Must-Read Books, Plays and Stories for High School and College Students

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Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne and Twain are just five authors of books we consider classics today. High School students can get a jump on college literature classes by reading not only their high school literature classes' recommended read

Whether Twain or Chaucer, Lee or Hawthorne, there are some books every high school student should read, whether they are enrolled in a physical building or taught at home by a tutor, parent or instructor. Every high school student should remember that classics are classics for a reason, and what most high school students are assigned to read will typically appear again in college literature classes. Reading as many of the classics as possible will only give high school students an advantage when they reach college-level classes.

Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn now stands to lose some of its authenticity by losing the N-word in its new edition, according to CNN. Although the word is used frequently in today's society, in schools, homes and public buildings, it is unacceptable. The language used in Huckleberry Finn accurately depicts the time period in which it was written: The Civil War, where slaves were still fighting for their freedom. This book depicts the unlikely friendship between a runaway white Huckleberry who befriends a runaway slave Jim, proving that even unlikely friendships can take root.

Books like Huckleberry Finn allow high schoolers to see what life was like before their time, a time this country will hopefully never see again. This type of classic combines literary finesse with history and reappears in many college literature classes. This is a must-read for any high school student.

The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are a must read for any high school reading list. The original, middle-English version may be a difficult read, so aim for a modern-English translation when picking up a copy. Chaucer depicted tales of love, humor, deceit and debauchery through strangers bound together on a journey filled with nothing to amuse themselves other than their imaginations. When was the last book assigned for an English class where students were permitted to read about scandal, unrequited love and lunacy, all ending in some of the most creative conclusions the world had known to date? Chaucer's Canterbury Tales will have students on the edge of their seat until the last Pilgrim has completed his or her tale. But the end is no need for tears, for The Canterbury Tales will most likely be visited again in college English literature courses.

To Kill a Mocking Bird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird takes place during the Great Depression in America. Although Scout and Jem's father is a well-to-do lawyer, the children befriend a boy named Dill, a poorer boy, on their way to the first day of school, and entertain themselves by acting out stories using their imaginations. After hating school the first day, the "gifts" in the tree outside the creepy, old Radley place, which were assumed to have been left for Jem and Scout, brighten the children’s days. They take them and begin to act out the story of Boo Radley, a boy who has not left his house in many years. A mysterious friendship arises between these children and the boy who is never seen. To Kill a Mockingbird should be on every high school student’s reading list because it is a story about how the innocence of childhood can allow them to forget differences in class, race, religion, etc., and realize who people truly are to become the best of friends, especially during times as trying as the Great Depression.

The Scarlet Letter

Boston and Salem, Mass., are the towns Nathaniel Hawthorne choose as the settings for The Scarlet Letter, a story of Hester Prynne, a woman doomed to wear a scarlet letter "A" embroidered on all of her clothing as a symbol of adultery. Hester's husband had arrived in the Americas on a boat after Hester had given birth to her child, thus giving him no choice to believe she was an adulterer. Her husband chooses to keep his identity secret (except from Hester), and the father of Hester's child never speaks out. With the help of a minister, Chillingworth, Hester is able to keep her daughter, Pearl.

Hawthorne's novel is a tale of deceit, hatred, Puritanism, revenge and punishment. When Hester and Chillingworth die, they are buried side by side, and the two shared a single tombstone bearing a single scarlet "A."

Other Recommended Readings

Other novels and plays that high school students should read that may again appear in college literature classes may be considered classics or just amazing stories include Beowulf, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Dante's Inferno, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby according to College Board. Other books and plays that have made many top 100 lists, and have appeared in both high school and college course lists include, Shakespeare's King Lear and Othello, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Joseph Heller's Catch 22, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, John Milton's Paradise Lost and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.


William J. Felchner
Posted on Feb 9, 2011
James R. Coffey
Posted on Feb 8, 2011