1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Why you should actually read it: Dickens gives readers a good lesson in why you should be kind to strangers, because you never know who they really are.
My take: Totally not interested.
2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Bible
What you think it’s about: A group of guys had a bet as to how many stories, characters, and themes they could fit into one book which would then spawn a number of organized religions and phenomenons.
Why you should actually read it: Regardless of your religious affiliation, the Bible is an integral piece of historical literature that shaped countless other texts.
My take: I have read it. Although, it took me three classes and a year to do so.
4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
What you think it’s about: Sailors who listen to electronic music get pissed when they can’t track down their favorite DJ. What a dick.
Why you should actually read it: Melville’s novel is one of the major works of American Romanticism and has one of the most famous first sentences in English literary history.
My take: I think I will pass, but thanks.
5. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
What you think it’s about: An architect skips class all the time and hangs out at the water fountain in his school hallway, which is how he earns this nickname that sticks with him forever.
Why you should actually read it: You shouldn’t.
My take: I will take your advice!
6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
What you think it’s about: An old guy goes on a fishing trip.
Why you should actually read it: Because you probably skipped it in high school and you’ll have a greater appreciation for it, and for the sea, as an older person.
My take: If that’s the best reason you can give me (which is very weak), I don’t think I will read it.
7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
What you think it’s about: One college professor who gets way too close to his student’s younger sister is criticized for falling in love instead of babysitting her.
Why you should actually read it: It’s a pretty important lesson in what not to do when it comes to love, romance, and relationships.
My take: This one is on my list to read.
8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
What you think it’s about: A young Leonardo DiCaprio cons 22 people out of millions of dollars.
Why you should actually read it: The real plot in Catch-22 inspired a new phrase in the English language that means “a difficult situation for which there is no easy or possible solution.”
My take: I may read this one. Any title that adds a phrase to the lexicon is reason enough for me.
9. 1984 by George Orwell
What you think it’s about: A story based on one of the original Apple computer commercials.
Why you should actually read it: The problems highlighted in Orwell’s popular novel are still very relevant to the world we live in today.
My take: Read this one in high school
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
What you think it’s about: A bird-watching walk gets completely out of hand.
Why you should actually read it: Harper Lee’s work of literature is an essential read that deals with serious historical issues around race that had often gone ignored.
My take: Read it and loved it.
11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
What you think it’s about: A book about war that’s interesting until page 200, and then it mainly turns into a doorstop.
Why you should actually read it: To be able to say you’ve read a major “classic” and earn bragging rights since War and Peace is known as one of the longest books ever written.
My take: I don’t need bragging rights. Give me a good reason.
12. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
What you think it’s about: Pirates spend their whole lives looking for gold but no one told them that “X” marks the spot.
Why you should actually read it: This classic tale is a glimpse into what young adult novels and children’s literature looked like in 19th century America.
My take: Poor pirates. I may look at adding this one to the list.
13. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
What you think it’s about: A bored lady who uses men and material things to fulfill her otherwise dull life, as told by a privileged male.
Why you should read it: To have a better understanding of sexism circa France in the mid-1800s.
My take: Interesting premise, and I may read it.
14. The Odyssey by Homer
What you think it’s about: One soldier goes on a very, very long vacation that shifts from a fun-filled adventure to a tale of survival.
Why you should actually read it: This tome was originally recited by Homer before it was written down, making The Odyssey a significant piece of history you can actually touch.
My take: Beautifully written, lyrical, and recommended.
15. Ulysses by James Joyce
What you think it’s about: A United States war general goes into lots of detail about his battle strategies.
Why you should actually read it: Ulysses is the trendsetter of highly experimental fiction and challenges your imagination to work in overdrive.
My take: “Highly experimental fiction”? I need to do some research on this.
16. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What you think it’s about: All the ego and discrimination that’s fit to print.
Why you should read it: The novel shows readers that sometimes a search for identity and sense of self doesn’t have to come from a great adventure; it can also happen in the confines of day-to-day living.
My take: I have tried to read this so many times that I have lost count. Haven’t succeeded yet.
17. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
What you think it’s about: A story about a woman who lives a very, very, very, very long life — 400 pages long, in fact.
Why you should actually read it: If you can get past the tough language and considerable amount of pages, Jane Eyre explores a number of important themes like gender, sexuality, class, and religion.
My take: Yuck
18. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
What you think it’s about: Walt Disney, a biography.
Why you should actually read it: It’s a short read that serves as a portrait of America during the Great Depression and is also an important depiction of friendship.
My take: Read it and didn’t see the big deal.
19. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Why you should actually read it: Sylvia Plath unapologetically delves into the complicated nature of patriarchy and oppression.
My take: Plath was a whiney-crybaby who was able to provide good sound-bytes.
20. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Why you should actually read it: J.D. Salinger wrote one of the best coming-of-age novels in recent history, and it definitely won’t leave you bored.
My take: I abhor all things Salinger, with this thinly-veiled biography at the top.
21. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
22. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Why you should actually read it: Dostoevsky addresses the concept of morality and causes readers to wonder whether the end really does justify the means.
My take: I can see why this is assigned reading. It’s not a difficult book to read, and there is literary merit galore!