Top 9 Alternative Classics To Read This Summer

Whether you’re going on holiday, or you’re staying at home and are looking for something to read over breakfast, I’ve got you covered. In this article, I will suggest and review nine of my favourite classics I think you should read this summer.

As an English Literature student, I feel like I haven’t read as many books (or as many classics) as I should. The Imposter Syndrome often hits me hard. Summer is undoubtedly the best time to catch up on all your reading and I have been using this time to read a wide variety of books. I would like to share some of them with you. 

Image Source: Unsplash
Image Source: Unsplash

These books are known as modern literary classics. I consider them to be somewhat alternative to the usual Jane Eyre or Moby Dick because of their distinct styles and unusual plots, which makes them perfect for your summer reading list.

Here are the top ten alternative classics you should read this summer:

1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has been simultaneously critically acclaimed and critiqued. First publishing in 1938, the story follows a young woman as she struggles to live up to the ghost of her husband’s deceased wife – Rebecca. This is a classic example of popular gothic romances. 

Although the plot is a little bit dark, du Maurier’s humble writing allows the reading to flow very easily. Rebecca has, in fact, been criticized because of the simplicity of the language used and the banality of the plot, which is compared to Jane Eyre itself. 

Admittedly the plot is quite modest and, perhaps to a modern reader, some of the main character’s motives can appear to be backward as well as frustrating. However, the book is never boring as it is full of plot twists and cliff-hangers which will always leave you wanting more.

Ironically, I think it is actually the unpretentiousness of du Maurier’s writing which makes this book so special and perfect for your summer reading list. Her down-to-earth writing makes it very easy to catch up with a must-read classic without going insane checking the dictionary every two words or trying to keep your eyes open through unnecessarily long descriptions - as is often the case with iconic classics.

Also by Daphne du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

2. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is an absolute masterpiece and there is no other way to describe it. Originally published in 1972, it is a travelogue to places that don’t exist. The book explores and, I think, pushes the boundaries of imagination through the descriptions of 55 cities by explorer Marco Polo to emperor Kublai Khan. 

Focusing on tropes of memory and place, we follow the narrator’s voyages through mesmerizing depictions of various unbelievable places. Each of the cities is somewhat connected to topics such as death, time, culture, and language which make up the human experience.

Reading this book was an incredible experience as I felt transported to these unreachable places with the power of my mind’s eye. I could feel my imagination being pushed and challenged as I was reading. The writing is impeccably immersive, and it made me a little bit sad that I could not actually visit these places. 

Invisible Cities is a perfect summer read if you’re looking to travel and can’t because of current COVID-19 restrictions.

Also by Italo Calvino: Italian Folk Tales

3. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

I’m only halfway through this book and I can already see its value as a literary classic of the twentieth century. The Alchemist is a novel by Brazilian author Paolo Coelho, first published in 1988. It has since become a widely translated internationally bestselling novel and I can absolutely see why.

The story follows a young shepherd boy in his journey to the Egyptian pyramids, encouraged by recurring dreams of finding a treasure there. The novel is essentially a metaphor for the readers to decipher and to learn from.

Coelho’s writing is also interesting because of its simplicity and brevity: it doesn’t try to hide any truths from its readers, and it doesn’t divulge into unnecessary, prolonged prose. It gets straight to the point and inside the reader’s heart. 

While the main theme of the book is about finding one’s destiny, I believe that the trope of traveling and moving away from your comfort zone is also very significant. Some of the thoughts expressed throughout the book are easy to identify and empathize with: for example, the fear of following one’s dreams because of the risks that sometimes involves. 

Overall, the book evokes a certain self-reflectiveness which – according to The New York Times – makes The Alchemist “more self-help than literature.” It is the perfect balance of light and thought-provoking reading, suited to summer’s meditative mood.

Also by Paolo Coelho: The Pilgrimage

4. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is absolutely the best book I've read in the past couple of years. Set in 1950s Naples, My Brilliant Friend is the first out of four books that follows the lives of best friends Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo as they grow up and end up leading two different lives despite their similar "brilliant" natures.

I don't know whether it's because of its setting's familiarity (as I am originally from Naples) or because of Ferrante's attractive storytelling, but I had to force myself not to read this book all in one sitting. All of the storylines this series follows are captivating. Not to mention the way that some of the socio-political conditions that surround the characters are explored.

My Brilliant Friend has also been made into a critically-acclaimed HBO series, which I can guarantee is just as immersive as the actual book.

Also by Elena Ferrante: The Lying Life of Adults

5. The Translator by Leila Aboulela

The Translator by Leila Aboulela

I had to read this book as part of a university course and it was a very pleasant surprise. I'm not sure I would have read it by myself if I had to choose. But I actually found myself really engrossed in the story exactly because of how far it is from my own background and reading preferences.

The plot is based around a recently widowed Muslim woman living in grey and dull Aberdeen, Scotland - such a contrast from her hometown in Sudan. As readers, we see her life slowly taking back color as she falls in love with a Scottish Islamic scholar Rae. 

Similar to the contrast between the life she leads in Scotland versus the one she led in Sudan, the relationship between Rae and Sammar (the protagonist) is very conflictual. As we follow Sammar on her journey, she navigates how to stay true to herself and her faith while at the same time giving "faithless" Rae a chance: 

An exquisitely crafted meditation on love, both human and divine.

Also by Leila Aboulela: Minaret

6. Desire: Vintage Minis by Haruki Murakami

Desire: Vintage Minis by Haruki Murakami

Desire is a series of short stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami around the theme of love, sex, and - of course - desire. Murakami's writing is praised and recognized for his own particular take on the genre of magical realism.

The five stories collected in this Vintage Minis edition have been selected from other short stories collections by Murakami. As stated on the book's blurb - these stories,

... unlock the many-tongued language of desire, whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.

I highly recommend this as an alternative classic because of its ability to give you a taster of what Murakami is all about: a delicate enigma. After reading this book, I can't wait to read more of Murakami's work and I'm sure you'll also feel the same.

Also by Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood

7. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Admittedly, I have yet to read Kawaguchi's Before the Coffee Gets Cold, but lately - whenever I walk into a book shop - it keeps catching my eye. My flatmate, who has read it, also speaks very highly of this book.

The story follows four characters, who visit a coffee shop where time traveling is possible. The book explores the timeless question of: 'What would you change if you could travel back in time?' 

However, there are some conditions to follow in order for the visitors to go back and amend their past. Most importantly, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold...

By the sound of it, this book has the potential to become a (pardon me) timeless classic. It is certainly a very intriguing idea, despite its banality, and this book is definitely on my summer to-read list. 

Also by Toshikazu Kawaguchi: Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café

8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Another book for my summer to-read list. Although I've not read this yet, I already know that it will be heart-wrenching and that I will love it. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns follow the story of three generations as they try to live their lives, build families, and find happiness during three decades of Afghan history - from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding.

In a world where people tend to make assumptions about people and places based on the news, preconceived notions, prejudice, etc., this book needs to be read.  - goodreads

Also by Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner 

9. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

This book is somewhat similar to My Brilliant Friend in the sense that it follows the story of a friendship between two Canadian girls through adulthood and how life can lead you on different paths, despite having the same origins.

However, as readers, we quickly become aware of how toxic the friendship between Elaine Risley and Cordelia is compared to that between Elena and Lila in My Brilliant Friend.

This book is a comment on how the events and people in your childhood deeply shape how you enter and live in the grown-up world. I believe it is a must-read for all ages: Whether you're just entering your teenage years, adulthood, or reflecting back on your life. 

Also by Margaret Atwood: Alias Grace

English Literature and Theatre Studies student at the University of Glasgow. Italian.

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