Without questions, reading is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s not only a form of entertainment, but reading helps you become a better writer, improves your memory, increases your vocabulary, and improves your thinking skills. As an avid reader, I wanted to put together a list of ten books that I think every high school student should read before he or she enters college. This is not your typical list of classics. I have thrown in a few more contemporary books, and the themes are fairly diverse.
Not a high school student preparing for college? Go ahead and read these anyway; they are good for the soul and the brain.
1. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (1960)
This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is based on the story of Atticus Finch who is a lawyer representing an African-American man accused of raping a young white woman in the racially tense Deep South in the 1930s.
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
The Catcher is the Rye has become the epitome of the coming-of-age novel for adolescents all over the Western world. It is the story of Holden Caulfield and his experiences at a preparatory school in the northeast.
3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
Written by Mark Twain, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of the first books written in the southern vernacular. It is the story of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, two young boys in Missouri who help an African-American man escape slavery.
4. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
1984 is the only “futuristic” novel on this list, and it is the story of life after atomic war in what Orwell posits post-bomb life would be like in 1984. The main character is Winston Smith, a political activist living in London. After his parents disappear, Smith is trained to become a civil servant, living only on bread, synthetic meals, and gin.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
One of the most romantic novels ever written, Pride and Prejudice is the story of the Bennett family—a family of five sisters, all of whom are looking for suitors, and a matchmaker mother in England. Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of the novel, is smart, defiant, and not the hopeless romantic that some of her sisters have become.
6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1847)
This satirical book about Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley takes place in London just after the two young ladies have left school. While Amelia is a kind, loveable, romantic character, Becky is on the other hand a social-climber, destined for greatness by her stubborn will.
7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
The only novella on the list, the Heart of Darkness is a typical reading assignment in high school English classes. If you weren’t lucky enough to read it in high school, be sure to check out this book, which centers on the story of Charles Marlow. Marlow captains a boat in Africa where he witness first-hand the many atrocities and hard-ships caused by colonization.
8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
Although her sister, Charlotte Bronte, was famous for her novel, Jane Eyre, my favorite novel by the Bronte sisters is Emily’s Wuthering Heights. It is the story of an unlikely group of dwellers living in the English countryside who encounter a visitor, Mr. Lockwood. This novel is filled with ghosts, romance, and violence—there is a little something here for everyone.
9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
By far the most contemporary book on this list, The Kite Runner takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is an inspiring story about a young boy named Amir who lives to see the downfall of the Afghan monarchy and the rise of the Taliban and his subsequent emigration to the United States. I also recommend that readers follow The Kite Runner with Hosseini’s second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
A party novel set during the “Roaring 20s”, The Great Gatsby is the story of Nick Carraway, a young veteran who goes to New York to start a career after the War. Nick meets Jay Gatsby, a wealthy bootlegger who is hopelessly in love, and has many friends.
Although there are probably a thousand more books that you should read in your lifetime, reading these ten before you go to college is a good start.