12 Books to Read Before You Start a Full-Time Job

Sugarcoat off: the world of job-hunting is really, really terrible. And it's especially awful you're a fresh college grad who's just trying to put together a résumé and cover letter for the first time. The first thing I did the weekend after I graduated school was send out my résumé to as many companies as possible, praying I would land an interview. It was a blast! (No, no it wasn’t.) Point is, if you're out there looking, I feel your struggle. It will happen for you, though, I promise.

Sugarcoat on: There is one good thing about not being tied to a full-time job, and it's that you've got some downtime. Jobs are no doubt time-consuming (and, um, occasionally soul-crushing, but that's another matter entirely) as we put in our 40-60 hours a week, devoting our very existence to said occupation. So, if you have some time while you're on the hunt for a gig, take advantage of the R&R and read a few hefty books you’ve always meant to tackle. These books require your full attention, which is a good thing because they’re all amazing. You may never have this opportunity again!

1. The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

This book is about a road trip, but it’s also about a professor who goes crazy trying to find the meaning of quality. Zen warrants more time (hell, give yourself an entire summer) because it’s so non-linear and so thick with philosophical dialogue. This story (really, three stories) allows you to do some heavy soul-searching, which is a good idea before you get bogged down with any job.

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2. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t hard to read. Pollan’s writing is actually quite clear and accessible for what he’s trying to convey: the nature of food. Why you should tackle this particular food book before you start your 40-hour work week? You’ll be really sucked into it. There are so many facts and so many studies, you’ll become truly engrossed with what Pollan is presenting.

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3. Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov is known for his controversial novels (uh, Lolita, anyone?), and Ada or Ardor is no exception. If you’re disgusted yet strangely intrigued by Jaime and Cersei Lannister ’s incestuous relationship, then you’ll be all over this book. Ada or Ardor is about the drawn-out and complex relationship between a sister and brother. This book is something like 1,000 pages — it’s long. You need time and a clear head to get involved with this story.

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4. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

Genet’s classic LGBTQ novel is about a drag queen named Divine who is actually introduced as a character who has died from tuberculosis. Divine's story is told by a narrator who is in prison. Originally written in French, this book is very compelling and beautiful. But it’s difficult to read this in a short period of time. You really need at least a month for it to truly affect you.

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5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

When I discuss Catch-22 with people, we all conclude that it’s almost impossible to keep from starting over a few times. Catch-22 is confusing — it really is. It took me an entire summer to read it, and it’s comparatively an average size book. As you keep reading, though (power through!), it becomes more and more heart wrenching, and your questions do get answered. Catch-22 is about Yossarian, a man who tries to escape flying a plane during WWII, and his horrifying experience with a soldier named Snowden.

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6. Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace

I have never been able to finish Infinite Jest. Call me a failure, but I just don’t have what it takes, I guess. I did read several of Wallace’s short story collections, however. They weren’t easy, either. Wallace will randomly transition into French; he’ll confound you with mind-boggling detail; and he’ll make sure you pay very, very close attention to what he’s writing about. If you space out for even one second, you will be lost forever. One of my favorite short stories from this collection is “The Soul Is Not a Smithy,” which is about a boy’s tragic daydreams. Other stories include “Incarnations of Burned Children,” another shockingly sad story about parenthood, and “Oblivion,” which is about complicated relationships between humans.

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7. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

This book will drive you INSANE, I promise. But you’ll walk away with a feeling similar to running a mile without stopping to walk, or cleaning your entire apartment without sitting down to watch a re-run of Friends. Although I’m making Don Quixote sound like a chore, it really isn’t. It’s a hilarious novel (arguably, the first “novel”) about a crazy dude who thinks he’s a knight and invents magical odysseys for himself with his idiotic sidekick, Sancho. This book is almost 1,000 pages long, and has poems sprinkled in throughout. It’s not a hard read, but it definitely takes patience.

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8. Sixty-Seven Tales by Edgar Allen Poe

I know it’s not Halloween yet, but who doesn’t love a good spooky story? Many of us have read “The Raven,” but I promise you Poe has even better stories, like the classic “The Cask of Amontillado.” This collection contains most of his work, including his poems. It’s one of those books I like to slowly read through while sipping on coffee in the morning. Don’t rush when you devour these stories!

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9. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Desperate Characters, loved by both David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen, is a book about Otto and Sophie Bentwood, a privileged and sophisticated couple. All that is takes to rattle their marriage is a cat bite. This book is awesome, but it’s thick with social commentary and symbolism.

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10. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is not a long read. However, it’s emotionally draining and incredibly nonlinear. I put it down multiple times, unable to deal with the rawness of the plot (it’s about a woman who escapes slavery and lives in a house that her dead baby daughter haunts) and how it’s nonlinearly presented. But you get through it, and it’s so, so worth it.

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11. The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

This beautiful book is definitely a page-turner, but it’s pretty long, and certainly not something to read while you have a million other projects to complete. Take the time to enjoy this story about the mystical Trueba family: Esteban and his insane love for Clara the Clairvoyant; Blanca and her affair with a man Esteban does not approve of; and Alba, Esteban’s granddaughter who turns out to be very, very important.

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12. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind is the kind of novel we all want to read, but either never have the time, or figure we got what we wanted from the movie. Well, once you do have a little bit of time, you should definitely read this book, which I think is one of the most important in American history. It teaches you about everything, really: love, life, and America.

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Image: 20th Century Fox