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The best free ebooks available for the iPad

The iPad may just be the world’s best way to surf the web. Not only is the device great for watching videos or playing mobile games wherever and whenever, but the iPad can also take users to some pretty cool literary places, too. Classic works of literature, poetry, and nonfiction are all readily available through sources like Project Gutenberg. The rise of online self-publishing also means that voracious readers can find unknown indie works on iTunes and the Google Play Store, though, the quality may vary.

Related: Load your iPad with the best apps in every category

Here is our handpicked selection of the best free ebooks for the iPad, so you can tote some of the best titles around no matter where you go.

A brief foreword…

The iBookstore, Google Play, and Project Gutenberg all offer ebooks using the iPad’s proprietary format (ePub), assuming you downloaded the appropriate file. However, although books downloaded from the iBookstore will automatically be saved in the ePub format, you want to ensure you download the correct file when using other ebook services. To do so using Google Play, navigate to your Google Play Book library, click the three squares in the upper-right corner of any title, and select Download EPUB from the drop-down list. To do so using Project Gutenberg, select EPUB from the list of available download options for your desired book.

Afterward, launch iTunes, click the main menu in the top-left corner, and select Add File to Library from the drop-down menu prior to choosing your desired ePub book from its respective save location. Then, simply sync the ebook with your iPad using iTunes as would normally.

Classics

Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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Even though Edgar Allen Poe is pretty much considered the innovator of the modern detective archetype, Doyle can take credit for bringing detective stories to the populous. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes features 12 stories Holmes first published in The Strand Magazine, including classics such as A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of the Red-Headed League. The title showcases Sherlock’s deduction and characteristic, 20th-century forensics at its best, along with signature villains only Doyle could write.

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iTunes Google Play

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Austen’s razor wit and dialogue are arguably best in Pride and Prejudice. Austen remains one of the most influential writers of the 19th century, and as expected, her iconic novel has been making audiences swoon for nearly 200 years. It recounts the story of Elizabeth Bennett, one of five sisters with a mother hellbent on marrying into money, along with the best nice-guy-disguised-as-a-jerk in all of literature, Fitzwilliam Darcy. What unfolds between Darcy and Elizabeth is a courtship that, despite it’s age, is still relevant in our modern days. Furthermore, the title is filled with Austen’s keen humor and social commentary on marriage, manners, and other things.

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iTunes Project Gutenberg Google Play

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Even today, books regarding adultery are viewed as scandalous. However, The Scarlet Letter gets extra credit because it was written 160 years ago. Even if the once-controversial title doesn’t strike the same kind of controversy now as it did in Hawthorne’s day, the book remains important for its harsh rendering of a woman’s life in a limiting Protestant community. Today, there are more titles than ever homing in on infidelity, but all of them seem to indirectly or directly nod to The Scarlet Letter. The novel encapsulates the story of the Hester Prynne — a young, intelligent, and thoughtful woman — who is publicly ostracized and forced to wear a piece of fabric in the shape of the letter “A” after having an affair and illegitimate birth while her husband is overseas. Dramatic and inspiring, readers will love and identify with Hester as she undergoes ample scorn only to retain her dignity and beauty in the end.

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iTunes Project Gutenberg Google Play

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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“Call me Ishmael” is arguably the most well-known opening lines in all of literature, maybe just behind Charles Dickens opening to the A Tale of Two Cities. Melville’s story is a dense narrative, told from the viewpoint of a wandering sailor aboard the whaling ship Pequod, albeit woven with Shakespearean literary devices (i.e. stage directions, soliloquies). For those fascinated with the sea, you’ll find Melville’s telling of sailing life and ever-obsessive Captain Ahab to be as unique as it is classic. And who doesn’t love a story about a madmen hungry for the blood of a massive white whale that claimed his ship and leg in an earlier scuffle. The symbolism remains open to debate, but the book’s reputation as a masterpiece is not.

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iTunes Project Gutenberg

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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The Reign of Terror during the onset of French Revolution was a tumultuous and violent affair — 17,000 deaths by guillotine is no laughing matter, after all. Dickens’ classic tale of revolution and brash political upheaval features a love-laced plot, whirling around exiled French aristocrat Charles Darnay, English lawyer Syndey Carton, and their indiscriminate fall at the hands of the revolution. Unlike other Dickens novels, it’s mostly devoid of humor, instead centered on providing political context that is both alluring and dishearteningly frightening. I truly doubt it was “the best of times.”

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Upton Sinclair once listed Les Misérables as one of the greatest novels of all time. Yet, despite Sinclair’s resounding opinions, the initial reception to Hugo’s 1862 story of redemption wasn’t exactly positive (though it was a commercial success). The novel spans the years 1815 through 1832, following ex-convict Jean Valjean during the June Rebellion in Paris. Hugo’s writing is elaborate — detailing French history, architecture, and politics — and earned enough praise since the novel’s initial release to render the title one of the best novels of the 19th century.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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Dorian Gray is a chic young man of wealth and beauty who, under the influence of a nobleman, decides to sell his soul and embark on immoral path in order to retain his fleeting youth. He hopes to outlast a portrait painted of himself by artist Basil Hallward, however, he quickly finds the painting to be a dark reflection of his debauched acts and hedonistic sins. Wilde was a major proponent of the aestheticism movement, emphasizing the beauty of art over its educational and societal value, and his viewpoints are clearly evident in the novel. It was scandalous for the time, resulting in strict censorship, but it remains distinctly Wilde nonetheless.

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Project Gutenberg Google Play

Graphic novels and books

The Avengers Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

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Ever since the The Avengers’ record-setting performance at the box office in 2012, the story of the team of star-studded superheroes has only grown in popularity. Though this is only the first volume of Romita’s graphic novel, it’s more than enough to give you a sense of the iconic team that’s assembled to fight evil. For those fascinated with comics, or those who merely loved the movie, you’ll find Vol. 1 to be the classic telling of an all-too-familiar tale, one centered around good and evil. That said, who doesn’t love a classic comic that you can flip through on your iPad?

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iTunes

The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci by TouchInside

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Few names are as recognizable as Leonardo Da Vinci. The man is referenced today in nearly every facet of popular culture, from ninja turtles to rap music, even though the Italian polymath’s life is oftentimes portrayed as one shrouded in mystery. However, despite this, historians actually know quite a bit about the father of the Renaissance. For starters, the Italian painter was also an inventor, philosopher, writer, and scientist, while showcasing one of the most reputable minds of all humanity. The focus of this made-for-iPad book, however, is to find the real Leonardo Da Vinci. A bevy of historians created the interactive biography, filling it with intriguing findings that yield equally surprising conclusions.

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iTunes

Tasting Tables Chefs Recipes: Summer Cookbook 2012 by Tasting Table

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Okay, so this is a cookbook from 2012. Big deal. Last time I checked, Popsicles and cocktails are still tasty. Tasting Tables Chefs Recipes: Summer Cookbook 2012 offers recipes that act like that go-to friend you’re always nagging for dinner suggestions. The book features 28 recipes and cocktails from some of the top chefs in the country, including Michael Tusk and Alex Stupak, along with colorful photos and quick restaurant bios catered toward the adventurous eater. It may be a bit dated, but that said, popsicles, donuts, cocktails, and other tasty summer treats never go out of style. It’s never been easier to entertain guests, especially given the book’s step-by-step instructions and expertly-crafted menus.

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iTunes

Philosophy and science

On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin

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Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species is one of the few pieces of scientific literature that is actually readable, not to mention one of the most influential. It essentially built the foundation on which the concept of evolutionary biology is based, providing evidence from his voyage on the HMS Beagle and expanding on the theories that he and Alfred Russel Wallace helped conceive. The initial text was highly controversial, both in the scientific and the religious fields, but it demanded attention given Darwin’s standing in the scientific community. It’s also a warranted read no matter your beliefs on the origin of the species.

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The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

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To put it broadly, The Souls of Black Folk is an examination of African-American life at the turn of the 20th century. It continues to be a staple of sociological literature, written as part of a semi-autobiographical essays that explore ideas of racism and class in post-Civil War America. His handling of neoslavery and what he coins the “double consciousness” of the African American psyche is thought-provoking, while his eloquent prose and articulation alone warrants the read. DuBois’ most famous work serves as a both a brave historical analysis and a harrowing piece of social-political commentary that’s difficult to ignore even today.

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The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison

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As one of the most important documents in American history, The Federalist Papers is well worth a visit. The volume encompasses 85 brilliant and eye-opening essays that delve into the establishment of various governing rules and the promotion the U.S. Constitution. You can blatantly see the influence the papers had — err, have — on modern America. Moreover, the papers are frequently mentioned in Supreme Court decisions and were forged by three of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Simply put, they’ve been a political and historical landmark ever since their initial release in the late-1780s.

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The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

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Few books have changed the world like Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, first published in English in 1888. The influence of Marx and Engels’ examination and critique of capitalism is one of the essential political theories, arguably laying the foundation for a good portion of war and power struggles in the 19th century. Directly opposing capitalism, Marx and Engles argue labor leads to wealth, which, in turn, increases the gap between economic classes with one eventually overshadowing the others at their own expense. The actual content isn’t revolutionary per se, but few texts have ignited a revolution quite like Manifesto.

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Project Gutenberg

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

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Contrary to what the title might imply, Sinclair’s touchstone socialist novel is set in a meat-packing plant in Chicago (not the jungle). However, the “jungle” is merrily an apt metaphor to describe the brutal working conditions of America’s working class in the early 20th century. The book is a brutal, realistic depiction of poverty and hopelessness, one that openly challenged the “American Dream” rhetoric of the 20th century. Though it focuses on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, it’s partly based on Sinclair’s seven-week stint working incognito in the Chicago meatpacking business as part of an investigative piece on behalf of a newspaper. The soul-crushing atrocities and horrendous accounts of the meat industry were so alarming they even spurred a series of federal investigations in 1904.

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Walden by David Thoreau

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Despite living only a short walk away from his mother’s house, Thoreau’s two-year stay in a cabin near a small pond in Massachusetts has always been celebrated as an authentic account of living in semi-seclusion. Whatever spurred him to write a book about cabin life near a small pond, the American transcendentalist has rehashed a remarkable account of his experience living “off the grid.” Insightful and contemplative, Thoreau meditates on solitude, self-reliance, and mankind’s affinity for the natural world. Luckily for us, Thoreau is a brilliant writer who effortlessly combines autobiographic details with an apt and poignant social critique of Western civilization. We recommend reading this one by a lake.

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The Republic by Plato

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Paraphrased, Plato’s The Republic explores how the ideal state is far harder to implement than it is to envision. Plato’s Socratic dialogue, written circa 380 B.C., examines topics ranging from the definition of justice to the importance of education and philosophy of society. It also highlights the nature of reality, the just and unjust man, and Plato’s Theory of Forms. His work laid the foundation of political theory and broadened a philosophical paradigm swimming with philosophical debates. It will undoubtedly make you think, but extracting the exact meaning may require more than just a discussion.

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Mystery and suspense

The Trial by Franz Kafka

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Kafka was a brilliant writer with a tragic habit of burning his works before they could be published. It’s now even estimated that he burned most of what he wrote. Nevertheless, The Trial survived Kafka’s initial burnings, perhaps because it was published the year following Kafka’s death, in 1925. The protagonist is Joseph K, a respectable chief financial officer at an undisclosed bank. During the story’s opening, he’s arrested and prosecuted for a crime that is never revealed to him… or the reader. The minimal approach makes room for a philosophical critique of post-WWI Europe. It’s a dark, satirical novel that is borderline surreal.

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iTunes Project Gutenberg

Free to Die by Bob McElwain

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There are a good deal of quality, self-published novels out there. Having received more than 2,000 positive reviews on iTunes, Free to Die is one of them, chronicling protagonist Brad Ashton as he runs from a community of criminals who hold no regard for the law. They act by their own set of rules, and for them, justice means killing Ashton. It’s not exactly highbrow literature, but nonetheless, it’s a good quick read if you can excuse the occasional typo.

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iTunes

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

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As the first of five novels featuring the beloved action-hero Richard Hannay, Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps has long been heralded for creating the man-on-the-run character we constantly see in both literature and blockbuster films. It follows Hannay, a retired mining engineer, after he becomes wrapped up in an international plot upon discovering a dead body in his home and fleeing for his native Scotland. It offers a short read — it runs less than 100 pages — while delivering an intense introduction into the world of espionage novels.

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iTunes Project Gutenberg

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

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Collins’ classic is a must if you’re looking for a lengthy, mysterious novel that deals with a case of mistaken identity. The Woman in White is considered among the first mystery novels ever written, incorporating elements of Gothic horror and psychological realism, while encompassing a multi-character narration. The book opens with teacher Walter Hartright encountering a mysterious woman in white upon a London road, but it unravels into a sensational love affair with subtle undercurrents of political commentary.

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Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

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Having written more than 80 detective novels during her lifetime, it’s safe to say Agatha Christie is considered a household name in the mystery genre. Her second novel, Secret Adversary, introduces the reader to Tommy and Tuppence, two characters who reoccur in other Christie tales down the line. Their goal? To find a woman who vanishes with government documents without becoming completely entrenched in a tangle of secret intelligence, false evidence, and dubious affairs.

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Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank

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Equal parts mystery and comedy, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes is the story of Rose, a 24 year-old who works at the Fenton County DMV. Conveniently, she also has the knack for successfully envisioning events before they happen. Most of the time, the visions are banal, such as a scene depicting someone’s toilet overflowing. One afternoon at work, though, she envisions her very own death. When she goes home, she finds her mother dead on the couch. The events that follow are just as eerie as they are hilarious. Rose makes a bucket list on the back of a Walmart receipt, crossing off items as a her own mystery and romance ensues. There’s also plenty of Rose to go around given the novel is the first book in a four-part series.

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Poetry

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

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The seminal — and overtly sexual — work of Walt Whitman should need no lengthy introduction. This is the masterpiece of one of the most well-known writers of the 19th century. Leaves of Grass originally only contained 12 poems, but he continually labored away on the work for nearly 40 years, right up until the time of his death in 1892. Each version changed and adapted alongside Whitman and the world around him. The final draft is considered to be a meditation on American romanticism, industrialization, and nature, among other pivotal topics. It contains some of his most notable work, too, including Song of Myself and Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.

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Memoir

Roughing It by Mark Twain

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Twain was known for embedding autobiographical accounts of his wanderlust years within his fictional works. Published in 1872, Roughing It chronicles Twain’s raucous journey throughout the American West with his brother, intertwining realistic stories of his travels with the developing rough-hewn, ironic humor that would later become synonymous with his name and most beloved works. It delves into his stints as gold miner, a reporter, and lecturer, as well as his stagecoach travels through Nevada and his sidetrip in Hawaii. Plus, it’s 10 times shorter than the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1.

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The Narrative of Sojouner Truth: A Northern Slave

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To put it broadly, The Narrative of Sojouner Truth is an account of one black woman’s life in the 19th century. Considered a staple of American historical literature, Truth wrote her memoir 30 years before the civil war and well before DuBois invented the theory of double consciousness. She recounts her experience as a slave, her trial to reclaim her son from a white slave owner, and life as a black woman in a time when women and people of color had virtually no civil rights. Truth’s important work serves as a both a brave historical analysis and a harrowing personal commentary that’s difficult to ignore.

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The Life of a Stripper by Romona Van Liss

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Yes, this is a self-published book about strippers. But for many of us, the professional life for veteran strippers is somewhat fascinating. Liss’ book is a compilation of interviews with five strippers. Each stripper’s story may be different, but there’s an underlying current of money problems, drug addiction, and sexual abuse. Though each story describes the brutal working conditions of strippers, it’s more so an examination into the harsh realities of poverty, hopelessness, and the limited options provided to many women. The Life of a Stripper openly challenges the institution of strip clubs, and while it may essentially focus on five woman as case studies, the universal implications are infinite.

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Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincy

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De Quincy’s book has remained on the fringes of pop culture since it was originally published in 1822. Since then, it’s been transformed into a mid-’60s film and ignited a fascination with addiction literature that likely inspired writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Hunter S. Thompson. In what is easily his most famous work, Quincy writes about his experimentation with opium and his subsequent withdrawals that quickly careened into nightmares, physical pain, and insomnia. Quincy’s initial attraction to the drug represents an interesting undercurrent throughout the memoir, one which many critics suggest dealt with an undiagnosed illness.

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Romance

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Charlotte Bronte first published Jane Eyre as an autobiography before later changing the pen name to “Currer Bell,” and eventually, back to Charlotte Bronte. The novel is a like-minded contender with Pride and Prejudice for the most popular title among high-school children destined to become British Literature majors. The protagonist, Jane Eyre, is a passionate and intelligent orphan who survives the harsh environment of the orphanage. Eventually Eyre leaves the orphanage and accepts a position as the governess at a manor called Thornfield, only to secretly fall in love with the master of the house, Edward Rochester. Their romance builds, but in a totally unpredictable way. The book also explores themes of early feminism and class, with Brontë’s semi-autobiographical sensibilities and rich touch of poesy in tow.

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His Robot Girlfriend by Wesley Allison

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With nearly 1,800 reviews on iTunes, His Robot Girlfriend must be worth… something. The novella is part romance, part sci-fi, fueled by an unorthodox romance set in the near future. Protagonist Mike Smith thinks he is done with love when his wife dies and his children grow up. When he responds to an advertisement for “Daffodil,” a robot that could fulfill every romantic need, however, a tale of authentic romance follows. There are problems with falling in love with a robot, and Allison’s story reveals a romance with longevity — like that between humans — depends on will. The book is surprisingly compelling despite its unpolished nature, however, with enough twist-and-turns to carry you through the dappled lulls.

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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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You’ve seen the stage adaptation, the modern Leonardo DiCaprio spin-off, and read the Sparknotes in high school, now it’s time to read the actual play. Shakespeare’s foremost romance novel created an iconic archetype that every modern love story fulfills in some capacity. As a tale of young love that’s entangled in a lasting family feud between the Montagues and Capulets, it’s written in a dramatic poetic structure known as iambic pentameter, and lined with some pretty familiar characters. Though the infamous balcony scene might be the most quintessential romance scene you’ve ever had hammered into your head, the novel really is beautiful and captivating, with an ending the epitomizes the meaning of tragedy and doomed love.

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Project Gutenberg Google Play

Bridesmaid Lotto by Rachel Astor

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Josephine is a normal, 26-year-old girl who’s friends call her “McMaster Disaster,” namely because she has a knack for botching every romantic encounter she’s ever had. When she discovers she won a chance to be the bridesmaid for a famous socialite, she’s less than enthused. However, the one bright spot is Jake Hall, a famous movie star who’s planning to attend the wedding. The socialite’s wedding turns into the event of the summer and Josephine is caught in the limelight. A whirlwind of romance and self-discovery ensues, and ultimately, our heroine catches the attention of Jake Hall, himself. Who thought a book called Bridesmaid Lotto could be romantic? It’s an easy read, yet adorned with just enough tension to keep you reading.

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iTunes

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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In the romance department, one Brontë is never enough. Wuthering Heights is set in the stormy moors of England during the early-1800s, and centered on a love that is disturbingly fierce and vividly dark. It’s told through a series of flashbacks recorded in a diary, chronicling Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff’s inseparable childhood and the ensuing, and vengeful, events that violently whittle away at a love doomed from the very beginning. Despite being her first and only book, Brontë’s prose is fluid and poetic, draped in lucid descriptions of the moorland and the characters who call it home.

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Science fiction

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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In it’s day, The War of the Worlds was considered a kind of science fiction never experienced before. Wells was a prolific writer who proved himself capable in a variety of genres, and because of it, many consider him to be the granddad of sci-fi more so than any other writer. Written in the late-1800s, the novel is one of the first stories that details the conflict between mankind and extraterrestrials. Wells centers his first-person novel around an unnamed protagonist and his brother in London during an alien invasion, depicting the martians as giant, gray creatures with oily skin. And unlike the Tom Cruise film of the same name, the novel is actually worth your time.

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Project Gutenberg

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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A Princess of Mars is another sci-fi novel featuring a martian. It’s a primary example of 20th-century pulp fiction, whirling around Confederate veteran John Carter’s unexpected and mysterious transportation to Mars, along with the political strife between martian tribes and Carter’s fascination with the Princess of Helium (Dejah Thoris). There’s even 10 more books in the series if the planetary romance strikes your fancy.

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The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

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London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang garner all the praise, but the author’s first foray into the world of sci-fi shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Scarlet Plague is set in a fictional, post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco, 60 years after an uncontrollable epidemic known as the Red Death obliterated Earth’s population. The book is center on James Howard Smith, who tries to impart his knowledge onto his grandsons before it’s too late. It’s graphic, but the scenario and prophetic nature of the work is all too real.

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The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley

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Being exiled is bad enough, especially when you’re shipped across space to a prison planet with no recollection of your supposed crimes. Sheckley’s protagonist, Will Barnett, must endure that and more, participating in an endless series of brutal crimes in the hopes of surviving and escaping a prison with an average prisoner life expectancy of three years. It’s a quick read, lacking in the characterization department, but the humor and wonder make it worthwhile.

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

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There’s a famous expression claiming we know more about the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean. Deep water is certainly an eerie scene for a science-fiction novel, even by today’s standards. Verne is renowned for his work in the sci-fi field, in both prose and creativity, and Captain Nemo’s lengthy trek to Antarctic ice shelves, the Red Sea, and other fictional and real-world locations is extremely engrossing. And then there’s the giant squid scene…

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Children’s books

The Tale of Benjamin the Bunny by Beatrix Potter

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Being an interactive sequel to Beatrixs Potter’s story of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin the Bunny isn’t a far-flung departure. The story follows Benjamin and Peter Rabbit’s visit to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and their efforts to find the clothes Peter Rabbit lost in the original book. The children’s classic has been formatted for the iPad, yet still feature Potter’s classic illustrations and text. Moreover, the book touts some pretty interesting features, most notably a narrator who will read out loud and highlight words as they are spoken.

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Aesop’s Fables by Aesop

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Aesop, a storyteller and slave, presumably crafted his fables circa 600 B.C.E. Aesop’s Fables is a collection of tales often associated with animals and revolving around moral and ethical themes. His stories have been refashioned into countless contemporary childhood stories, and even if you don’t think you’re familiar with Aesop, you’re familiar with his work (he wrote The Tortoise and the Hare and The Boy Who Cried Wolf). There have been countless renditions of his stories over the years, and through the ages, his work has endured to remain just as relevant in the United States today as it was thousands of years ago in ancient Greece.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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Many childhood stories seem to be refashioned for more mature audiences, yet the story of a woman who is swept up by a Midwestern tornado and taken to a foreign land has some seriously dark undertones. Even so, Dorothy’s quest for the Emerald City never fails to be both reassuring and hopeful. Dorothy’s cyclone-fueled romps in Oz with the Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most classic American children’s books — it’s also Baum’s childhood masterpiece. The Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow all add to Baum’s descriptive and fantastical world. Victor Fleming’s music doesn’t quite do the novel the justice it deserves.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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A touchstone in the realm of children’s literature, Burnett’s classic has been adapted time and time again for both the stage and the big screen. Though many other children’s stories have directly borrowed from Burnett’s classic, her work still easily surpasses them all. It revolves around our heroine Mary Lennox, an orphan who leaves colonial India to live on a dingy, county estate in Yorkshire. There, she learns the healing power of friendship through plant cultivation in her, ahem, secret garden. So heartwarming, yet so insightful.

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Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm

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The brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales that were, aptly, rather grim, but many of the beloved tales have undergone edits and numerous alterations to the point where they’ve become suitable for children. They’re no longer the grotesque, violence-laden stories they once were, yet they still retain the brothers’ keen sense of storytelling. You know the tales — Rapunzel, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel — but there are also plenty of great standouts that have yet to become blockbuster, animated films.

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Humorous

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

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The best part of short stories is their brevity. My Man Jeeves is comical collection of eight short stories originally published in various U.K. magazines prior to their initial release as a book. Half of the stories are centered on the silly escapades of the good-hearted aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his lovable valet Jeeves, while others concern Reggie Pepper (a similar character to Wooster). The formula for the stories is essentially the same given Jeeves always manages to save Wooster’s moronic neck, but the appeal lies in Wodehouse’s dry British humor and intellectual wit.

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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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The subtitle of Wilde’s one and only novel in 1890 is aptly-named, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Though Wilde’s later works helped him become the acclaimed playwright he’s known as today, The Importance of Being Earnest remains a staple of satire enthusiasts due to its humorous examination of Victorian-era manners. Filled with rapid-fire wit and an eccentric cast of epigrams, the story revolves around two refined men who adopt fake personas with the goal of dazzling their respected love interests. Unlike his novel, the play’s debut marked a high point in Wilde’s career, and was met with a sea of critical acclaim and universal praise.

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The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

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If there ever was a Shakespeare play that relied on language to carry the plot more so than any other facet, it would be The Taming of the Shrew. It is the tale of Lucientio and Petruchio, two young men seeking to wed two wealthy sisters they encounter in the Italian city of Padua. However, trouble arises when Lucientio discovers that he can not marry the women he loves unless her ill-tempered and verbally-aggressive older sister is wed — that’s where Petruchio comes into play. Although it has been seen as misogynistic and patriarchal, it’s also one of the most Shakespeare’s most boisterous and comical plays, steeped with sharp-tongued banter and rhetoric.

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Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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No one believes in chivalry more than Don Quixote. While mannerisms carry less weight in our day to day lives than they did in the world of country gentlemen, Don Quixote and his cunning squire Sancho Panza saw it otherwise. Saavedra’s canonical novel remains one of the most influential of the Spanish Golden Age, and follows a retired country gentlemen who takes up his lance on a dubious — and lengthy — quest to subdue the evils of the world. Don Quixote is playful, loaded with irony and delusion, and has been considered one of the first modern novels for more than 400 years.

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