12 Vintage Novels That Are Still Worth Reading Today
I won't lie, I used to be bored to death by classic books. The summer before my senior year of high school I was cruelly forced to slog through E.M. Forster's A Room With a View by my A.P. English teacher, and I felt like I was trudging through the story forever. Now I can't seem to really get into that sort of story unless there's some sort of magic or zombies in it — but that doesn't necessarily mean that I dislike classic and vintage novels entirely.
Popular fiction wasn't born in a vacuum; all of that danger and excitement didn't just pop up after World War II ended and change the world forever. Old and even ancient people not only had dirty minds sometimes, but they also knew how to tell an incredible tale. It's basically the reason why books still exist... if they were all boring, would we even still be reading them? To prove my point I've compiled a list of 12 vintage novels that are definitely still worth reading, and that hold up across the test of time. If you love mysteries, swashbuckling adventure, and lovely romance — all published decades and even centuries ago — you've come to the right place.
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Otherwise known as "the book I had to read in high school that Baz Luhrman made a movie about," this book is actually pretty great. Our narrator is Nick, and he guides us through the Jazz Age which, all told, was a really fascinating time. It was Lucifer before the fall, a period of parties, gin, and opulence that would eventually come crashing down with the stock market. It's a tale of love and obsession and disillusionment, and definitely is worth reading with new eyes.
2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
It's hard to remember that this book was published so many years ago due to the epic trilogy based on this relatively short book having only recently come out, but let's not forget that The Hobbit is pretty cool. In a time where the fantasy genre was all entirely "high" fantasy, full of brave heroes rescuing maidens from towers, Tolkien dared to write a character that was perfectly content to opt out of the adventure all together. Sure, it didn't really work out, but Bilbo Baggins was pretty great, and this little tale originally written for Tolkien's children launched one of the best high fantasy epics of all time.
3. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmushka Orczy
He's mysterious, he's cunning, and he recklessly defies the French revolutionaries by rescuing hundreds of men, women, and children from the guillotine. He's only calling card is the small red flower that he leaves behind: a scarlet pimpernel. He's a mysterious figure, but he's captured the heart of the witty Marguerite St. Just, who happens to be married to the rather boring Sir Percey Blakeney. Now this daring spy needs to stay one step ahead of a detective bent on discovering who he is before it's too late. One part romance novel, one part swashbuckling adventure, this book has it all, and to make matters better, it's part of a trilogy.
4. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes. John Watson. Giant dog. Need I say more? This Victorian mystery has been adapted many times, but nothing beats how awesome the original work is. The story centers on Holmes and Watson as they try to crack the mystery of a giant supernatural hound who is plaguing the Baskervilles family. It's a little dated (as all of the Sherlock Holmes stories are) but it's still an incredible read that deserves to be experienced.
5. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Originally published in 1390, this is definitely one of the most vintage books on this list. While the language is dated (and has to be translated from Old English to a more modern form of English) the storytelling convention is still remarkable. The Canterbury Tales centers on a group of travelling pilgrims (The Knight, the Miller, the Friar, the Squire, the Prioress, the Wife of Bath, and more) telling tales during their journey. While only a handful of the tales survive, they are all relatively fascinating not only because they are windows into a time period long past, but also had some wicked sex and violence in it.
6. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
Literally written during an outbreak of The Black Death in 1348, The Decameron weaves together more than a hundred tales told in a country villa outside of Florence, by 10 young noble men and women who had fled there to escape the deadly plague. This group, Pampinea, Fiammetta, Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile, Elissa, Panfilo, Filostrato and Dioneo, all vow to tell one story per day to pass the time, and the days fly by as they tell tales love, fortune, luck, and humor. This is another book that is fascinating thanks to the fact that it was written by a contemporary of the time, showing a terrific snapshot of how life was in the 14th century.
7. The Blood of the Vampire by Florence Marryat
Published in the same year as Dracula (1897), The Blood of the Vampire centers on Miss Harriet Brandt, the daughter of a mad scientist and a voodoo priestess who has left her home in Jamaica and travels to Europe for the first time. She quickly gains acceptance in society, but something seems wrong: people around her seem to sicken and die with alarming regularity, and it's quickly revealed that she may be a psychic vampire. Harriet is fascinating in that she was a mixed race character written during the 1890s and actually didn't do it too terribly. For those who love horror but didn't like the epistolary nature of Dracula, this one is well worth a look.
8. Paradise Lost by John Milton
It's a tale as old as time: the story of how Lucifer fell from Heaven and became ruler of Hell, with an added bonus of casting Adam and Eve out of Paradise after they eat the apple of knowledge. For most people, Paradise Lost may seem like one incredibly long and boring poem, but look at it this way: it's literally bible fanfiction. Imagine taking a revile character from the source material and turning him into a sexy bad boy who would rather "rule in hell than serve in heaven," there are battles, there's sex, and it was all written in 1667.
9. Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre
First published in 1806, Zofloya was set in the last days of the 15th century in Venice, centering on the sordid life of Victoria di Lordani. Staring off as a spoiled heiress, she soon falls into abuse, captivity, and soon murder. All of this is under the watchful eye of Satan. This is fabulous melodrama at its finest, written during a time when the concept was still being refined.
10. The Odyssey by Homer
Published in the 8th century B.C., The Odyssey is an epic poem that still basically has everything: monsters, beautiful sorceresses, so much death, and true love. For those who don't know, The Odyssey centers on Odysseus, a veteran of the Trojan War on his way back home to his faithful wife Penelope. Things grow complicated after he angers Poseidon, the god of the seas, and his only way home is by boat — not the best of ideas. This tale has been adapted many ways, but it's always great to read the source material.
11. Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory
First published in 1485, these original tales of King Arthur have it all. There are knights, quests, the holy grail, forbidden love, incest, magical ladies who live in lakes and pass out swords. It's basically Game of Thrones centuries before George R. R. Martin was born. Who needs Melisandre when you have the incredible Morgan Le Fey? King Robert has nothing on King Arthur, who is still partially believed to not be dead but sleeping, waiting for a time when he will rise again and become king of England once more. The language is a little rough, but it's worth puzzling out.
12. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Bad guys always turn out to be the devil in older stories, and that's no different in Faust. It centers on a bored scholar who makes a deal with the devil. He will do anything that Faust wants in this life in the hopes that it will result in a moment so glorious that he will wish it to stay forever. If the scholar wishes it to stay, his soul is forfeit and he must serve Mephistopheles after he dies. Bitter with his life, Faust agrees.