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7 classics you should read this fall
"Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh, Back Bay Books, $16, 432 pages - photo by Cristy Meiners
There are so many classics that it can be hard to know which ones are actually good and which ones are simply important because a professor somewhere said they are. Here are seven classics that you may not have read but are entirely worth your time.

"The Big Sleep," by Raymond Chandler, Vintage Crime, $15.95, 231 pages (f)

Raymond Chandler's private detective Philip Marlowe checks all of hard-boiled crime fiction's boxes: wise-cracking, world weary and ruggedly attractive. But as good as Marlowe is and he's great you'll stay for Chandler's grin-inducing language and seedy Los Angeles setting. After all, this is the book that gave us lines like, "As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style and "He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn't owe too much money." Chandler, a Midwesterner with a British education, created a Los Angeles that you may not want your mother to live in, but is still a whole lot of fun to roam around in on a cozy night. No one does atmospheric mysteries like Chandler.

Cristy Meiners

Content advisory: Bad guys (and a few good guys) with guns and low morals, but nothing graphic.

"Woman in White," by Wilkie Collins, Modern Library, $12, 704 pages (f)

Willkie Collins is one of those popular mid-19th century British novelists who is today completely overshadowed by the looming presence of Charles Dickens. Collins, who considered Dickens a friend, does not deserve to be so forgotten. "The Woman in White" in particular is a cracking potboiler, one of the first mystery novels ever written and far closer to today's thrillers than anything Dickens ever wrote. Published in several parts in 1859 and 1860, the novel pits a young art teacher and one of his students, the resourceful Marian, against the evil Count Fosco, a grossly obese and corrupt nobleman who fun detail lets his pet mice live on his body. Packed with vivid characters, wild plot twists, secret identities, poison, and one-liners that still stand up, the "Woman in White" is a perfect fall read.

Matthew Bowman

Content advisory: While creepy, there is nothing graphic in "Woman in White."

"Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life," by George Eliot, Penguin Classics, $16, 800 pages (f)

There's no way around the fact that this book is a full 800 pages but before you let your eyes slide on to the next paragraph, know that George Eliot's gorgeously written and compelling drama doesn't feel its weight. Love, tragedies, triumphs, beautiful kindnesses and appalling acts of cruelty play out in the small Victorian (and fictional) English town of Middlemarch. While there are a number of interesting characters and plotlines, the love triangle between the sensible Dorothea Brooke, her husband, the life-sucking Rev. Edward Casaubon and his nephew Will Ladislaw will keep readers turning pages late into the night.

Cristy Meiners

Content advisory: "Middlemarch" has some truly awful characters, but no graphic violence or strong language.

"Howards End," by E.M. Forster, Penguin Classics, $12, 368 pages (f)

If you know E.M. Forster, you are probably a fan of the famous producer-director duo James Merchant and Ismail Ivory who mined cinematic gold from this Edwardian novelist for years. Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won an Oscar for her adaptation of "Howards End," but as good as the movie is, the book is better. The story explores England's growing pains as it moved into the modern age through the intertwined lives of three families: The eccentric, wealthy and intellectual Schlegel siblings, the Wilcoxes with their new money and old prejudices and the Basts, an impoverished couple with yearnings for more.

Cristy Meiners

Content advisory: "Howards End" has some sexuality but nothing of a graphic nature.

"The Quiet American," by Graham Greene, Penguin Classics, $17, 208 pages (f)

Graham Greene is one of the 20th century's most eloquent and thoughtful writers. He became famous for his adventure and spy books "The Ministry of Fear" and "Our Man in Havana" are two of the best but before dipping into his thrillers, do yourself a favor and read his literary masterpiece, "The Quiet American." Set in Vietnam in the 1950s, this slim volume tells the story of aging English journalist Thomas Fowler and the American serviceman who steals away the woman he loves. This barebones description does little to hint at the power of this deeply insightful book. In our age of bombast and insistence of national superiority, "The Quiet American" gently reminds readers to look inward and be more gracious about our own and other's shortcomings.

Cristy Meiners

Content advisory: "The Quiet American" contains warfare and sexuality, but neither graphic.

"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," by Carson McCullers, Modern Library, $20, 448 pages (f)

Published when she was only 23, Carson McCullers debut novel "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" places an aging black doctor, a carnival worker, a 14-year-old girl, a restaurant owner and a deaf mute in intersecting paths of a small 1930s Georgia mill town. Lifes heavy issues are present in this story racism, religiosity, death, self-destruction, broken-heartedness, misunderstanding yet McCullers offers them with a lightness that allows us to hold and examine them separate from their weight. She also writes with an attention that renders this story familiar and tender, allowing McCullers motley characters to tell the universal story of our fumbles, our missteps and our triumphs as we attempt to connect with others and ourselves.

Amanda Olson

Content advisory: There is nothing graphic in "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

"Wise Blood," by Flannery O'Connor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15, 256 page (f)

Readers may remember Flannery O'Connor's powerful and vivid short stories from high school English classes, where they have been staples for a generation now. Like her stories "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Good Country People," her short novel "Wise Blood" is a thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be Christian in a consumerist society. O'Connor is often called a Southern gothic writer, and the world of "Wise Blood," populated by strange characters, marked by odd almost-miracles and set in a society both weird and recognizable, is perhaps her greatest achievement.

Matthew Bowman

Content advisory: There is nothing graphic in "Wise Blood."

"Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh, Back Bay Books, $16, 432 pages (f)

Sure, you can watch the beloved 1981 BBC miniseries or even the 2008 film, but if you skip the book entirely, you'll miss out on a good story told exceptionally well. Evelyn Waugh made his name as a satirist, but he had a novelist's heart, penning vivid characters and putting readers down in a world that is, by turns, glamorous and startlingly familiar. Narrator Charles Ryder is the everyman whose friendship with the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family alters the course of his life. Struggles with religion, relationships and class come to life in this 20th century masterpiece.

Cristy Meiners

Content advisory: While "Brideshead Revisited" touches on sexual themes, there is nothing graphic in it.