13 Classics To Get You Ready For Back To School, Because It's Time To Get Your Head In The Game
Maybe you're still in denial, but sooner or later, you will have to accept the inevitable: summer is coming to an end, and the first day of school is right around the corner. It's time to stock up on school supplies, pick up a few last-minute dorm essentials, and narrow down your first day of school outfit choices, because September is closing in. It may be harder than you think to get your mind off the beach and into the classroom, but if you want to get in the mood for school, put down the sunscreen and try picking up a academically inclined book instead.
I know what you're thinking. You've done plenty of summer reading over the last few months — you tanned while poring over your beach reads, you learned a little something with some new nonfiction titles, and you even hit the trails with a paperback or two in your knapsack — but to get in the right state of mind for classroom discussions, term papers, and all-nighters, you can always count on the classics to get your head straight. Whether you're still in high school or heading off to another semester at college, there's something about cracking open a novel by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Franz Kafka (you know, those authors that undoubtedly made your school reading list at some point) that puts you in the mood for school. They're challenging and enriching, and they promise to help shake the rust off of the brain gears you've been neglecting all summer long.
Still not ready to say goodbye to your beach blanket and hello to a new year's syllabus? Here are 13 classic books that will help you get ready to go back to school:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A true master of English literature, Jane Austen is the perfect author to help ease you out of summer fun and into academic seriousness. Witty, charming, and satirical, Pride and Prejudice has enough romance to rival a summer beach read and enough social commentary to get your interpretation gears turning. As if you ever need an excuse to revisit her work.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Admit it: You never finished this monster of a classic when it was on your reading syllabus in high school. Well, the pressure of finishing an interpretive paper on the book is off, so you can take your time rereading this bildungsroman. That's right, I'm throwing literary terms your way. I told you it was time to get back to school, but don't worry, Dickens is here to help with his lengthy, poetic descriptions, satirical jabs, and hidden symbolism.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Not quite ready for a 400-page Victorian novel yet? Inch your way closer to academia with Steinbeck's concise classic novella Of Mice and Men. It may be short, but its literary genius is mighty. Although it will only take you a little while to read, you'll be thinking about it for hours after — just like your lit professor likes you to do.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
No one understands the pressure of early adulthood, especially those associated with college and young professionalism, quite like Sylvia Plath. Adding The Bell Jar to your end-of-summer reading list will not only get you ready for school by dipping your toes back into classic American literature, but it just might help you deal with the inevitable pressures you're bound to face once the first school bell rings.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
A healthy dose of cynicism might just be the think to get your head out of the clouds of summer and into classroom-mode, and there's plenty of it in J. D. Salinger's contemporary classic. Sure, school didn't seem to work out to well for Holden Caulfield, the novel's wandering, musing protagonist, but his narration is the kind that will get your highlighting hand twitching. There are just too many good quotes to be left unmarked.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
One of the few slave narratives written by a woman, Harriet Jacob's autobiography chronicles the young woman's journey from a life of slavery in North Carolina to the freedom and liberty she found in the Northern United States. A truly harrowing tale, this nonfiction read will set your mind on the right track for political, social, and cultural ruminations.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
If you aren't quite ready to take on theme-heavy tragedies, wet your Shakespearan whistle with one of his comedies instead. The Taming of the Shrew has everything that makes reading and studying the Bard great — inventive language, subplots on subplots, and raunchy humor — but is less challenging than is other works. Plus, it is the play that 10 Things I Hate About You is based on, and it's about time you read it anyways.
1984 by George Orwell
Nothing says "summer is over" quite like dystopias, right? One of my personal favorites from old summer reading lists, this Orwell classic is brimming with passages to overthink, characters to dissect, and allusions to interpret. If you really want to get in the back-to-school zone, you can even try and teach yourself Newspeak, the fictional language from the book. Come on, you know you want to start making flashcards again.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Let horror and suspense lead the way back to school with Shelley's mad doctor Frankenstein and his monster. Bursting with imagery and laden with symbolism, Frankenstein will help ease you back into the practice of active reading, literary criticism, and interpretation. Oh, and it will also scare your pants off. Trust me, you think you know the story, but if you haven't read the original, you have no idea.
The Metamorphosis & Other Stories by Franz Kafka
When everyone in your lit classes toss around the term "Kafkaesque," make sure you know what they mean. The best way to do that, of course, is to dive into the author's work, and the place to start is his haunting and just plain creepy short story, "The Metamorphosis." "Nightmarish" doesn't even begin to cover it.
The Plague by Albert Camus
Ready to stop wondering what nail polish shade matches your tan best and embark instead on some heavy, philosophical inquiry instead? Let Albert Camus's journey into the Absurd give you a jump start. Much more than just a story about the bubonic plague, this existential masterpiece calls destiny, personal responsibility, and the very existence of humanity into question. Get ready to rethink everything you know.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Masterfully written, hugely influential, and highly enjoyable, this canonical work of African American literature is just the thing for the transition from summer fun to September seriousness. Their Eyes Were Watching God is sincere as it is thought-provoking, and will get you thinking about issues of gender, race, and class — all with the help of the powerful, ambitious writing that made Hurston a beloved contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.
Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin
One of China's Four Great Classic Novels, Dream of the Red Chamber is a love story, a family history, and a social commentary all at once. Family fueds, tragedy, betrayed friendships, and forbidden romance make this novel an 18th century Chinese Romeo and Juliet, which happens to be the perfect type of challenging read to get you ready for school.
Image: kate hiscock/Flickr