English teachers, are you looking for any new books to begin teaching? Prospective English-majors and fellow literature-lovers, are you looking for any books that you have yet to encounter in high school but are likely to read for class in college? Parents of adolescents, are you wanting to learn about the books other high school and college students from around the country are reading?
Boy, have I got the list for you!
There are a lot of high schools out there, but there are even more great works of literature, prone to examination by English professors, relentlessly dragging their students with them, everywhere. I am one of many who enjoy being dragged by English teachers in the lands of all the great literary motifs.
As the second semester continues, you may find yourself - at some point or another-with time to read books. While books from this century can be just as intellectually stimulating and insightful as anything else we read in school, sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. Without further ado, here are some of the books I have read throughout high school that began as assignments but ended as pleasure-reads.
The Great Gatsby
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Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Year Originally Published: 1925
I LOVE this novel. And, now that it’s 2020, what time is better to revisit the roarin’ 20’s? (Spoiler: There is none!) Observe--through the eyes of the Tom Buchanan, a bright-eyed countryside boy who’s recently moved to NYC--Jay Gatsby’s quest for love in the fictional West Egg and East Egg.
Crime and Punishment
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Year Originally Published: 1866
To what extent can forgiveness be given? To what extent can a person be, if only partially, redeemed? These are questions that are explored and answered in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The main character Raskolnikov, in the midst of the craziness of St. Petersburg, Russia in the 19th century, must deal with his feelings of guilt and inadequacy. And his desire to redeem himself and prove himself to be superior to the rest of St. Petersburg, all the while playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the police force. Both plot twists and philosophical quandaries abound, so what better time than now to start reading this masterful depiction of the uglier side human condition?
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Year Originally Published: 1890
For what does it profit a man to gain beauty, eternal youth, and a life spent completely pleasuring himself, and lose his soul? Witness the physical blossoming and the mental decaying of Dorian Gray as he does exactly that: gain eternal youth and lose his soul. The answers to those questions will mesmerize and horrify you. Plus, it’s all accompanied by Oscar Wilde’s expert writing style and witty lines.
Author: William Shakespeare
Year Originally Published: (believed to be) 1603
Yes, I know: another Shakespearean tragedy. While Othello is the story of one Venetian army general named Othello, there is another character who is more of a major character than Othello… Iago, an utterly villainous and despicable being whose sole purpose is destroying Othello. With themes of jealousy, racism, love, and revenge, this play is still highly regarded more than 400 years after its debut and will continue to be so.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Year Originally Published: 1818
This is the story of one inquisitive man named Victor Frankenstein. Here’s his fault: He’s too inquisitive. This bold scientist ends up doing the impossible—creating life. And the being he creates haunts him for the rest of his life. This is a tale of the pursuit of knowledge: How far can and should one go to learn about the universe? How far can and should one go to indulge in their passions, to appease their curiosities? A great topic for current and soon-to-be young adults.
The Old Man and the Sea
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year Originally Published: 1952
“‘But man is not made for defeat. . . . A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’” This quote from The Old Man and the Sea perfectly sums up its main theme and message: perseverance. Life is all about persevering through whatever problems the world throws at you, not letting yourself be defeated, getting back up when you are temporarily “destroyed.” And, what better way to deliver that message than by telling the tale of an old fisherman with skin cancer who spends the remainder of his days trying to catch a great fish, and the one fateful day when he encounters his most magnificent foe(s) yet? And, what better writer to tell this tale than Ernest Hemingway?
Author: Charles Dickens
Year Originally Published: 1860-1861
It’s all in the title: This is a novel about a person’s great expectations for their life. Join the main character Pip in this coming of age novel as he deals with an eccentric cast of memorable characters and explores London’s wealthiest and most impoverished areas, his romantic hopes and feelings, and his great expectations for life. References to this classic can be seen all throughout popular culture. Don’t miss out!
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Author: Natalie Goldberg
Year Originally Published: 1986
This is an outlier compared to the rest of this list, but I’m just as grateful for having read it junior year than any of the other books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading throughout high school. When I was perusing the summer reading list, I knew this was one I had to read. This nonfiction book serves as a guide, mentor, friend, and therapist for writers of all skill levels. Experienced writing and literature teacher Natalie Goldberg generously provides--in short but detailed chapters--advice on how to conquer many writer plagues such as writers’ block, doubt, and over- or under-description. This is an absolute MUST for any and all writers or aspiring writers (as well as students who are required to frequently write essays.)
What are you waiting for?
Besides teachers letting you have some free time, which is understandable. Head over to your local library, get a library card if you don’t already have one, and get a-readin’!