We've all worked through assigned reading for many classic authors, and, admittedly, usually move on after their one or two most famous works. But if we leave them as the stuff of high school syllabi past, we're missing some of literature's hidden pearls. And that's no good at all. Regardless of what you thought of Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Dostoevsky the first time around, there's more really good stuff just below the surface. Come see.
'The Complete Fairy Tales' by Oscar Wilde
You've probably read The Importance of Being Ernest or A Portrait of Dorian Gray, but have you encountered The Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde? Each short story in this collection is a gem, revealing poignant beauty in the human heart. Wilde's stories are full of shocking sacrifices and tragic love, and they will give you a new appreciation for the depth and genius of Wilde's writing.
'The War Prayer' by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn... we know the drill when it comes to one of America's most lauded writers. The War Prayer is so short, it escapes most readers' notice, but Mark Twain's prose poem causes us to rethink our stance on the complicated reality of war in just 96 pages. He paints a portrait of war different from the propaganda coming from either side of the issue, and forces us to think outside of our commonly accepted ideas about warfare.
'Sweet Thursday' by John Steinbeck
You were likely assigned Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and bolder readers delved into Tortilla Flat or East of Eden. Most, however, overlook Sweet Thursday. We're used to a Steinbeck who presents us with the harsh realities of life, but Sweet Thursday presents a different side of the classic author: one that is disarmingly romantic, bent on finding the simple joys of life. Sweet Thursday is profound yet charming (Steinbeck described as charming?) that will make you fall in love with life — and maybe even with Steinbeck.
'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is an essential read, but you may have glanced over Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey was one of Austen's earliest novels, but it was not published until after her death. The novel is hilarious. Austen peppered her novel with sarcasm and outright mockery of other literary works of her day, specifically the gothic novel. It's a must-read for any Austen fan, but also shows a starkly unapologetic side of Austen to any reader game for a little 19th century entertainment.
'Shooting an Elephant' by George Orwell
We all have Animal Farm or 1984 checked off our lists, but likely not Shooting an Elephant, which will give you a brief glimpse into the world of Orwell — one as complex as his novels. Orwell's brief essay provides a blunt portrayal of colonialism, and his perceived place in it, yet ends with a surprise that will make us question our own motives behind the small and large decisions in our lives.
'For Whom the Bell Tolls' by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is very divisive: There are many who would rather never meet his prose again. This book will motivate you to give him another chance. Hemingway's depiction of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s resonates universally. His characters take us on a journey through the soul of man in which the battles of humankind are embodied by the daily struggles of those in the war zone.
'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoevsky
It's likely that you were assigned Crime and Punishment in high school, but you should have been assigned The Brothers Karamazov. A voyage into the ramifications of guilt, the complexities of family ties, and both the purity and the hypocrisy of religion, The Brothers Karamazov is a sweeping narrative that will keep you guessing. Dostoevsky probes into every unflattering facet of his characters, and it can be hard for us to make up our minds about whether or not we like them until the final page, but the journey reveals more about the intensity of a twisted human soul than many authors can achieve. Highlights include the chapter of the book known as “The Grand Inquisitor,” a thought experiment concerning the system of established religion in a way you've never encountered before.
'The Silmarillion' by J. R. R. Tolkien
You can't call yourself a Tolkien fan unless you've read The Silmarillion. The book is fascinating, heartbreaking, and steeped in mystery and wonder. Tolkien lets us witness an environment with so much promise as it spirals out of control, yet we can find hope in the fact that it will lead to the world we know and love in The Lord of the Rings.
'Clans of the Alphane Moon' by Philip K. Dick
If you enjoy science fiction, you probably inhaled Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but don't bypass Clans of the Alphane Moon. With a better sense of humor than his other two famed books, Clans of the Alphane Moon analyzes madness, and asks the question, who is crazy, and if they are in fact crazy, is that a bad thing? The story is set in a futuristic, extraterrestrial Cold War. Besides the intriguing backdrop, it's a fascinating portrayal of the different forms madness takes, whether depression, paranoia, or mania.