“But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
This modern classic is the epic and tragic story of a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream and his struggle against the giant fish he kills and loses. It’s a powerful tale of patience, struggle, and defiance against all odds where the old fisherman simply refuses to let go of his purpose. This multi-layered narrative has the classic man vs. nature theme but also delves deep into the human psyche. It can also be amusing at times, particularly when the fisherman has conversations with himself at the sea. The Old Man and the Sea is the perfect book to try for those who haven't enjoyed other works by Hemingway yet.
Year Published: 1952
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
This is the book that inspired countless similar stories – of a deranged scientist intent on performing some weird experiments. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we have Dr. Jekyll, a supposedly normal scientist who meddles with the darker side of science and develops a potion to conceal his inner evil. Presented almost as a horror story set in Victorian London, this story is a fascinating philosophical look at the duality of human nature and is extremely well written. It starts as a normal mystery, then draws us into the eerie events that transpire in the middle, and gradually pulls the rug of our feet with that twist at the end. Read this on a pleasant night to get into the mood of the story.
Year Published: 1886
3. Animal Farm by George Orwell
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
You would likely have heard of this extremely popular book. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is simple, albeit fascinating, on the surface – the animals on a farm are fed up with the way they are treated by their owner and decide to form a rebellion. Under the leadership of the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, the animals plan to take over the farm. However, as time goes by, the principles of the rebellion are soon forgotten and things begin to rapidly crumble…
Animal Farm was written as an allegory for the Russian Revolution but you can enjoy the story for what it is without letting the political message bother you.
Year Published: 1945
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
Often referred to by some as “the Great American Novel”, The Great Gatsby tells the story of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby who has everything but love. He pines for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan and his obsession for the married woman eventually leads to his downfall. The wonderfully crafted tale shows us America in the 1920s during the Jazz Age and features plenty of lavish parties. However, beneath the surface of all the glitz, lie the symbolism of idealism, resistance to change, and excess. It’s a highly enjoyable read and one of the author’s very best.
Year Published: 1925
5. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
“I only fear danger where I want to fear it.”
Bizarre, funny, startling, and deep, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka shouldn’t be missed. It’s about a businessman who wakes up one day to find that he’s been transformed into a beetle-like insect. As he begins to accept the shocking changes in his life, his family begins to treat him as an outsider and the man is left to deal with his struggles all alone. It’s a captivating tale of dark humor and can easily be finished in one sitting.
Year Published: 1915
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused.”
This beloved Christmas classic tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old and miserly man who has alienated himself from society. One Christmas Eve, however, he’s visited by three ghosts - the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. The three spirits show Scrooge how his behavior has affected the people around him all his life and make him realize the error of his ways.
It’s a simple yet beautifully told tale that has stood the test of time and can resonate with anyone even today. So, please don’t wait till Christmas to pick this up if you haven't read this one before.
Year Published: 1843
7. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away. You must want it just enough, and you must be very tactful with Gods or the gods.”
Based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl is a short story of an innocent fisherman named Kino who finds a giant pearl on one of their fishing expeditions, bringing him sudden wealth. However, the villagers begin desiring part of his winnings and instead of congratulating him on his prize, they try and mislead him. Each of them starts offering weird suggestions as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Innocence soon turns to greed and bad luck follows.
The Pearl explores themes of human greed and the unending possibilities of love. It’s a wonderful little book that deserves a read.
Year Published: 1947
8. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
“This isn’t a war… It never was a war, any more than there’s war between men and ants.”
This classic science fiction novel has been adapted in cinema form a couple of times already and has inspired numerous other similar aliens-taking-over-the-earth kinds of stories. The plot here wouldn’t feel too unique today – an army of aliens invade England and panic and terror ensues. As the aliens, walking around in three-legged machines, sweep the earth, the terrorized humans are left helpless and begin to come to terms with the fact that it may be the end of their civilization. But can they fight back?
The execution of the plot is where War of the Worlds excels. It’s thrilling and utterly entertaining, even though it might just be a pulpy clash between aliens and humans.
Year Published: 1897
9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”
You might be aware of the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring the fabulous Audrey Hepburn. But did you know it was based on a book by author Truman Capote? This witty and almost melancholic novel is about the quirky and glamorous Holiday Golightly who doesn’t want to exist in reality and doesn’t want to grow up. She leads an exotic life but is lonely from within. Holiday is searching for her true place in the world and even though she’s idolized by many, she can’t seem to find her true happiness.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a master class in character development and the author’s descriptions of the protagonist are more than worth reading this short yet entertaining book for.
Year Published: 1958
10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
“Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.”
“What if you could live forever?” – that’s the theme that’s explored in the novel Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. It's about four members of a rural family that have become immortal after they drank from a magic spring. Through these forever-young characters, the author depicts the many highlights and challenges of eternal life. The prose is powerful and builds a compelling portrait of how life can possibly work without death.
Fast-paced and easy to read, this is a book you can easily devour on a lazy evening. And even when you are done, you are sure to wonder what it would be like to live like the Tuck family does - to wander about eternally until the end of the earth.
Year Published: 1985
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