Close-up of classic hard-bound books in blue and red with gold letters, topped by Penguin paperbacks.

So many classics to read! Where to start? Check out our reading lists for suggestions.

Read the Classics–But  What Are They?

If you want better knowledge of literary classics, what should you read? How do famous works that you might pick up fit chronologically with important historical dates and with each other?

Here is the beginning of my shortlist of authors and representative works that are often chosen as literary landmarks. They have at least one of several factors that makes them classic:

  • Best expression of important ideas of a particular era.
  • Great example of style and literary innovations from a particular era.
  • A great author’s best or most typical work.
  • Treasured by readers over many years.
  • An aesthetic marvel.

This list will take me a while to finish! I’ll begin with a list of American works, including important historical dates for each era. I will comment on some listings, but not on all. Over time, I will add to the list. Eventually I hope to cover English literature as well.


Links to Suggested Reading Lists and Significant Historical Dates

Pictured: An open book on a woman's lap. She has made a choice and is digging in to some great literature.

Make a choice and dig in to some great literature.


Early Colonial Era: 1600s

Federal Era: 1700s

American Romantic Era/Antebellum Era: 1800-1860s

Gilded Age: 1865-1914

American Modernist Literature: 1915-1945


Old English Literature: 450 A.D. – 1066

Middle Ages English Literature–Medieval: 1066-1485

English Renaissance Literature Part I: Tudor Era 1435-1603

English Renaissance Literature II: Jacobean-Puritan Era 1603-1660

Restoration and Eighteenth Century English Literature: 1660-1789

English Romantic and Regency Literature: 1789-1832

English Victorian Literature: 1832-1901

Check back later. More reading lists and timelines to come. . . .