The great thing about high school required reading lists is that we are exposed to some exceptional writers and works at a young age. The bad thing is that we do not have enough life experience yet to fully appreciate them.
With some many great books out there and so little time, we tend to cross these great works of art off our list. The Scarlet Letter. check. Old Man and the Sea. Check. Romeo and Juliet. Check. 1984. Check.
Classic Books to be reread as an adult
The best books grow with us as we age, however. With a little more of life under our belts, we see things we didn’t see before. Whereas Jay Gatsby may seem likeable, even admirable, when we read The Great Gatsby in our teens, we see his many flaws more clearly when we are older. While the allegories in George Orwell’s Animal Farm may seem almost a bit too simplistic when we are young, we are blown away by how relevant they still are today.
In addition to the titles mentioned above, here are some high school reading list stalwarts that you should put on your current list. You’ll be surprised at what you discover this time out.
Classic Books – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Picture a world in which firefighters do not put out fires but create them. And in this world of the future, books are burned, and minds are caged. Today, as many young people find themselves more enthralled by videos and social media than with words on a page, this 1953 book appears to have been eerily prophetic.
How important are books to our society and to our intellectual development? Consider the consequences as you reread Fahrenheit 451.
Favorite quote: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”
Classic Books – Price and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Someone recently asked me what Price and Prejudice was about. “Well, I guess it is primarily a love story,” I responded, “but it is so much more than that.” I proceeded to tell him about Austen’s wit and wordplay and encouraged him to read the book for himself.
How often do we still make snap judgments about people based upon appearances and hearsay? Meet the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet and the arrogant Mr. Darcy as they learn everything is not what is appears – especially in matters of the heart. You’ll discover a shrewd satire of early 19th century English life that resonates today.
Favorite quote: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
Classic Books – The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings by Edgar Allan Poe
What works of Poe did you read as a student? Maybe The Raven? Or Annabel Lee? It’s high time you re-read those works and took another look at this master.
This collection includes both Poe’s poetry and his prose, including 16 of his best short stories. Poe creates a plot like the finest of weavers, and he will keep you on the edge of your seat while he does it. Here is a word of warning though, don’t read The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado right before bed.
Favorite quote: “Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded…”
Classic Books – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
When you read this book as a young person, you enjoyed this coming-of-age story of four sisters. Indeed Alcott’s largely autobiographical story is full of warmth and honesty.
As you read it as an adult, however, you will also respect the glimpse Alcott gives us into everyday life of a Northern family during the time of the Civil War. With more experience to draw upon, you will more keenly feel the pain of unrequited love and of the joy of finding love in the most unexpected places.
Favorite quote: “I don’t pretend to be wise, but I am observing, and I see a great deal more than you’d imagine. I’m interested in other people’s experiences and inconsistencies, and, though I can’t explain, I remember and use them for my own benefit.”
Classic Books – Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck takes on fundamental questions about stewardship, justice and the foundations of American society in this groundbreaking book. I don’t know who you were when you first read this book, but no doubt, you were in a completely different place.
Steinbeck was haunted by the plight of migrant workers in California. Through his close look at the Joad family, you will be too.
Favorite quote: “Women can change better’n a man,” Ma said soothingly. “Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head.
“Man, he lives in jerks-baby born an’ a man dies, an’ that’s a jerk-gets a farm and loses his farm, an’ that’s a jerk. Woman, it’s all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that. We ain’t gonna die out. People is goin’ on-changin’ a little, maybe, but goin’ right on.”
Classic Books – A Separate Peace by John Knowles
With the upcoming release of a new Star Wars movie, you will be hearing much about the Dark Side. This beautifully written novel deals with the dark side of adolescence.
Who do you see in Gene and Finny? Yourself? Your teenager? Set in a New England prep school during World War II, this book offers more complex nuances and a chance for personal reflection on a re-read.
Favorite quote: “Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person “the world today” or “life” or “reality” he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.”