We’re forever thankful to our teachers who instilled in us a love of learning and reading. And with the fall school season in full swing, we’re reminiscing about those books we read for school that reached us when we needed them most. We hope you find some new classics to read in this list but don’t worry, there’s no book report due. Your only homework assignment is to enjoy!
Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School
Kara’s Pick: During my junior year of high school, my English teacher spent several weeks preparing us for the honor of reading THE GREAT GATSBY. I’d had the same teacher for tenth-grade English, and in those many months studying Chaucer and Shakespeare, Hemingway and Hawthorne under his tutelage, I had never known him to speak so reverently of a text. Chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, he dazzlingly brought Fitzgerald’s book to life, and for the first time I grasped the link between literature and society, and learned firsthand how an excellent teacher can change the course of one’s life. I had always been a committed reader, but my academic fate as an English major and my professional future in publishing was pretty much sealed with that class. Read more of Kara’s review!
Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.
Read the full review here.
Emily’s Pick: It’s not often that I would enjoy writing papers for college, but this book was perhaps one of the few assignments I did enjoy, both while reading and while thoroughly analyzing it as I wrote my essay. But fair warning, it’s a harrowing read. Shifting between 1969 and twenty-three years later, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS follows young twins growing up in the Kerala province of India, whose lives shift in big and small ways after the death of a young girl. As the lives of neighbors and family members slip into focus, the book explores the power dynamics of India’s caste system and forbidden love, slowly revealing the particulars of the young girl’s murder that reverberated over the years. While many plot details have faded over time for me, I still distinctly remember the feeling this book evoked. The way Arundhati Roy broke the rules of language felt otherworldly and expansive, and made an already heartrending plot feel even more heightened with a sense of foreboding and inevitability.
Arundhati Roy’s debut novel has become a modern classic. Equal parts family saga, forbidden love story, and political drama, it chronicles in exquisite, atmospheric detail an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969.
Heather’s Pick: Tim O’Brien’s THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, a collection of interconnected fictional anecdotes inspired by his time serving in the Vietnam War, made a big impression on me as a high school junior still grappling with the way the world had changed in the months after 9/11. Unless you’ve gone to war yourself, there’s absolutely no way to understand what it does to a person. The closest I’ve come, aside from reading in-depth news articles and hearing stories from those who’ve served, is by stepping into the shoes of realistic characters like Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, and their fellow soldiers in Alpha Company. Far from home and questioning everything they thought they knew, this band of brothers comes alive in the pages of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED as they cycle through every emotion imaginable. It’s an incredibly affecting book about the weight of war that I’m glad I read when I did.
Heather’s Pick: Toni Morrison’s BELOVED is another novel I read in high school that opened my eyes to experiences outside my own. While history textbooks informed me that slavery in the United States was abolished when the Union army won the Civil War, BELOVED taught me about the pain and trauma that lingered (and lingers still). This iconic book is set in 1870s Ohio and centers on Sethe, a formerly enslaved woman who comes to believe her eldest daughter’s spirit lives on in a young woman named Beloved. Sethe and her children are all haunted by a grim choice she made years before in an effort to protect them, and Beloved’s presence brings all these unresolved emotions to the surface. It’s not an easy story to read, but it’s an important one.
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Filled with bitter poetry, Beloved is a towering achievement.
Heather’s Pick: Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE was assigned reading in two, if not three, of my English lit classes in high school and college, so it’s a good thing I liked it a whole lot. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame Jane and Mr. Rochester for my deep and abiding love for Gothic romances. Long before she sets foot in Thornfield Hall or meets its brooding master, however, Jane Eyre draws you fully into her compelling life story. Brontë’s classic Bildungsroman follows Jane from her childhood as a mistreated, misunderstood little girl through her evolution into a strong, independent woman—a governess determined to make a better life for herself and to treat her own pupil with the compassion she was denied. By the time she accepts that position with the enigmatic Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, you can’t help but want Jane to have whatever her heart desires, even if it’s a somewhat problematic relationship.
The FLAME TREE COLLECTABLE CLASSICS are chosen to create a delightful and timeless home library. Each stunning edition features deluxe cover treatments, ribbon markers, luxury endpapers and gilded edges. The unabridged text is accompanied by a Glossary of Victorian and Literary terms produced for the modern reader.
Perhaps one of the most well-known books in the world, Jane Eyre follows the life of its eponymous orphaned protagonist. From her early life Jane is strong-willed, passionate and kind but comes up against a lot of struggles. She lives with her aunt and uncle during early childhood, where she suffers under her aunt’s strict discipline before transferring to Lowood Institution. The story follows her life – through heartbreaks and joys, exploring women’s rights, social criticism, madness and morality. Charlotte Brontë created a powerful and emotionally evocative novel that has lost none of its power since it’s publication over 150 years ago.
Jana’s Pick: Ask a high schooler what they think of J. D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and they’ll most likely complain that Holden Caulfield is too much of a complainer. The first time I read this book, I thought the same thing. When my teacher announced that we would have to write essays on the novel, I probably complained just as much as Holden did. On my second try tackling the incessant ramblings of the sixteen-year-old, however, I realized Holden wasn’t as pretentious as I originally thought. In fact, I started to see through the rebellious front he puts up and take him for what he really is: a desperately lonely, pensive, and sensitive teen who I could, embarrassingly enough, relate to at the time. At some point, everyone thinks themselves deeper than they are and has internal monologues that would be devastatingly cringey to verbalize; THE CATCHER IN TH RYE just puts those thoughts to paper. It’s a read that may be hard to get through but is relatable to teens and can remind adults to be empathetic toward those who are struggling with growing up.
Jana’s Pick: It’s the temperature at which books burn, in a world where firemen do the burning, and what I use as a reminder when I haven’t picked up a book in a while. As a commentary on the dangers of mass media and censorship, Ray Bradbury’s novel paints disturbing images that really emphasize his message. I will never forget the heaviness of the acts of rebellion certain characters incited to defend the importance of books nor will the weight of Guy Montag’s wife’s reality-blurring dependency on television ever leave me. This ode to books teaches the importance of independent thinking, personal agency, and, above all else, the power of reading—values that should be universally internalized.
First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel set in the future when books forbidden by a totalitarian regime are burned. The hero, a book burner, suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas that cry out silently when put to the torch.
Read the full review here.
Sharon’s Pick: I was introduced to Oscar Wilde and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY during my World Literature class. My teacher had never included the book in the curriculum prior to our class, and she was elated to be finally teaching her favorite book. Luckily, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY lived up to the hype she generated around it. Wilde’s beautiful prose was unlike anything I had ever read before, and his brilliant and heart-wrenching take on the classic Faustian bargain has remained with me to this day. This is the only book I first read in school that I have gone out of my way to reread.
A stunning new edition with deluxe cover treatments, ribbon markers, luxury endpapers and gilded edges. The unabridged text is accompanied by a Glossary of Victorian and Literary terms produced for the modern reader.
The young, beautiful and highly susceptible Dorian Gray is pulled into the hedonistic haze of London’s high society, where he falls under the pernicious influence of Lord Henry Wotton. Oscar Wilde’s nightmarish tale gorges on pleasure and sin, corruption and vanity, as the story takes further dark twists and a Faustian deal threatens Gray’s very soul. He will go to any lengths to keep his fleeting beauty and youth, but his painted portrait reveals the truth of his dark and twisted nature, changing its appearance at every misdeed, until the monstrous horror of Dorian’s scarred soul is too much for him to bear.
The FLAME TREE COLLECTABLE CLASSICS are chosen to create a delightful and timeless home library.
Sharon’s Pick: Emotionally gripping and devastating, John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN remains the most incisive critique of the American Dream I have ever read. In just over one hundred pages, Steinbeck crafts one of the most memorable and tragic friendships in American literature through Lennie and George, in addition to an exquisite cast of side characters that propels the story forward. I would love to revisit OF MICE AND MEN in the near future and immerse myself in this powerful novella once again.
“Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.” —Lennie Small
Jordyn’s Pick: THE HANDMAID’S TALE might be one of the more contemporary books on this classics list, and it’s such an important one! As a teen I was totally fascinated by this book, as this was my first foray into dystopian literature. The exploration of a society that looks so familiar but reflects on questions about women’s autonomy in a patriarchal society was very new to me. It’s something I’ve continued to enjoy reading and thinking about, and if you liked VOX by Christina Dalcher or THE FIRST SISTER by Linden Lewis, then THE HANDMAID’S TALE will similarly excite and horrify you. And, of course, a bonus is that it’s now a fantastic television show!
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.... Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
Photo credit: Scribner Books