Reconsidering Required Reading

It’s the end of the school year, which means pool parties, vacation, and…summer reading? If you’re like me, you had to complete summer reading projects each year, and often they were just chores to check off the list. I remember plenty of last-minute-reading sessions during the day or two before school started.

Well, today I’ve got seven books for you that are all typical required reading books. You might have read these books in high school or college–or maybe you were supposed to read them but didn’t quite finish! Whether you loved or hated these required reading books (and I’ll tell you up front that I didn’t enjoy them all), I think they’re worth a second chance. You just might find that there is actually a reason that teachers assign them.

1. The Odyssey by Homer

Why You Should Read It: The Odyssey is an epic poem written by Homer. It tells the story of Odysseus’ journey home from war. Even though you might be turned off by the thought of a really long poem, this is the manliest poem ever. It’s full of battle scenes, truly epic descriptions and language, and it is one of the cornerstones of Western literature. And if that’s not convincing enough, read  this Huffington Post article.

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Why You Should Read It: Everybody needs a little Russian literature in their life, right? Well, Crime and Punishment is probably the shortest full-length novel you can find, and if you can get through all the Russian patronymics and the psychological punishment of the book, you’ll feel very accomplished. That might sound like a lot of trouble for a good feeling, but don’t just take my word for it! Crime and Punishment offers really deep insight into the problems of moral relativism, which you can read more about in this Gospel Coalition article. This book was assigned as summer reading before my senior year of high school, and I did not enjoy reading it. However, the minute I closed the book I felt some strange sense of accomplishment that I had tackled a Russian novel. One of these days I’ll get around to finishing some other Dostoyevsky books.

3. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Why You Should Read It: It’s Hamlet, for goodness’ sake! I feel like that’s a strong enough argument, but if you still need more convincing, I’ve written all about my love of Shakespeare here. Or here’s a video featuring David Tennant in which you can hear pretty much the same arguments delivered in a charming Scottish accent.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Why You Should Read It: It’s a gothic love story that involves a possible ghost, madness, and romance. It’s also a compelling tale about Jane Eyre’s journey of faith. I love this book because Jane is such a strong character. She doesn’t let herself be defined by any of the other people in her life who push her around. She has strong convictions, and she’s not afraid to stand by them, but there’s also a very soft, romantic quality to Jane. I always admired that she was able to do what was right even though her emotions were telling her to do something different. If you’d like to read more about Jane, check out this Gospel Coalition article (Man, TGC has really been on fire with the literary posts this year!)

5. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Why You Should Read It: Hemingway is one of America’s most famous writers. His signature style is clean-cut and to the point. The book tells a simple story, but it  includes big concepts:  hardship, manhood, pride, and respect. This is a novella, so it is also one of the shorter Hemongway works–not counting his short stories, of course. Read this book for a lesson in style and clarity and a healthy dose of fishing stories.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why You Should Read It: My fiction writing professor said in a lecture not too long ago that it’s very rare to find one book that perfectly sums up the era in which it was written. For the 1920s, that book was The Great Gatsby. For me, Gatsby is fascinating look at the American Dream, and you can’t beat Fitzgerald’s language!

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Why You Should Read It: Bradbury’s book is about a time when people wear shiny shells on their ears to communicate and watch large glowing screens on the walls of their houses. They also communicate with friends through a digital wall. Sounds pretty familiar, right? The book was published in 1953, but it is incredibly insightful and deals with modern topics like technology and ever-relevant topics like loneliness. I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, but it was really engaging.

And now, in order to practice what I preach, I will be reading Catch-22. I never read this book in school, and to be quite honest I had no desire to. But when I started brainstorming for this post, I asked my friends over on Instagram which required reading books were hidden treasures, and his book was the winner. I’ll let you know what I think of it!!

Honorable Mention: These books were included in my preliminary draft, but they didn’t make my top seven. They’re still worth checking out!

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Keep Reading!



One comment

  1. […] few months ago I wrote a post about reconsidering required reading, and in it I discussed lots of books from school that we usually hate but might be worth a second […]


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