6 Great Books Written During the 1920s

Massive amounts of literature were produced during the Roaring Twenties, from the Harlem Renaissance to the Lost Generation. Many of these works are just as relevant and engaging now as they must have been to readers 100 years ago. This list contains some of my favorite pieces of literature written during the 1920s, but is just a jumping off point for the many brilliant authors who were writing during this time.


To the Lighthouse—Virginia Woolf. I must admit, I am a huge fan of Virginia Woolf. No one can write sentences as beautifully as she can, and no one has mastered the semicolon quite like her, either. To the Lighthouse is the perfect example of her literary genius—it employs the stream of consciousness style and is deeply introspective. The story centers around the Ramsay family and their various relationships. Though the plot is relevant, it functions more as a background in which Woolf explores philosophic questions of death and the human condition. It is a modernist classic that still holds up over a century after it was written.


Cane—Jean Toomer. Another classic modernist work, Cane is a collection of short vignettes that center around the Black experience in America. It is highly experimental and includes short stories and poems that explore sexuality, spirituality, creativity, frustration with the world for what it has—or rather, the lack thereof—to offer, and so many other critical ideas. Cane is an interesting work and a hallmark piece of literature from the Harlem Renaissance, as well as one one that is definitely worth reading. 


The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. Could this list really be complete without The Great Gatsby? Absolutely not. This book is a classic for a reason, with themes ranging from disillusionment with the American Dream and class inequalities, it still resonates with audiences in the twenty-first century. The characters are colorful, from the elusive and mysterious Gatsby to the bored and shallow Daisy, which makes the book a fun read. If you weren’t forced to read this book in high school, you should definitely check it out now!


Siddhartha—Hermann Hesse. Originally published in German, Siddhartha is a journey of self-discovery. It is set in ancient India and the main character leaves behind his home in favor of the life of an ascetic. Siddhartha parallels the Buddha and adopts similar practices, such as meditation and renouncing all possessions. Eventually, Siddhartha seeks out the Buddha (referred to as Gotama), however Siddartha does not appreciate how generalized the Buddha’s teachings are, so he returns to his quest for enlightenment alone. This book brings the reader along on its titular character’s journey, compelling them to consider the same questions as Siddhartha and similarly reevaluate their own lives.


Passing—Nella Larsen. This book is about the intertwining lives of two childhood friends, Clare and Irene. Set in Harlem in New York City, the two friends gradually become more and more fascinated with each other’s lives. Passing deals with themes of race, sexuality, and class, among others. Clare passes as white and lives as such with her white husband who does not know her racial identity, which is the main cause of the novel’s tragedies. Both characters struggle against race, gender, and class norms in American society, with Irene being more rigid in these binaries while Clare fluctuates between them. It is definitely an interesting read and is still relevant 100 years after it was written.


The Mysterious Affair at Styles—Agatha Christie. This is the first novel featuring one of the most iconic characters in literature: Hercule Poirot. With his characteristic mustache and punctuality, Poirot is the classic mystery novel detective, so reading his debut story is immensely entertaining. The plot centers around the poisoning of Emily Inglethorpe during World War I, and Poirot unravels the mystery in his typical, fastidious fashion. Christie was highly influential in shaping the mystery genre, and this book contains many of the notable tropes of the genre—such as red herrings, many suspects, and numerous twists and turns that leave the reader anxious to figure out who the murderer is.

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