10 Best English Literature Books to Read in 2023
Literature possesses an extraordinary ability to shape our perceptions of the world and captivate us with timeless stories that transcend generations. The realm of English literature, with its treasure trove of classics and contemporary masterpieces, beckons to be explored by those seeking inspiration and a deeper understanding of the written word. If you possess a passion for delving into the depths of literary brilliance, consider Oxford Summer School. Embark on a transformative journey through our English literature summer school, where you will have the opportunity to explore a curated selection of classic books that have made a significant impact on the literary landscape.
Please note that the following list of books is recommended reading to broaden your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of English literature. While some of these books may be included in the Oxford Summer School curriculum, the specific content of the summer school can vary. If you wish to study these subjects with us, you can apply to our English literature summer school.
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1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
- Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has long been considered a classic novel to read and often ranks among the top pieces of fiction of all time.
- Discussion: What themes and symbols in "The Great Gatsby" resonate with you in today's world?
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
- "Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes."
- Set in London in the late 19th Century, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an important examination of class, perspective, and the purpose of art – which was a noticeable talking point for society at the time.
- Discussion: How does the theme of art and its consequences relate to modern society's obsession with image and appearance?
3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
- "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."
- It would be impossible not to include Wuthering Heights on a list of must-read books for English Literature students. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have already studied or at least heard of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as it’s a popular text selected for those studying English Literature at GCSE and A-Level.
- Discussion: How do the themes of love and revenge in "Wuthering Heights" resonate with contemporary society?
4. 1984, by George Orwell
- "Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it."
- No matter who you ask, 1984 will always rank as one of the best books for English Literature students to read during their studies. Exploring themes of totalitarianism, dictatorship, and mass media control, it offers plenty of interesting themes for discussion and debate. Published in 1949, this dystopian novel follows the life of Winston Smith – a low-ranking member of ‘the Party,’ a new societal group overlooked by the ruler ‘Big Brother.’
- Discussion: How do the themes of surveillance and control in "1984" relate to contemporary issues of privacy and freedom?
5. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
- "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."
- As one of the greatest coming-of-age stories ever told, Charles D Great Expectations had to be the one novel of his included on our list of classic books to read, thanks to its wit, carefully crafted language, and unique tales.
- Discussion: How does Pip's journey of self-discovery in "Great Expectations" mirror the challenges young people face in finding their identity today?
6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
- "Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything."
- The Kite Runner is one of the newest on our list of best books for English Literature students, but it’s still considered one of the greatest classic novels.
- Discussion: How does "The Kite Runner" shed light on the impact of cultural and political upheaval on individuals and communities, both in the past and present?
7. Emma, by Jane Austen
- "Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be."
- For those who have never read a Jane Austen novel before, Emma is the perfect start – a funny, romantic, and easy-to-read novel. Set in the early 19th Century, the novel centres on Emma Woodhouse, a precocious young woman whose misplaced confidence in her ability to matchmake others leads to several romantic misadventures of her own.
- Discussion: In what ways do the social dynamics and matchmaking endeavours in "Emma" still resonate with modern relationships and societal expectations?
8. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
- "The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time."
- In particular, his collection of books, The Lord of the Rings, is his best-known collection of work. Not read the series? Then you must have almost certainly seen or at least heard about the epic three-part movie adaptation of the original books written by Tolkien. However, as great as movies are, they’re often never as well-received as the original book.
- Discussion: How does Tolkien's world-building in "The Lord of the Rings" inspire aspiring writers and creators today?
9. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
- Set in the 1930s in the small and sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by Scout Finch, a six-year-old tomboy who lives with her ten-year-old brother, Jem, her father Atticus – who is a lawyer in the local community.
- Discussion: How does the exploration of empathy and understanding in "To Kill a Mockingbird" relate to the contemporary issues of prejudice and social justice?
10. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
- "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though."
- This coming-of-age tale is a classic book to read, and one which has been featured on many UK GCSE and A-Level syllabi. Written by J.D. Salinger in 1950, the novel – which is set in the same decade follows the life of Holden Caulfield, who we don’t learn much about other than that he is undergoing some mental health treatment in a hospital, which we are quickly shied away from as he recounts a previous tale
- Discussion: How does Holden's journey of self-discovery in "The Catcher in the Rye" resonate with the challenges faced by adolescents in the modern world?
Oxford Summer School invites you to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of English literature. In this blog post, we present a meticulously curated list of 10 classic books that will ignite your imagination and deepen your understanding of the written word. From F. Scott Fitzgerald's timeless masterpiece, "The Great Gatsby," to J. R. R. Tolkien's epic "The Lord of the Rings," these literary works will transport you to different eras and immerse you in diverse themes. Through our English literature summer school, you will have the opportunity to analyse and discuss these influential texts, gaining valuable insights into the power of storytelling. Join us on this literary odyssey and embark on a transformative journey that will shape your appreciation for the written word. Who knows, you might just discover a newfound passion for English literature and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Apply now to study English Literature at Oxford Summer Courses and elevate your education to new heights. Join a community of motivated learners from around the world and embark on a transformative experience. Apply here.
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Ignite your passion for English literature at Oxford Summer Courses. Immerse yourself in classic books like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Lord of the Rings" to deepen your understanding of storytelling.