Great books are more than just a way to pass the time. Well-written words can give power to a people struggling to be heard, bring clarity to a complex subject or simply entertain us on a rainy day. Whether you're a beginning reader or a longtime bibliophile, here are a few classic books by American authors to get you started. Just don't let a lack of time for visiting the local library or bookstore stop you. Online retailers like Indigo Books and Music and AbeBooks can deliver books directly to your door.

Childhood Favorites

Classic books can capture our imagination and enlighten us. Learn the lessons that come from exploring the world around and within us in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by American humorist Mark Twain. Follow young Huck as he and his friend Jim flee unfortunate circumstances, only to find themselves navigating the Mississippi River and the perils of being a runaway slave in the pre-Civil War South. Twain's sometimes controversial story is one of friendship, trust and laughter.

Future World

Imagine a world where books are condemned to a fiery death at the hands of those we trust to put out the flames. The year is 1999, and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" envisions a violent future for America_that is, until nuclear war gives thinking men the chance to set it on the right course again.

Politics and Philosophy

What does it mean to be an American? "Civil Disobedience," by Henry David Thoreau, considers the ethical and moral dilemma of standing up for the values we espouse as a nation even when it goes against the government's dictates.

High Seas Adventure

Ride the tumultuous waves as Captain Ahab steers his crew in a reckless search for the great white whale. "Moby Dick," Herman Melville's 1851 classic, is narrated by Ishmael, the only crew member to survive the peg-legged captain's fanatical desire to slay the great beast that haunts him.

Stars of the Stage

Playwrights have inspired some classic American works, as well. Many became so popular, in fact, that they were adapted for television and films. "Death of a Salesman," by 20th-century writer Arthur Miller, paints the portrait of a man seeking success for himself and his sons, only to resolve in the end that he's worth more dead than he is alive.

Nation of Immigrants

Great American classics don't always start in the United States. Chinese-American author Amy Tan crafts an ageless story of the path that four women and their immigrant mothers take to get to where they are in "The Joy Luck Club." Join them as they celebrate the passage of time through food, stories and the ancient game mahjong.

The Story of My Life

The American experience is composed of the people who helped to shape it on a daily basis. In "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years," Sara Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany share what it was like to watch the 20th century evolve through the eyes of a black woman.