If you’ve been paying any attention, you know I’m a pretty serious book nerd. Since I’ve been trying to simplify my life and minimize my possessions, I’ve become a library person. I miss having my house covered in books, but the public library has certainly saved me a lot of money and fed my insatiable need for new reading material.
As a former English teacher, I’m no stranger to “classic” literature. I’ve seen a million lists of must read books that we may feel obliged to read in order to be considered well-read. I’ll confess, there are some books I just couldn’t get in to. I hate Dickens, and Russian literature mostly makes me want to jump off a cliff. While I appreciate them, I don’t love them.
This English teacher is giving you permission to skip the boring stuff. Here’s my list of novels I think you should definitely experience. They’ve stood the test of time, and I would gladly read any of these books again. I’ve already mentioned The Great Gatsby and Watership Down in our Summer Reading List, so they didn’t make this list, but if you haven’t read them yet, get on it!
In no particular order, here are my favorite classic novels.
1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – If you love dystopian YA novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent, you’ll probably like this novel. It’s an unusual, and thought provoking look at a potential future.
2. 1984 by George Orwell – This is another dystopian novel but with a distinctly political focus. It’s creepy to read this and think about everything Orwell got right.
3. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein – If you’re any kind of respectable nerd, you’ve read these books already and watched the movies at least a million times. If you haven’t gotten around to it, what are you waiting for? Immerse yourself in another world for a while.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This novel is required reading for a lot of high schools and for good reason. I find stories of injustice defeated to be so compelling. Atticus Finch is definitely a hero.
5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I absolutely love this novel. It is so beautifully written it makes my heart ache. And having lived in Oklahoma for nine years, I can really appreciate people who want to get out of there. If you’ve ever felt intimidated by this book, I encourage you to just dive in. You’ll be immersed before you know it.
6. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – I first read this novel in my very first college literature class, which I actually took when I was 17. It was this class, and partly this novel, that cemented my love of literature. I also got an opportunity to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak before he died, and I’ll never forget it.
7. Native Son by Richard Wright – This novel certainly made me change the way I look at the world. This story deals with race and poverty, and it had me contemplating the ideas of free will and the unconscious privileges or disadvantages that many of us don’t even realize we’re born with.
8. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – Here’s another book that will make you think differently about the world, and also scare the crap out of you. It’s disturbing, and I wouldn’t recommend it for most young readers, but I think this novel is something that people should experience.
9. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – I remember reading this novel during my pregnancy. While I found most of the characters to be horrible people, I couldn’t put it down. It definitely keeps you interested, even if the main character is a ridiculous, spoiled brat.
10. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – This a slim novel that will have you laughing out loud, so there’s no excuse not to read it. This ridiculous adventure is something I’ve read, and listened to, many times, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
11. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – They recently released a movie version of this book that left out a whole side story line, so if you think you know what happens, you don’t. I love adventure mixed with larger political and social themes, and this dystopian science fiction novel definitely delivers.
12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I remember reading this novel for fun in my dorm room during my freshman year of college. There was no hiding my nerdiness. Also, this list proves there’s no hiding my love of dystopian literature. Since this book is about burning books, it definitely got my attention.
This is by no means a complete list of my favorite novels, just the twelve I came up with today. What are your favorite novels? What got left off the list? Leave a comment and let me know what you’re reading and what books you can’t live without. Books are magic. Get into it!
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