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17 Easy Classics to Read for the First Time

Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Louisa

We all know the feeling: you want to branch out and read something new but don’t know where to start.

Classic literature can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never read books like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Great Expectations.

All of these are being added to college reading lists and studied to the point where it’s impossible to love them. The idea of reading a classic can be overwhelming.

I know the feeling well. I remember studying English Literature and being asked to find hidden meanings in text that just made the novel confusing.

While many say Wuthering Heights, 1984, and Jane Eyre are easy – they’re not. I don’t think I made it past six pages of Wuthering Heights before I opened up Sparknotes.

But don’t let this put you off reading classics. There are many easy classics to read for the first time to introduce you to the historical styles, most profound storylines, and unforgettable characters.

If you’ve never picked up a classic before, besides one you were forced to study in school, you may enjoy these easy reads…

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Why are classics hard to read?

Classic literature books are often challenging to read due to the complicated language, long and dense sentence structure (literally, I forget the beginning of the sentence before getting to the end), and arcane themes. 

Classic literature books may also use language that is no longer used or relevant anymore, meaning readers are often required to look up the meaning of words or phrases. 

Many classic books were written at a time when the focus was on literary artistry instead of practical communication.

This makes it difficult for modern readers to comprehend without some additional knowledge of the time it was written or more context. 

Many classic literature books require heavy mental effort and concentration to understand their content and appreciate their beauty as compared to modern literature, which has been simplified for easier consumption. 

I also find that classic literature books depict human experiences that may not be immediately relevant or relatable to modern life. 

This means that readers must invest significant amounts of time and attention to the words to fully understand what is being said and implied within the text.

Related post: Books like Pride and Prejudice

Easy Classics to Read for the First Time

Now if that all sounds like hard work, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Reading classic literature isn’t the difficult task I mentioned above, as you will find reading the following classics.

1. Gullivers Travels – Jonathan Swift

Gullivers Travels is a great classic book for beginners because it’s funny and memorable. It follows Lemuel Gulliver as he embarks on multiple voyages, discovering strange lands and creatures.

Along the way, he meets giants, tiny people, and talking horses, all while attempting to find his way back home. 

Through it all, Gulliver discovers truths about himself and society that he would never have realized had he stayed at home. 

I found this book easy to read as the themes and profound moments remain true to this day. Swift touches on themes of honesty and deceit and the moral ethics of war and prejudice. 

It’s a timeless tale of humor, wit, and unexpected lessons. Gulliver’s Travels is perfect for readers, young or old, looking for an entertaining read full of adventure.

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

This classic novel follows the adventures of two boys, Huckleberry Finn, and Jim, as they journey down the Mississippi River. This book is funny and entertaining, filled with memorable characters.

The story follows a young boy named Huckleberry Finn, who escapes from his abusive father by sailing down the river on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim.

It follows themes of racism, freedom, and prejudice.

I found it really simple to read since the story is told through the eyes of the child. Truth be told, the language does take some getting used to, as Huckleberry uses a Southwestern American accent that is not familiar to me as a Brit. 

But after a few pages, I got into the swing of it.

3. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

A timeless tale about survival, Robinson Crusoe is perfect for those starting out on their classic reading journey. 

The story follows Crusoe as he sails for Africa with the intention of buying slaves for his plantation in South America.

But the ship is caught in a storm and wrecked on an island, where he is the only survivor.

The story follows how he survives alone on the island with nothing but his strong mental attitude, faith, and determination to keep him going.

4. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Another easy classic to read for first-timers is Treasure Island. This is also easy to read because the story is told through the narrative of a child.

It follows a young boy who is a stowaway on a pirate ship. 

The ship takes him on a dangerous adventure to recover the buried treasure and encounter mysterious characters, from castaways, ghosts, and mutinous pirates.

The story hints that hunting for gold is a fool’s errand and that one should be simply satisfied with growing knowledge and integrity in life. 

Through this book, we learn that those who are greedy are often met with devastating consequences.

5. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne

I loved Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. The story follows professor Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and an Icelandic guide named Hans, as they journey through a volcano to the center of the Earth.

Admittedly, I found the character of Axel a little annoying and whiney, but this added to the whole storyline. His “lack of faith” in the exhibition made it more profound.

The story is easy to follow, and the dialogue is very clear. There were no long sentences or complicated descriptions. It was just easy to digest.

I would say that Jules Verne’s knowledge of Geography, or lack thereof, is quite evident, as you cannot simply get a train from Germany to Iceland.

However, you need to remember that when this was written in 1864, traveling wasn’t the commodity that it is today.

6. Animal Farm – George Orwell

If you’ve ever tried to read books like George Orwell’s 1984 and struggled, don’t worry because his other acclaimed novel, Animal Farm, is much easier to read.

I won’t lie, it’s one of those books where you put it down halfway through and pick it up again, forgetting what had happened before. 

But it’s only 144 pages, so if you have a few hours to kill, you can easily devour it in one sitting.

The topic of Animal Farm is very simple; it follows a group of farm yard animals who plan to overthrow the farmer in a rebellion led by the pigs. But the rebellion is thrown, and the animals realize they might be swapping one dictator for another.

It has interesting political themes about dictatorship, the democratic process, and the strength of the little person. 

It’s one of those books you can delve deeper into hidden meanings behind the text if you want to, or simply read it as it is and enjoy the storyline. I like it because you don’t have to think too hard to understand it.

7. Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Sallinger

Catcher in the Rye is another easy read for first-time readers of classics. I found it very easy to follow and digest, which may be because it was published in 1951.

Therefore, the language and sentence structure had already modernized to what we see today by this point.

The storyline is somewhat simple. In fact, it isn’t really a story. It’s more like an internal monologue of a teenager as he sulks around the city.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the storyline, it follows a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield who was expelled from boarding school. 

Rather than head home and face the music, he sculks about town for two days, calling everyone phonies and searching for his meaning and place in the world.

It’s a short and sweet coming-of-age novel designed to make you think about your own place in the world. If you’ve already read this book, here are some similar books to Catcher in the Rye you might also like.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

I found To Kill A Mockingbird another easy classic to read because the story is told through the eyes of a child, meaning the narration is very simple, clear, and concise.

It follows a young girl, Jean-Louise or otherwise known as Scout, who is growing up in the Great Depression era of America. 

During this time, slavery still existed, and the story follows Scout’s father, Atticus, who is representing a black man on trial for rape.

The story is the profound realization of a young girl learning about the roots of racism, the consequences of prejudice, and the existence between good and evil.

9. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

I remember studying Lord of the Flies in high school (yeah, I know, and they banned The Giver!) and hating it. 

A few years later, I read it again as an adult and appreciated it much more. I realized it was a really exciting book, I had just found delving into it chapter by chapter at school incredibly boring. 

Anywho, if you haven’t read this book yet, it’s about a group of school children, all boys, who are washed up on a deserted island after their plane crashes. The reason for the crash is unknown, as the story starts with them on the island.

At first, they realize they are free of adults and can do whatever they want. And then, they get hungry, tired, and run out of resources, realizing that they need to form a government and leadership to survive. In essence, they needed to grow up.

What starts as a happy story of boys playing on the beach turns dark and messy. Despite being written in 1951, I still believe that the events of this book could happen one day if the situation arose, which makes it timeless. 

I’m not surprised that William Golding was a noble prize winner. The story truly is a work of genius.

10. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is another easy classic to read for first-timers because it’s short and easy to digest. 

It has a very simple storyline; two displaced ranchers wandering the planes of America trying to find a place to call home and find work in the Great Depression Era.

One man is brainy, Geroge, and his friend, Lennie, is stocky and strong but also has some learning difficulties.

They eventually find a town and find work, but Lennie’s unknown strength and way of thinking eventually cause trouble for them.

It’s a story about dreams, loneliness, and friendship. It’s uncomplicated and often on the high school reading list.

11. Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908 and is one of the oldest books I’ve recommended on this list.

Despite its age, it’s quite easy to follow since it was originally written for children. The story follows an orphan called Anne, who finds a home with two elderly siblings.

Anne is a ray of sunshine and full of life, the unconventional girl for her time.

Her spirit leads to many charming adventures and teaches children that being different and being yourself is something to cherish.

Related reading: Books with a color in the title and what they represent

12. Charlotte’s Webb –  E. B. White

Charlotte’s Webb is another children’s classic but is also loved by adults. It’s a rather sad story about Wilbur the pig who soon discovers his future is to become dinner for humans. 

He meets Charlotte, a kind spider who lives with Wilbur in his pen. 

Charlotte plans to help Wilbur escape and convinces the other barnyard animals to join in.

It was written in the 1950s when such topics were not considered too scary for children, but in today’s society, Charlotte’s Webb has been banned in many schools in the U.S. because of its upsetting content.

Regardless of how you feel about the content, there’s no denying this is a classic story and one that we can all deeply relate to.

13. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is another timeless classic that many people talk about. You may have seen the movie with Leonardo di Caprio and thought, “that’s enough for me.”

But the book, as it always is the case, has so much more than the film. 

It follows a millionaire named Jay Gatsby, who moves across the bay from his former lover, and seemingly the love of his life, Daisy Carraway.

He befriends her cousin, Nick Carraway, and invites him to a series of riotous parties to capture Daisy’s attention.

The story is most famous for portraying the “Roaring Twenties,” an era described in novels about life during the prohibition and when people sparked social, political, and cultural changes. 

The Great Gatsby is a short, action-packed novel with themes of love, betrayal, and persistence. It was a real page-turner and simple to follow.

If you’re looking for more books like The Great Gatsby, click here for more recommendations.

14. Tales of Sherlock Holmes – John A. Little

I love Sherlock Holmes stories and frequently read them to my students after class (if they are good). 

The Tales of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of short stories in which he and his companion Doctor Watson embarked on adventures to follow investigations and use the power of deduction to break the case.

The books are similar if you’ve ever watched the BBC TV Series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

I think it’s probably the most accurate to the book TV series I have seen since the episodes in this series were short stories in the book.

It’s a great classic for those who want a short story to read occasionally. You don’t have to read all the short stories in one go.

You can put this down and pick it up any time; it will always be enjoyable.

View it on:

Related Reading: The Best Short Story Collections

15. The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

So this one may not be for everyone. I loved this novel, but others might find it too profound, thought-provoking, and lacking in action.

It’s very simple; it follows an Old Man who is out fishing in his fishing boat. For 84 days, he has gone fishing and returned home with nothing. Then one day, he eventually catches a huge fish, pulling him and his boat for days.

Not wanting to let the catch of a lifetime go, he holds on and embarks on a voyage across the sea, being pulled by this huge catch.

During this time, the fisherman shares his internal monologue of what he thinks is happening. He talks about hardship, strength, and faith. ​​He realizes that you must suffer to win and that persistence pays off. 

It’s not a long read; I remember reading it all in one go, but it’s deeply profound and moving, so you may want to take breaks to digest what you’ve read.

16. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Of all the books on this list, I would say that Brave New World was the hardest book to read. Not because it was difficult but because it took me a long time to get into the action.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s set in a dystopian future where everyone is cloned and belongs to everyone – meaning there are no marriage or monogamous relationships.

It follows themes of the use of science for efficiency. Children are taught to think without emotion from a young age and are conditioned to follow the status quo.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a story if there wasn’t someone who conformed against this status quo.

If you found 1984 too challenging but like dystopian novels, perhaps try Brave New World instead.

17. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Alice in Wonderland is another popular classic for beginners since it was written for children. The storyline is totally bonkers, which is what makes it a classic!

It’s short and sweet and uses easy-to-follow language. I used Alice in Wonderland as a literature study for learners of English as a second language because it’s simple.

Add this classic to your list if you haven’t read it. It doesn’t take a long time to read. 

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easy classics to read for the first time

Final Word on Easy Classics for Beginners

So there you have it, those are the best classics to read for first-timers, and as you can see, there’s a lot of variety on this list.

Whether you’re looking for something short, sweet, or profound and memorable, there’s something for everyone on this list.

If you can think of another classic book you have read that was easy to digest for beginners, please let us know in the comments!

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About Louisa Smith

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the Founder, Editor, and Head Honcho of Epic Book Society. She was born and raised in the United Kingdom and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a degree in Journalism. Louisa began her writing career at the age of 7 when her poetry was published in an anthology of poems to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Upon graduating university, she spent several years working as a journalist writing about books before transitioning to become a Primary School Teacher. Louisa loves all genres of books, but her favorites are Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult Fiction. Read more Louisa's story here.

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