14 Classic College Books You’ll Want to Read Again as a Real Adult

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.)

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë

Life lesson: Don’t fall in love with an antihero, even if he’s the antihero of your story.

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'Emma' by Jane Austen

Life lesson: You think you’re a great social force, but everyone’s just scared of you.

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'East of Eden' by John Steinbeck

Life lesson: Try not to marry a sociopath.

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'The Stranger' by Albert Camus

Life lesson: It’s good to have feelings. Sometimes they keep you from killing people.

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'The Second Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir

Life lesson: Female privilege” isn’t really a thing, bro.

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'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

Life lesson: Lady authors have the worst nightmares.

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'My Ántonia' by Willa Cather

Life lesson: There’s plenty in the American prairie that will make you cry.

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'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

Life lesson: The effects of racism aren’t invisible at all.

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'Everything that Rises Must Converge' by Flannery O’Connor

Life lesson: Life is a grotesque movie.

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'Winesburg, Ohio' by Sherwood Anderson

Life lesson: Everybody is interesting, everybody is sad.

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'Nightwood' by Djuna Barnes

Life lesson: It’s extremely hard to know what makes you happy.

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'Poetics' by Aristotle

Life lesson: Emotion and tension in art come through form, form, form.

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'Collected Sonnets' by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Life lesson: It’s not about the form, it’s about what you do inside the form.

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'Song of Solomon' by Toni Morrison

Life lesson: There’s some form of salvation in knowing where you came from.

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