If we take a moment to be honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we didn't really read anything in high school. And if you're anything like us, you probably leaned a little more on SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to get through English class than you'd be proud to admit. Even the ones we did read all the way through, we really can't say that we retained much more than the barebones plot. Sorry, English teachers. Thankfully, in our copious amount of free time since high school, we've returned to these classics and discovered there was a reason our teachers assigned them: These books are good. Duh. So learn from our mistakes and take a look at some of the books that you haven't touched since high school but should give a second chance.
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
So you saw the movie. Whoop-dee-do. Don't be that person who thinks that's a substitute for reading the book. As with pretty much every other book-to-movie adaptation, the book is way better. It encapsulates what Americans obsessed over in the 1920s, and in many ways still do today: status, money, and love. Now that we're older and maybe have found ourselves too preoccupied with wealth or love, we can appreciate the cautionary tale of falling victim to these vices and the tragedy of a man, who appears to have everything, self-destructing over the one thing he'll never be able to own. So while the book may lack a catchy soundtrack and Leonardo DiCaprio, do yourself a favor and read it anyway. If nothing else, reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's simple, precise, and almost lyrical prose is worth it.
The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
We'll be the first to admit it; The Grapes of Wrath is a tough read. It's long, at least for a high schooler's attention span. It's a sad story — about the Great Depression, loss, poverty, embarrassment, death, etc. And John Steinbeck's ability to translate dialect to his written work is expertly accurate and frustrating. However, beyond those hurdles you'll find a beautiful, honest story of the American ideal of a family sticking together against all odds, keeping their dignity as best they can, and stubbornly pursuing a brighter future. After finishing this classic, you won't question why it won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize and a spot on many English classes' syllabi.
By Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman in a world where, instead of fighting fires, he creates them to burn books. The masses are kept blissfully unaware of anything beyond their state-of-the-art television screens, and freedom of thought and inquiring minds are feared most. In the age of reality stars, smart phones, and all-day TV show marathons, it isn't hard to imagine Ray Bradbury's dystopian world coming true. And it's this reason that Fahrenheit 451, which was first published over 60 years ago, is still relevant and even more of an urgent reminder that life should not be lived through a television (or computer) screen.
By Elie Wiesel
We can't blame you for not having read Night in high school. We also can't blame you for having an empty box of tissues next to you and not wanting to talk to anyone for a few hours after you finish this book. Great pitch so far, right? But, in all seriousness, we urge you to read Elie Wiesel's memoir. It is possibly the greatest and most heart-breaking depiction of what life was like within German concentration camps during World War II. Wiesel poses big questions that we should all be asking of ourselves and our society and offers an understanding of a portion of our history that can't be found within a textbook. This book is haunting and will stick with you long after you finish the last page, which is exactly what it should do.
The Sun Also Rises
By Ernest Hemingway
It wasn't until years after we read this book for the first time in high school that we actually came to appreciate it and Ernest Hemingway's style in general. He is a literary minimalist, getting straight to the point with his sentences and leaving adjectives and frills behind. This writing style is evident in the plot of The Sun Also Rises as well. There isn't a terrible amount of action and the plot is driven by understated conversations, which we often overlooked during our first reading. But now, with a more open mind about what can be considered drama or excitement, we can see that Hemingway is questioning what it means to be alive through his narrator, Jake Barnes, the limitations he faces, and the relationships he creates with his traveling companions.