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21 Books You Were Assigned In High School And Didn't Read (Although You Should Have)

I did it too, guys.

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1. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Back Bay Books

Why didn't we read this again? This novel is fraught with foul language, teen angst, sexual references, and the promotion of drinking, smoking, and promiscuity (everything your parents were against). This book is one of the most banned books in history which as rebellious teenagers we should have welcomed, right? It has also influenced several other books such as "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky and "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath. If you haven't read it by now, perhaps you should. Embrace your teen angst once again!

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Okay, we know the story. Nick Carroway spends a summer in West Egg and befriends the super rich Jay Gatsby, who is in love with Nick's cousin Daisy. What you may not know, is the novel is a critique on the American Dream and the writing is simply gorgeous! I'm sure you have seen the movie with Leo in it, but do yourself a favor and read the book. It's worth it.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Okay, this book fits right in with all the social justice movements going on today. It deals with issues such as rape, racial prejudice and inequality, class distinctions, and gender roles, all set in a small town in the south. Atticus Finch is also still one of the most looked to literary characters for law ethics. There has also been speculation that a sequel will be released to the public soon. If this rumor is true, you'll want to catch up with the original first.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


A book about burning books? With a focus on dystopian novels so prevalent today, you should definitely add Fahrenheit 451 to your reading list. This book tells of the dangers that technology could impose upon us if left unchecked and depicts a society completely ruled by drugs, the media, technology, and conformity. Even though this book was published in 1953, it's still incredibly interesting and relevant to today's culture.

5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Bantam Books

This book was published posthumously when found in the attic where Anne and her family spent the last few years of their lives before being captured by Nazis. Anne describes all her frustrations and insights on living in a confined space, constantly in fear of being discovered. Imagine being so young being hunted just for being you. Although her situation is extreme, it is completely easy to relate to her and by the end, you'll have a much better understanding of what Jewish people went through in Nazi Germany.

6. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Penguin Books

Like The Hunger Games? Maybe you should have actually read LotF! Another dystopian novel, it tells the story of several choir boys that survived a plane crash on a remote island. Things start off as fun and games, but the longer the boys stay on the island, the more dangerous it gets. This novel explores the dangers of a society with no rules and is still quite horrifying today!

7. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


After a night gone wrong, Ponyboy struggles with a moral dilemma that he never expected. Anyone who has battled the clique system in high schools will relate to Ponyboy's view of the greaser vs. soc life he lives. This is a book about empathy that will pull at your heartstrings.

8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Penguin Books

A struggle of two migrant workers in Central California. The relationship between the two men is closer to father-son than friends, where George takes care of Lennie. Be prepared for some tragedy though, as John Steinbeck loves to bring tears to your eyes.

9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Penguin Books Ltd

Set in Puritan culture ruled by religious rules, Hester Prynne finds herself ostracized after giving birth to an illegitimate child. You may know the story from the summary given in Easy A given by Olive Penderghast. Do yourself a favor and read the book instead of watching the Demi Moore version of the movie where she takes a lot of baths. (LOL)

10. 1984 by George Orwell


Another novel about control of the masses, with government surveillance of the population of Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain). Winston rewrites past newspaper articles to be in favor of the majority party, but secretly wishes to rebel against Big Brother. A real 'fight the power' novel that might make you question your own media and government.

11. Beowulf by Unknown

Candlewick Press

A tale about the ultimate warrior that has been told for more than a thousand years. Join Beowulf through his battles with Grendel the beast, feasts fit for kings, and epic speeches. Check out the graphic novel adapted by Gareth Hinds for added excitement to the already awesome story!

12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Modern Library

A book of manners that focuses primarily on the economic advantages of marrying a gentleman. Elizabeth will have you in stitches with her witty comments and biting remarks while Mr. Darcy will have you swooning, despite his standoffish nature. It is a truth universally acknowledged that all who read Pride and Prejudice, will find it the most delightful book written.

13. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Penguin Classics

An example of the Great American Novel, the novel follows Huck Finn as he ventures through the Mississippi Valley. This story also deals with issues of race, set during the time of slavery, where being sold down the river was the worst sentence a slave could get. Read about the friendship between Huck and Jim and tell your friends how much you love them!

14. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Penguin Books

Interested in the Salem Witch Hunts? This is the book for you! This novel depicts the unfortunate fate of several young women persecuted in Salem, Massachusetts. Although today's 'witch-hunts' usually don't end in tragedy, you may be able to find some parallels between this story and today's society. *cough cough* How we view celebrities.

15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque


Paul enlists in the German army during World War 1, but is not an enthusiastic soldier like the rest of his classmates. He struggles with the meaninglessness of pitting young men against one another due to the uniforms they wear while trying to just stay alive. Even if you don't like reading war books, you'll still get hooked on this one!

16. The Plays of Shakespeare

Wordsworth Library Collection

Okay, chances are, you made it through Romeo and Juliet. But you had a tough time with the language and just wanted it to be over with as soon as possible, right? But the other plays are SO good! A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy that will have you ROFLing and Hamlet will have you wanting more. Check out the rest of the plays (even if you need to get a version where the language is easier to understand) because the stories are so worth it!

17. The Odyssey by Homer

Penguin Books

Probably THE most popular epic that follows Odysseus on a journey where he faces countless monsters over the span of twenty years, only to return home to a house full of his wife Penelope's suitors. The fantastical nature of this story is reason enough to read it, although if you look deeper you can see the parallels between Odysseus' troubles and every day struggles.

18. Animal Farm by George Orwell


Another story of a society crumbling, this satire points out the problems of a society divided by class and power. Due to the extremely relevancy to society today, you may find yourself in a rage by the end of the novel.

19. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics

The story of an eighteen-year-old deserter of war named Henry who has an internal struggle about his lack of loyalty to his regiment. When he discovers that his regiment won the battle he previously thought was a hopeless cause, he returns and becomes the bravest soldier on his side of the battle, despite the danger he faces. If you need a boost in courage, definitely read this one!

20. Death of a Salesman

Heinemann Library

Willy Loman hits rock bottom at 60, after discovering he is no longer useful at his sales job. He frequently has flashbacks of the time when his children were younger and in college, along with confusion at new events taking place. At the end, he takes matters into his own hands and decides he will refuse to be told what his fate should be. Decide for yourself if he made the right choice!

21. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Modern Library

The story of a man stranded on an exotic island who struggles to maintain his sanity. After several years, he saves a man about to be murdered by cannibals and names him Friday who then submits to him in servitude. Crusoe has to learn how to sustain himself in a way he has never faced before. But does he really want to escape the island as he claims he does?

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