1. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar was the only novel written by the poet Sylvia Plath in 1963. Following the path of a woman in her 20s, Esther Greenwood, this book depicts the decisions which young adults struggle with while trying to figure their lives out. Moreover, the protagonist is constantly overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, indifference and depression. Many have concluded that the book is semi-autobiographical, as in many ways the novel parallels Plath’s own life, and her plight with mental illnesses.

So why should you read a book that sounds like a more depressing version of Catcher in the Rye? First of all, the writing is beautifully descriptive, as one may expect from a poetess. Unlike many “classics”, The Bell Jar is not long and filled with annoying large words, making it relatively easy to get through. As well, the themes which arise are extremely common to young adults everywhere. Esther’s queries stem from being afraid of making the wrong choices in life and feeling misunderstood by both authoritative figures and peers alike. Parts of this heartbreaking story probably ring true for a lot of students who are experiencing a very pivotal time in their lives. 

2. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

You have most likely heard the words Of Mice and Men before, without even thinking twice about it. Many of John Steinbeck’s novels are on “must read” lists, but this one is a personal favourite. For starters, it’s under 200 pages, which makes it perfect for those of you who are just beginning to get into reading classics. The story is about two farmhands George and Lennie, trying to make ends meet in California during the Great Depression.

While this story is not necessarily that relatable, it is a gripping read. Steinbeck illustrates the countryside beautifully, while developing an intriguing plot. The characters are painfully misunderstood, and seemingly cannot catch a break. Just when you think the worst has come, Steinbeck drops a heart-wrenching twist ending. This novel is stunning, emotional and thrilling, and definitely worth your while

3. The Shining – Stephen King

One of Stephen King’s most famous books, The Shining is a classic horror novel. This story depicts a man named Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer who has accepted a job as a caretaker for the winter. He plans to move to the isolated Overlook hotel with his wife and son until the spring. However, due to a combination of cabin fever and supernatural manifestations, Jack’s family is soon in grave danger.

Even if
you’re not a fan of the horror genre, this book is definitely worth a read.
Stephen King expertly develops suspense throughout the novel, climaxing with
terror that will send chills down your spine. One great quality of the story is
that the horror is more thrilling than scaring; it’s a spellbinding read that
won’t give you nightmares. After giving this one a read, check out the movie,
directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s also phenomenal for those of you into retro
scary movies.

4. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea
is pretty effectively summarized by the title. This was the last major
publication of the renowned author Ernest Hemingway, published in the 1950s.
This novel tells the story of an elderly Cuban fisherman, specifically one
encounter he has with a giant marlin off the coast of Havana.

What
makes a book about an old guy and a fish so amazing? Hemingway manages to pack
in a beautiful portrayal of man’s struggle with triumph, pride, and mortality
in just 127 pages. There is a perfect balance between thoughtful imaginary and
carrying the story at a reasonable pace. You can easily get through this book
in an afternoon, whether you want to look deep into the symbolism or simply
enjoy Hemingway’s stunning writing style.

5. Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

While Le Petit Prince is a novella originally
published in French, it has been translated into 300 different languages,
including English. This fantasy story begins with a pilot recounting a
childhood where he saw adults as dull and lacking imagination. One day the man
crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert, which causes him to meet a young boy,
the little prince. While the pilot attempts to repair the plane, the boy shares
the story of his life.

As the
little prince delves into his interplanetary travels, he tells many anecdotes of
the various adults he has encountered. As every person the prince meets is
isolated on his own planet, each fails to grasp vital realities which makes
them short-sighted and ironically naïve. This story emphasizes the benefit of
how unadulterated and wistful the views of a child can be. Furthermore, the
tale encourages being open-minded and embracing the passions of your inner
child.

Charlotte Mingay is a 3rd Year Engineering student and Guest Contributor for MUSE Magazine.