There are a lot of books out there to be read. While many people have read the novels of Dan Brown or Jackie Collins and other prolific authors, their books certainly aren’t considered by experts to be classic literature that will stand the test of time.
In fact, while many of the “greatest books ever written” probably can be found on a bookshelf in nearly every home in the United States, it doesn’t mean that they’ve ever been cracked open. The truth is that most people haven’t read books that literary scholars would consider to be “must reads.”
Here are just a few books that you probably should dust off and give a legitimate chance the next time you’re looking for something to read:
• “1984″ by George Orwell: We all know about Big Brother. Heck, CBS even has a whole reality television series based on the concept of an “all-seeing presence” who knows everything we do and passes judgment upon us as a result. Still, as time has gone by, the eerily prescient novel of Orwell’s continues to amaze new readers. As television news outlets spin events to fit their own predetermined narrative and the political debate involves the battle of the “99 percent” against the elite, one can’t help but wonder if we’re not all Winston Smith. In a land of perpetual war, where the Inner Party (consisting of less than two percent of the population) calls all the shots, perhaps 2012 is more like “1984″ than we’d ever imagined.
• “The Odyssey” by Homer: The story of Odysseus’ return home after the war is an epic saga with many elements that are familiar to people who have not actually read the story. From seductive sirens that beckon sailors to join them and battles with the dreaded Cyclops, the tale of a soldier who wants nothing more than to return home to be reunited with his family is a tale that resonates still to this day. So many adaptations of this story, including the Coen Brothers film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” have taken flight based on the original Homeric saga. Yet the original is still unmatched in terms of its poetic beauty.
• “Catch-22″ by Joseph Heller: The term “catch-22″ which describes a situation that results in a contradictory paradox from which there is no logical escape has long been a part of the English language, yet few people have read the novel from which the phrase originated. The tale of the insanity of war is full of colorful characters, all trapped in a nightmare from which there is no escape. As Yossarian, the main character discovers, the only way he can avoid going into combat is to be declared insane, yet simply by requesting to be declared insane to avoid combat, he thus proves his sanity.
• “The Trial” by Franz Kafka: Imagine being arrested for a crime by two men who claim to work for a government agency. They won’t tell you what agency, nor will they reveal the crime you have been accused of committing. How can one defend oneself when one is not told what they need to defend themselves from? This is the plight of Josef K. It’s a chilling tale of authority simply existing without accountability and how easy it would be for any of us to fall victim to it, even if we knew with 100 percent certainty that we were being victimized unfairly.
• “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee: While many people have seen the movie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel dealing with race relations and the prejudice of the American legal system in the pre-Civil Rights south is far more compelling when one’s imagination is forced to depict the scenes that would not have been appropriate for filming when the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck was released. So graphic is the novel that even today it remains one of the most frequently challenged books by people seeking to get it banned from school libraries.
• “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien: There’s a reason that the trilogy of movies by Peter Jackson was so popular. It’s because the source material provided by Tolkien was so rich to begin with. The language Tolkien uses to discuss the corruptibility of power and the senselessness of war is so engaging and provides such a perfect blueprint for how to tell an epic three-part story, that you’d be hard-pressed to find any work of fantasy written since that doesn’t trace its roots back to this masterwork.
• “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding: What would happen if a bunch of children were stranded without any supervision and forced to create a society for themselves? Would they work together towards a common goal, or would there be a power struggle? Golding’s book answers the classic question of the essence of human nature in a way that makes it unlikely that anybody who reads it would ever consider children to be “innocent” ever again.
• “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut: Many novels have been written about the horrors of war. Many novels have been written about the concept of time travel. Many novels have been written about the big question as to whether or not “free will” exists. Few novels have attempted to combine all three, and perhaps because Vonnegut’s tale of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier “unstuck in time,” is so perfectly executed, there is no need for anyone else to even attempt the task.
• “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams: On the surface, it’s a silly science-fiction tale about a man from England forced to travel the universe when the Earth is destroyed by aliens. Underneath the humor, though, is biting social satire about the bureaucracy that most people deal with on such a regular basis that it hardly even registers any more. By the time Arthur Dent has uncovered the truth about the nature of the universe and why his home planet was created in the first place, readers won’t know whether to laugh or to cry, and will likely do both.
• “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins: With the box office raking in the dollars after the release of the big screen adaptation of this book, clearly many people already know the story: two dozen kids are selected to fight to the death for the entertainment of the ruling government. However, the novel itself goes far more into depth as to the psychological impact of these “games” and reading Katniss Everdeen’s thoughts as she reluctantly has to compete in order to live, is well worth the effort, even if you think you already know how this story ends.