A “classic” is a book that stands the test of time, bringing something meaningful into the lives of more than one generation of people. But not all classics are equal; some are remembered a little less than others. Here are 20 overlooked classics, many of them written by marginalized people, that deserve your attention:
1. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
This courtly drama, written about one thousand years ago by Japanese writer and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu, is an important stepping stone in literary history: it’s often considered the world’s first novel!
2. The Táin translated by Ciaran Carson
3. The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe
Though her account of middle-class life in the middle ages is often overlooked, Margery Kempe, plagued by visions of angels and demons, has to be the most interesting woman you’ve never heard of. This book is considered by some scholars to be the first autobiography written in English.
4. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
Arabella’s passionate love for romantic literature makes it hard for her to separate reality from fiction and gets her into trouble in this comical parody of Don Quixote.
5. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano
In his autobiography, Olaudah Equiano recounts the story of his kidnapping from Africa and his life as a slave until he was able to purchase his own freedom. It’s a vital reading for those interested in American history and civil rights.
6. The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster
This unique novel, written as a collection of letters and documents, weaves the fictional story of the death of a Connecticut socialite while exposing social injustice toward women in late 18th-century America.
7. Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern
Ruth Hall is Sara Payson Willis’ lightly fictionalized account of her own life, and a fascinating look into the domestic and professional life of a 19th-century newspaper columnist.
8. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
This is Harriet Jacobs’ own account of her struggles as a black female slave who eventually seized her freedom by fleeing with her children, while exploring interweaving racial and gender injustices in pre-emancipation America.
9. Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson’s much-overlooked story about his travels in the French Cévennes mountain range with a donkey is a must-read for fans of outdoor literature.
10. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (Scotland, 1883)
This Victorian drama centers around the clash between a family matriarch and her headstrong relative, complete with a love triangle. A must-read for romantics and lover of juicy Victorian dramas by an overlooked master novelist.
11. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
This funny and surprisingly touching fish-out-of-water story is often overlooked in favor of Twain’s other works, but it’s certainly worth checking out.
12. I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane
Rebellious, passionately earnest, and shocking in 1902, I Await the Devil’s Coming is the “confessional diary” of an openly bisexual, devil-worshipping 19-year-old girl. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of early feminist literature.
13. Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
This Japanese classic explores the tumultuous transition of post-war Japan from the Meiji era to modern times, with themes like the changing roles of women and the meaning of a collective identity.
14. Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
American poet Gertrude Stein pushes the boundaries of literature with this avant-garde collection of prose poems inspired by modern art.
15. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore
The Home and the World is an important historical novel about the resistance of British-occupied India struggling to preserve its culture, reflecting the author’s own internal struggle as he is pulled between Indian culture and Western ideals.
16. Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
This fictional memoir explores the unstable mind of its neurotic, unreliable narrator, Zeno Cosini, who swears it’s full of lies. If you love the modern stylings of Joyce, Woolf, or Kafka, you should add this to your TBR.
17. Home to Harlem by Claude McKay
Home to Harlem is Claude McKay’s bestselling, award-winning novel, exploring Harlem’s collective African American culture and identity through the neighborhood’s vibrant nightlife.
18. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
In this memoir, Vera Brittain recounts her experiences in Britain in the throes of World War I and reveals how the war affected British, middle-class women. Though not incredibly well-known, this war memoir was adapted into a highly acclaimed 2014 film.
19. Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig
Beware of Pity is a story of love and deceit that ends in tragedy and explores the cost of wrongheaded pity. This classic novel eventually became one of Wes Anderson’s biggest inspirations for the film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
20. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle is a heartfelt coming-of-age story written as the diary of a witty teenage girl living with her eccentric family in the ruins of a castle; a great read for teenagers and adults alike.
If you’re looking for something to add to your TBR, why not give an overlooked classic some love?
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h/t Book Riot