It's summer, school's out forever, and you never want to touch another college reading list again. I get it. I absolutely get it. There's nothing quite like "assigned reading" to really kill a person's love of literature, and there's nothing quite like being tested on a book to make you forget how to read for pleasure.
Reading is both de-emphasized and wrongly emphasized in college classrooms. It's rare to feel excited about any book when you're slogging through an Intro to English Lit class only because it's a box you have to check off before you graduate. The reading lists in most English classes are simply too long — if you don't fall behind on reading by week three, you're some sort of mutant — and both the relentless pace of assignments and the lukewarm classroom analysis from your peers turn reading into a total chore. It's really hard to love reading in college. There's no point in denying it.
The real tragedy is that people graduate from college and never pick up a classic novel again, because a) they had a terrible time reading it and b) they feel like there's no need. After all, they technically finished Madame Bovary, despite their heavy reliance on SparkNotes and late-night skimming. So what's the point in reading it again?
Before you throw away your battered stacks of used college novels, hang on to a few of the really good ones. After all, they're more than just fodder for cocktail-hour conversations — they're brilliant life textbooks. Who needs What Color Is Your Parachute? when you can learn everything you need to know about how not to be a terrifying sociopath by reading a little Camus, a little O'Connor?
(Please note: This list can't help but be ridiculously incomplete, and should not be used as a substitute for the entire canon of world literature.)
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Life lesson: Don't fall in love with an antihero, even if he's the antihero of your story.
2. Emma by Jane Austen
Life lesson: You think you're a great social force, but everyone's just scared of you.
3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Life lesson: Try not to marry a sociopath.
4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
Life lesson: It's good to have feelings. Sometimes they keep you from killing people.
5. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Life lesson: "Female privilege" isn't really a thing, bro.
6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Life lesson: Lady authors have the worst nightmares.
7. My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Life lesson: There's plenty in the American prairie that will make you cry.
8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Life lesson: The effects of racism aren't invisible at all.
9. Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
Life lesson: Life is a grotesque movie.
10. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Life lesson: Everybody is interesting, everybody is sad.
11. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
Life lesson: It's extremely hard to know what makes you happy.
12. Poetics by Aristotle
Life lesson: Emotion and tension in art come through form, form, form.
13. Collected Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Life lesson: It's not about the form, it's about what you do inside the form.
14. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Life lesson: There's some form of salvation in knowing where you came from.