Book Recommendations, Pop Culture

7 books you probably skimmed in school – but you absolutely can’t miss out on now

What happens next? There's only one way to find out.

How many of you actually spent time reading the books that your English teachers assigned for class? Real talk, I might have skimmed a few myself if I felt like I didn’t have the time to read the entire book or they weren’t relevant.

Two words: Make. Time.

These books are not just homework that you can throw away with the class once they are finished. Far from it, these books are homework for life. Before you SparkNotes any of your assigned readings, take a look at these seven books which are really worth the entire read.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This was the first book I had to read in high school, and in no way did the title prepare me for its story. In a small Southern town, a large trial is about to occur that will change the childhood of Scout Finch forever. Through her eyes, we encounter an examination of human behavior that combines innocence with adult themes to create a moving story that exposed my own childish perspective to a harsh reality.

2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Reading Shakespeare is tough; to be Hamlet is tougher. His father was murdered, making him the new King of Denmark and it is his responsibility to seek revenge. Not to be Hamlet could also mean possible death where every character is either a potential victim or criminal. Once you interpret what anon (and all the rest of that Elizabethan English) means, it’s actually pretty fun to read this play aloud. To read or not to read, that is the real question. (psst! The answer is “to read!”)

3. 1984 by George Orwell

Don’t get confused by the year like I did because this may still very well be our future. Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth but, recently, he has become dissatisfied with a society in which everything is controlled by the Party. The reality in this book will leave you with the creepy feeling that someone is watching your every move. 

4. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

If you’re questioning who you are, you won’t find many answers here. The further Marlow, a sailor on his way to retrieve the infamous ivory trader Kurtz, travel into the Congo and away from civilization, the closer they get to uncovering the darkness of man. This book will take you inside yourself; hopefully, you’ll be able to find your way out.

5. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hester Prynne knows what it feels like to be ostracized. That is to be her punishment for bearing a child with someone other than her husband. This book became real to me when I had to walk around school with my own red letter pinned to my clothes signifying a trait of mine that I was ashamed of as part of an English project. Still, Hester shows true courage by standing up to the judgment of the townspeople who are unwilling to be judged themselves.

6. The Odyssey by Homer

When it comes to the ultimate story plot, this is one epic poem you will want as your guide. Spanning over a 10-year journey back to his kingdom Ithaca after the fall of Troy, the Greek hero Odysseus is faced with a number of trials on his return. It may be old but “The Odyssey” does more than teach history – it is also the guide to popular culture today.

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In the future, firemen are not known for stopping fires. Instead, they are the ones that start them, using books as their firewood because reading is not permitted. While holding your copy of this book, you might find the concept a bit ironic, but don’t forget to be grateful either! Guy Montag has been a part of this destruction and it awakens him to the emptiness of life without books. 

Similar to how a world without this book would also surely burst into flames.

Literature will often repeat its lessons in other works and walks of life, and, trust me, you want to be able to catch on when the reference hits. These books are not classics because they are old; rather, they presented fresh concepts in their time and ours that make them original. 

  • Meghan Lannoo

    Meghan Lannoo is currently majoring in Creative Writing at Oberlin College. She gets inspiration from books, friends, and the outdoors.