There are plenty of reasons to dive into classic literature—maybe you’re hoping to add a bit of culture to your life, or you are looking to revisit the books you read in school. Or perhaps you have become curious about the books you were assigned to read in school but didn’t. But with so many classic books to choose from, it can be tough to know where to start. Especially considering that you don’t want to risk shelling out your hard-earned cash on a book that might bore you tears.
Thanks to the fact that so many classics are now in the public domain, there are actually a lot of great sites that offer several classic titles for free. Here’s a rundown on some of the best ones:
- Library of Congress: This site has a vast collection, and one cool feature is that you can actually flip through the pages of a virtual book that looks just like the real version.
- American Literature: Here you can see a short description of each book along with links to all the chapters. The text of each book is right there on your browser in very readable text (useful for copying and pasting when writing papers).
- Page by Page Books: Like American Literature, this site has a table of contents with links to each chapter. The browser text is also easy to read.
- Project Gutenberg: There are thousands of books on Project Gutenberg to choose from. They’re available on your browser and for you to download onto your Kindle or phone. One issue, though, is that tight spacing can sometimes make the browser versions tough to read.
- Internet Archive: Like the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive’s Open Library has virtual books for you to flip through. You also have the option to listen to each book.
- Google Books: Many classics that are in the public domain are available to read for free on Google Books. When you search for a book, just make sure to select the “Free Google eBooks” option at the top of the search results.
Even once you know about some sites to visit, I know the number of choices can be overwhelming (Project Gutenberg alone has over 60,000 books). To help you narrow things down a bit, here are some of my favorite classics that you can read for free online.
1) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
While this book was originally intended for children, I think a lot of adults out there still have a soft spot for the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. You can trace the roots of so many wonderful stories back to the tale of the girl who fell down the rabbit hole. No matter how old you are, this whimsical novel is worth reading—especially if it would be for the first time.
2) Dracula by Bram Stoker
Speaking of stories that trace their roots backward, pretty much every modern vampire that exists ties back to Dracula by Bram Stoker. The novel’s image of a dark and brooding vampire is one that has endured to this day. The novel’s heroine Mina Harker is a fascinating character who is both the pious, dutiful wife but also one of the most resourceful and intelligent characters in the book.
3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This classic is yet another work that would go on to shape the future of the horror genre. In many ways it’s a quieter story than the movies would have you believe. At one point in the novel you get the chance to see through the eyes of Frankenstein’s unnamed creature, and you begin to wonder who the real monster is.
4) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this is a story that can be enjoyed at any age. It tells the story of Mary, an orphan who seems hard and rude at first but is capable of great warmth and kindness. The novel also revolves around Mary’s cousin Colin, who has been trapped in his mansion as long as he’s been alive and needs Mary to rescue him and show him the beauty of the world outside.
5) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Since it was first published in 1968, Little Women has been adapted to film and television countless times. The most recent adaptation hit movie screens just 2 years ago (my personal favorite is the 1994 version with Winona Rider and Christian Bale). The fascinating March sisters and the relatable relationships between them has proven timeless.
6) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This Dickens novel tells the coming-of-age story of Pip, a poor boy who advances through society with the help of a mysterious benefactor. Of all the novels I read as an English major, this one was my favorite. The characters are absolutely intriguing—especially Miss Havisham with her ancient wedding dress.
7) Emma by Jane Austen
While Pride and Prejudice may be Austen’s most well-known novel, some might be surprised by how familiar they are with this one. That’s because Emma provided the basis for the much-loved teen film, Clueless. The fact that the plot of an 1815 novel was able to fit so seamlessly into a film made 180 years later shows how truly enduring and relevant it is.
8) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This was one of my favorite books growing up and I enjoyed it just as much when I reread it a few years ago. It tells the story of an imaginative orphan named Anne who finds her way into the hearts of all the residents of her new home. I also highly recommend the 1985 miniseries starring Megan Follows as Anne.
9) Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen by Hans Christian Andersen
It is absolutely fascinating to read the early versions of so many well-loved tales. Paging through this collection, you’ll find that Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid had a much, much rougher time of it than her Disney counterpart, and that “The Snow Queen”—while a beautiful story—is nothing like Frozen.
10) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I first read The Great Gatsby in high school. I was very busy with other assignments and extracurricular activities so I ended up having to read it in one night. Luckily I was so enthralled by Gatsby’s wild parties and the novel’s unlikable but compelling characters that I likely would have read it that fast anyway.
Author’s Bio: I am the author of a plethora of novels. I enjoy the word “plethora”. Follow my blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at: https://www.fictionate.me.