Throughout high school many of us were required to read the same books and analyze the meaning behind them, or try and decipher the author’s purpose. Some of the books we read were memorable and inspiring, while others could easily put someone to sleep. Whether you actually read them or used Sparknotes as your last minute study guide, here’s a list of books read in high school you should keep jammed in the back of your closet versus the ones you should consider digging out.
Top 5 Best Books:
5. Macbeth by Shakespeare
Shakespeare produced some brilliant pieces of literature and much of his work is still admired and appreciated to this day. Macbeth is no different – it’s a story that contains multiple dynamic characters and cunningly expresses the downfall of one character in particular.
It’s fast paced, suspenseful, intense, and it keeps the reader on their toes. Shakespeare perfectly describes the character Macbeth as a madmen. He uses violence to add shock value to the play, to show the destruction of innocence and the descent into madness. Throughout the play, Shakespeare is trying to show that even the most innocent of characters many face an untimely, cruel death for no apparent reason other than the fact that other characters may have lost their minds in times of desperation.
Shakespeare continuously exemplifies how other people will have to suffer because of someone else’s actions, because of someone else’s mistakes. He uses Macbeth to help the reader to recognize and realize that power can be an evil force, that power has the ability to corrupt people and make them do unspeakable things. He uses this play to show that in times of desperation, people may commit unforgivable acts just to save face. Macbeth is an exceptional piece of work that is both shocking and thrilling to read.
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This novel is captivating, filled with charming characters and clever metaphors beyond belief. The novel is centered around a mental health institutions and the characters that live there. You’ll feel sympathy for the characters who are trapped in the institution. They are tucked away from society as if their mental illnesses are contagious. The novel does a great job at showing that even trained professionals didn’t quite understand mental illnesses, and how they lacked in showing their patients compassion and patience.
This novel explores the way patients were treated. It shows the reader how poorly mental health patients were treated and how people didn’t understand what mental health issues were or how to handle them. They’re animals and are used to amuse the workers.
It exposed how many institutions were run during the 1960’s. Kesey is ingenious in the way that he describes the main character, Chief. He skillfully uses the other minor characters to aid in the development of the major characters. Kesey’s characters feel like real people – he makes the characters come alive, as if you’re thrown into the story with them. The ending makes a poignant statement on the unfortunate fate some characters faced, and the way the rest of the characters would continue to live their lives.
3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
This novel, whether you’re a history buff or not, will be sure to grab your attention within in the first few pages. It’s a haunting account of everyday men doing remarkable things for their country. It’s an honest account that shows the reader that war is not full of glory and honor. And it’s devastating, traumatic, and all around horrifying. Another interesting feature of the novel is that it takes place from the German point of view. It shows the reader that all these men, whether they fought for the Germans or not, were no different from each other.
The novel did a brilliant job at expressing the idea that had these men met in different circumstances, they could have been friends, possibly coworkers, instead of trying to kill each other in order to keep themselves alive. Remarque is real, honest and there’s a certain haunting tone behind his words that moves the reader. The novel follows one young man, Paul Baumer, through his journey in fighting to keep himself alive. It follows his encounters with the enemy, his mental struggles, and the desensitization he experiences in the midst of all the brutality.
It touches upon PTSD, and how Paul was forced to handle it in silence because no one was aware of how damaging war could be for someone mentally and emotionally. The novel acknowledged and honored those who quietly suffered because there wasn’t a way for them to cope with the stress and horror of what they experienced or what they saw. It is full of raw emotion and realistic accounts of the unbelievable things twenty year old men had to endure, and what they had to give up in order to fight for their country.
All Quiet on the Western Front also showcases the idea of comradery, and gives the reader a sense of the immense brotherhood between these men in battle. The novel shows how these men fought for one another, how they never left a man behind, knowing the only thing they had were each other. As Shakespeare once said, “But we in it shall be remembered- we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” The novel flawlessly encompasses this idea of loyalty and togetherness. All Quiet on the Western Front is the perfect representation of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The way Harper Lee writes about the main character, Scout, makes you fall in love with her curious and sharp-wit personality. This novel is incredibly character driven. And it’s not until the end of the novel that the reader fully grasps just how much Scout has grown and matured. The characters are dynamic and lively. Continuously, the ending of the novel is the perfect metaphor for life.
The ending is not like every fairytale, where everyone is happy and has closure. Nor is it a depressing end where there are multiple questions left unanswered. It’s somewhere in the middle. The ending is not tragic, yet it’s not completely cheerful or joyful either. There was not a definite answer for every question throughout the book.
But the book still manages to give the readers and characters closure without it being so obvious. It’s a coming of age novel about a girl ahead of her times. She’s growing up in a society that she doesn’t quite understand. She’s not afraid to ask questions, to challenge things the way they are, and she is unapologetic about who she is. This novel draws the reader in, eager to follow Scout on her journey through self discovery and finding out who she is and where her place is in the world.
1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This is by far, my favorite novel of all time. What I found amazing was that Steinbeck created such an unbreakable bond between the two main characters, George and Lennie, in such a short period of time. His ability to make the characters come alive is truly miraculous.
While it’s a heartbreaking novel that sheds light on the way the less fortunate had to survive during the Great Depression, it’s poignant in its expression of the love between two friends. It’s one of the few novels you’ll read throughout high school that focuses on the importance and power of friendship and loyalty. It’s a remarkable, moving story about the bond these two friends shared. Additionally, without ever explicitly stating it, the message is clear.
No matter how much you plan for something, or prepare for one moment, sometimes life happens. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control and you have to find some way to deal with it. It’s a timeless message. It’s one of those novels that’s going to make you think about your life, the way you treat people and the relationships you have.
Top 5 Worst Books:
5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Written in the late 1800’s, Edna is the protagonist of this novel. She is simply existing to adhere to society’s expectations. She’s trapped in her life and the way it is, and is longing for a more fulfilling journey. The characters are dull and there’s no chemistry between any of them – they were simply just characters written to fill the book.
The Awakening was a certainly a novel ahead of its time – the author was savvy in the way she discussed certain topics (such as sexuality and depression) and commented on the hypocrisy of certain social expectations (such as the fact that women were expected to be wives and mothers, and nothing else) but it fell short of being truly inspiring. The characters are dull and lifeless and few of them have have redeeming qualities that even make them likeable. Edna, for the better part of the novel, is intolerable. She never becomes a character that the reader would root for.
(Spoiler alert!) In the end, Edna ultimately commits suicide by drowning herself in the sea. It was supposed to be a defining, inspiring statement on the rebirth of life and opportunity. It wound up tragic and disappointing. Edna never overcame the struggles and challenges she faced in life. All in all, what could’ve been a novel that stimulated conversations and sparked a movement fell short of any expectations.
4. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield. Memorable name, forgettable story. The problem with this novel is the little growth and maturity Holden experiences. He’s a one dimensional character. He spends a better part of his time complaining about his life and everything he sees wrong with the world. There’s little self discovery throughout the novel. Holden never quite finds the purpose for his life by the end of the it.
It was disappointing to see no breakthrough for a character who suffered so tremendously throughout the novel. Salinger’s novel solely focuses on this character who never emotionally develops or matures in any way. It was frustrating to read the entire novel and never get a sense that Holden finally found purpose and became the person he was destined to become.
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This may come as a shock due to the highly praised novel, but The Great Gatsby falls short of all it’s hype and doesn’t live up to its expectations.. The main problem with Fitzgerald’s writing is that it is dry and emotionless. His characters are lifeless – they’re not lively or descriptive. The novel does not transport you to the 1920’s. There’s no other way to put it other than the fact that the novel and the story-line itself was boring.
I found myself simply reading through it and trying to keep focus long enough to get through the first page. Fitzgerald doesn’t give Daisy, the main love interest, many redeeming qualities. This makes it hard for the reader to understand why Gatsby, the most lively figure throughout the novel, would waste so much time vying for her attention when she’s about as interesting and one dimensional as Fitzgerald could make her. This novel was tough to finish due to it’s lack of interesting characters and compelling plot line.
2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This is possibly one of the most difficult books to get through. There’s not much to say about this novel due to the little substance throughout the story itself. The same thing continuously happens on each page and it becomes an incredibly repetitive narrative. The story is dull and the protagonist’s voice is lost throughout the novel. Do yourselves a favor and skip this novel – don’t waste your time with it.
1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
The fact that A Farewell to Arms is considered one of the best WWI novels is a disgrace. The biggest fault throughout this novel is that Hemingway romanticized war. He made war out to seem like it was this magical thing, that it was honorable and glorious. He never delves into the grueling reality behind war. And he never mentions that men lost their lives, lost their sanity, that some men lose pieces of who they were. He instead used the war as a backdrop to a materialistic relationship that ultimately ends in tragedy and despair.
His sentences are unnecessarily long and drawn out. While it can be argued that it was done for literary purposes, it’s used excessively. The emphasis on the long sentences starts to become over-dramatic. Hemingway’s main character, Henry, is whiny and entitled and has no sense of dignity.
He just up and leaves the war at one point without any regard for the other men who stayed back to fight and finish what they started. It’s shameful that Hemingway would even dare to consider this a war novel. It’s quite disappointing to see how many people regard this novel as one of the best WWI books. It does nothing but over romanticize and downplay what men actually had to endure on the front-line.