10 Classics to Read While the Temps are Torturous

I shared last week on Pretty Literate Live the Top 5 Book Boxes I have in stock that will leave you feeling like you've had an adventuresome vacay - all for way less than a tank of gas. (Click here to watch the replay.)

This week I discovered that the cost of gas has {FINALLY!} started to descend and we can now tentatively afford the gas to venture farther from home than, say, the grocery store.  

But with the soaring temps this summer, do we even want to?

If you're hunkered down at home with the shades drawn, fans blowing, doing your part to not overtax the power grid by constantly running your air conditioner, I've got 10 Classics to Read While the Temps are Torturous that might help keep you cool.

At least in spirit.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

If the past couple of years have left you feeling some big feelings, Moby Dick just might be the right book for you - right here, right now. A whaler seeking revenge on a sperm whale that caused him bodily injury probably will provide the right bit of angst to mirror your mood with the added benefit of it being set aboard a ship traveling the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans - perfect, cooling visuals during these long, hot days of summer - and it is short enough to finish reading by summer's end.

The Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo (1866)

I could not improve upon the Goodreads synopsis of this Hugo classic, so I will just share that it "tells the story of a reclusive fisherman from the Channel Islands who must free a ship that has run aground in order to win the hand of the woman he loves, a shipowner's daughter." If you're up for an against-the-odds, seafaring adventure, The Toilers of the Sea might hit your sweet spot.


The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)

If you love to laugh, you cannot improve upon a five month trip abroad with Mark Twain and his lovable (and sometimes cringe-worthy) band of merry companions. The Innocents Abroad was one of our favorites inside our Monthly Book Box subscription for the simple fact that we laughed our way through it - and I bet you will, too!

Note: I have one of The Innocents Abroad Book Boxes left - the book, a souvenir of the novel & your time with the grandfather of stand-up comedy, and a handful of ways to connect with the novel, the author, and the travelers sharing the journey. Click here to check it out.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870)

Remember the Kevin Costner film Waterworld? Well, he had nothing on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - a true "world of water" tale that will stoke your sense of adventure and keep you feeling as cool as a cucumber (a sea cucumber, that is).

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

This adventure at sea follows the transformation of a spoiled, bratty boy who falls off a luxury boat and is rescued by a fishing boat, is nursed back to health, and learns to become a better human being at the hands of sailors aboard a cod fishing vessel. A humorous, life-changing adventure at sea by the unforgettable author of The Jungle Book.

Typhoon by Joseph Conrad (1902)

Typhoon is a 1902 novella that quickly captures the reader's attention. One ship's captain, crew, and cargo of migrant workers become caught in a dangerous storm off the coast of China - an experience similar to one of the author's own experiences aboard a similar ship in a similar incident - that conveys the danger, urgency, and fate of the Chinese beautifully, especially for such a short story. 

The Sea-Wolf by Jack London (1904)

What do you get when you take a bookish gentleman on a voyage, shipwreck him, and then allow his salvation to come at the hands of a man that rules by brute strength? The makings of a great psychological adventure, that's what! If you're a lover of the t.v. show, Survivor, The Sea-Wolf might be the book you didn't know you needed to read this summer.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

Hemingway's fish tale about an old fisherman's relationship with his young apprentice will tug at your heartstrings and convince you of the need for more intergenerational relationships in your life. This short, deep book is long on adventure and includes a little deep-sea fishing, a smattering of Shark Week shenanigans, a bite or two of fresh sushi, and long days riding the Gulf Stream currents.

Note: I have four of The Old Man and the Sea Book Boxes which include a new copy of the novel, an awesome souvenir, and a handful of ways to connect with the novel, the author, and the old man with whom you'll share the journey. Click here to check it out.

The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau (1953)

What is begun in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is definitely continued in The Silent World, Jacques Cousteau's real life adventure story of the fascinating world that exists under the surface of the sea. If man-eating squid, octopus, shark attacks, and exploring sunken ships are the type of adventure you crave, this Cousteau classic is for you.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (1959)

Perhaps of all the books I've listed, this last one will deliver a chill more than all the others combined - figuratively and literally. Lansing's account of 28 men stranded for over a year in the most inhospitable place on the planet and their story of survival takes the prize for the most engaging non-fiction out there. If you're feeling bummed by Covid, this book is the dose of perspective you need. If you feel like you're melting from the current heat wave, this book delivers a dose of the cold front you've been waiting for.

What adventures have you read this summer? Have you read anything to help you beat the heat? Share your top titles in the comments.


  • Endurance is one of my favorite novels. It is packed with adventure, courage, stamina, strength, perseverance, and most of all, ENDURANCE. This novel beautifully illustrates some of the very best qualities in the human nature against terrible odds and presents in Shackleton the very definition of what it takes to be a leader. I read this TRUE account voraciously, made all the more intense by the matter-of-fact presentation of the author, Lansing. Absolutely recommend this novel.

    Lynda A.
  • Interesting, I’ve never even heard of Toilers of the Sea!
    I absolutely vote for The Old Man and the Sea and The Innocents Abroad- two great escapes for the summer!
    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been on my bookshelf for a while, maybe I need to finally read it!


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