20 Books You Should Read At Least Once In Your Lifetime
There's nothing quite as satisfying as settling down with an exhilaratingnew readon a rare day off. But while we're always on the hunt for brand new books to binge-read, there are certain literary staples that every bibliophile should read at least *once* in their lifetime — plus, it doesn't hurt that you can sometimes score these classic novels on Amazon for a mere penny. So before you pick up the latest summer rom-com at the grocery store, here are 20 books to read asap.
An instant bestseller and critical success, this is the thought-provoking tale of eight-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus. Combining both the innocence of a coming-of-age novel with serious social justice motifs (one of the main conflicts is regarding a black man accused of assaulting a white woman), this epic novel is a short read that you’ll definitely wish you picked up sooner.
A Room Of One's Own is an extended essay based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf gave in 1928. The essay's fictional narrator and story serve as a commentary on women's roles within writing and literature, spaces historically dominated by men. The book is viewed as an important feminist text and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in literature, and especially female-authored literature.
Tolkien's books aren't just fantasy novels. Complex and layered with archetypes and imaginary worlds, the Lord of the Rings series is a subject of perennial fascination and cultural commentary. The first book in the storyline, The Hobbit, tells the tale of how Bilbo Baggins is recruited by the wizard Gandalf and thrust into an adventure he hadn't quite bargained for, setting up the entirety of the Rings series.
The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath that delves into the psyche of Esther Greenwood, a talented poet with big ambitions who loses her sanity amid social expectations, identity crises, and a patriarchal society. Plath's depictions of Esther's descent into madness make The Bell Jar a feminist classic and a truly haunting portrayal of the impact of the patriarchy on the minds of women.
Almost always cited as one of the best American novels ever written, Fitzgerald’s fabulous Jazz Age tale had to be included on our list. Full of lavish Long Island parties and OTT decadence, Jay Gatsby’s fascinating and extravagant life is always a great one to (re)discover. It's a fascinating commentary on materialism, love, and personal image that isn't quite as romantic as you might think.
Anyone who eats food should read this cult classic nonfiction book by Michael Pollan. By delving deeply into the history of food and examining how highly processed corn, organic goods, and the farm-to-table movement are shaping American diets, Pollan asks the reader to consider the impacts of industrial food chains and to reconsider what they eat and why.
Written in the shadow of fascism during the 1930s, this dystopian world is one of the most famous in all of literature. In Huxley’s universe, humans are genetically bred and pumped with pharmaceuticals to null them enough to obey the authoritarian order. It’s thought-provoking and a *tad* scary, but it’s surely a great read to have under your literary belt.
The Harry Pottersaga is iconic of a generation. Dive into the magical world by rereading the story of how a young orphan of the mere age of 11 learns he is a wizard and sets off on a magical adventure full of friendship, danger, and love. Fair warning: This is a gateway book that’ll probably lead to at *least* six more book splurges.
After his father dies in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, nine-year-old Oskar Schell embarks on a secret mission to find the lock that matches a mysterious key belonging to his dearly departed father.
Chronicling a young enslaved person's adventures as she fights for freedom, this epic tale boasts a ton of prestigious awards. Not only is it a harrowing in-depth look at a shameful common history, but it’s also a passionate tale about one young woman’s fierce determination to survive despite every obstacle.
The story of Doctor Frankenstein's posthumously animated monster seeking his creator, full of questions, bitterness, and loneliness, isn't just a gripping tale — it's a meditation on life, death, the cruelty of existence, and the boundaries of science. Mary Shelley's classic novel is one you should absolutely pick up if you haven't experienced it already.
Forget modern romance novels... if you're into heartbreaking stories of soulmates, star-crossed lovers, and connections that are just too beautiful to survive, Wuthering Heights is the OG novel you need to read. It's a classic for a reason, and it will tug at your heartstrings from beginning to end.
When The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the plight of American women was vastly different to what it is now, though its consequences still remain. Friedan describes the "problem that has no name," the silent depression felt by housewives who weren't sure why their existence wasn't making them as happy as they thought it would. By examining married life, societal norms, and expectations of women in midcentury America, Friedan's work leaves a lasting impact on how we view women's lives today.
Anna Karenina isn't just a dramatic novel about a woman whose unfulfilling marriage, subsequent affair, and separation from her husband lead to an obsessive and ultimately fatal fall from grace, it also parallels this story with commentary on the liberal reforms of the time and the relationship of farm workers to the Russian aristocracy. It's a fascinating novel to read from a modern point of view, from both a feminist and a labor rights perspective.
The year is 1984 and technology, conformity, and surveillance have become the set and setting of a dystopian London. The novel is a mediation on truth and propaganda, and how news functions in society. A prescient read for modern times, this hauntingly familiar world is one you won't be able to stop thinking about.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
You're probably familiar with The Handmaid's Tale due to the show of the same name, but only Season 1 of the show is actually cannon. The end of the book is vastly different from the direction the series has taken. Join Offred, a woman forced into sexual servitude due to a fertility crisis, as she navigates life in the post-USA authoritarian society of Gilead.
On The Origin of Species is something we often take for granted now, but at the time of its publication, Darwin's theory of evolution was simply revolutionary. Anyone interested in science and natural history will want to read the theory directly from the source, and to consider just how genius and exquisite nature and evolution truly are.
Sula is tragic and also comedic examination of friendship, growing up, and the experience of being a black woman in America. Nel and Sula, best friends in childhood, grow up to take radically different paths in life, with Nel pursuing the perfect life and Sula defying societal norms. After a shocking betrayal, they are both forced to examine the choices they've made and the impact on their friendship.
Often considered one of the modern great novels, The Unbearable Lightness of Being tells the stories of two men, two women, and a dog, and reflects on their psychologies and philosophies as they explore love, connection, and life. The story centers around 1960s-era Prague, and culminates in the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. As it explore's this historic event's impact on its characters, the novel weaves history and world events together with personal experiences in a beautiful, unforgettable way.
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This post has been updated. Additional reporting by Maggie McCracken.
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