My love of reading didn't develop until later in life. I freely admit that during school I would often skim through SparkNotes instead of reading through the assigned books. As an adult, I’ve realized that that there many classics that are must-reads, and there's probably a reason many of them were assigned in school.
Most recently, I was inspired by the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and decided to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. I barely remembered the story, but I knew I had read it before. It was wonderful to re-discover the classic characters and to be surprised by the twists and turns of a forgotten story. Even though I was fairly young when I first read this book, I believe I was able to grasp its deeper concepts. However, I think I was able to appreciate it slightly more and in a different way at my current age.
I’ve made a list for you all to help you go back and tackle these classics. Now is your chance to read them, re-read them, and fully appreciate them. Here are 19 classics everyone should put on their bucket list.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
First published in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird was an instant bestseller. It debuted just before the peak of the American civil rights movement. Lee brings the town of Maycomb alive with her memorable characters. The story follows the deeply moving childhood of Scout and Jem Finch.
2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Living in Brooklyn or New York City makes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a required read. It's a largely autobiographical story about Francie Nolan, a girl growing up in the slums of Williamsburg in the early twentieth century. The Nolan family has enchanted readers since 1943.
3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth was published in 1931 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. It paints a portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned. The story follows a humble Chinese farmer, his family, their land, and their shifting fortunes.
4. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (Illustrations by Jules Feiffer)
The Phantom Tollbooth is jam-packed with fun puns and idioms. Many believe the wordplay is too advanced for children and its best read or re-read at a later age. The protagonist, Milo, receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to the Kingdom of Wisdom.
5. The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Newbery Award-winning dystopian fiction novel, The Giver, is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a community where every person is assigned a specific role. It leaves readers of all ages questioning their own existence and place in the world.
6. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Many only know about the Alice from Disney's 195 film. However, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is truly a magnificent read. It was written in 1895 and is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 was written during the McCarthy era when author Bradbury was concerned about censorship in the United States. The book is often a student's first introduction to the importance of intellectual freedom.
8. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders, tells the story of class conflict between a group of lower class kids and a group of privileged kids in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965. The novel was unique for its portrayal of class conflict, violence, and prejudice. The story could easily take place in a contemporary setting.
9. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl is highly praised for its overall message of nonconformity. Stargirl always acts like herself despite what other people think of her. This is an important lesson at any age.
10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Set during World War II, The Book Thief is the emotional story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. It reminds readers about how having access to books is a luxury.
11. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck is known for many classics such as Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The Pearl, and The Red Pony. However, Grapes of Wrath is often considered Steinbeck's masterpiece. It is set in the Great Depression and follows a family of sharecroppers who are driven from their land due to the Dust Bowl.
12. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This memoir recounts the unconventional upbringing of Walls and her siblings by their deeply dysfunctional parents. It is an intense portrait of an outrageous family.
13. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky is known for his profound insights into human dilemmas. The novel explores the psychology of a criminal. His memorable character, Raskolnikov, is more tormented by the guilt of committing a crime rather than the actual imprisonment.
14. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
Beyond The Catcher In The Rye, Salinger delivers nine interesting and powerful short stories to read again and again. It contains famous tales such as A Perfect Day For Bananafish which was first published in The New Yorker in 1948.
15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Atwood presents a terrifying dystopian society in her strongly feminist novel. In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood explores the consequences of a reversal of women's rights. Some of the novel's concerns seem dated today but it remains a powerful portrayal of a totalitarian society.
16. Lolita by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
Lolita was revolutionary for its frank discussion of forbidden desire and sexuality. Despite its controversial plot, it is considered to be beautifully written. Impressively, Nabokov somehow manages to elicit empathy from his readers.
17. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
THESE COVERS ARE SWAPPED! Published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues in English society. The courtship between Darcy and Elizabeth is one of the most cherished love stories in English literature.
18. 1984 by George Orwell
1984 is a powerful warning against the dangers of a totalitarian society. Orwell's visions of Big Brother and thoughtcrime are terrifying. Today's technological possibilities of surveillance, data collection, and storage have surpassed the novel.
19. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Established as one of the best pieces of Vietnam War literature, The Things They Carried is a unique collection of short stories. O'Brien blurs the line between fact and fiction by dedicating it to the men of the Alpha Company.
Whether you need a new read or you're trying to brush up on your classics, this list will cover it all.