Amidst drowning quite severely in textbooks during my junior spring at the University of Florida, I couldn’t help but miss some of the titles I used to sigh about having to read in the “glory days” of high school. You may find that many of your peers peaked during this time, and you may also find that this was the peak of your literary enlightenment thus far. Bear with me. Here are a few titles that are worth a revisit, or to read for pleasure (gasp) when you’re avoiding that law or physiology textbook or before these horrors become your daily reality.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of my journalism teachers in high school talked about how much he hated this book, and I never understood why. This 1925 classic details the lavish and borderline melodramatic lifestyle of millionaire Jay Gatsby and his ongoing love affair with socialite Daisy Buchanan, an interest he reconnects with after many years. The novel mainly takes place at Gatsby’s residence in West Egg and the social scene of 1920s New York. The Great Gatsby is narrated by Gatsby’s neighbor, Nick Carraway, a humble guy trying to make it as a bond salesman after serving in the Great War, as so many men did during this time. I always thought this work was not only a relatively easy read, but richly written in a simple manner. The novel includes intimate detail of a variety of overarching concepts, including the values, ideals, hopes, and dreams of Americans in the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald glamorizes a time that is far behind the current technologically-obsessed age — but still made it feel modern.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Trying to describe how many groundbreaking lessons about civility, humanity, and equality are woven into this novel in just a few sentences is impossible, but I’ll try. The novel is made friendly and warm by its focus on the Finch family, made up of six-year-old Jean Louise Finch (Scout), her older brother Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus. It takes place in the town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression — in which the town is not immune. Scout, a young girl wise beyond her years, experiences firsthand the period’s ill-regard and discrimination against not only African-Americans, but women, and, particularly, a misunderstood shut-in by the name of Boo Radley. Much of the novel is centralized around the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a local girl. In short, the book is beautiful, humble, heartbreaking, and reassuring. If you’ve read it before, just read it again — I guarantee you’ll get more out of it the second time around. If you’ve never read it, buckle up.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
A novel that reads like a movie — epic. As alarming as Orwell’s depiction of this dystopian world is, it’s incredibly gripping. The novel’s plot, largely focused on the horrors and manipulation of an omnipresent government, presents issues of privacy and the hierarchy of humankind you wish were a stretch. However, many concepts mirror today’s ongoing struggle between government and the people. You almost feel as though “Big Brother” is watching you through the novel, which takes place in Airstrip One, a region formerly known as Great Britain. The main character, Winston Smith, works for “The Ministry of Truth,” a branch of government in charge of spreading propaganda and revising history. You’ll accommodate Smith on a whirlwind journey as he attempts to live, love, and grapple with his sense of self and individualism.
Overall, the lightest read on the list is probably The Great Gatsby, followed by To Kill a Mockingbird, and then Nineteen Eighty-Four. You’ll still feel feelings and think thoughts reading Gatsby, mind you, but there’s a higher level of darkness on occasion in the latter two novels you should prepare yourself for. My final comment aside, happy reading!