deception and damage in a Long Island suburb—pitting neighbor against neighbor and putting one family in terrible danger.
Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.
Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.
Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely community college professor repressing her own dark past—welcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.
As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes that spins out of control. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.
CLASSIC: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
LITTLE WOMEN is reimagined for the twenty-first century in Anna Todd’s THE SPRING GIRLS. Set at a New Orleans military base, the Spring sisters band together to get through their adolescent years while their father is on tour in Iraq and their mother struggles to get by. Similar to LITTLE WOMEN, the sisters’ aspirations are all quite different, but the strength of their love helps them to forge their identities and discover their place in the world.
CLASSIC: Roots by Alex Haley
Intensely researched and highlighting historically marginalized voices, Petina Gappah’s OUT OF DARKNESS, SHINING LIGHT is a memorable read illuminating themes of slavery, colonization, religious conversion, and the hypocrisy of humanity. The story tracks two attendants of explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone—Halima, the cook, and Jacob, the secretary—as they travel fifteen hundred miles across Africa to return his papers and remains to his home in England. Alex Haley undertook a tremendous feat of research to recapture his family’s story in ROOTS, and while Petinah Gappah’s book is a fictionalized account, she similarly dedicated extraordinary amounts of care to gather true events and people and reimagine them in this narrative.
WINNER OF THE 2020 CHAUTAUQUA PRIZE
ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
“Engrossing, beautiful, and deeply imaginative, Out of Darkness, Shining Light is a novel that lends voice to those who appeared only as footnotes in history, yet whose final, brave act of loyalty and respect changed the course of it. An incredible and important book by a masterful writer.” —Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing
“This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.” So begins Petina Gappah's powerful novel of exploration and adventure in nineteenth-century Africa—the captivating story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone's body, his papers and maps, fifteen hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by Halima, the doctor's sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly pious freed slave, this is a story that encompasses all of the hypocrisy of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy at the core of the human heart—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love.
CLASSIC: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
Anuradha Roy’s ALL THE LIVES WE NEVER LIVED expands upon the themes of British colonization in India presented in E. M. Forster’s classic story A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Set against the backdrop of World War II and the Indian fight against British rule, ALL THE LIVES WE NEVER LIVED focuses on the story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri. As a grown man, Myshkin is trying to figure out the truth about Gayatri, who abandoned him when he was a child to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. Through exploring stories of his mother’s unconventional childhood, her letters, and Indian literature, Myshkin comes to understand the motivations behind Gayatri’s actions.
From the Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Sleeping on Jupiter and “one of India’s greatest living authors” (O, The Oprah Magazine), a poignant and sweeping novel set in India during World War II and the present day about a son’s quest to uncover the truth about his mother.
In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman. The man was in fact German, but in small‑town India in those days, all white foreigners were largely thought of as British.
So begins the “gracefully wrought” (Kirkus Reviews) story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who rebels against tradition to follow her artist’s instinct for freedom.
Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up to her the vision of other possible lives.
What took Myshkin’s mother from India and Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar universe? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between the anguish at home and a war‑torn universe overtaken by patriotism.
Evocative and moving, “this mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess” (Publishers Weekly).
CLASSIC: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Regency era has constantly captivated imaginations through the longstanding popularity and various iterations of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and thanks to Bridgerton, the era is once again having a moment in the pop-culture sun. If you can’t get enough Regency romance and drama, TO HAVE AND TO HOAX should be on your TBR. A fresh and hilarious historical rom-com romp, it focuses on Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, once-passionate lovers whose relationship has become strained after being married for years. When Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse, she rushes to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at the tavern. What follows is a series of increasingly elaborate feigned illnesses and accidents . . . and a potential spark in their romance.
Named a Best Romance of April by Goodreads, Popsugar, Bustle, and more!
In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.
Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.
Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.
Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?
With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and to Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.
CLASSIC: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
BETTY isn’t set in Brooklyn, but it is otherwise very similar, telling a quietly powerful coming-of-age tale with enriching personal stories set in its own intimate corner of the world—the Appalachian foothills. While Betty Carpenter’s family might lack in material wealth, they are surrounded by a beautiful landscape that provides its own richness, enhanced by the community of rural townspeople who live there, including Betty’s Cherokee father. Like A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, this book explores life’s cruelties with honesty and depicts childhood through a heartbreaking, personal lens.
CLASSIC: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Amber St. Clare climbed to unimaginably great heights—from a penniless orphan to the mistress of Charles II. FOREVER AMBER recounts her trials of love and heartbreak during Restoration England, battling everything from the Great Plague to glorious theater antics, the Great Fire of London, and more. In THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, which takes place a few hundred years later, Evelyn Hugo begins her march to fame in 1950s Hollywood, utilizing her beauty and brains to outsmart manipulative producers and actors to rise to the top of American royalty by becoming an award-winning film star.
CLASSIC: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
In this JANE EYRE retelling—set during the 1950s and ’60s in Iceland and Scotland—Gemma Hardy spends a miserable childhood moving from home to home, losing beloved guardians along the way. Abandoned and abused, she ends up accepting an au pair job at Blackbird Hall, where she discovers a man of passion and wealth in businessman Mr. Sinclair and is stunned to find that he’s attracted to her as well. Readers who enjoyed the plot of JANE EYRE and fell in love with its sweet, principled titular character will find themselves falling for Gemma Hardy, too, and wishing for her happily ever after.
A Scottish orphan in the 1960s, Gemma Hardy seems destined for a life of hardship. But when she accepts a position as an au pair on a remote and beautiful island, she embarks on a journey of passion and betrayal, secrets and lies, that will lead her to a life she’s never dreamed of.
Photo credit: Scribner Books