As an English teacher, I have always been frustrated and a little disappointed when I learned that many of my students faked their way through the novels I so desperately wanted them to enjoy. Convinced that what we were reading and studying was essential to their lives, I snobbishly forgot that their perspective wasn’t always in line with that of a sophisticated adult. As a result, I often said things like “Trust me, you’ll appreciate it later.” Well, now that later has arrived. These are the nice reads you neglected years ago, but which are sure to delight you today.
Brave New World
Aldous Huxley’s daring and sexy vision of the dystopic future is more prophetic and relevant to our current time than the author ever imagined. Students frequently asked me why I blushed my way through the teaching of this novel, I’m pretty sure the orgy scene in Chapter 5 has something to do with it.
The Sun Also Rises
Imagine three eternally drunk men pining for a woman who has little interest in any of them. Throw in some bullfighting, a bit of fishing, and a couple of drunken fist fights, and, voila — The Sun Also Rises. My favorite scene is from Chapter 7 where the champagne-drinking Count Mippipopolous, the original “Most Interesting Man in the World,” removes his shirt to show off the arrow scars he acquired while fighting in seven different wars and four revolutions.
The Catcher in the Rye
When you were a teenager, you probably thought the angst-filled, potty-mouthed Holden Caulfield was a rock star. When you read this novel as an adult, you can’t help but think that this spoiled brat had it coming to him the whole time.
Lord of the Flies
Remember the charming young Christ-like figure Simon and the lovable and pudgy intellectual Piggy? Remember how they stole Piggy’s glasses and dropped a giant boulder on his head and then chopped up Simon into a million pieces thinking he was the “beast”? Kind of makes you think twice about babysitting your sister’s kids this weekend, doesn’t it?
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Considered by literati to be a “perfect novel,” the richness of the plot is often overlooked by most of the jaded 11th graders who are required to read it. Pay careful attention to how Fitzgerald begins and ends each chapter; his prose is so strikingly beautiful it sends a chill down my spine each time I re-read it. Incidentally, my wife reports a similar feeling upon seeing Leonardo DiCaprio on screen as the moneyed playboy determined to repeat the past.
Of Mice and Men
You could read this classic Steinbeck novella in one sitting at the beach although you might want to pack a box of tissues in the cooler. On the surface, Of Mice and Men is a simple story, but the subtext, which strikes at the heart of friendship and hardship, is as unforgettable as the giant six foot rabbit that taunts Lennie at the end of the novel.
Crime and Punishment
People tend to shy away from this profound 19th-century Russian classic because it is lengthy, and, quite frankly, Russian. In truth, Raskolnikov, the tormented university student guilty of a premeditated double axe murder, is such a delightfully wicked psychopath the novel is a veritable page-turner. After you wince your way through Part 1, prepare for the cerebral chess match between murderer and police investigator that will make any Law & Order: SVU fan swoon.
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett is as cheeky and witty as Hugh Grant is handsome.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
On the surface, Mark Twain’s classic novel about the not-so-innocent Huck and his escaped slave friend Jim is a charming adventure tale. But Twain explores the young Huck’s dark side with such acute truthfulness, the story becomes one part after-school special and three parts Dr. Phil.