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Literary Hot Takes: 15 Book Recommendations for Students

Picture of Christopher Logan
By Christopher Logan on July, 22 2020 | 7 minute read

The world is ending, Kanye is running for president, and somehow your English teacher still expects you to pick up a book and do character analysis. Rude. Unfortunately, this is not quite a violation of the Geneva Convention, so you might have to tough it out and crack a book or two. You can still have fun with this, though—or at the very least, you can minimize the suffering ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Books were my best friends growing up, and I still make a point of reading at least two novels a month as an adult. I love all kinds of books, whether they’re classics or modern sci-fi. Luckily, English teachers seem to be getting more on board with this broader base of literature, so you don’t have to restrict yourself to Victorian era novels to make your instructor happy.

Some of you may be looking for the best book to fulfill your required reading, and some of you may just be nerds looking for a good book. I made this list for both of you, to prove that you can have a little bit of fun with your reading no matter the reason behind it. Grade level suggestions are included, but by no means should those suggestions be taken as commandments. An 8th grader who loves to read might love a book about a scammer going back in time, and a 10th grader with a voracious appetite for literature might think Alexandre Dumas’ writing is the perfect level of petty.

Category 1: Books your English teacher wants you to read

1. Emma, Jane Austen

I have very strong opinions about Jane Austen. They are not kind. BUT this book is a lot of fun. The main character is a hot mess who ruins everything she touches. If that’s not enough, you can follow up on your reading by watching the movie Clueless, which is a modern adaptation (it’s not close enough to the book to save you from reading the book. Sorry, boo). Clueless is also the movie Iggy Azalea was parodying in her music video for “Fancy.” I know a lot about the movie.

Best for: Grades 9-12

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is perhaps the funniest gay man who has ever lived, and this book is amazing. It’s basically the story of a prettyboi™ who gets a lot of attention and then acts a fool. The main character is also low-key gay (it’s not that low-key. Oscar Wilde got arrested for “gross indecency” – AKA being gay in public – and he was so petty that he essentially wrote himself into this book).

Best for: Grades 11-12

3. The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

It’s well-respected, teachers love H.G. Wells because he basically invented modern sci-fi, and the book is so short. The whole plot of the book is basically in the title. There is a man. He is invisible. He gets into some pretty interesting situations in the book, and that’s what makes it a fun read. You can get through it in a single afternoon, and then get on with your life. We love a quick read.

Best for: Grades 11-12

4. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain

The original “man accidentally goes back in time” book. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty easy to read. The best part is that the main character is a total scammer, and his shenanigans make the book easy to breeze through.

Best for: Grades 9-12

5. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

This one is a little long, but it’s a simple read and all of the symbolism and motifs are super easy to understand. Summary (with a bit of a spoiler): woman marries mediocre man, woman cheats on mediocre man, chaos ensues, woman finds arsenic. The moral of the story? Don’t marry mediocre men. Also, probably hide your arsenic a little better.

Best for: Grade 12

6. The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Similar to Madame Bovary, The Scarlett Letter is about a woman who commits adultery and how that brings gloom and doom to the world. Is it a wee bit misogynistic? No. It’s very misogynistic. Is it still a good book to read? Yep. Warning, the first 20ish pages have literally nothing to do with the book. Nathaniel Hawthorne just waxes philosophic about the postal system for no reason at all. You probably have to read that anyway, but you ought to know that it’s ridiculous.

Best for: Grades 10-12

7. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

(did you know the ë is pronounced “ee” like in “eel”? Wild)

Not too short and not too long, this book is juuust right. It’s not necessarily the easiest read in the world (Victorian English, yay!), but it’s a good story and an interesting book on the whole. Most importantly, it’s one of those books that is constantly referenced in pretty much everything, so it’s a good one to know. The short version is that everyone in this book is the actual worst, but they love each other, and we’re supposed to think that makes them better people. (It doesn’t. They’re awful).

Best for: Grades 11-12

Category 2: Books your English teacher may not have on a list, but will love you for reading

8. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s such a fun book! It’s written in a casual voice and it’s easy to read. It’s a fictionalized story of the author’s experience as a young black woman (and an African immigrant) living in the United States of America. It’s culturally informative and entertaining at the same time. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the woman quoted at the beginning of Beyoncé’s song “Flawless,” and if that’s not enough to convince you, I don’t think we can be friends.

Best for: Grades 9-12

9. The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende

Allende is the foremost female author of Latin America, and this book is amazing. You’ll also probably impress your teacher by being (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ culturally informed. On the surface, it’s about generational differences among members of a wealthy Chilean family, but it’s also low-key about communism and its effect on Latin America. Parents be warned that there are some instances of violence and murder in the book.

Best for: Grades 10-12

10. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

Márquez is the foremost author of Latin America, and this book is one of the most famous books written in modern Spanish (you can read it in English, and no one will judge you). It may be a bit too real since 2020 is basically Love in the time of Corona. A poor poet falls in love with a wealthy man’s daughter. Said wealthy man is like “nah,” and makes his daughter marry some rich guy. Drama ensues.

Best for: Grades 11-12

11. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

His other most famous book. It’s not focused on an epidemic/pandemic, so it may be less triggering than Love in the Time of Cholera. The book spans the post-colonial era of Latin America from the 1820s to the 1920s. Also, some preacher man tries to build a utopia in a swamp. Spoiler: swamps turn out to be bad places for utopias.

Best for: Grades 11-12

12. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

A great book, though not necessarily a “fun” one. It’s about how imperialism is bad, how religious imperialism can be oppressive, and how Europeans and Americans have left parts of Africa in post-colonial tailspins. No punches are held.

Best for: Grades 10-12 

Category 3: Books you should only read if you are ready for commitment

This entire category is recommended for seniors, but the Dumas books are appropriate for younger students (they’re just long, and younger students are likely to lose interest halfway through).

13. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

I love this book with all my heart. Alexandre Dumas is basically just the French version of Oscar Wilde. If you’re a messy queen who lives for drama, this is the book for you: just be warned that Alexandre Dumas was essentially paid by the page, and he milked that deal for all it was worth.

14. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas

There’s low-key a lot of murder in this book. But it’s French, so it’s like classy murder. Also, everyone is witty, petty, and in a throuple. Reading this book will help you become one of the few people who can accurately name the three musketeers. Fun-fact: D’Artagnan is not one of them.

15. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

I have nothing good to say about this book. Read it if you like sadness and want to be challenged. It is kind of heartwarming in that a group of people exploiting Africa gets absolutely wreckt.


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