When people talk about “classic books,” they're often referring to famous works by authors who lived at least 100 years ago, and probably appeared somewhere on a summer reading list or English lit syllabus.
But a work doesn't have to appear on a list of the most popular books of all time or have been a bestseller in order to be a classic worth reading. In fact, the imprint Modern Library has made a point of republishing classic works that fell out of the limelight, but deserve to find a new generation of readers.
Below are just six overlooked classic books from Modern Library—all of which belong on your TBR list.
This classic book of the Harlem Renaissance is a semi-autobiographical work by Nella Larsen. The story follows two mixed race women in 1920s Harlem, one of whom is using her light complexion to “pass” as white.
Modern Library's edition of this chilling novel includes an introduction from Kaitlyn Greenidge, whose 2016 novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman skillfully depicts America's ongoing inability to talk about race.
American Indian Stories
This collection of writing from Zitkála-Šá is a heartbreakingly personal account of her refusal to assimilate into white society. Born in 1876 on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota, Zitkála-Šá was offered a free education from Quaker missionaries. Though she was initially excited to go to school, the offer came with strings: in order to succeed, she would have to give up her cultural roots.
This collection of short stories, poetry and memories from Zitkála-Šá combine to tell the origin story of an activist in the making—one whose name should be more widely known.
Charlotte Brontë is, of course, known for her classic novel Jane Eyre. But her other writing is often pushed to the wayside, including Villette, a story George Eliot said was "a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power."
The story follows schoolteacher Lucy Snowe, who is looking to find her own independence. However, this proves difficult when she befriends a worldly English doctor, and begins to have feelings for an autocratic schoolmaster. Now Lucy must decide if she is able to be with a man and still be free.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Featuring an introduction from National Book Award finalist Tiya Miles, this classic autobiography is difficult yet essential reading. Published in 1861, Harriet Jacobs wrote her book with the intention of reaching out to Northern women, who she believed would be more empathetic to the violent sexual abuse faced by women and children slaves in particular.
Though The Awakening is probably the most recognizable of all the titles in this list, that wasn't always the case. First published in 1899, it was considered so shocking in its frank depictions of sex and depression that it was ignored for decades, and didn't receive the accolades it deserved until the 1960s.
The story of a young mother who decides to abandon her family in order to explore her own freedom, Kate Chopin's classic is now considered a early feminist classic. This edition includes an introduction from Carmen Maria Machado, the award-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties.
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings
While you've probably heard of the title story in this collection, we're guessing it's the only Gilman work you've read. The lifelong feminist wrote countless other works worth reading, and many of those satirical short stories are included in this volume, which also features an introduction from Halle Butler, a National Book Award Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree.