There is "no danger" that schools in England will be forced to ditch classic novels to make way for modern works, the education secretary has insisted.
Classic works will stay on the curriculum, the government says
Alan Johnson was seeking to end speculation that some "great" books would disappear from reading lists.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is reviewing the modern authors recommended to schools.
But Mr Johnson said writers such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot would continue to be studied.
'Fire their imagination'
These were "a crucial part of our national heritage", he added.
Mr Johnson said: "We must encourage children to read English classics which have stood the test of time and for which there should always be time to test.
"Young people need to also read books by dynamic modern authors which fire their imagination, inform their love of language and extend their knowledge."
The QCA is looking at reading lists as part of a wider review of the curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds and is due to report back to ministers at the end of September.
One of the main aims of its review is to "reduce prescription" - to create space in the timetable for those who need additional support to catch up in the basics, and allow more scope for schools to "stretch" their pupils.
Mr Johnson said the most important thing was for teachers to instil a love of reading which could benefit young people throughout their life.
"Greater flexibility will allow teachers to use their professional judgement to tailor their teaching and open up the rich world of English literature for every pupil to treasure."
He said he was currently reading Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, as well as Jeff Brown's Flat Stanley with his son.
He added: "Harold MacMillan said reading Jane Austen helped him relax when he was prime minister - so it can even be therapeutic for those who lead stressful lives too."
Shadow minister for schools, Nick Gibb, said he welcomed the government's comments.
He said: "It is important that the classic texts, including Shakespeare and Jane Austen, are studied by our children before the end of compulsory education.
"For many children exposure to the great classics of English literature occurs only at school.
"Any move by the QCA or others to limit this opportunity would have been a huge mistake and would have added to the general concern that our education system is being dumbed down."