1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte/2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
While it’s wonderful that both Bronte novels are considered required reading in high school, they’re great to rediscover as an adult. It’s fascinating to look at the dynamic of the relationships between characters. They’re highly romanticized in popular culture, and in our youth, but both Rochester from Jane Eyre and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights are actually the template for the “bad boys” we see in media today.
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The version of this you read in high school, is not the version you’ll get as an adult. Fitzgerald was saying so much more beyond the green light and the T.J. Eckleberg sign. For instance, did you realize the amount of cocaine in that novel? Or the fact that all of those characters were actually awful people? The “grown-up” version of this novel has so much more than lavish parties and doomed love.
4. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Faulkner is the type of author you need to revisit again and again, there’s always going to be something new that you notice. With the restrictions some high schools have on teaching, like all novels on this list, you can’t get as in depth with content. When you go back as an adult you’ll pick up on new themes, and with Faulkner you’ll have a well that will never run dry.
5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
This novel is such a great example of how war can affect people. The story of a German soldier during World War I is much more touching than I remember from high school. The way war makes a person grow up so quickly is much more apparent from a more adult perspective. Truth be told, I personally didn’t love this novel when I read it in high school, but after revisiting it a few months ago, I can truly say it’s become one of my favorites.
6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger/7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
If you actually got to read The Bell Jar in high school (for class), color me impressed; that having been said, these are two very important novels. Both deal with coming of age and some form of identity crisis, something some of us don’t quite have figured out after high school. While the two novels aren’t the same, odds are you’ll take something important from reading (or re-reading) each.
8. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Going back to Shakespeare in a non-class situation is a good idea (and sort of the point of this list). Reading something to read it is much different than reading for a teacher or professor as you’re not killing yourself looking for all of the themes and symbols. Savor Shakespeare instead of pressuring yourself.
9. 1984 by George Orwell
Interestingly enough, I’ve found this is one of those books that people actually did read in high school, instead of just Spark Notes the whole thing. (Kids still use Spark Notes, right?). Reading it now will be more eye-opening because you probably understand government and politics currently than you did then. At least, one would hope. The parallels you’ll draw, especially in light of recent events, may cause a wave of paranoia though, so be warned.
10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Given the context of the novel, it will always be very important and very relevant. The discussion you’ll have with it now will be far better than anything you probably had in a classroom. I remember reading it high school and wondering why Hester was being treated so harshly, seeing as it takes two to tango. As an adult I see that, that was the point Hawthorne was making; Hester was one tough woman, while Dimmesdale is too focused on himself, and quite frankly, weak.
11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book deserves a revisit every once in a while, is it a classic? Yes, definitely, and it makes me wish Atticus Finch were a real person, every single time. Finch is one of those characters I will always admire in the sense that he has witnessed pure evil, and still hasn’t lost complete faith in the human race.
12. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
I remember being enraged reading this in high school, thinking, “How could anyone believe these girls? How?? HOW?” Now that I’m older I see how relevant this tale still is today. While Miller wrote this to point out the injustice of the McCarthy Trials, we see the same thing happening today. “HE knew about (insert political scandal).” “SHE knew about (insert political scandal).”
13. Night by Elie Wiesel
Whether you are a person of faith or not, this novel is extremely important. Wiesel is a master of prose and his story is truly heartbreaking. This is one of those novels that stays with you, is it about a time when humanity was truly despicable? Yes, but it also goes to show that there will always be shining examples of it somewhere.
14. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This will forever be one of my favorite novels of all time, and Shelley’s words still shake me to the core. We always want to create and have all of this knowledge, but it goes to show what can happen when it is put into action. Victor’s disdain for his own creation is truly disdain for himself, while Frankenstein’s creature just wants to connect with someone to forget its miserable existence, if only for a moment.