Most teens nowadays, including myself have replaced reading with other activities. I used to be immersed in reading. I read everything…fantasy, auto-biographies, romance, thriller, you name it, I read it. However, with other things taking up my days, the time I spent reading has come to a standstill. That doesn’t mean that I don’t read though. When I find the time and will, I love to cozy up with a blanket and warm drink and page through a good book.
Reading opens your eyes to the world. It allows you to learn and grow and feel like you are able to live the unthinkable. There are a handful of books that I have read in my life that I think is one every teen, or person in general, should read.
When beginning your journey with literature, I always recommend that you start with the classics. I mean, they’re called classics for a reason. These are the books that people have read over generations and have come to believe are the best. My definition of “classics” however, is a bit different. At the end of the day, I am still a teen, so some of the so-called “classics” didn’t inspire me as much as they may have other generations. To me, “classics” are the books that I think everyone should have in their library. The ones that I can come back to again and again and learn something new. While some of these were written fairly recently, I still consider them “classics” because they are at the core of my personal journey with literature.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is an all time classic. I debated even adding this to the list, because I thought it was too basic. Everyone has read it. But, I couldn’t leave it out. To Kill a Mockingbird follows the story of a black man accused of raping a white girl in a town called Maycomb, Alabama during the 1960s. It is a great book for readers of any age and is set in the perspective of “Scout”, the daughter of the affluent white lawyer defending Tom Robinson (the man accused of rape). This makes it more available to young readers as well as those who are older. To Kill a Mockingbird opened my eyes to how racism was and still is so prevalent in America. Not only is this a cool plot and educational book, but it also includes many metaphors and symbols which are interesting if you can pick them up throughout the book. If you have never read this novel, it is definitely a must-read and should be at the top of your list.
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
When I first read this book, I was in eighth grade. I read it in winter and remember spending many days by the fire, not being able to put this book down. It was so different from anything I had ever read, and my English teacher at the time had taught our class about the history between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, which I found fascinating. In Cold Blood tells the true story of the murder of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959. What is so unique about this novel is again, the perspective. It is told from the eyes of the two convicts Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith. It was considered the first “true crime novel” of it’s time. Overall, this is a very good read for anyone interested in crime stories. The way Capote depicts the thoughts going through the heads of Hickock and Smith is so distinct, it will leave you hungry for more crime novels. If you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird (see above), I would also recommend reading into the history between the two authors.
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas first appeared to me as a film my brother found. He told me about it and said it was so captivating and unexpected. I sat up with him watching the film late into the night and felt something change inside me. Later, I found out that the film was based off a novel written by John Boyne in 2006. Instantly, I knew I had to read it. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas follows the life of Bruno, son of a Nazi soldier in 1942 (another interesting perspective). He moves to Berlin when his father receives a promotion, meeting a friend in a very different circumstance than he is. This heart wrenching story showed me how different life was in Nazi Germany during the 1940s and 50s. So many people were oblivious to what was happening around them, and in this book, it had shocking consequences. I truly wish I had read the book before watching the film, as there are a few subtle differences and we all know the books are always better. This is not your typical Nazi Germany book, it is so much more.
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I read this book for the first time this year. It was part of my English class curriculum. I spent much of my time in quarantine reading and annotating it. Originally, I thought that this book wouldn’t be something I liked. Generally, I am not a big fan of books like this one, however Purple Hibiscus is a definite game changer. The novel follows the story of 15 year-old Kambili growing up in Nigeria with her family, including her wealthy, abusive, Catholic father. It is a beautiful coming of age story through a culture, which in some ways, I was able to relate to my own. Having to read this for school also allowed me to really look into the different writing and plot techniques used by Adichie and helped me to improve my own writing. This novel may seem generic on the surface, but if you trust me and give it a try, i’m sure you will find it to be just as eye-opening as I did.
Life’s Little Instruction Book, H. Jackson Brown Junior
I decided to throw this one in here because although it’s not a novel, it’s still something I recommend keeping on your bookshelf or by your bed. H. Jackson Brown Junior originally wrote this book for his son going into his freshman year of college. It includes many little pieces of advice that, in my opinion are good for anyone to hear. I love to open this book up and be able to read a page everyday, feeling like I have someone there to give me advice. Some of the advice Brown gives ranges from things like “use your wit to amuse not abuse” to “overtip breakfast waiters”. This is a cute little plaid handbook that I know I can always go to for a few bits of advice.
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables was once recommended to me by an older gentleman I met at a party. He was speaking to both my dad and I. I remember him telling my dad “not only should your daughter read it, but so should you”. The next week, my dad ordered the book. This is a novel that was written in 1908. It tells the story of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphaned girl, who is adopted by two middle-aged siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. It is a great read, especially for young girls. The novel depicts how Anne grows up and learns to accept her awkward, imaginative, quirky personality. It shows her insecurities, and her journey to embracing them. There is a reason it’s been a classic since it was first published, it really is a cute, fun read. Since published, it has been one of the best selling books worldwide and even was made into a Netflix TV show known as “Anne with an E”.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
I decided to save this novel for last, because it is one of my all-time favorite books. I read this quite a few years ago and still think about it all the time. The Kite Runner is about a young boy named Amir from Kabul, whose closest friend is his house servant Hassan. This book not only tells an amazing story, it also introduced me to a number of events I was not aware of such as the the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy, through the Soviet military intervention, as well as the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. It depicts a father-son relationship, immigration, and a redemption of mistakes. This is truly a book I think everyone can get something from. The Kite Runner, like other novels on this list, is also a film, which I enjoyed watching with my family. In addition, Hosseini’s has a second novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns” which is an equally extraordinary novel, also highly recommended.
This is not an exhaustive list of my favorite “classic” books, however I feel that this is a diverse list with something for everyone. Reading is the best way to step into other’s shoes. Next time you are looking for a good read, you can refer back to this list. Stay tuned for other reading lists and please leave your favorite classic books in the comments.
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