10 Modern and Classic Novels You’ll Actually Enjoy Reading

This is a list of some of my favorite books with engaging stories and challenging linguistic or thematic elements. It’s obviously a very incomplete list and it reflects my personal tastes and interests. If you’d like to leave your reactions to any of these books or want to add your own suggestions, please leave us a comment!

  1. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
    The Alchemist is an international bestseller for a reason: it works as a coming-of-age adventure and travel story, but the book is really more about self-actualization, taking risks, and how journeys are really more important than destinations. It’s an exciting and powerful story and a quick and easy read (a fast reader could read it in one sitting).
  1. Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
    This is another short novel about using an external journey as a means to self-discovery. Though it was written in 1922, it speaks just as eloquently to people today as it did close to 100 years ago. The language is simple and lyrical, and it is almost more like a work of philosophy than one of fiction.
  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
    This novel follows an introverted high school freshman through an eventful year in his life. The main character is extremely relatable as he deals with his family, friends, and high school. The book perfectly captures the feelings of insecurity that every high schooler has gone through. If you like the movie Mean Girls, read this funny, poignant, and challenging book.
  1. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling
    While most readers will be familiar with the characters Bagheera, Baloo, and Shere Khan, the stories of Mowgli only make up around half this book of modern fables (if you can call anything from 1894 modern!) The other stories, such as Toomai of the Elephants and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, are also thrilling, exotic, and excellent.
  1. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin
    This science fiction novel follows the journey of a diplomat from an interplanetary confederation to a planet with no fixed gender, where the people sometimes are male and sometimes are female, but most of the time they are just human. It’s an exciting and action-packed adventure, but it also is incredibly thought-provoking and challenging.
  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
    When I was a kid I resisted reading Pride and Prejudice for years, thinking that it would bore me. When I finally read it, I found it absolutely enthralling and incredibly relatable. The book is subtle and funny, and the themes of social and financial pressures it explores are still extremely relevant. There are a few similarities between this book and Downton Abbey, so if you like Downton Abbey, you will LOVE Pride and Prejudice.
  1. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
    This book looks like quite a beast: at 1,349 pages, it is one of the longest books ever published in a single volume in English and will provide quite a challenge just to carry around, much less to get through. However, it is absolutely worth the work. It’s an enthralling tale of 4 tangled families and their friends and acquaintances as the main character Lata tries to survive her domineering mother’s matchmaking in newly post-partition India. In some ways it’s a romance like Pride and Prejudice; love affairs and matters of social pressure are an important element here, but it is also a fascinating historical fiction that examines Hindu-Muslim tension, class/caste tension, and a host of other issues through a satirical and deeply personal lens.
  1. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
    This adventure novel tells the story of a boy surviving at sea for most of a year in a small lifeboat with only a fully-grown Bengal tiger for company. It’s a gripping adventure and a challenging exploration of personal truth and faith.
  1. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
    The narrator of this poignant book is intellectually disabled but undergoes a surgical procedure to dramatically increase his mental capabilities. The operation is a success, and the narrator quickly becomes an intellectual giant. However, as his intelligence increases, his relationships begin to fail when he recognizes that people he thought were his friends were actually taking advantage of him and now resent his intelligence. Though the book is quite sad, it is also extremely interesting and thought-provoking.
  1. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
    Set in a “perfect” future where people are genetically engineered to fit physically, mentally, and socially within strictly defined castes, Brave New World shows the horror of mindless and shallow conformity and pleasure-seeking. When an outsider enters this world, he creates a sensation, but his passion and emotion end up making him a complete outcast.

*BONUS: Embassytown – China Miéville
Anyone who is interested in language, linguistics, or relationships between form and content should read this science fiction novel about a colony of humans living among an enigmatic and deeply literal alien race whose language requires two voices to be comprehensible. When a new Ambassador threatens the wellbeing of the entire civilization, the protagonist is drawn into a life-or-death race to save the alien race by teaching them how to lie. This book is a little more out-there, but it’s an enthralling and extremely interesting story.

This blog post was written by A-List Educational Consultant, Dory Schultz. 


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