It should be pretty obvious from the title of this blog that I believe reading is an essential part of life. However, I am aware that not everyone else thinks this way. And that’s okay. I’m merely here to offer a suggestion. If you never read anything else in your entire life, you should at least read the eight novels featured on this list; and I’m going to tell you why.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee– To Kill a Mockingbird is a rare American novel that can be discovered over and over again without fear of the story getting old. Written in 1960, Harper Lee’s book is still whispering secrets about race, tolerance, justice, family, loyalty, innocence, ethics and values. These issues ring out as sharply to us today as they did to Harper in 1960. Love it or hate, you’ll respond to it. You will be challenged and changed by To Kill a Mockingbird like no other book you will ever read.
- On the Road, by Jack Kerouac– On the Road chronicles Kerouac’s years traveling across North America. His love of America, compassion, and sense of language make this novel and its quest for self-knowledge and experience an inspirational work of lasting importance. This classic novel of longing and freedom will inspire anyone who reads it to seek a remedy for their wanderlust and quit wasting their life with what-ifs. If you’ve never had the guts to go for it, whatever it may be, you will after reading On the Road.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll– This book inaugurated a new era of (children’s) literature in English: books that didn’t have to be moralistic or didactic or teach a lesson. Books that created imaginative worlds that let the mind run free. But, you may be asking, why should I care? If you’ve ever felt misplaced, as though you didn’t belong, or as if there are rules in the world but not everyone follows the same set, or have ever been thankful that not every book you read has a moral at the end, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is for you. A healthy imagination is essential to a happy life.
- If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino– At it’s core, If on a winter’s night a traveler is a book about the pleasure of reading. By working your way through the story (which is told in the second person) you become much more aware of that part of you that likes to read–or not read–and why. This is a story that is weird; it’s literary experimentation, but it’s genius. It’s difficult to read at times but this text is full of masterful examples regarding how to write and read. Essentially, it’s a story about you.
- The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger– This is the coming of age story of all coming of age stories. The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most controversial works of fiction ever published. That right there is exactly why you should read it. Personally, it’s one of my favorites but nothing I say here can help you form your own opinion of Salinger’s novel. That’s something you have to figure out for yourself. However, I can promise you that you will regret it if you never read it.
- The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald– The strangest thing about The Great Gatsby is that it’s a book almost without a protagonist. Sure, Nick tells the story, but he isn’t much more than that–a storyteller. It isn’t made any lesser for apparent flaws such as these, or the flimsiness of the plot. In fact, the genius of the this novel is the tension between Nick’s storytelling and Gatsby’s myths. Fitzgerald’s novel is a cautionary tale of the American dream that every American must read.
- Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad– Conrad’s novella is an intense and suspenseful journey into the disturbed psyches of an ivory trader in the Congo and a British ship captain. Conrad exposes the racist, greedy nature of imperialism. This is a powerful work full of psychological reflection and it is dense with symbolism and complex themes. Conrad believed that evil lies in every man and constant, unsparing efforts have to be made to keep it from taking over control. It seems difficult to interpret this context of evil. But on my part, I want to believe that we are more likely to fall victim to our own follies. The last words of the book send a chill down the spine and make one wonder how helpless a man can become in the trap of his own vice. The only way to evade this cage is to keep guard of one’s thoughts and to cling to the values of good.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway– A war story without heroes or villains, full of hollow victories and rage against the bureaucracy of war and what people under pressure can be forced to do, filled with some very good meditations on killing and war and love, and the importance of acting beyond personal gain, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a must-read. Nothing is black and white and Hemingway teaches this important less in a way that only he can.
If you never read anything else in your life, you’ll be a better person for reading the eight novels on this list. Who knows, you might learn something new or breathe life into a dormant passion for reading.