Ever thought about books you should read before you die?
Life is becoming increasingly fast-paced – fast cars, fast phones, everything seems to breeze past us at lightning speed.
Gone are the days we used to enjoy simple pleasures like long walks, quiet time by the beach, or reading.
In this part of the world, reading is a chore, mostly for a purpose such as to pass an exam or to get information for other uses.
We seem to have lost the habit of reading for the pure pleasure of it.
Getting lost in a world created by the words a book can be a most enjoyable experience.
Yes, you will learn new words, yes, you will boost your intelligence but that should not be the prime purpose of reading a well-written novel.
It is for us to appreciate the art and soul found between the lines and drift into a realm and time of great excitement.
There are a huge number of fictional books one can use for pleasure reading across many genres. I prefer the classics.
They simultaneously speak to the heart and mind.
They teach you about the history of our world, the possibilities of our future, and the fabric of our souls.
The characters created by the authors are larger than life and grand yet their experiences, turmoil, and testimonies very relatable regardless of your belief, tribe, and overall upbringing.
I have chosen these novels because they are timeless and serve up a unique insight into life through colorful and intense writing – thus making them books you should read before you die.
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Here are 14 Books You Should Read Before You Die
I will try my best to avoid spoilers.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN
With its many Broadway and screenplay adaptations, Pride and Prejudice is a well-known book, a classic in its own right.
I remember it from my secondary school days – it was one of the books students in my school were required to get for literature class.
The book tells the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as they go through the intricacies of courtship and marriage in Georgian England.
The novel has elements of satire, with its near comical representation adolescence and coming of age and it deeply delves into topics such sexual frustration at a time when public speaking of such (especially from a female author) was almost taboo.
THINGS FALL APART BY CHINUA ACHEBE
I cannot have this list without mentioning the ever riveting and captivating work of art, Things Fall Apart.
Written by the late Chinua Achebe, this book gained critical acclaim globally for its depiction of colonialism in Nigeria.
The book is set in Nigerian just at the time the British first arrive at the nation’s shores. The main character, warrior-like Okonkwo, embodies the traditional values that are ultimately doomed by the introduction of the white man’s ways.
Things fall apart is one book everyone should read before death.
REBECCA BY DAPHNE DU MAURIER
This marvelous work of art by Du Maurier tells the gothic tale about a young woman who replaces the deceased Rebecca as wife to the wealthy Maxim de Winter and mistress of the Manderley estate.
There she meets the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who was dedicated to Rebecca and would turn out to be more than just a housekeeper.
This book takes psychological horror to a new level, something a lot of the newbies in the genre have failed to replicate let alone surpass.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD BY HARPER LEE
Another favorite of mine, this book presents a timeless plea for justice in the setting of America’s racist South during the depression years.
The story is told through the eyes of a six-year-old, in this case, Jean Louise Finch, whose father is a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
Lee hoped for nothing but “a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers”: she won the Pulitzer and a place on the curriculum.
This book examines racism in a raw and heartfelt manner using tones and innuendos that are still relevant even as we tackle racism in today’s world.
It is a book you should read before you die.
FRANKENSTEIN BY MARY SHELLEY
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 18 years old, as part of a challenge with her future husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, to concoct the best horror story.
This novel created the world’s most famous monster to date.
Frankenstein’s monster is a complex and utterly misunderstood creation who yearns for sympathy and companionship.
200 years after it was first published, the gothic tale feels more relevant than ever as genetic science pushes the boundaries of what it means to create life.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS BY EMILY BRONTË
They don’t make them like they used to. No, they do not. Till today, I doubt there will ever be a novel that burns with more passionate intensity than Wuthering Heights.
The forces that bring together its fierce heroine Catherine Earnshaw and cruel hero Heathcliff are violent and untamable, yet rooted in a childhood devotion to one another, when Heathcliff obeyed Cathy’s every command.
The novel is deeply poetic and will tug at your heartstrings, evoking every emotion possible within you.
It’s worth every bit of your reading time and for good reasons, it should be part of everyone’s list of books to read before you die.
VANITY FAIR BY WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
Life in 19th Century London is represented in detail in this world-renowned masterpiece.
This book tells the story of Jos Sedley, who has gained a taste for the hot stuff as an officer in the East India Trading Company.
However, the real soul of the story comes from Becky Sharp, one of literature’s great characters, who gives this novel its enduring fascination.
As a woman on the make, Becky is the perfect blend of wit, cunning, and cold-hearted ruthlessness.
LOLITA BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV
This novel was at a time banned from entering the UK in its year of publication, 1955.
Though very controversial, Vladimir Nabokov’s book was an astonishingly skillful work of fiction.
It introduced us to a literary professor and self-confessed Hebephile Humbert Humbert.
He marries widow Charlotte Haze only to get access to her daughter, 12-year-old Dolores, nicknamed Lo by her mother, or as Humbert calls her “Lolita.”
Cloaking his abuse in the allusive language of idealized love does not lessen Humbert’s crimes, but allows Nabokov to skewer him where he hides.
BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON
Dedicated to the “60 million and more” Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the slave trade, this is a cultural milestone and a Pulitzer-winning piece.
Morrison was inspired by the real-life story of an enslaved woman who killed her own daughter rather than to see her return to slavery.
In her plot, the murdered child returns to haunt a black community, suggesting the inescapable taint of America’s history.
It’s a must read!
THE GREAT GATSBY BY F SCOTT FITZGERALD
Another book popular for its screen adaptation, F Scott Fitzgerald’s is indeed another great.
It would surprise you that it was met with savage reviews when it was published – “no more than a glorified anecdote”; “for the season only” and so forth.
This novel is a near-perfect distillation of the hope, ambition, cynicism, and desire at the heart of the American Dream.
Fitzgerald’s enigmatic Jay Gatsby casts a shadow that reaches to Mad Men’s Don Draper and beyond.
TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES BY THOMAS HARDY
A good 125 years before, Thomas Hardy skewered the sexual hypocrisy of the Victorian age in this melodramatic but immensely moving novel.
Tess is a naïve girl from a poor family who is raped by a wealthy landowner.
After the death of her baby, she tries to build a new life, but the “shame” of her past casts a long shadow.
Read this if you want to understand the rotten culture at the root of victim-blaming.
DRACULA BY BRAM STOKER
This was my first introduction into one of the most romanticized monsters of all time, The Vampire.
Whatever passed between Irish theatre manager Bram Stoker and the Hungarian traveler and writer Ármin Vámbéry when they met in London and talked of the Carpathian Mountains, it birthed an entire genre of entertainment.
The world is still fascinated by Vampires, with countless stories being told and retold including the many adaptations of this very story.
The Count as a shadowy sexual figure surprising straitlaced Victorian England in their beds, but in Stoker’s hands he’s also bloody creepy.
You’d have to read this one if you wish to know where the vampire fantasy all started.
DANGEROUS LIAISONS BY PIERRE CHODERLOS DE LACLOS
Another book you should read before you die is Dangerous Liaisons
The most deliciously wicked experience in literature, this epistolary novel introduces us to the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who play cruel games of sexual conquest on their unwitting victims.
The Marquise’s justification for her behavior – “I, who was born to revenge my sex and master yours” – will strike a chord in the #MeToo era, but emotions, even love, intrude, to the point where Laclos’s amorality becomes untenable. Sexy but very very bad.
THE LEOPARD BY GIUSEPPE TOMASI DI LAMPEDUSA
Published posthumously in 1958, Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel is set in 19th century Sicily, where revolution is in the air.
The imposing Prince Don Fabrizio presides over a town close to Palermo during the last days of an old world in which class stratifications are stable and understood.
Garibaldi’s forces have taken the island and a new world will follow. It’s a deep and poetic meditation on political change and the characters that it produces.
Which one of our list of books you should read before you die have you read?
Which book(s) do you think should have made this list?
Let us know in the comment section below. We look forward to hearing from you.