Many of my friends, myself included, regret not taking the time to read these books that you should have read in school, but didn’t. They introduced us into a world of literary classics, and we took them for granted. We found SparkNotes and read summaries of them, but never actually took the time to appreciate them as novels. I have gone back and re-read a few of the books they assigned in high school and have come to appreciate them on a much higher level. While you may not be an avid reader anymore, there are still some great books that you should have read in school and that you should take the time to read now.
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Even if you saw the recent movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby is one of those books that you should have read in school but didn’t. I blew through the novel in high school and did not pay attention to the symbolism that the novel had to offer. It gives readers a glimpse into the glamorous life during the Roaring '20s and is a favorite novel among those who take the time to read it.
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Similar to The Great Gatsby, I did not appreciate this novel for all it had to offer in high school. It tells about a true friendship and how hard life was during the Great Depression. Not many books feature such a strong male relationship and you start to love both Lenny and George.
3. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
When I started off reading The Catcher in the Rye, I was very turned off by how arrogant and rude Holden seemed. It was very off-putting and eventually led me to put down the book before I even really got into it. As I got older, I started to be intrigued by the idea of a main character that was so unlikable. When I learned that this book is a semi-autobiography of J.D. Salinger, it immediately changed my perception of Holden. He became more human and I started to find reasoning behind his wrongful behavior. Whether you love or hate Holden, The Catcher in the Rye is a classic novel that should be given a second chance by readers.
4. Night by Elie Wiesel
I was surprised that more people did not take the time to read Night by Elie Wiesel. It is not that long and is filled with a true inspirational story of one man’s time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The book is only about 100 pages and is so captivating, you can finish it in no time. I found myself crying at the firsthand account of the conditions in the concentration camps and applauded Elie Wiesel’s bravery in reliving those memories as he wrote this book.
5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness is about a man, Charles Marlow, who goes on a search in the heart of Africa to find and help an ill agent, Mr. Kurtz. In this process, Marlow is faced with natives, whom he calls “savages,” and eventually finds Kurtz to be living among the natives in a seat of power. While some have called Conrad a racist for his depiction of Africans, I think it is important to read this book and see just how wrong Conrad was in his description of African life and culture in the 1890s.
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I started off reading this book in high school and was bored within the first few pages, so I SparkNotes-ed the entire book. I regret missing out on such a classic novel because I didn’t want to take the time to read it. Wuthering Heights goes through the affairs between Cathy and Hindley (who are siblings) and the orphan, Healthcliff, who is brought into their home. There are love affairs, deaths, and an abundance of emotion. You will go from loving a character to hating them within a few chapters, and by the end, you will be exposed to a variety of emotion that you didn’t know one book could have.
7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It bothers me beyond belief when people refer to Frankenstein’s monster as “Frankenstein.” It is clear that they have never read the book and are hung up on the pop culture idea of the story. The movie is filled with dark imagery and one of the most terrifying creatures known in monster history. It is even a more enjoyable novel when you learn that Mary Shelley originally wrote it to win a bet against her husband that she could write a better horror story than he could.
8. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
When we were younger, Romeo and Juliet was synonymous with a timeless love story of two young adults who would do anything for love. We all took that story and just accepted that it was the love story to end all love stories. If we all took the time to read the play in high school, we might have realized that the story was about a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl who fall in love over the course of 3 days. Your view of the classic love story might change after actually reading the play.
We have all heard of these books, and probably even know the plot. But without taking the time to read them, we cannot fully appreciate them. What did you think of these books you should have read in school but didn’t? What are some other books you skipped over in high school but ended up loving? Do you think students should take the time to appreciate reading when they are younger and in school?