Whether you consider yourself a bookworm or not, the beauty of reading is that there’s a book for everyone. You can lose yourself in a fantasy novel, give yourself goosebumps with a thriller, or expand your knowledge with non-fiction.
Whether it’s a sunny morning or a rainy afternoon, curling up with a good book is a unique opportunity to step away from normal life and enjoy some ‘me-time’.
If you’re looking for some reading inspiration, check out these 27 books that should be on everyone’s reading bucket list. From old classics to modern masterpieces, there’s something for everyone here.
1. Atonement, by Ian McEwan
Step back in time to the summer of 1935 in Ian McEwan’s tragically romantic novel. Atonement tells the story of 13-year-old Briony, whose naive mistake goes on to define her existence – and destroy the lives of the people she cares about most.
Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the novel covers themes of remorse, love, loss, and the fragility of memory.
2. The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Arguably the most famous fantasy novel ever written, The Lord of the Rings is the first book in Tolkien’s epic three-book masterpiece.
The story follows four hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they leave their homes in the Shire and travel across Middle-earth to stop the Dark Lord Sauron from possessing the One Ring.
If you’ve seen the films but never read the books, you’ll be amazed at all the detail packed into these novels. This is a perfect choice if you want to escape to another world.
3. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
As the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (as well as being made into a Hollywood movie), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road certainly isn’t short of praise, but at its heart, is a devastatingly simple story.
Set amongst the ruins of post-apocalyptic America, The Road tells the story of a father and his young son as they walk through the ravaged country in search of the coast.
Dark, harrowing, and powerful, this book will stay with you for a long time.
4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
Regularly voted one of the best English-language novels of the past 100 years, The Catcher in the Rye was originally intended for adults but also became a favourite among teenagers due to its themes of angst and alienation (The New Yorker famously dubbed the book “The handbook of the adolescent heart”).
Salinger’s novel tells the story of 17-year-old Holden Caulfield as he grapples with growing up, loss, sex, depression, his identity, and understanding the events that shaped him.
5. Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
Considered one of the most influential books of the past century, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian masterpiece that imagines a world where government surveillance has reached a totalitarian state.
Follow Winston Smith as he secretly turns from a paid-up Party member to a rebel battling Big Brother and the Thought Police, fighting for freedom and truth.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a fascinating book that explores themes of propaganda, mass surveillance, politics, and manipulation.
6. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
Published in 2011, this best-selling book is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species. In Sapiens, Harari explains the history of humanity, from 70,000 years ago to the modern day.
Covering science, agriculture, industry, and information, this is a fascinating, thought-provoking account of how humans evolved to conquer the world. It leads us to ask questions like: who are we? How did we get here? And perhaps most importantly, where are we going?
Sapiens is a profound book that might change your perspective on the world.
7. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Written by 25-year-old Zadie Smith and published in 2000, White Teeth was one of the most talked about debut novels of modern times.
Telling the stories of two wartime friends, the book explores Britain’s relationship with immigrants and culture, the complexities of family life, and how we can never truly escape our past.
Uplifting, humorous, and moving, this is a must-read for fans of literary fiction.
8. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Considered a classic of modern American literature, To Kill A Mockingbird is just as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1960 – and the character of Atticus Finch remains just as iconic.
Set in the Deep South in the 1930s, the book deals with prejudice, violence, racism, class, and the corruption of the justice system. Yet, somehow, this coming-of-age novel is still packed with warmth and humour.
9. Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
As Virginia Woolf’s most famous novel, Mrs Dalloway is known for distorting traditional narrative techniques and using inner monologues to paint three-dimensional pictures of characters.
Set in the 1920s, the novel follows upper-class Mrs Dalloway as she prepares for a dinner party in London, and gradually weaves the thoughts, experiences, and memories of different characters together.
Mrs Dalloway is known for its powerful narrative – which uses a stream-of-consciousness style.
10. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
First published in 1966, In Cold Blood is the second-best-selling true crime book in history and a must-read for fans of true crime.
In extensive detail, In Cold Blood unpicks the 1959 quadruple murders of the Clutter family in a small farming community in Kansas.
Capote spent six years researching the crime and interviewing residents and investigators, and In Cold Blood tells the shockingly violent story with suspense, empathy, and eloquence.
11. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Though it was written more than 200 years ago, Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most-loved books in literature – and Austen’s wit and social insight are just as impactful today as in 1814.
This intelligent, ironic, and romantic novel tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, who, in spite of their preconceptions and individual flaws – not to mention social constraints – are drawn to one other.
But of course, the road to true love never runs smooth. Pride and Prejudice is also known for having one of the most famous opening lines in fiction.
12. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Set in the summer of 1956, Kazuo Ishiguro’s contemporary classic tells the story of Stevens, an ageing butler who reminisces about his time working at a stately home, Darlington Hall, in the 1920s and 1930s.
Winner of the 1989 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, this novel is the Nobel Prize-winning author’s most famous work. It depicts life in England between the wars in a beautiful, haunting, and evocative way.
The Remains of the Day was also made into a film in 1993 and nominated for eight Academy Awards.
13. How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the most famous self-help books ever published, and is regularly voted one of the most influential books in the world.
The advice given by Dale Carnegie has stood the test of time, and the book has been credited by millions of people as helping them become more confident, make friends more easily, win new clients and customers, and persuade people to follow their viewpoint.
A revised edition, with updated language and anecdotes, was published in 1981.
14. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Set in a dystopian near-future, in a totalitarian country that once was the USA, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a woman struggling to survive in a violently patriarchal society, where a woman’s function is solely to breed.
Written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in 1985, the novel explores themes of resistance, women’s rights, individuality, and independence.
Made into a TV series in 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale has won multiple awards and is considered one of the most important pieces of feminist fiction ever written.
15. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
With over 20 million copies sold, Gone Girl is one of the most successful crime thrillers of modern times – and for good reason.
This dark and disturbing novel tells the story of the toxic marriage of Nick and Amy, and what happens when Amy disappears in mysterious, violent circumstances.
The story is compulsively readable, takes the idea of the unreliable narrator to new grounds, and has one of the most shocking twists in modern fiction.
16. Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
Written in 1993 by English author Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong tells the story of a British soldier, Stephen Wraysford, as he fights on the front lines in France during the First World War, falls in love, and experiences the unspeakable horrors of war.
Switching between Stephen’s story and that of his granddaughter in the 1970s, Birdsong was written in part to highlight the horrors experienced by WWI veterans, and how trauma can forever shape a person.
Birdsong is an emotive and unforgettable novel.
17. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Written by British writer Reni Eddo-Lodge in 2017, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the best-selling book that sparked a national conversation, and in today’s charged climate, is more relevant and important than ever.
The book explores the link between gender, class, and race, and the issue of institutional racism in society.
Credited as one of the most important books in recent years, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a riveting and powerful deep-dive into race relations.
18. The Shining, by Stephen King
For most fans of horror fiction, Stephen King is the undisputed master, and it was The Shining that first established him as a leader in the genre.
Drawing from King’s own personal experiences, The Shining tells the chilling story of writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, who accepts a job as an off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in the Rocky Mountains.
After a winter storm cuts him off from the outside world, evil forces in the hotel begin to possess Jack, leaving his wife and young son in mortal danger. If you love the film, then the book is a must-read.
19. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Fans of historical fiction will love Wolf Hall, which tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell in Tudor England.
Set in the 1520s, when Henry VIII was on the throne, this novel is a captivating reimagining of historical and literary records, peeling back history, and exploring infamous characters to give an intimate, in-depth portrait of the person Cromwell was.
Wolf Hall won the 2009 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
20. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Originally a BBC radio programme, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first published in 1979 and quickly became a comedy sci-fi classic.
The book depicts the intergalactic adventures of Arthur Dent who, along with his friend Ford, journey through space while Earth is destroyed by aliens.
A funny and satirical cult classic, this book’s playful and presumptuous legacy lives on today.
21. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
Written in 1967 by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a story of seven generations of the Buendía family, set against a backdrop of 100 years of turbulent Latin American history.
Merging political reality with magic realism, fantasy, and plenty of humour, the story follows the family as they grapple with an ever-evolving society and their own moral compasses.
Translated into 46 languages and selling over 50 million copies, One Hundred Years of Solitude won the Nobel Prize and is considered one of the most significant works in world literature.
22. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Written by American author Ray Bradbury and published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a hauntingly prophetic dystopian novel. It’s often compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for how accurately it depicts western civilization’s enslavement by the media and conformity.
The story tells the tale of Guy Montag, a fireman tasked with burning books, which are banned and considered the root of all unhappiness and evil.
More than half a century after its release, Fahrenheit 451 packs just as great a punch as it did in the 1950s.
23. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Written by Canadian author Yann Martel, Life of Pi is a fantastical survival story that combines religious allegory, animal lore, philosophy, and plenty of adventure.
The novel follows a young Indian boy, Piscine “Pi” Patel, who, after a shipwreck, survives 227 days at sea in a lifeboat…alongside a Bengal tiger.
Engaging and utterly unique, Life of Pi raises questions about truth, reality, perception, fear, and faith.
24. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Though it’s short, The Old Man and the Sea is widely regarded as the best work of American author Ernest Hemingway – and it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
Set in Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea follows Santiago, an old fisherman, as he struggles to catch a giant marlin fish off the coast of Havana.
Moving, beautifully written, and timeless, the novella highlights the power of grit and willpower in a uniquely succinct way.
25. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
For people fascinated with food and where it came from, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a must-read.
Written by journalist Michael Pollan, who’s best known for his advice to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” this book delves deep into the secretive world of fast food and farms.
Pollan’s refreshing perspective aims to remove the smoke and mirrors and encourage people to think about the personal and global health implications of their food choices.
26. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is considered to be a masterpiece of English literature. But, when it was first published in 1847, it was criticised for its stark depiction of psychological and physical cruelty, as well as for challenging Victorian morals relating to women, religion, and class.
At its core though, Wuthering Heights is a wildly passionate story about the obsessive love between Cathy and Heathcliff.
Tackling themes of grief, revenge, and abuse, the novel is especially known for its descriptions of the lonely moors.
27. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
If you’re interested in science but find yourself put off by technical jargon and unnecessarily complex language, then A Short History of Nearly Everything is for you.
Told with Bryon’s customary humour, A Short History of Nearly Everything covers everything from the rise of civilisation to the Big Bang, explaining theories and facts in a way normal people, not just scientists, can understand.
If you think geology, physics, and chemistry are boring, then this is the book that’ll change your mind.
From classic romance novels to sweeping accounts of human history, we hope that there’s something to pique everyone’s interest here. For more reading ideas, why not visit the books and literature section of our website?
If you’re an avid reader, or looking to get stuck into some good books again, you might also want to consider getting involved in the Rest Less Book Club over on our community forum. Whether you’d love to have a chat with others about something you’ve just read or leave a raving review of one of your must-read favourite books – this is the place to do just that.
If you’re an avid reader, or looking to get stuck into some good books again, you might also want to consider getting involved in one of the book clubs over on Rest Less Events. They’re great places to meet other literature lovers and get introduced to writers you might never have tried.