1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel is one of history’s defining books on what it means to be a teenager—apathetic, alienated, full of angst. You’d be surprised as how well it holds up as it relates to The Millennial Generation, to those of us in our 20’s and 30’s struggling to find purpose and bearing as we wonder whether the energy to do so is worth it. I read The Catcher in the Rye at least once a year, if only to find an odd comfort in Holden Caulfield’s disaffected, utterly directionless state of mind.
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The only novel even written by Sylvia Plath centers around the question of identity, specifically of female identity in a male-dominated world. Protagonist Esther struggles to free herself from what she feels is the emotional and physical prison of The Traditional Woman, whose main duties revolve around domestic upkeep and the husband. You will appreciate this inspirational and poignant novel as an independent, adult woman more than you ever could have as a teenager.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In 2006, British librarians ranked To Kill a Mockingbird ahead of the Bible as a book every adult should read before they die, not least because of the success with which Atticus Finch relays the importance of moral strength and consciousness in the face of social exclusion. The 1960 novel addresses the meaning and necessity of racial heroism, a lesson that unfortunately far too many have yet to learn today.
4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
While much can be said about Lord of the Flies in terms of human nature, (the individual versus the group, the danger of mob mentality, the inherent social and political allegories and their real-world implications) it is, quite simply, a super dark and savage island survival story.
5. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The question of free will regarding man’s relationship with technology (as well as nuclear weapons) has never been more relevant than it is today. People are out here finding REAL DEAD BODIES as they search for virtual pocket monsters, cars are driving themselves, and Elon Musk will inevitably establish his colony on Mars. The potential 45th President of the free world will have access to nuclear codes. That same man can be easily baited by an accusatory tweet. I haven’t even discussed Vonnegut’s novel, but you understand the eerie parallels he draws. God I wish he were alive to comment on the current political climate. Hi ho.
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
If you’ve been following the #BlackLivesMatter movement at all, if you are sympathetic to the cause in any way, do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the magic realism of Beloved once more.
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Can I just say, I love this book, and not just because Jane has to take care of a blind guy she loves at the end, thus appealing to my love of broken men. It’s a love story! There’s a crazy lady in it! And Jane was an independent bossy bitch despite having existed in in the 1700s. It’s so good. And sad. And happy. Mostly sad.
8. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell wrote the novel as an anti-Soviet manifesto during Stalin’s bloody rampage to power, during literary censorship in England and widespread genocide across Europe. It is an amusing and terrifying allegory about what happens when a dictator is in power, a big old boar of a villain…
9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Another imagining of a dystopian society, one in which all books are outlawed. Nobody our age lived through this, but book-burning used to be a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with dissenting ideas, and I’m not just talking about Nazi-occupied Europe. A terrifying, cautionary tale against conformity.
10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Wells’ sci-fi novel not only popularized the concept of time travel, it coined the term ‘time machine.’ If this fact alone doesn’t motivate you to give it another go, consider how it is an adventure story first, and a political satire second, the latter laying out a dystopian future and people in a completely unprecedented way. Plus, the ending is dope.
11. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Aside from being a beautifully written piece of work taking place in an aesthetically gorgeous time, the 1925 novel explores themes that are unconditionally relevant today. Fundamentally, it is a story about the dangers of resisting change and of the doleful, tricky failure the American Dream can sometimes turn out to be. It is a beautiful, tragic tale of social class, hedonism, love, and disillusionment, vividly flashing images across your mind as it stabs you in the heart.