When I was a kid, my mom would make my brother and me read books during the summer before we could do other stuff. For him it was a drag, but I loved it. (A totally unrelated fun fact: he’s still in college, traveling all over the world, making tons of money; I’m out of college, working two jobs, and making very little money.) My parents would punish him by making him read, and punish me by not letting me read.
I’ve always been a major proponent of reading. I strongly believe that reading is essential to growing in wisdom and intelligence, while refusing to read is self-imposed ignorance. It’s especially frustrating to me when young people say things like, “I hate to read,” and then spend all day reading on social media. You love to read, you just don’t realize it yet.
If you’re one of those people who thinks reading is boring, I feel sorry for you. But if you are one of those people but you don’t want to remain one of those people, you’re in luck. I’ve crafted here a list of nine books I think you should read (or at least the ones that came to mind when I was making the list). They aren’t necessarily my favorite books of all time (though some of them are) or the best books ever written, but I think that each of them is spectacular in its own way.
Also, let me claim the right to disagree with my list in the future, or add to it. I didn’t really do an exhaustive review of every book I’ve ever read, but I think the following list pretty accurately represents the books I would choose if a reputable website wanted a similar list.
Anyway, reading is good for your brain and it actually has some benefit for you as a human being (unlike video games, social media, and the like). So why don’t you take a look at the list below (or another list of books, I don’t really care), pick something that sounds good, and actually read it. You might find that—GASP—you actually like it.
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. It’s really long and occasionally confusing (nineteenth century Russian culture is a little different than ours; read an annotated version if you can), but it’s freaking amazing, to put it poetically. It’s about three very different brothers who reunite after years apart, only to find their detestable father murdered a few weeks later. The depth of plot and character is mind-blowing, and its ability to affect your emotions is impeccable. It might take you a year of solid reading (and a few visits to Sparknotes), but I guarantee it’ll be worth that time. Fyodor Dostoevsky is a literary genius and this, his final novel, is pure brilliance. If you want to feel smart, read Dostoevsky.
- Columbine by Dave Cullen
This is one of the few non-fiction books I’ve actually read that weren’t textbooks or theology. The subject matter here is incredibly solemn and not really the kind of book you’d consider for curling up on a rainy day. Hailed as the best book out there about the Columbine tragedy, Columbine is a compellingly intimate and real account from all angles. Dave Cullen is a journalist who has been reporting on Columbine since the beginning, so he is one of the best candidates to tell this story. The book is at once fascinating, demoralizing, hope-stirring, and grotesque. Also, Columbine is fantastic. Sure, the story isn’t the most uplifting, but it’s true and it’s powerful. And, thankfully, it tends to focus more on the triumph of good rather than the tragedy of evil. But still, you should prepare to feel pretty depressed for the next few weeks.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This was one of the few assigned books I actually read in high school, and I’ve read it two more times since then. At a surface level, Lord of the Flies is just a really good book about some kids who get stranded on a desert island by themselves, make huts, hunt pigs, burn fires, and kill each other. At a deeper level, though, it is an allegory of people in general. Many, many people smarter than myself have said a lot about the deeper meaning of Lord of the Flies so I won’t really go into it, but suffice it to say that you’re missing out if you haven’t read this book. And come on guys, it’s a short book. You can handle it.
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Everyone knows about Oliver Twist wanting more soup, but there’s way more to the story than that. It’s the story of an orphan boy trying to make his way in the world through the exploitation of wicked men, the charity of nice ladies, and by his own strength and determination. Charles Dickens was pretty progressive for his time in his recognition of and care for the plight of the poor, and he displays that compassion in this novel while still providing us with an engaging story. And, let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong reading Charles Dickens. The man could wield the English language like a master swordsman.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Technically, this is a young adult novel, but I still think you should read it even if you’re not a young adult. It’s hilarious, a little bit dirty, and completely poignant. If you don’t know much about the challenges facing Native Americans in twenty-first century America, then this is a pretty good way to get your feet wet. It’s not too “in your face” and a pretty fun read while still offering a sobering glimpse into reservation life. I’ve learned a ton from reading Sherman Alexie, and this is probably his most accessible book (at least that I’ve read). This is a quick read, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it while it makes you consider some stuff you might not normally consider.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
I can’t say I completely enjoyed reading Moby-Dick, but I can say I did read it. This book made the list because of a few reasons. For one, it is one of the first great American novels, so if you really want to be patriotic, loosen that grip on your gun and pick up Moby-Dick. Also, reading Moby-Dick takes a lot of guts and heart, because it’s long and filled with superfluous detail (like an entire chapter dedicated to whale penises). If you can finish it and understand even a little bit, you’re more than deserving of a high five. Let me just say, though, that Moby-Dick isn’t all bad. I found myself enjoying quite a bit of it, actually. When it comes down to it, it’s an epic adventure of man doing what he loves best: ruthlessly slaughtering anything he considers a threat until it utterly destroys his soul.
- Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich
When it comes to faith, few things I have read have challenged my thinking as much as this book. Let it be known that Paul Tillich is no Max Lucado. Some people (most likely conservative evangelical Christians) would consider his perspective on faith to be heretical trash and dismiss it out of hand, but I think that’s a waste of an opportunity for a good old-fashioned dialectic. Whether you’re coming at this from a traditional Christian or a non-religious worldview, I’m sure this one will cause you to wrestle with some interesting interpretations of what it means to have faith, while also causing you to laugh at some of its absurdities. Either way, this is another short book to add to the list, if you’re one of those people who like short books.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Another book by Fyodor Dostoevsky?” you ask. Yes, because he’s that great of a writer. If The Brothers Karamazov was too long for you, then try this one out. (Sure, my copy is still 650 pages, but compared to 950, that’s not too bad.) Crime and Punishment is about a dude called Raskolnikov who decides one day to deposit an axe in the head of an unfair pawnbroker and the emotional fallout that results from trying to avoid discovery by the police while dealing with the guilt of such a heinous crime. It’s thought-provoking, uncomfortably familiar, and very entertaining. You need to read it, stat.
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
Technically, this is three books, but I’m combining them into one because I can. The Lord of the Rings is the premiere fantasy epic, and is the foundation for nearly every other fantasy series written since then. If you’ve seen the movies and think that’s good enough, smack yourself in the face and then go check out the books from the library. The Lord of the Rings might not have been written in the 1800s and might not take place in our world, but it is still classic literature at its absolute best. The complexity of the world of Middle-earth is astounding, and the emotion and the power behind the story is truly—if I may use this word—beautiful. Oh, and if you think that reading fantasy is a dweebish thing to do, get over yourself.
So there you go. Get to it, folks. I don’t really care if you read one of these books, just as long as you read something. Don’t stay ignorant!