I'll agree with you that Austen's a little hard to get into... but trust me, once you're getting towards the middle, she gets much better rather quickly. Maybe try Pride and Prejudice; I found that book much easier to get into than Emma, though that was probably because I've seen the 2005 movie version of Pride & Prej., so I already knew what was going to happen (I definately recommend that movie, by the way).
Other classics I love, or at the very least, like (no particular order):
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
Franny and Zooey (J.D. Salinger)
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells)
And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
As for short stories, if you're willing, try some Poe or the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. If you're up for plays, I recommend Shakespeare - he's actually really entertaining once you understand what he's saying (and for that, I recommend audiobooks, or watching movie versions of the plays before you read them).
... and I'm sure there's tons more, especially books (not so much the short stories and plays), but it's 1 a.m. here and I'm tired, haha. Bedtime for me. =)