Classical literature sits on a pedestal for a valid reason: it offers its readers a unique opportunity to not only go on an adventure across pages, but also to learn, reflect, and grow. These literary masterpieces provide valuable lessons and diverse perspectives that can lead us to personal growth and transformation. The extensive collection of classics is vast and can feel overwhelming or even discouraging to tackle, especially with those dictionary-sized monsters. So, enjoy a specially curated list of digestible yet nutritious reads — all of which I have been through and personally recommend. This selection of five highly valuable and recommended books offers a diverse set of perspectives and lessons for you to enjoy; explaining why you should read them and what themes and topics they have to offer you.

1. The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is an odyssey set on the theme of stepping out of one’s comfort zone in order to pursue one’s dreams. Coelho tells the captivating story of Santiago, a shepherd who struggles with letting go of what comforts him and takes a leap of faith by beginning a voyage across North Africa. As one of the more well-known classics, The Alchemist is a great entry point for those interested in transformative literature since it is not deeply philosophical or linguistically difficult to understand, but rather entertaining and adventurous. This story inspires readers to embark on their own personal journeys and encourages a mindset of resilience, optimism, and not being afraid to make the uncomfortable sacrifices needed in the pursuit of one’s true purpose. Its light-hearted lessons may resonate with readers seeking direction in their lives or with those who feel like they are stagnant in life.

2. The Enchiridion (2nd century) by Epictetus, translated by Elizabeth Carter

The Enchiridion is less of a novel and more of a philosophical life manual but is a valuable read nonetheless. Elizabeth Carter’s translation (1758) is best for an easier read. Carter’s translation is beyond splendid, and her impressive work is the sole version I would recommend. This compilation of 52 maxims and statements serves as a guide on how to live life while maintaining inner tranquillity, composure, and the ability to overcome life’s challenges with grace and fortitude. Epictetus shares practical wisdom on topics such as freedom and detachment from petty issues alongside adaptability, self-discipline and acceptance of life’s uncertainties. This book is a valuable consideration for those who often find themselves unsatisfied by life’s outcomes or often face perturbations.

3. The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s exploration of the realm of existential alienation in a unique and thought-provoking way. The story follows Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a monstrous, disgusting insect. The struggles this challenge brings and the attitude of Gregor’s family prompts readers to reflect on major themes such as familial relationships, struggles, living up to expectations, identity, and abandonment or isolation. The themes can stir the emotions of anyone who can relate but encourage a deeper self-awareness of these themes.

4. The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus 

If you’re not looking for your typical cliché adventure, The Stranger presents a perfect alternative that dives into the realm of insanity and absurdism. Camus manifests these ideas through the detached, indifferent and introspective narrative of his main character, Meursault. Through his bizarre yet intriguing storytelling, Camus invites readers to question morality, death and the meaning and value of life. This story has a constant theme of indifference and introspection. If you are a frequent reader and looking to try something different, dive into the emotionless pages of The Stranger

5. Clarimonde (1836) by Théophile Gautier

Clarimonde portrays the story of a monk who falls in love with a beautiful woman named Clarimonde, who mysteriously visits him in his dreams every night. Living a double life, a virtuous priest in the day and an ignoble lover at night, the hero is conflicted between his two clashing lives. This Gothic tale of love and the supernatural explores themes of desire, temptation, and self-conflicting interests. Clarimonde offers a peculiar escape into the fantastical while promoting reflection on escapism and controlling one’s desires.

When you voyage across the pages of these various books, don’t just sight-see in the entertainment, you should make sure to take some souvenirs. The value in reading such timeless works goes beyond just the story; it’s also found in the profound lessons they teach. By reading classics like The Alchemist, The Enchiridion, The Metamorphosis, The Stranger, or Clarimonde, you will not only gain an appreciation for literature but also further develop critical thinking skills, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the human experience. 

These stories become more than books — they become our companions on the path of personal growth, challenging us to question, reflect, and ultimately evolve as individuals.