image of Lolita, The Secret History and The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

A short, snappy classic with an unforgettable voice, The Catcher in the Rye is a quick one to add to your 'already read' pile. You'll start off mildly amused, and then probably mildly irritated by the unique Holden Caulfield - until everything comes together and you fall in love with his vulnerability and profound thoughts on the world. It's such a readable, relateable modern classic, you'll fly through it in no time - but Holden, as a character, will remain with you for a very long time to come.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

If you only want to try one Russian classic, we'd urge you to pick Anna Karenina. It's a story about Anna and her affair with the dashing Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, a huge scandal that sees them fleeing to Italy in search of happiness. But the pull of Russia is strong, and once they're home, Anna finds she is shunned by society and losing control, slipping further into a downward spiral of jealousy and guilt. It's been called by many as the greatest novel ever written - plus it featured on Ophrah's book club - and for those reasons alone, it's a classic you won't regret reading.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

This isn't exactly a classic you should read if you're in need of a pick-me-up - it's full of sorrow and tragedy and is all the more powerful for it. But as stories go, it's one of the best, and you'll love innocent, pure-of-heart Tess like no other heroine. A beautiful maiden who is taken advantage of, and quite frankly put through the mill, Tess's tale is a strangely timely story about the power of men, the injustice of the world, and the suffering women continue to go through. Set in sprawling countryside and with a love story at its heart, it's one you'll completely lose yourself in.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Bear with us whilst we describe the plot of Lolita: it's about thirty-something-year-old Humbert, and his obsession with twelve-year-old Dolores (whom he nicknames Lolita). The book begins after Humbert has been arrested, because their sexual relationship has been discovered. Many people would rather steer clear of this one for obvious reasons - but it's an important story, beautifully written, and a subtle, impressive study of an abusive relationship, and the power a writer has to make us empathise with a monster. Cocktail party conversation, for sure.

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Now's as good a time as ever to delve into this Russian epic! We suggest leaving it on your bedside table, and having something lighter on the go at the same time, if it helps you progress. Following five aristocratic families, it covers the French invasion of Russia set against the family dramas, quibbles and heartbreak that weaves between the characters. Full of tension and incredible character development, you'll certainly go on a journey with these families - and let's face it, be able to impress people at parties when you tell them you've actually read War & Peace.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This is a book that'll hypnotise you from start to finish. It follows the story of spirited and intelligent Dorothea, who has made a mistake and married pompous Edward, who wants her to be his secretary, instead of allowing her to get involved in his work. Spell-binding, feminist and about the complications of our true wants and desires, it's the perfect introduction to the work of George Eliiot (note - her real name was Mary Anne Evans).

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

So much fuss was made about Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, but everyone you speak to says her debut, The Secret History, is a modern classic in its own right - and we couldn't agree more. Stripped to its bare bones, it's a murder mystery, but the mystery isn't WHO did it - it's why. It follows a group of eccentric, intelligent characters studying at college in the US, and what leads them to killing one of their classmates. It's dark and smart and delicious - let it take you under and pull you along for the ride.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

This is the pub quiz question we all know and love - which controversial book was Penguin charged under the Obsecene Publications Act for publishing in1960? It was of course Lady Chatterley's Lover (you'll be pleased to know Penguin was acquitted, marking a turning point in British censorship laws). It tells the story of Constance who is driven to a passionate affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, and allows her to realise her sexual desires for the first time in her life. Raw and honest, we won't lie, it's a raunchy one, and might get you a little hot under the collar...

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is a delicious gothic novel about an unnamed young woman who has married a wealthy widower. As time goes on, she discovers that the man she married - and, indeed, his house - are haunted by his dead first wife, whom the novel is named after. It's a psycholgical thriller that'll get your heart pumping, full of sinister scenes where dreams become nightmares, and it's a book you'll never, ever forget.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Roald Dahl's Matilda loves this book, and that's good enough for us! Moby Dick is told through the eyes of Ishmael, a sailor on board a ship whose captain wants to find and kill a giant white sperm whale. Who bit off the captain's knee, naturally. It's a classic revenge story with one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature. It's epic, it's sprawling, and at times it's a slightly hard one to muddle your way through - but all the more rewarding for it when you reach the end.

Pick any 5 of the collectable editions from the Penguin English Library for just £25 here.

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