The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , Mark Twain
Not only is this book an essential American classic, but Twain is an essential American figure — and you might as well begin your reading life by reading the work of one of the most interesting minds available. Plus, can’t go wrong with Huck Finn — it’s adventure and social commentary and a stellar yarn all in one.
Hamlet , William Shakespeare
Everybody should read Shakespeare. Boring, you say? Not Hamlet — there’s murder, revenge, a ghost, a suicide, and much madness.
The Catcher in the Rye , J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield has ushered many a teenager into the world of reading, and to be honest, you may not get the full force of this novel as an adult — even an adult generally unfamiliar with fiction. That said, the book is such an entrenched part of the collective American consciousness that it’s worth knowing about at any age. And if you’ve ever been a discontent adolescent, you’ll probably like it at least a little.
Heart of Darkness , Joseph Conrad
Don’t be scared — this book looks serious, and it is, but it’s also super short. This is the most disquieting, illusionary campfire tale you will ever hear, but luckily, you can hear it in the safety of your own home.
The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald
Not only is this book short and straightforwardly written (if not particularly straightforward), but it’s an American touchstone, the book that is probably most often cited as the Great American Novel. A must.
Ender’s Game , Orson Scott Card
Part of beginning a reading life is exploring your options and figuring out what kind of books you like. The classics are all very well and good (and probably necessary), but maybe you like sci-fi, and there’s only one way to find out. Plus, there’s the fact that this book will keep anyone (especially anyone who enjoyed Catching Fire) engaged from first page to last.
The Hobbit , J.R.R. Tolkien
Or maybe it’s fantasy that gets your reading motor going? Start at the top with this wonderful book.
To Kill a Mockingbird , Harper Lee
Another American classic, Lee’s book features the best dad any girl could ever hope for, plus a fascinating historical perspective and some damn fine writing. Everyone you know has read this book, and for good reason.
Beloved , Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s masterpiece has been widely heralded as one of the best books in recent history, and indeed, it is much beloved (ha, ha) by readers and critics alike. This despite the fact that it is not a feel-good book, but rather a harrowing account of an escaped slave trying to save her children from her own fate.
Mrs. Dalloway , Virginia Woolf
Now, this is a little more advanced, it’s true. But if you’re an adventurous type, you won’t be disappointed with Woolf’s incredible, stream-of-consciousness novel. You might have to read it twice, but you should definitely read it.