11 Modern Classics Every Book Collection Needs

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Some books will be remembered for decades or centuries to come. But who’s the Jane Austen of today? Which novels that came out over the last few decades will have as much staying power as ? If you're looking to catch up on some modern titles that should stand the test of time, we've picked 11 from a range of genres, authors, and sensibilities.

1. The Secret History // Donna Tartt; $14

Alfred A. Knopf/Amazon

Every one of Donna Tartt’s books is a classic, but The Secret History is in a league of its own. Here, we go on a dark journey on a college campus in New England, where six Classics students break free of the usual rules that dictate how to live. And as we find out on page one, it all ends in murder. Published in 1992, this is a book that gets under your skin and draws you right in.

2. The Road // Cormac McCarthy; $9

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Amazon

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a haunting, heartbreaking, and poetic look at a post-apocalyptic world and a father and son who have to navigate through it. Along the way, we see a barren landscape peppered with humanity's worst—including thieves and cannibals—but we also get a glimpse of familial love that highlights humanity's best.

3. Small Island // Andrea Levy; $10


Gilbert Joseph is going to England and leaving his native Jamaica behind. It’s a few years after World War II, and he’s taking up the offer to live in the country that he helped as an RAF fighter. His wife waits to join him, but the life of a Black, Jamaican-born couple in London is not what she expects. Andrea Levy's best-selling novel from 2004 succeeds because of the lively characters that jump off the page and her authentic descriptions of post-war Jamaica and England that serve as the perfect backdrops to this poignant family drama.

4. American Gods // Neil Gaiman; $12

William Morrow Paperbacks/Amazon

American Gods is a richly woven story of fantasy and mythology, where Shadow, a recently released prisoner grappling with the death of his wife, finds himself on a road trip with a former god. During this journey across America, he discovers a world of old and new gods, and finds out there's a battle brewing between both sides. This 2001 novel is the perfect middle ground between Gaiman's Sandman comics of the '80s and '90s and his 2017 reimagining of the ancient gods in Norse Mythology.

5. The Handmaid’s Tale // Margaret Atwood; $8

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Amazon

Whether or not you’ve seen the TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale is essential reading for anyone who loves to enter a dystopia. Margaret Atwood shows us the patriarchal world of Gilead, where women are organized into roles and belong to men. Offred is a handmaid, and it's her job to produce children. But when that child arrives, Offred knows she won’t be its mother—as she says, she's seen as nothing more than a "two-legged womb." Although it was published in 1985, many of the themes are sadly more relevant now than ever.

6. The Shadow of the Wind // Carlos Ruiz Zafón; $22


We travel to 1945 Barcelona, where we find a library of lost books. Inside, a young boy takes a story from its shelves, The Shadow of the Wind, and it leads to him unraveling a mystery that changes the course of his life. Why do other people seem so interested in this mysterious book? Who was the man who wrote it? This literary thriller from 2001 has been an international success story ever since its translation, and is one you'll want to read more than once.

7. The Color Purple // Alice Walker; $15

Penguin Books/Amazon

Alice Walker's The Color Purple is already well established as one of the most impactful novels of the 20th century, but it's the truth behind the book that is just as fascinating. In the story, we witness a young woman named Celie endure unspeakable hardships at the hands of both an abusive father and, later, a husband. This dynamic, as horrific as it sounds on paper, has its roots in the relationship between Walker's own grandmother and grandfather, who was an abusive alcoholic who once chased Walker's grandmother through the fields near their home, shooting at her the entire time. Though he eventually grew to be "so kind, so giving," according to Walker, she felt compelled to write a novel about "what happened to them and why they were like that."

8. The Book Thief // Markus Zusak; $7

Knopf Books for Young Readers/Amazon

It’s not often you read a book narrated by death, but it’s one of the devices that makes this 2005 novel stand out. This story takes us to Germany during World War II, where a young girl named Liesel discovers the power of words. Her first act of rebellion is to steal books that are otherwise destined to be burned by the government. And as the horrors of the Nazi regime unfold and Liesel’s family conceals a Jewish man in their home, she decides to pen her own story. This powerful novel is already a staple on the modern classics shelf, not least because of how it sensitively deals with such a terrible time in history.

9. Noughts & Crosses // Malorie Blackman; $11

Simon & Schuster's Books for Young Readers/Amazon

This is a Romeo and Juliet story for the modern age. In this world, there are two distinct groups of people who do not mix—the privileged Crosses (who are dark-skinned) and the downtrodden Noughts (who are light-skinned). Sephy is a Cross, and Callum is a Nought. In spite of the odds and clashing family values, the two teenagers fall in love. This 2001 book might be written for young adults, but it’s quickly becoming an important work for readers of all ages.

10. The Kite Runner // Khaled Hosseini; $11

Riverhead Books/Amazon

This 2003 book takes us to Kabul, Afghanistan, where two boys, Amir and Hassan, fill their days with kite fighting. But after a disastrous event in their youth, their friendship lies in tatters. As Amir grows up, he’s forced to flee to America during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the pull of his homeland—and for his old friend—never quite goes away. The Kite Runner is a story about family relationships and atonement, with life lessons that anyone can relate to.

11. The Lowland // Jhumpa Lahiri; $15


This National Book Award finalist tracks the life story of two brothers from Calcutta: Udayan, the political revolutionary, and Subhash, who leaves his homeland to study in America. It details how political differences eventually drive them apart, and how one tragic day impacts the rest of Subhash's life. The novel is at once devastating and touching, with fully fleshed-out characters that evolve throughout this decades-long story. And while much of the drama that unfolds may make for gripping fiction, author Jhumpa Lahiri took plenty of inspiration from her life as a woman of Indian descent who grew up in Rhode Island, along with real-life historical events from her homeland.