Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Ten Books You Should Hit Before College Hits You

Ten Books You Should Hit Before College Hits You

The sweet smell of spring. Summer beckons. College acceptances are in hand. You've endured The Scarlet Letter, you've floated down the Mississippi River with Huckleberry Finn. You really don't want to see another reading list. Ever.

Oh, well. In just a few short months, you'll be cracking the books again, more books, bigger books than you ever have before. You'll thank yourself if you've given yourself a head start by reading the books on this list. Here they are: the top ten books you absolutely must read before college.

The Golden Compass His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman 60second RecapHis Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

As stories go, I’ll be honest: This is my favorite on the list. I was swept away by the epic tale of Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, two teenage heroes on a quest to save the world from power-hungry, nefarious adults. The reason it’s among my Top Ten, though, is because of its powerful message about how to read and think for yourself. Filter the stories of your world on your own terms, says this trilogy—and filter the adults right along with them.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller 60second RecapThe Crucible by Arthur Miller

This one’s on your high school reading list, and my list, for a reason. Sure, the setting—1690s Salem—is three centuries removed. But the message of Arthur Miller’s play couldn’t be more timely. It’s a lesson about the danger of believing everything you hear, and the tragedy of the rumor mill run amok. That’s essential reading in our quick-to-judge, soundbyte society.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare 60second RecapHamlet by William Shakespeare

Don’t hate me. Yes, it’s Shakespeare, and yes, reading Hamlet requires wading through some unfamiliar language. But you’ll be glad you did. Familiarity with Hamlet will allow you to count yourself among the ultra-literate: No other single work of fiction has produced more commonly-used expressions than this Shakespearean tragedy has.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf 60second RecapThe Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

So maybe you know that obsessing about thigh gap is absurd (and damaging). But what you may not know is how modern conceptions of women’s beauty have had an impact on virtually every aspect of society, including employment, culture, religion, sexuality, and medicine. The Beauty Myth is essential reading in a culture of Photoshopping and objectification of the body—whether you’re male or female.

1984 by George Orwell 60second Recap1984 by George Orwell

The chilling thing about George Orwell’s dystopian society in 1984 is that in a lot ways, it depicts a future that has already arrived. Maybe the mind control seems far-fetched, but as you delve more deeply into the story of Winston Smith, you might be surprised by the parallels between the ominous Big Brother (who is always watching) and the all-seeing eyes of social media, Google, and every relentless marketer on the planet. 1984’s message—think for yourself!—is impossible to forget, and that’s good news in my, er, book.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin 60second RecapPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I adore Pride and Prejudice for many reasons, not the least of which is its treatment of love and romance: think lots of satire, and a few swoons. But Pride and Prejudice isn’t merely a book about girl-meets-boy, or boy-meets-girl. More importantly—for you, at least—this novel is a handbook for relationships of all kinds, in any era. When it comes to dealing with really difficult personalities, Jane Austen has you covered.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker 60second RecapThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

There are several books on this list that depict pain and violence that’s difficult to stomach, and The Color Purple is definitely among them. So what makes it essential reading? Its treatment of racism and sexism, which is eye-opening, heartbreaking, and a wake-up call for those of us living in the bubbles known as privilege or ignorance. You can’t fully process the world without Alice Walker’s shattering tale.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 60second RecapThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This book isn’t just about remembering the Holocaust—although you will, forever, after you read it. It’s also for all those times you’re tempted to give in to judgment, or to make assumptions, based on race, culture, religion—or just because of the way someone looks. Anne Frank’s diary is a testament to many things, not the least of which is the importance of choosing love and acceptance over hate and fear.

Poetics by Aristotle 60second Book ReviewPoetics by Aristotle

Aristotle? Really? Yeah, I’m a sucker for this Greek dude, and you will be, too, after you read his field guide to understanding great literature. Aristotle’s Poetics examines the first principles of drama and identifies its basic elements. Consider your English prowess turbo-charged.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible 60second RecapThe Bible

Hear me out on this one. Familiarity with the Bible will make you a literary genius—really. (I recommend the New International Version or the Good News Translation, although the King James Version is classic.) From Blake and Milton to Steinbeck and C.S. Lewis, the Bible, or references to it, feature prominently in a large percentage of well-known, widely-read literature. Think symbols, allusions, allegories, themes. Meaning: the Bible is the key to a surprising amount of the stuff your English teacher is yapping about. Level: unlocked!

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