The books you read in your high school English class are not necessarily the best novels ever written. What makes for great literature, anyway? Some could argue that all a book needs in order to be considered "great" is leather-bound packaging and microscopic print, but the truth is, you really can't judge a book by its cover. Instead, you have to judge it by what's written inside. Is the story meaningful, honest, and moving? Does it transport you to another time or place? When it comes to ranking the best novels ever written, we had to look for all of these things... Did your favorite make the cut?
30. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.”
Goodreads ranking: 3.53/5
Once called “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” Moby-Dick didn’t become a success until the 20th century, way after author Herman Melville passed away. The story of Captain Ahab and his obsession with his white whale is the perfect example of a Great American Novel. Now, Melville may not have based the great creature in his allegorical novel on a real whale, but he was inspired by the traumatic real events endured by captain George Pollard in 1820. His whaling expedition aboard The Essex famously ended in starvation and cannibalism after their boat was rammed by a mighty sperm whale.
29. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
“There is no story that is not true.”
Goodreads ranking: 3.72/5
One of the greatest works to come from Africa, this novel deals with the effects of imperialism in 1890s-era Nigeria. Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel has become mainstream despite worldwide bias, and it’s all down to his captivating telling of an overlooked group. And if the title sounds a little familiar, then that may be because you read it somewhere else first. Achebe took inspiration from none other than W.B. Yeats — more specifically, Yeats' poem “The Second Coming.”
28. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is”
Goodreads ranking: 3.80/5
For a short novel, The Old Man and the Sea reinvigorated Hemingway’s career in the years before his death. The book, which follows an aging Cuban fisherman in pursuit of a giant marlin, was awarded the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction just a year after it was released. And it seems Hemingway himself knew he was onto something with this particular tale. The letter he sent to his manuscript editor said, "I know that it is the best I can write ever for all of my life, I think, and that it destroys good and able work by being placed alongside of it."
27. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.”
Goodreads ranking: 3.81/5
Salinger’s 1951 novel inspired a generation with its pessimistic, but eventually hopeful, outlook on life. Its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has become a symbol of teen angst and one of the most enduring figures in modern classic literature. Interestingly, come 1981, it was one of the United States' most censored books. That didn't stop it also being amongst the most commonly taught texts in American public schools, though.