Never have I encountered a more satisfying and growing experience such as reading. Experiences within the realm of stories, whether real or imaginary, can be equally as vivid, or more so than reality. I have heard the argument, however, that reading is overrated, that our parents forced it upon us when we were children because of their classical understanding of knowledge and its relationship to literature. More often though, I hear the statement from others, especially in my job as an English tutor, that understanding the importance of reading is not the problem, just the practice itself is boring. Reading, for most, is a chore. This belief always takes me back to when I viewed reading this way, and I associated reading with work; but it also reminds me of the moment when that changed, and the association I made with reading and work dissolved and I began to see it as a form of travel and exploration. Now I know I am not a revolutionary when it comes to this idea that literature is a vehicle for discovery and voyage; however, I wish to offer a selection of works that directly helped in transforming my perspective and thus my life, especially as I am about to complete my degree in Literature.
So here are my suggestions, and why they are on this list, some are short, some long, but there is something for everyone (I hope). These titles are not in any specific order, one is not more recommended than the other, and they are all important in different ways:
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
My first experience with this story is actually with the newest BBC Masterpiece Classic adaptation. I actually can single-handedly attribute my conversion to the British Broadcasting Company and their wonderful adaptations of stories I would have never encountered otherwise. Forster’s novel had it all, romance, humor, growth, and the amazingly beautiful Florence. Oh, and bonus…its really short!
Anything by Stephen King
Probably one of the most famous and gifted writers of the English language, King offers an array of horror stories for any and every taste. He also has an amazing way of conveying atmosphere and plot that is just as stimulating and entertaining as film, hence why his stories have been adapted numerous times. Overall, whether you enjoy thriller/suspense or haunted graveyards King has something for you.
Endymion by John Keats
Poetry, for most people, is an all or nothing medium, it’s either loved or hated and more often it’s the latter; however, Keats’ poetry is probably the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Whether you like poetry or not, Keats has a power over language that goes beyond genius and ventures into the realm of the divine and when reading or reciting his poetry it honestly feels like a divine experience, whether or not you believe in a higher power. Endymion is rather long but it is well worth it and even if you don’t complete it, the first stanza, even the first line, will at least contribute to a new appreciation for language that is essential to the act of reading. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, after all.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
This is my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies that tells the tale of Elizabeth and Darcy, a good two hundred years before Jane Austen. The language, storyline, and characters are great, and if you’re ever in the mood to feel good about life and love, this play should certainly do the trick!
Far From the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy
This is probably the most romantic novel I have ever read. I promise not to divulge too much but once you get past the exposition (which isn’t that long) your hope for the two main characters’ fate will drive you through the novel. Also, as a reward after finishing the novel you can then move to the movie which is almost just as beautiful as how you imagined it.
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
This novel has it all; action, sex, and hackers. The bleak landscape of Sweden’s countryside and city environment are the perfect backdrop for the maze of mystery and crime happening throughout. Also the lead character is the very definition of badass, by the middle of the novel you’ll be contemplating getting tattoos, taking up hacking, and moving to Sweden.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Out of all the titles on this list, this is the longest individual publication and the most dense; however, although I had moments while reading where I doubted why I chose to pick up this novel in the first place, there are so many other parts that are more riveting than the most intense action movie. Also, I have never felt more rewarding after completing anything than the feeling I had when I finished the last page. Tolstoy creates a world that seems more real than your own, where the characters are just as human as we are. Also, Tolstoy infuses this novel with conflicts and emotions that resonate within all individuals, making your question yourself as you question his characters.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
This is an intense novel that highlights the vulnerabilities and flaws of humanity; however, despite the heavy subject and dramatic romance this novel is guaranteed to make you look at others, love, and the world around you differently. I actually believe that this novel is a very necessary therapeutic experience, and a very transformative one that while never be forgotten.
Northanger Abby by Jane Austen
This is a novel about the effects of reading novels and whether you conclude that Austen upholds novel reading or disapproves of it is often debated, but it’s simply a great story about a girl with a marvelous imagination and a man who values her that imagination.
Harry Potter and all seven novels by J.K. Rowling
This needs no explanation except that they made me, and a whole generation, believe in the existence of magic in a world that does the opposite.