In a society dominated by Snapchat and the Kardashians, it becomes increasingly difficult to prioritize good ol' fashioned reading. This could quite possibly be the fatal flaw of the 21st century. Books dictate our thoughts, which affect our actions, which ultimately impact our world at large. Therefore, the literature we are exposed to is incredibly important. It can have an effect at any age, but remains particularly important during formative years. So, whether you are turning 18 in a day, a month, a year or more, these are the books you absolutely MUST read before you hit that milestone.
1. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri's incredibly poignant novel The Namesake is a must read for rising adults. The book follows Gogol on his quest for understanding of himself, the world and his role in it. Alongside the protagonist, we are forced to grapple with our own questions of personal identity. We directly confront our past, our culture, our family and eventually ourselves. Yes, things go wrong. Life (and trains) often derail. However, The Namesake teaches us that with a strong sense of self and an even stronger support system we can persevere through any challenge or any transition we face
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Amy Tan is a storyteller like no other. She masterfully paints profiles of four mother-daughter relationships culminating into one brilliant novel. Much like Lahiri, Tan grapples with the challenges of cultural identity and adaptation. She also explores issues of sexism and immigration in ways most writers cannot. The Joy Luck Club is one of those unique “once in a lifetime" books, making it an essential paperback that should undeniably live on your nightstand and heart.
3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Sure, being 18 means that you're officially an adult. But that doesn't mean you should totally sever all ties to your childhood. The Giving Tree reminds that we were once children; our parents, or the other adults who raised us, truly did shape our lives. Before you can move into adulthood, remember to appreciate the Giving Trees in your life, and also become one for others. Don't forget where you came from and those who helped you get to where you are now.
4. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises is THE book of The Lost Generation. At the forefront, it is a book about the disillusionment and overall sentiment following the First World War, a sentiment millennials can relate to. Hemmingway tells us that despite the psychological violence life will inevitably bring you, the sun does in fact rise. Also, plot aside, Hemmingway's writing style and total wordsmithing makes it an absolute must read for bibliophiles everywhere.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Along the same lines as the previous listing, The Great Gatsby is one of the crowned jewels of the Lost Generation. Fitzgerald explores themes as varied as wealth, greed and the failures and deaths of our dreams. Morbid? Maybe a bit. Yet despite the terrible things that go wrong in Gatsby, Fitzgerald's worldview is surprisingly optimistic. According to Fitzgerald, the world is wrought with corruption and selfishness. Yet against all odds, we still have the capacity for hope and wonderment. This is an incredibly important lesson for rising adults. More often than not, things don't go the way we imagine them. We are persistently faced with challenges and subsequent failures throughout every stage of life. But Gatsby teaches us how to be a “boat against the current" and move ever closer to that elusive green light.
6. Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni
At 18, you are probably heading off to college. This is equal parts exciting as it is terrifying. You have a million and one questions and thoughts running through your head: What if I hate it? What if everyone hates me? What if I picked the wrong school? And here comes the big one... What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Good news, as Bruni's entire book explains, where you are for college will not be who you become. His book features several mini profiles on high-achieving people in various careers. Despite their accomplishments, they didn't have the most conventional starts nor did they follow the standard success roadmap. So relax and don't stress it too much. You'll get there eventually, and this book has the proof.
7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This Dickens novel and its heavy Victorian prose may be at first quite daunting. However, is it any more daunting than our own great expectations? Yes, this will be the best time of your life, but it is also a time characterized by immense amounts of pressure. Through Pip and Dickens' diverse cast, we begin to think about what really matters. Of course you should strive for success in your life. But our accomplishments, whether monetary, educational or other, do not define us. In the end, the type of character we build as well as our relationships with others takes precedence.
8. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
As one of the most widely read books among high schoolers, you've probably already read it. But if you haven't, you definitely should read The Catcher in the Rye ASAP. Salinger tackles the coming of age novel in a way unlike any other author who preceded him. Through Holden Caulfield, Salinger teaches us how to cope in a world that is ever-changing. Like many of the other authors above, Salinger shows his reader the dark sides of humanity. But he argues whether or not any of it matters. Maybe the really important question is where the ducks go in the wintertime? Perhaps if we spent more time doing that instead of competing, fighting and hurting, our world would be a little brighter.
9. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Along with the previous entry, To Kill a Mockingbird is widely read in high school, and rightfully so. To Kill a Mockingbird discusses issues of race, the loss of innocence and the ever complex human psyche. On your road to adulthood, you should definitely take the lessons learned from Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch along with you.
10. Night by Elie Wiesel
Horrifying, moving and infinitely beautiful, Night is something we should all read regardless of age. Elie Wiesel divulges to us his unbelievably painful but exceptionally important personal experience at a Nazi concentration camp. By stepping into Wiesel's shoes (thanks Atticus!), we are exposed to the everyday horrors as well as the lasting significance of the Holocaust itself.
11. Emma by Jane Austen
For your healthy dose of Jane Austen, I'd highly recommend Emma. For many our age, thick and verbose prose is incredibly tiresome, but Emma is definitely worth the challenge. Despite the initial boundary built by the style of the time, the storyline is incredibly relatable. Young Emma has all the passion, cleverness and, to an extent, naiveté of any other 18-year-old. In its own way, Emma is a bit of a coming of age story.
12. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye unabashedly examines our society's standards of beauty and our complete and total obsession with the very idea. Pecola Breedlove struggles with meeting the conventional beauty standards, like most of us do. Her dark skin, dark eyes and curly hair do not fit the mold of blonde hair and blue eyes. However, she so deeply yearns to fit in. Alongside Pecola, Morrison gracefully yet powerfully confronts us with questions of our own ideas beauty that continuously plague our society.
13. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit is definitely a modern classic and an essential for those entering their adult years. Tolkien spins an enchanting tale following the incredibly endearing and utterly relatable Bilbo Baggins. Thus far, Bilbo's life has been relatively boring, sheltered and completely uninteresting. However, this all changes when Gandalf the wizard brings him on the quest of his life. Bilbo experiences adventure unlike any other, and... well, guess you'll have to find out the rest by reading it.
14. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment is not only Dostoyevsky's own masterpiece, but a gift to literature itself. Throughout the course of this 430-page novel, the protagonist Raskolinkov struggles with the very meanings of good and evil. Through his “crime" and subsequent “punishment," we explore these ideas even further. As readers moving into the real world, otherwise known as adulthood, these distinctions become increasingly important yet increasingly difficult to define
15. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
You have likely already read and reread the legendary seven-volume series. But if you haven't: READ IT! No further comments.
16. George Orwell: A Collection Of Essays by George Orwell
Although not your conventional novel but rather a collection of essays, Orwell's work is still indisputably significant. In his essays, Orwell discusses diverse and personal topics. However, Politics in the English Language and Why I Write are arguably the most relevant. In these two essays, Orwell explores the very essence of writing. Just by reading these two pieces, Orwell helps transform you into a better and more critical writer. The pen is most definitely mightier than the sword, and Orwell teaches us the most effective ways to wield it.
17. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A classic American coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has most definitely earned its proper place on this list. Set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the opening of the 20th century, a young Francie Nolan explores issues such as poverty, cruelty, family and hope. Alongside our youthful protagonist, we too are exposed to all of the hardships and triumphs that Francie experiences throughout her life. Smith teaches us to be like Francie and the Tree of Heaven and to persevere against our circumstances and hardships, whatever they may be.
18. Anything you can get your hands on
Before you turn 18, know that you should never stop learning and never stop seeking knowledge. Yes, get through this list, but know that there are so many books to be read and so many voices still left to be heard. So read everything in sight and then some. Also, no matter how old you get, never forget the joy that comes with curling up with a book.
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