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Where to start: the best classics for beginners

Want to start reading the classics but not sure where to start? In our guide to the best classics for beginners Harriet Sanders, Publisher of Macmillan Collectors Library and avid reader of the classics, shares six easy-to-read classic books you'll love.

Do you feel the urge to delve into the world of ‘classics’ but don’t know where to start?  And anyway, what is a ‘classic?’  For me, they’re great stories that have really stood the test of time and which are still read and enjoyed all over the world.  Don’t be put off by the fact that they were first published many years ago;  they’ve lasted because they’re still relevant to today, because they perfectly capture a particular moment in time or because they were mind-blowingly inventive.  

To get you going on your classics journey, here are a selection of accessible and easy-to-read classic novels.

Emma

by Jane Austen

Book cover for Emma

Yes, you could start with Pride & Prejudice but to my mind, Emma is an easier read and funnier. Emma is a wonderful comedy of manners; Emma Woodhouse overestimates her matchmaking skills which of course go horribly wrong – remember Clueless?  Well, the much-loved '90s rom-com was based on this classic Jane Austen novel. Emma learns – often painfully – that rather than trying to sort out other people’s lives, she has to fix her own.  

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte

Book cover for Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is such a memorable character; she may not be the most beautiful heroine, but she’s brave and strong, attributes she needs to survive a neglected and harsh childhood. When she takes the job as governess for the mysterious Mr Rochester of Thornfield Hall, the stage is set for one of the most affecting and enduring love stories of all time.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for The Great Gatsby

A captivating, epoch-defining story which is arguably the most famous novel in American literature, The Great Gatsby really is a must read. Set amongst the rich during the decadent and destructive Jazz Age, this is the captivating, shocking and ultimately tragic story of the fabulously wealthy and always mysterious Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan.  

Animal Farm

by George Orwell

Book cover for Animal Farm

On the surface, George Orwell’s masterpiece is a simple story about farm animals staging a revolt against a farmer and taking over the farmyard. No wonder that its original subtitle was A Fairy Story. But do not be fooled, this is no simple fairy story; rather it’s a brilliant satire on the corrupting effects of power and a warning about the grave danger of a totalitarianism. 

Frankenstein

by Mary Shelley

Book cover for Frankenstein

Here’s a great example of a book that really broke new ground and has had unquantifiable influence on story telling ever since it was first published. But most importantly it’s one of the most gripping, frightening, touching and extraordinary stories that you’ll ever read. Here is the battle between the monster and his creator, Victor Frankenstein – one in pursuit of the other to the extremes of humanity. 

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for Little Women

Time for some light relief, I think. I have to include Little Women because we love them so beautiful Meg, bookish Jo, musical Beth and artistic Amy all supported by their stoical and wise mother, Marmee. We follow them through hardship, romance, heartbreak and so much more.  A delicious book to curl up with and get lost in.