It is my sincere belief that reading is for everyone. While it’s true that some people read faster or slower than others and tastes vary wildly, everyone can learn to love books the way we love movies or music or anything else! Many students, more commonly boys, believe they don’t like reading, but this is only because they haven’t found the sort of books they like yet! So I’m here to help with that. Earlier this year Chris published this excellent list, which is a great starting point, but I thought I’d add my two cents!
For my list, I’ve tried to include a number of books that are bona-fide classics that nearly everyone will love, as well as a number of weirder, perhaps off-kilter choices that nonetheless have had a profound impact on me or others. But above all, every book in this list (even the weird ones) is very “readable,” with brisk prose, humor, and all the things that make a book fun! Let’s get started:
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1) The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
This brilliant novel contains three shorter books which are all about detectives, but in different ways. The main characters search for, spy on, or assume the identity of others, but they also search for meaning and identity in their own lives. The plots and themes are dark, pulpy, and existential, but the sights and sounds of New York City, and the characters who live there, serve as vivid reflections of the readers themselves.
2) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This novel follows Raskolnikov, a young man who commits a murder and then tries to avoid suspicion while dealing with his guilty conscience, along with the police inspector who tries to catch him! So you get both sides of a suspenseful cat-and-mouse detective story, with lots of great characters along with insights about people, society, and morality.
3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
What can I say about Frankenstein? It’s dark and gloomy, but also fun and very relatable. Even though he’s an inhuman abomination created by a mad scientist, the monster wants the same things we all want: friends, acceptance, love, and a purposeful, happy life, and he’s determined to get it no matter what the cost. This might be the best book I was ever assigned in high school.
4) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
A British businessman named Macduff is wrongfully suspected of murder, so he goes to Dirk Gently to solve the case! This book is by the same author as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, mentioned in Chris’s article, but I like this one even better! It’s got aliens, ghosts, time travel, one of the best endings I’ve ever read, and a wicked sense of humor.
5) The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund
Novels based on videogames have a bad reputation, but this one is fantastic! Based on the Halo series of first-person shooters, this novel tells the story of the Master Chief, the cyborg super-soldier main character of the games, starting with his childhood and ending with the destruction of the planet Reach just before the start of the first game. It’s got memorable characters, a fast-paced and interesting plot, and absolutely exhilarating battles. If you’re not a fan of the Halo games, this book makes sense on its own and is still great; if you are a fan, you will absolutely love it! There are actually a bunch of Halo books, and with one exception (The Flood is terrible) they are all really good.
6) The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
This controversial novel has been banned many times for its blunt depiction of gang violence and broken families, but its story of friendship, courage, and the generation gap resonates. The main character, who goes by the nickname Ponyboy, is one of the most memorable in any book.
7) The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
In this novel, Nancy Farmer describes a bleak future in which the main character, Matt, is a clone of a powerful 146-year-old drug lord and was created only to be killed and harvested as replacement organs to prolong his owner’s life. I won’t spoil whether or not Matt escapes this horrible fate, but I will say that his journey has stuck with me ever since I read it many years ago. It vividly depicts a dark vision of a ruined North America while also showing that people can find hope and love even in the worst possible situations.
8) Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
Man, these books are just a great time. They’re about this selfish, greedy boy genius (the eponymous Artemis), who discovers that there is a secret society of fantastical creatures–fairies and dwarves and whatnot–living beneath the planet’s surface! So, of course, he decides to extort and exploit them for money. He’s not a nice guy, but over the course of the series he tangles with various opponents, both fantastical and human, and becomes a hero. The writer has described the books as “Die Hard with fairies,” which is probably why I’m a huge fan. They’re super tightly written, fast-paced, and just generally rad.
9) All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy has written many popular novels such as The Road and No Country for Old Men, but this one is my favorite. Two teenage cowboys from Texas decide to ride to Mexico on horseback in search of employment and adventure, which they find along with danger, imprisonment, love, and revenge. It’s elegant, violent, and has the sort of bad guy you’ll love to hate.
10) John Dies at the End by David Wong
This is one of the wildest books you’ll ever read. It’s a comedy-horror about a group of friends who, after taking a mysterious drug (either on purpose or by accident), are attacked by terrifying supernatural creatures. Where it goes from there is nearly impossible to describe, and the book succeeds in simultaneously being both fun and legitimately unsettling.
11) The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” You’d think this sort of situation would be depressing or scary, but Gregor seems weirdly okay with it! As his situation gets stranger and stranger he nonetheless remains chill and aloof, and his dry humor makes this book a very enjoyable read. It’s really short, too!
12) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
This is definitely the most unusual book on this list, but it’s one of my personal favorites. A nice, quiet Japanese man’s wife suddenly disappears one day, and he has to leave his comfortable life to go on an incredibly strange journey to find her! He encounters women with weird powers, finds some sort of alternate dimension at the bottom of a well, and at one point hears a dramatic story about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria during World War II that I personally will never forget. It’s funny, scary, and weird, and I give it my highest recommendation!
13) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In this classic science fiction story, the young Ender Wiggin is selected to go to an elite military training school on a space station, where he makes friends and enemies, eventually becomes a respected leader, and learns how to fight invading aliens! The novel is an essential read for any high-schooler, as it’s all about growing up, making friends, making difficult decisions between right and wrong, and also fighting evil bug aliens.
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Do you have any great books you’d like to recommend? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! For more academic advice, join our mailing list, and remember: reading should not be a chore. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, and if you like it, find similar works and keep reading!