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Classic Fiction
20 Western Canon Books That Will Get You Stoked on Classic Fiction

20 Western Canon Books That Will Get You Stoked on Classic Fiction

20 Western Canon Books That Will Get You Stoked on Classic Fiction | Black & Barhe

20 Western Canon books that will get you stoked on classic fiction: Welcome to the realm of the extraordinary, the timeless, and the profound! Tales that have stood the test of time, narratives that have seeped into the contours of our civilization, and characters that have become metaphors in our daily lives – welcome to the world of the Western Canon and classic fiction.

Go beyond merely recognizing the names of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, and take a journey into the minds of these brilliant creators and the universally loved visions they penned. In this blog post, we will navigate through the engaging depths of 20 of the most iconic works of the Western Canon.

Why, you may ask, should you embark on this exploration? That is a fair question. Classic fiction tells a tale and paints a picture of the time, society, and values when it was written. It holds a mirror to humanity, reflecting our strengths, flaws, triumphs, and failures. By reading and understanding these beloved works, we gain a richer perspective of our shared past and perhaps even glean insights into our present and future.

So, if you're ready to experience a literary journey unlike any other, delve into the next sections, where we'll explore 20 exceptional Western Canon books that will get you stoked on classic fiction!

What is Classic Fiction

Classic fiction, as the name implies, typically refers to works of literature that have withstood the test of time and have been acknowledged for their enduring artistic merit. These texts, often penned by some of the most gifted authors in history, transcend the era they were written in, providing insights that remain relevant to readers across generations and geographies.

Classic literature encapsulates various genres—legendary epics, introspective novels, dramatic tragedies, and social commentaries. Each work, however, shares a common characteristic: they all offer valuable insights into the human condition, exploring themes such as love, loss, power, identity, morality, and the complexity of life.

The history and evolution of classic fiction is as fascinating as the stories themselves. The canon began taking shape with ancient epic poems like Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey. It evolved through the Middle Ages, grew dramatically during the Renaissance, and branched into various literary movements such as realism, romanticism, and modernism during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

These classic works have not only entertained readers but have also had a profound and pervasive influence on culture and society. They have shaped languages, driven social and political movements, inspired other art forms, and provided intellectual frameworks for understanding our world. In essence, classic fiction is indispensable: it mirrors the past, reflects the present, and shapes the future.

Importance and Benefits of Reading Classic Fiction

Reading classic fiction is more than a nod to the discerning reader's intellectual curiosity. It is a journey through time and place, allowing us insight into the cultures, norms, and socio-political landscapes that have shaped our world.

Enhances Critical Thinking

Classic literature often presents intricate plots, complex characters, and profound themes. Interpreting these elements requires thought and deliberation, which helps develop critical thinking skills. When you grapple with moral dilemmas in To Kill a Mockingbird or analyze the dystopian society in 1984, you're honing your capacity to think deeply and objectively.

Enriches Vocabulary

Classic fiction is a treasure chest of rich and diverse language. The words and phrases used, the metaphors created, and the sentence structures encountered can also greatly expand your command of the language and aid in communication skills.

Provides Cultural and Historical Insights

Classic literature offers a window into different eras and places. Reading Pride and Prejudice gives you insight into English society during the early 19th century, and The Great Gatsby portrays the American Dream's nuances during the Jazz Age.

Enhances Empathy

Classic literature's myriad characters and plotlines help us experience life from diverse perspectives. Understanding a character's motives and feelings cultivates an ability to empathize with individuals whose experiences differ significantly from ours.

Provides Enduring Life Lessons

Classic fiction, though set in different eras, still resonates with modern readers because it explores universal themes and its portrayal of the human condition. Whether it's the undeniable tragedy of unchecked ambition in Macbeth or the harmful effects of societal prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird, the lessons learned from these texts remain perpetually relevant.

20 Western Canon Books That Will Get You Stoked on Classic Fiction

Pride and Prejudice

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen is a timeless tale of love and manners that explores the socio-economic realities of early 19th-century British society. The witty dialogue, vivid characters, especially the riveting Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, and intricate plot make it a pillar of Western literature. It impeccably addresses class, marriage, and morality themes, making it one of the best books in the western canon.

Moby-Dick (Oxford World's Classics)

"Moby Dick" is an enduring American classic by Herman Melville. This gripping tale follows the relentless Captain Ahab on his obsessive quest to exact revenge on Moby Dick, the great white whale. Acclaimed for its complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the human condition, it is one of the seminal works of the Western canon. Its rich philosophical substratum grants it timeless relevance.

To Kill a Mockingbird

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a poignant narration about racial inequality in the Deep South through the innocent eyes of a young girl, Scout Finch. Harper Lee masterfully explores humanity's capacity for moral courage, compassion, and ignorance. The book exemplifies the western canon due to its profound social impact and timeless themes of race, class, and justice.


"1984" by George Orwell is a profound dystopian novel in a world gripped by totalitarianism. Through protagonist Winston Smith's struggle against the omnipresent Big Brother, Orwell explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and mind control. It's a cornerstone of the western literary canon due to its compelling narrative and stark warning against unchecked governmental power.


"Ulysses" by James Joyce is a groundbreaking novel that utilizes a variety of literary styles to explore themes of identity, life, and Irish society. It stands out in the western canon for its innovative stream-of-consciousness technique, dense allusions, and intricate internal monologues, exemplifying modernist literature at its best.

War and Peace (Vintage Classics)

"War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy is a grand epic that intertwines the lives of five Russian aristocratic families against the backdrop of Napoleon's invasion. It beautifully captures a web of human emotions and the societal upheaval of the era. As a monumental work of literature, it's revered for its deep exploration of love, life, death, and philosophy. It's part of the Western canon due to its masterful storytelling, character development, and profound insights into humanity.

The Great Gatsby

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a compelling classic capturing the opulence, idealism, and social turmoil of the Roaring Twenties. The story, centered around the enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby, explores themes of wealth, love, and the American Dream. It's considered a pinnacle of Western literature because of its exquisite prose, complex characters, and profound social commentary.

Wuthering Heights

"Wuthering Heights" is a timeless classic by Emily Brontë, presenting a profound exploration of intense passion, social class, and supernatural elements. It's considered a masterpiece in the Western canon for its complex structure, vividly depicted, troubled characters, and Brontë's poetic language. This gothic romance's examination of destructive love and vengeance has a universal appeal, rendering the novel globally significant.

Middlemarch (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

"Middlemarch," penned by George Eliot, is a richly detailed portrait of life in a provincial English town in the 19th century. With a talented cast of characters, the novel explores themes of love, ambition, and social change. It's considered one of the best books in the western canon because of Eliot's profound understanding of human nature, innovative narrative structure, and ability to capture the complexity of a changing society.

The Odyssey

By Homer
"The Odyssey" by Homer is an epic poem that is a pillar of Western literature. It follows the hero Odysseus on his ten-year journey home from the Trojan War. This tale of adventure, perseverance, and homecoming has been renowned for its storytelling, emotional depth, and exploration of themes such as loyalty, honor, and the human condition, making it a timeless classic.

Don Quixote

"Don Quixote" is a brilliant satirical novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It explores the adventures of a noble driven to madness by chivalric books who decides to become a knight-errant. With its profound exploration of reality and fiction, this work is considered a masterpiece and a foundational piece of western literature due to its timeless theme and innovative narrative style.

The Grapes of Wrath

"The Grapes of Wrath" is a compelling novel by John Steinbeck that follows the Joad family as they're displaced from their Oklahoma farm during the Great Depression. Rich in social and historical commentary, it reflects the harsh realities of the Dust Bowl era and migrant life. It's in the Western canon for its profound exploration of human resilience, injustice, and social unity. Its vivid realism and emotive narrative make it a timeless piece of American literature.

Swann's Way

"Swann's Way" by Marcel Proust is a seven-part novel exploring themes of memory, love, and art through an unnamed narrator's life. Proust's detailed and evocative writing alters perceptions of time, emphasizing memory's impact on human experience. Revered in the Western canon for its innovative narrative form and profound psychological insight, it's considered one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.

Crime and Punishment

"Crime and Punishment" is a psychological novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It narrates the moral dilemmas of a broke ex-student, Raskolnikov, who plans and commits a brutal murder. Dostoevsky masterfully delves into Raskolnikov's mental anguish and guilt, creating a profound commentary on morality, society, and the human condition. This work's timeless exploration of complex philosophical themes justifies its place in the Western canon.


"Catch-22" is a profound, satirical novel by Joseph Heller. Set in WWII, it follows Yossarian, a U.S. bomber pilot, and his attempts to maintain his sanity amidst the madness of war. The book's non-linear narrative and biting wit effectively criticize bureaucracy and the military mindset. It's a vital part of the western canon due to its unique storytelling approach and stark exploration of wartime absurdities.

Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)

"Jane Eyre" is a classic novel by Charlotte Bronte that explores themes of love, morality, and social class through the experiences of its titular character, a determined and independent orphan-turned-governess. It's a staple in the western canon for its early feminist themes and introspective exploration of a woman's internal life, providing rich insight into its era's social and emotional realities.

Les Misérables (Word Cloud Classics)

"Les Misérables" is a classic novel by Victor Hugo, unraveling the epic tale of redemption in the life of ex-convict Jean Valjean, set against the backdrop of 19th century France. Studded with social commentary, the book masterfully outlines class disparity, justice, and love. It is celebrated as one of the best in the western canon due to its profound exploration of human nature and societal issues.

On the Road: The Original Scroll (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

"On the Road" is a seminal novel by Jack Kerouac that recounts spontaneous road trips across mid-20th century America. Noted for its stream-of-consciousness writing style and exploration of post-war counter-culture, it gives insight into the Beat Generation. Its influence on the Western Canon lies in revolutionizing literary style and its encapsulation of the restless, rebellious spirit of the era.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Modern Classics)

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is a captivating piece of magical realism penned by Gabriel García Márquez. The book portrays the Buendía family's seven generations in the mythical town of Macondo. With rich, imaginative storytelling, it intertwines reality and fantasy, which makes it one of the most significant works in the Western canon. Its exploration of solitude, love, memory, and the passage of time make it a universal masterpiece shaped by profound humanistic truth.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is a pivotal work exploring adolescence, isolation, and loss of innocence, narrated by the iconoclastic teen, Holden Caulfield. J.D. Salinger masterfully deploys colloquial speech and raw honesty to create a timeless, universal story. Its innovative narrative style and profound themes have established it as a cornerstone of Western literature.

Exploring Different Themes in Classic Fiction

Classic fiction, in its depth and diversity, often delves into many themes, some of which have been a constant part of human society and the individual psyche through the ages. Let's discuss some of the most frequently occurring and most prominent themes in classic literature:

Love and Relationships

Perhaps the most universally explored and timeless theme in literature, love and its numerous aspects find a place in almost every classic work. For instance, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen delves into love, marriage, and the importance of personal happiness.

Power and Ambition

Power, ambition, and associated consequences provide substantial material for many a classic. William Shakespeare's Macbeth provides a deep dive into the dangerous paths that unchecked ambition can lead one down.

Social Class and Prejudice

Many classics explore society's structure and the often imperfect and prejudiced systems it upholds. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, examines wealth, social status, and the illusion of the American Dream.

War and Peace

The devastating impacts of war and the value of peace form an integral part of literature. A classic example would be All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which shows the horrors of war from a soldier's perspective.

Humankind and Nature

The relationship between humans and nature and the effects of human actions on the environment are other frequent elements. Moby Dick by Herman Melville deals with man's incessant pursuit of power over nature.

Understanding these themes takes readers beyond just reading the story; it transports them into the crux of the human experience, illuminating many societal issues, personal feelings, and historical events. This exploration fosters a better understanding of ourselves, our society, and the world at large.

How to Approach Reading Classic Literature

Classic literature, while rewarding, can sometimes appear daunting due to its typical intricacy, archaic language, or sheer volume. But untangling these timeless texts can become an enriching and enjoyable process with the right approach. Here are some helpful tips:

Read with an Open Mind

Remember that classic literature often reflects the time it was written in. Maintain an open mind while reading and try to understand the narrative's context and circumstances.

Use Guides and Summaries

Don't hesitate to use companion guides or chapter summaries for challenging books. They can provide clarity, analysis, and historical context to enhance your understanding of the work.

Start with Adaptations

If you're new to classic literature, consider watching a film or theatre adaptation of the book first. This can give you a general understanding of the story and characters, making the actual text easier to navigate.

Take your Time

Classics are not meant to be rushed through. Take your time and soak in the language, the character development, and the vivid imagery.

Reflect and Discuss

After finishing a book, take some time to reflect on what you read. If possible, discuss the book with others. This can provide new perspectives and enhance your understanding of the themes presented.

Create a Conducive Reading Environment

Ensure you have a quiet and comfortable place to read, free from distractions. A good reading environment can greatly enhance your reading experience.

Approaching classic literature needn't be daunting or problematic; opening these time-honored texts should be seen as embarking on an adventure that traverses time periods, continents, cultures, ideas, and the boundless landscape of human emotion.

In Summary

Stepping into the world of classic fiction feels like opening a captivating anthology of humanity's shared past, collective understanding, and expansive imaginations. The 20 distinguished works mentioned in this blog are the tip of the iceberg. The journey into classic literature is an endless exploration; every book brings a new perspective and an enriching experience.

The beauty of these texts lies in their fluidity and timelessness. They speak to readers across generations and geographies, transcending the boundaries of time and culture. The narratives they unfold, the characters they etch, and the thoughts they provoke enrich the intellect and deepen the understanding of the human condition.

So, as you turn the pages of 'Moby Dick' or traverse through the society of 'Pride and Prejudice', remember that you're participating in a dialogue that extends through centuries, one that has engaged the minds, hearts, and spirits of countless readers before you.

Embrace this journey with an open mind and spirit. Find joy in the words of these eminent authors. Discover, connect, reflect, and, most importantly, enjoy the art of classic fiction.

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