Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is kind of a literary Rosetta Stone, the inspiration, basis, and model for so many modern novels. You’re probably more familiar with its plot and characters than you think. For a book written in the early 19th century, it’s modernity is surprising only until you realize that this is the novel that in many ways defined what a modern novel is.
Ulysses did “stream of consciousness” before the term existed, and it’s also a sprawling novel dense with allusions, wordplay, obscure jokes, and intensely, opaquely personal ruminations by the characters.
Moby-Dick / The Whale
Moby-Dick has an unearned reputation for being, well, dull. Melville’s novel wasn’t received well on publication (it took decades before people really started to 'get' how great it is), and the negative sentiment is echoed every year when groaning students are forced to read it.
To Kill A Mockingbird
It’s rare for a novel to remain as on-point as To Kill A Mockingbird for more than five decades. If you want to know how Harper Lee managed the trick, you’re gonna have to read it. At about seven hours to read, you can totally squeeze it in.
The Big Sleep
It’s true that the book is written in what seems to modern audiences like a self-consciously tough style, peppered with old-fashioned slang, and the plot is famously complex, even for a mystery, and actually has several loose ends that never get resolved, but it doesn’t matter.