Good books have the power to teach us about the past and warn us about the future. They teach us important lessons and allow us to see the world through a different perspective – through the author’s and the characters’ eyes. Not only do books give us a glimpse into history, but they also provide us with something to think and talk about in the present. This list features 10 classics everyone should read at least once in their life.
1. Utopia, by Thomas More
Everyone wants to live in a perfect world, right? Utopia explores the concept of a perfect society and whether it’s actually ideal or if it causes as many problems as it supposedly fixes. Even though this utopian society seems perfect at first and solves many materialistic problems, they actually take away their citizens’ free will and creative expression in the process. This is a great book to discuss with friends because it raises so many ethical questions. Grab your copy here.
2. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
You’ve probably seen one of the dozens of movies or tv adaptations made of this book. If you’re like me, you probably weren’t too impressed with them. The book is great, though! Not only is the plot interesting, but the author skillfully develops the characters.
This book will make you think about how actions have consequences, the theme of science versus the natural, and what the cost of technology is. Was the monster a monster from the moment of creation or because Victor abandoned and loathed him? Develop your own opinion by buying your copy here!
3. Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
Though this novel initially starts off a bit slow, it’s worth the read. As you make your way through this story, you can’t help but discuss Dickens’ characters and their ideas about life and society. One character in particular believes facts are superior to imagination, and readers see how this philosophy has a negative impact. Another character, though, shows readers how to cultivate both intellect and emotion, and she helps transform the people around her. Get your copy here.
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
Even though this book is technically written for children, it’s still one of my favorites. Not only does the story grab your attention, but the characters are brilliantly written. The Christian allusions throughout the book add a layer of complexity, and I’ve always been fascinated with Lewis’ depiction of Aslan.
This is just one book in the Narnia series – the others are just as good and imaginative. If you want a quick and enjoyable read that’ll make you feel like a kid again, you should definitely get this book here!
5. Billy Budd, Sailor, by Herman Melville
Billy Budd’s story is wild. This novella follows a character who accidentally commits a crime and must pay the consequences for it. You’ll quickly develop strong feelings toward the characters, and you’ll feel like you’re actually on a boat in the open seas. Even after you finish this story, you won’t be able to stop thinking about the ending and whether the final decision was the right one or not. Buy it here.
6. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is much more than the required reading you might’ve had in high school. It’s the epitome of the American dream and the Roaring Twenties. It’s the classic rags-to-riches story. The novel follows Gatsby, who’s materially rich, but wants more – he wants the girl of his dreams. Whenever people think about the Roaring Twenties, they always think about the great parties, fun clothes, and jazz music. Fitzgerald incorporates these elements, but also shows how recklessness is intertwined in it all.
I love the symbolism of the eyes over the Valley of Ashes and the green light at the end of the dock. There’s so much to unpack! You can buy a copy of this book here.
7. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Out of all Hemingway’s novels and short stories, this classic will forever be my favorite. Not only will the sharp dialogue between Catherine and Frederic draw you in, but the action and World War I setting will be the reason you stay. Basing it on his own experiences, Hemingway plunges his characters into war-torn Italy. Frederic encounters horrific circumstances, and he drastically changes over the course of the book. His relationship with Catherine causes him to view the war and world around him differently, and he’s not the same person he was. When you’re reading A Farewell to Arms, take note of when it rains – Hemingway uses it symbolically throughout the story! Buy the book here.
8. The Complete Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor is an amazing writer, and her short stories are masterfully written. Taking place in the South, these stories have vibrant characters, complex symbolism, subtle allusions, and timeless lessons woven in them. Reading O’Connor’s stories are a delight, but analyzing the different layers and characters will give you a whole new appreciation for them! “Revelation,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” and “The River” are three of my favorite short stories that she has written. You’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this story collection here.
9. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
This book opens you to different cultures and shows the effect progress and change have on tradition. I enjoyed reading this book because it offered a perspective different from my own and what I encounter in my life. It’ll teach you about the history of Africa and open your eyes to the struggles that have existed. Get the book here.
10. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
Set in 19th century New Orleans, Chopin depicts the social attitudes present during this time. The novel follows Edna, who tries to find happiness by breaking out of the mold assigned to her. You’ll enjoy trying to figure out the characters’ motivations and thinking about whether their actions were understandable. Music, solitude, and the ocean play a large role in the story and in Edna’s life, and the entire novel comes down to a single choice. Read this book here.
By reading about characters’ struggles and stories, we can relate to them and the human experience. Not only is that a cathartic experience, but we also learn about the people and places that came before us. Whether it’s finishing a classic every month or reading a chapter before bed, set goals for yourself. Once you get into the story and its message, you might find that you can’t stop reading!
Check out our summer reading book recommendations here!
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