20 Best Project Gutenberg Books Update 05/2022

Best Project Gutenberg Books

If you’re looking for a summer reading list, look no further. The place to be is Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg contains more than 60,000 free ebooks, including some of the world’s most respected “classics” as well as older and lesser-known works that deserve to be called classics.

If you’ve never read them, Project Gutenberg has high-profile books like Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island available for free. If you’re seeking for a new summer reading challenge, check out the following must-read classics that you’re unlikely to find on a curriculum.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Could you access Project Gutenberg to read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? Yes, you certainly could. I’m not going to stop you. But first, tackle this willful, ahead-of-its-time doorstopper from the Bront clan’s youngest member. Helen Graham, fleeing her alcoholic husband, embarks on a trip to find a life of freedom for herself and her kid, complete with a gothic atmosphere and a slow-burn romance.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

The Bront sisters are like Pringles in literature: once you start eating them, you can’t stop. Accepting that fact, read the Jane Eyre author’s final novel, which chronicles Lucy Snowe’s stormy life. The novel is based on Bront’s own experiences as a Belgian teacher, and the heroine provides an interesting contrast to Jane.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Many of us are looking for comforting reads as a result of the current state of affairs, and cozy mysteries are at the top of that new genre of necessity. I, for one, look forward to the next season of the BBC’s Father Brown airing in the United States. Instead of watching televised provincial crime-solving, you might read the first 12 Father Brown mysteries by Chesterton.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by John Payne

The Decameron is a monumental book that gives us a complete picture of a historical age if you don’t mind reading stories inspired by disease right now. Outside of Florence, ten young people seek refuge from the Black Death, and the 100 stories they recount depict the struggles and achievements of medieval life. There are numerous explanatory annotations in this 1886 translation.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

You’ve read the Brothers Grimm. You’ve already read Hans Christian Andersen’s works. Now, check out Ozaki’s collection of Japanese fairy tales, which he has translated and recast in an entertaining manner. These tales (filled with dragons) were published around the turn of the twentieth century and have a modern style that makes them ideal read-aloud material for adults and children alike.

The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

This Australian children’s book was discovered by several friends and myself years ago, and it has remained a favorite ever since. (Don’t take my word for it: Philip Pullman authored the preface for the book’s reissue in 2004 and has named it one of his favorite children’s novels.) In a nutshell, a koala, a sailor, and a penguin defend a magical, never-ending dish of pudding from nefarious thieves.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

If you missed out on this brief classic as a kid, or if you just want to relive it for a good weep, now is your opportunity. In a horse bildungsroman, the novel is narrated by Black Beauty. Black Beauty portrays his childhood home as being warm and loving, followed by many human-centered tragedies. The novel is both hopeful and sorrowful, and it contains numerous life lessons for both young and adult readers.

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

This is not a book to read aloud to children, but it is a short, easily digestible work of Naturalist fiction if you don’t want to read something long. In this, Zola’s first major novel, the throes of passion are examined objectively. A claustrophobic thriller set in Paris’s Passage du Pont-Neuf is peppered with adultery and murder.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

Today, Edgeworth is a forgotten name, yet she was a star in her own day. Castle Rackrent, a historical tale published in 1800, follows three generations of a landed family in an Ireland still legally bound by England. Thady Quirk, the family’s longtime servant and an unreliable narrator akin to Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, is the chronicler.

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Yasotaro Morri

For several reasons, this coming-of-age story has been compared to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Catcher in the Rye. To begin with, this book is well-known among Japanese youngsters. Second, the titular character causes havoc at his traditional guys’ institution. It’s also a lighthearted, fast-paced read.

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish

The Blazing World is one of our favorite feminist books for a variety of reasons. It was not only composed by the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but it was also published in 1666 under her name. With a plot that sends a young woman into a strange new utopian planet, it’s also one of the first forerunners to modern science fiction (and the submarine!).

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

This early gothic romance is the model for the genre, which has been emulated or mocked ever since (as in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey). Radcliffe’s genre-defining novel concentrates on Emily St. Aubert, a woman locked in a medieval castle and plagued by natural and supernatural terrors. It is one of Guillermo del Toro’s favorite works.

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green

Green, dubbed “the mother of the detective novel,” was instrumental in popularizing detective fiction in America and influencing the direction of the whodunit genre long before Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes. And this short story has everything you’d expect from a mystery: an old inn, suspicion, intrigue, a spooky atmosphere, and, of course, murder.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

The North and South narrative may be familiar to you already, thanks to a good miniseries adaptation. (Middle-class Margaret Hale is confronted with the squalor of a mill town while simultaneously falling in love with the gruff mill owner.) Gaskell writes a sweeping Industrial Revolution romance that reads like a class-conscious Pride and Prejudice, thus the source material is definitely worth a read.


Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley

Wheatley, who was enslaved at the time of her writings, authored the first volume of poetry written by an African American author. (John Wheatley, the man who “possessed” Edith, writes a prologue to this collection of her poems.) Her poetry, which we frequently promote as must-read classics, are mostly religious in nature, but they also touch on classical and contemporary issues.

Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan by Toru Dutt

Dutt died at the age of 21, but she managed to write two volumes of poetry and a book, each chronicling life in British India in its own unique way. The epic poems in this posthumously published collection convey a story of India, but they read like Dutt’s own reckoning with returning to Kolkata after years spent abroad.

Nonfiction & Memoir

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano

Equiano describes more than the existence of an enslaved person in America in this must-read memoir; he also describes the act of his captivity. Equiano’s kidnapping from his homeland in modern-day Nigeria is followed by several journeys with various slave owners, and finally, the buying of his own freedom and labor as an abolitionist.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth and Olive Gilbert

Truth’s autobiography looks at enslavement in the United States from a distinct lens: enslavement in the North. Truth was born into slavery in upstate New York and later became a renowned abolitionist and feminist leader. Her life is a unique study of fortitude and perseverance, and this account covers everything from her escape to freedom to her legal battle to retrieve her son to her high-profile social activism.

American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá

Even now, Native American women’s voices are frequently silenced. So this collection of personal stories, essays, and short fiction by Sioux writer and activist Zitkála-á (sometimes credited by her given name, Gertrude Bonnin)—another on our list of must-read classics by women—remains an unfortunate relative rarity more than a century after its original publication.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

The essay collection by Du Bois is a quick read, but it carries a punch. These poetic essays describing black life in America at the turn of the century became a cornerstone of black protest in the decades that followed. In these writings, you can see the ongoing argument among activists and intellectuals over how to effectively promote the cause of civil rights.

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