“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” – John Green
Nothing could be more fulfilling, exhilarating, or reassuring than a good book. Whether it’s to make you feel more at peace with yourself, inspire you to be brave when it’s hardest, or let you know that you aren’t alone, there’s nothing a good book can’t overcome. And nothing sticks with you like the classics. Books that have withstood the test of time for their universal truths and unique voices. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good start for twenty classics you should read at least once, if not more!
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Set in Regency England, Austen’s classic novel tells the story of five sisters navigating the trials and tribulations of polite society. Focusing specifically on the second daughter, Elizabeth, the novel follows the sisters as they try to secure their places in society through marriage. From the lovesick Jane who isn’t sure of her beloved’s affections to the impulsive and puerile Lydia who runs off with a man, this classic only seems like a simple tale of romance and love.
Start to peel back the layers and you’ll see Austen actually has some pretty shrewd commentary on society, character and the roles of women. This novel is well worth the read not only for it’s social commentary but for it’s ability to showcase the importance of upbringing.
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Hated by her aunt and sent to an orphanage at young age, plain Jane Eyre grows up never feeling fully loved or appreciated. Taught to stay in her place, she learns to fend for herself and make her own path in life by becoming a governess. Things seem to take a turn for Jane after her wealthy employer Mr. Rochester starts to woo her.
Finally on the path to love and happiness, Jane is devastated after learning a dark secret about Mr. Rochester’s past. Jane is forced to make a choice: stay with him and indulge her happiness or leave and retain her honor. A classic Gothic novel, the book explores themes such as morality and freedom and makes you question: what would you choose?
3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Stolen from a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Sound and the Fury is a novel of tragedy, history, and legacy surrounding the Compson family. Set in fictitious Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi (a place Faulkner created and set a number of novels in), the book tells the story of the downfall of the Compson family through the eyes of the four children: neurotic, poetic Quentin; beautiful, vivacious Caddy; cruel Jason; and the man-child Benjy.Advertising
Using stream of conscious, Faulkner poignantly portrays the tragedy of the family in a post-civil war era centering around themes of decaying Southern values, language, and rebirth. Landmark for its use of stream of conscious, this book will make you realize the power of decay.
4. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Initially banned from publication in the USSR due to its less-than-favorable stance on socialism, Pasternak’s great novel of love and revolution follows poet doctor Yuri Zhivago as he is divided between love for his wife and the captivating Lara. Filled with agony, disillusion, and revolution, the novel was a new take on the devastating history of the Russian people in the early twentieth century. This novel will give you a new found appreciation for star-crossed lovers caught up in the tragedy of revolution and tradition.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Easily Fitzgerald’s most recognizable work, The Great Gatsby tells the tale of mysterious billionaire Jay Gatsby and his quest to reclaim his long lost love Daisy, a vivacious yet selfish socialite. Told from the viewpoint of Daisy’s cousin Nick, the novel is the quintessential Jazz Age story filled with gin, forbidden love, and all the splendor and spoils of the roaring 20s. This is the novel to read if you want to get a feel for the glamour and tragedy of New York in the 1920s.
6. 1984 by George Orwell
Though 1984 has passed (without large scale government surveillance or manipulation programs) this classic dystopian novel warns of what the future could look like if we don’t take an active role in curbing the power of the government. Introducing such words as doublespeak, thoughtcrime, Big Brother, and 2+2=5 into our modern lexicon, the novel is a powerful warning about the dangers of groupthink and unchecked government power. This novel is always a classic but is especially powerful in context of today’s NSA programs and Wikileaks.
7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Another great example of a novel that spawned a word (Catch-22 refers to a paradoxical situation in which you can escape because of conflicting rules), this novel tells the tale of soldiers in World War II fighting, dying, and living amongst one of the most brutal and grotesque wars of the twentieth century. What makes this novel stand out from other war stories is that it completely vanquishes any idea of valor and glory and replaces it with satire and insanity. Brilliantly showcasing the madness of war and combat, the novel is well worth a read for a new view on the chaos of war.
8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Yet another novel that borrows it’s title from Shakespeare (thank you, The Tempest Act V Scene I), this novel is a dystopian look at technology, identity, and society in the future. Centering around the idea that all humans are now created in a lab (most with identical features) and assigned an identity and destiny, their their lives are thoroughly uncomplicated. The book raises questions about the path humanity will take when they rely exclusively on technology. This novel will make you think twice about whether technology and progression is helpful.
9. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
THE ultimate detective novel, The Maltese Falcon follows hard-boiled Sam Spade as he tries to uncover where a priceless falcon sculpture is and why everyone is after it. Along the way he encounters murder, shifting loyalties, and treachery. With surprising twists and characters dropping like flies, this classic detective novel will keep you glued to the pages. It even set the precedent for many other detectives including Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe. This is the novel to read if you want to learn the classic psyche of the hard-boiled detective.
10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
According to Allen Ginsberg, the first draft of this classic Beat novel was typed on a 50 foot long roll of paper. No less eccentric, the novel tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Jack Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady as they travel through America most often by hitchhiking and hopping buses. Filled with Kerouac’s friends and acquaintances (including Ginsberg and William Burroughs) the novel established not only the voice of the Beat generation but a new form of American prose. Besides these noteworthy accolades, at it’s heart, the novel is about finding a place in society when you’re not the “norm.”
11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The only novel from the infamous wit Oscar Wilde, this classic novel is at once horrifying and captivating. The tale follows a young and handsome Dorian Gray as he falls under the influence of the unscrupulous Lord Henry and his particular brand of hedonism. As Dorian falls farther and farther away from virtue, he realizes that he can commit any crime he pleases and it will not make a mark on him. Instead, as he commits each crime, a recent portrait of himself turns uglier to show a true reflection of his soul. Gripping and horrifying, the book raises questions on whether art (and people) are intrinsically valuable just for the simple act of being beautiful.
12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
A landmark novel when published in 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has remained a classic ever since. Detailing the account of a mental institution which gets turned upside when a lively new patient, Randle Patrick McMurphy, enters and begins disrupting the authoritarian rule of the nurses. Raising questions about individuality, authority, and mental health the novel was as ground breaking as it is funny and heartbreaking. A dystopian-type novel grounded in the present, this classic will make you rethink authority and autonomy.
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The epitome of ennui, this classic novel from J.D. Salinger tells the tale of young Holden Caulfield as he spends three days in New York City playing hooky between the end of the school term and start of Christmas break. More than just the antics of a kid in a big city, the novel takes a look at what it means to grow up and be an adult. Following the complex and passionate narrative of Holden as he tries to resist adulthood, the novel focuses on themes such as alienation, growing up, and the “phoniness” of the adult world. This is the novel to read if you’re experiencing the angst between graduating school and entering the real world.
14. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Perhaps one of the best and most exemplary examples of fan-fiction, Wide Sargasso Sea is the prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Recounting the early years of Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, the novel not only gives her a name but a voice. Starting out with her decaying childhood in Jamaica the book follows Antoinette through her life as the trauma and cruelty of her situation gives rise to her deteriorating mental health. Focusing on themes of racial identity, insanity, and women’s identity in a patriarchal society this novel will give you a new found empathy for the woman in the attic.
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The second most popular Spanish language book (second only to Don Quixote), this beautifully written novel is a centerpiece for not only the magical realism genre but also a commentary on the devastation of the outside world in Latin America. Set in the fictional town of Macondo (a town inspired by García Márquez’s own childhood town Aracataca) the story follows the lives of the Buendías family as they transition from isolation to revolution. Not only is this novel gorgeously written, but it will give you a deeper connection to the politics and turbulence of political upheaval in Latin America.
16. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Another tale of dystopia but with a notable twist – -instead of society succumbing to technological advances, society is reverted backwards into a hyper-dominate patriarchal and Christian society in which women have no rights or autonomy. Instead, women are regulated into certain classes and expected to fulfill the duties of this class.
Told from the viewpoint of Offred, a handmaid in this new society who’s primary duty is to serve as a concubine and produce children, she documents her experiences serving a prominent government official as she struggles to find solace in this new world order. Especially against the backdrop of her memories of freedom and autonomy. Captivating and stimulating, this classic novel is excellent to read in the context of women’s struggles to gain autonomy over their bodies and reproductive rights.
17. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
More excruciating than Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this classic Russian novel follows destitute Raskolnikov who after committing murder must face the moral consequences of his decision. A decidedly different novel, Crime and Punishment focuses on that intense period between committing the crime and receiving the punishment.Advertising
With searing detail, the novel takes you on the harrowing psychological journey Raskolnikov takes as he alienates himself from society and ultimately goes mad. This is the book to read if you are or ever were a psychology student. Even if you weren’t, it will give you a new found perspective on not the motivations of crime and the space that follows.
18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Largely criticized at the time of it’s publications for not being “political” enough, Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel of independence in the rural South became immensely popular after Alice Walker published an essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” bringing the novel back into the public consciousness. Detailing the life of Janie Crawford, a beautiful and independent woman, the novel examines the idea of freedom in the context of relationships.
Through her first marriage to the stoic and pragmatic Logan to her second with the loquacious and domineering Joe to her final marriage to the much younger Tea Cake, Janie struggles to find independence and peace with herself. Though race does play a role in the novel, it is primarily a story of a woman trying to find herself in the context of so many societal norms. The beautiful prose of this novel will make you take a step back and want to find your own true voice.
19. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The classic autobiography from one of America’s civil rights leaders and outstanding writers, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings tells the story of Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Anne Johnson) in her early years.
Passionate and poignant, the novel recounts Angelou’s coming of age and includes such details as her insecurity with her looks; her rape as a small girl; her subsequent refusal to speak afterwards and finding her voice again through literature; and her position as the first ever African-American to operate a streetcar in San Francisco.This book will not only give you insight into one of America’s greatest activists but will inspire you to be courageous and authentic in the face of adversary.
20. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Easily one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century, Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged professor who falls in love with his precocious twelve-year-old stepdaughter Dolores. A.K.A., Lolita. After her mother dies in a car crash, Humbert whisks Lolita away on a road trip where his narrative suggests that she seduces him rather than the other way around. They drive across the country falling into a pattern of obsession and manipulation and eventually settle down in the Northeast where Humbert risks losing Lolita.
Turned down for publication four times, the book was eventually published and was met with a mixture of scorn and acclaim. The book’s bold discussion of forbidden love and desire is both its strength and repulsion. This classic is well worth a read for not only its revolutionary take on love but it’s breathtaking postmodern prose.
Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com
Last Updated on September 30, 2020
How to Live a Stress Free Life in a Way Most People Don’t
Learning how to live a stress free life may seem impossible, but the truth is that there are specific things you can do to begin eliminating sources of stress.
No, it doesn’t look like a made-for-television movie. No, it doesn’t look like something only people with extra time and money can do. It looks like your life—but without any self-created stress triggers.
Here are 11 ways to help you live a stress-free life:
1. Stop Overanalyzing Situations That Haven’t Happened
The first step to living a stress-free life is to stop overanalyzing imaginary scenarios. It’s easy to spend time in the world of worst-case scenarios. People tend to cultivate this world for one of two reasons.
First, because if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then it won’t surprise you when it happens. Second, if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then you can do everything in your power to control the universe so the worst case never happens.
If that’s really the world you want to cultivate, then become a professional risk assessor. If not, then ask yourself how you are benefiting from continuing to live that way.
Does it make you feel better about yourself and your life? Does it make you want to leap out of bed in the morning, eager to embrace the worst-case scenario? Does it bring you joy or fulfillment?
If your answer to these three questions is no, then stop living in the future and bring yourself back into the present.
2. Don’t Take on Other People’s Problems
The whole advantage of other people having problems is that they aren’t your problems. When you frequently take on other people’s problems, you get into the habit of enabling.
Let’s get crystal clear about the definition of enabling: enabling is the art of continuing to take responsibility for other people, thereby disallowing their personal responsibility.
It is of no service to other people to take on their problems because they can’t/won’t/don’t know how to fix the problem.
It is of service to empower others to take responsibility for themselves and their lives, to encourage, teach, and motivate others to address their own problems. So stop enabling, and start empowering.
3. Get Present in the Moment
Being present in the moment involves being in your body and feeling your feelings—two things that lots of folks actually don’t know how to do.
Ask yourself these two questions: What does fear feel like in your body? What are you afraid of?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you probably aren’t present in the moment. Being present involves vulnerability, humility, and openness.
The past and the future stop being so relevant and intriguing when you’re able to get in your body and feel your feelings. When you can do these two things, you actually want to be in the present moment.
To get started, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and watch your stress levels drop. Then, try these tips: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying.
4. Focus on What You Have, Not What You Don’t
The easiest way to stop focusing on what you don’t have is by not watching TV commercials. Marketing teaches us to focus on what we don’t have, and advertising campaigns spend millions of dollars convincing us that we must have what we don’t yet have.
Can you think of a marketing campaign that teaches you to enjoy what you already have without buying something to enhance it? Odds are you can’t.
In a world dictated by Super Bowl commercials and Facebook ads, it takes stalwart focus to recognize what you have more than what you don’t. If you want a stress-free life now, get stalwart, and stop letting other people dictate your focus.
In order to do this, try cultivating a gratitude practice to help refocus your mind toward what is good in your life. You can get started with this guide.
5. Stop Surrounding Yourself With People Who Don’t Make You Happy
Honestly, what kind of people do you really like to be around with? People who get you, who see you clearly, who accept your flaws and all; people you can be yourself with; people who have shared interests?
How many of those people are in your life? What characteristics do all of the other people in your life have?
If you find that the people in your life aren’t adding anything positive, it may be time to make some changes. If you find that other relationships you have are downright toxic, start working to cut out those relationships immediately.
6. Find a Job That Makes You Feel Good
You don’t have to stay at a job just because it pays the bills. Most people spend more time working than sleeping. The average person spends 40 to 80 hours a week—or 2,000 to 4,000 hours a year—working. That is a significant investment!
If your best friend or child told you that they were going to spend 4,000 hours giving their emotional, mental, and physical energy to something (or someone) that wasn’t going to value them, give anything back to them, or pay them what they were worth, what advice would you offer? Give that same advice to yourself. You won’t be stress-free unless you don’t learn this.
7. Only Take on What You Can Handle
Busyness is an addiction. Slowing down can actually be terrifying because it causes you to notice that you have feelings that you now have time to feel.
I get it.
By the time I slowed down, I had decades of busyness under my belt. I went into a tailspin depression because I didn’t understand how to be in the right relationship with my own emotions.
When I finally figured out that feelings are just feelings and allowing them to express themselves is healthy and natural, I stopped experiencing withdrawal from my addiction to busyness and started figuring out the pace of life that felt best for me.
Remarkably, I discovered that I don’t actually like being busy. What will you discover about yourself?
8. Let Go of Grudges and Anger
For me, it took 20 years of adulthood to figure out that holding on to grudges and anger only hurt me. Lucky for you, though, you can benefit vicariously from my experience just by reading one short paragraph!
No one is holding your feet to the fire, demanding that you hold on to grudges and anger. The energy of anger slowly eats away at your body, mind, and spirit, until one day you wake up more resentful than optimistic.
One day, people no longer want to be around you because the stink of negativity is oozing out of your pores. One day, you even get tired of hearing yourself get angry. And the person or people you are angry at or holding grudges against probably haven’t been affected at all.
Who gets hurt the most in that process of repeating negative thoughts? You do.
Some good advice for you here: How to Let Go of Resentment and Anger
9. Stop Reliving Your Past
To live a stress-free life, you have to stop reliving your past. I know it seems like fun to compare everything in your present to your past, and to experience the present through past-colored glasses, but it actually isn’t.
When you wear past-colored glasses, you can’t truly experience the present for what it is. Your boyfriend or girlfriend gets compared to a list of expectations and failed relationships rather than recognized for the unique blessing they are in your life.
Your boss gets compared to all the bosses who came before her/him. Your friends’ ability to parent gets compared to your parents’ ability to parent.
People, including you, deserve to stand on their own past-free merit.
10. Don’t Complain About Things You Can’t Change
There are always going to be people elected into office whom you don’t like, taxes that you don’t want to pay, idiot drivers who refuse to move out of the left-hand lane, and a person ahead of you in the check-out line who won’t stop chatting with the clerk.
The great benefit of being human is that we get to experience all of what life offers us. To live stress-free is to learn to deal with this fact.
Dwelling on your frustration with something that can’t be changed doesn’t do anything other than drag you down. You are the only person who will ultimately decide how to respond to what is.
11. Stop Living Through Other People’s Lives
Someone else’s life is not your life. Your life is your life.
What that means is you get to live your life in the way you want. You get to make ridiculous mistakes, take leaps of faith, and stuff things inside your handbag of fear just as much as the next person.
Going through stuff is the whole great messy adventure of being human! Being alive and living life is terrifying and glorious and everything in between.
Stop living through social media, trying to soak in all of the experiences everyone else is having. Focus, instead, on what it feels like to be you in this moment. You may find you like it.
An astounding thing happens when you reduce stress and anxiety, get into a relationship with your body, mind, and spirit, and just be yourself without judgment.
Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You begin to live in each moment, and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy.
You move fluidly, steadily, calmly, and gratefully. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born through improved mental health. And this is how you live a stress-free life.
More Tips on How to Live a Stress-Free Life
- Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?
- 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get You Back on Track
- 18 Basic Rules to Lead A Fulfilling Life
Featured photo credit: Drew Coffman via unsplash.com
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