Guys, reading is cool (why do I feel incredibly lame typing that??). It was around way before Netflix (or uh, the internet) was a thing, and we reckon it’s going to stick around for a long time after too. There's a lot of hype around certain books, and you'll definitely get a bit of lit cred if you can quote some of these novels. Do you have to read them? Yes. Will it impress future Tinder dates? Potentially.
We’ve rounded up a list of the best books that'll make you feel cultured...without wanting to stab a fork into your eye.
By George Orwell
George Orwell’s one of the popular kids when it comes to this Classics business, and fair enough. His books are still scarily relatable in current times (we’re not making the Big Brother vs. Trump comparison, you are). 1984 follows life under a totalitarian government, where even having individual thoughts is frowned upon. It’s a tough, pessimistic novel, and includes a (no spoilers!) scaly-tailed scene near the end of the book that actually made us vom. Still, everybody needs to read it.
The Secret History
By Donna Tartt
You've probs heard of the Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, but we have to say that our loyalties still lie with Tartt’s debut novel, A Secret History. It begins with a murder, it’s set on a uni campus (or college, for you Americans) and the cast of characters are all obsessed with Ancient Greece. Intrigued?
By Shakespeare (duh)
No, no, hold the yawn, because a Shakespeare play actually goes off. First off, he invented a bunch of words that we still use every day, including eyeball, addiction, manager and swagger. So as strange as he sounds to us in Ye Old English, he probably sounded just as strange to audiences back then as well. Once you get a hang of Shakespeare’s lingo—and yep, reading annotated books that help to translate is totally valid—his plays are just wild. We’d recommend Macbeth or Othello. Two of the most frustratingly addictive stories ever.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
By David Foster Wallace
When people think about ‘cultural’ and ‘David Foster Wallace’ in the same breath, they’re usually thinking about Infinite Jest. And if you’ve actually read it, you deserve a freaking round of applause. For the rest of us, who has the time? (Or the brains?) It’s a freakin' conker of a book. But if you want to be able to say you've read Wallace—and not commit a good month of your life to Infinite Jest—we’d recommend checking out some of his non-fiction. It’s hilarious. Our pick is this one, his collection of essays: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The thing this man does with footnotes is amazing.
A Year of Magical Thinking
By Joan Didion
Speaking of non-fiction legends, read Joan Didion. Just do it. She’s so cool. She's just so much cooler than anyone else will ever be, ever. Her novels are all worth reading as well, but nothing is quite as heart-wrenching as her memoir A Year of Magical Thinking. It starts with her husband having a heart attack and dying at the dinner table. Oh boy. Have the tissues handy.
The Handmaid's Tale
By Margaret Atwood
By now we’re sure you’ve seen The Handmaids Tale. While the TV show is fantastic, the book has been a phenomenon before TV even existed (don’t kill us, but we think it may even be better). The book is set in a dystopian future. The scary thing about this one is that it was published in 1985—and is still just as relevant now. Like, us reading it and imagining this scenario going down in the next five or ten years. Feeling sceptical? Listen to Atwood herself: “I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist.” Righto.
A Little Life
By Hanya Yanagihara
Yes, this book could double as a doorstop, but have a go at cracking it open. It didn't set the world on fire and get itself dubbed as a 'modern-day classic' for nothing. It’s a crazy, complicated story—look, we’re going to be frank. Some of the content is pretty dark and unsettling, so don’t go into this thinking it’s going to be an easy read. It’s worth the ride though. 700+ pages, and you’ll need tissues nearby and maybe a cuddle after as well.
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book is slapped onto a bunch of school reading lists. Even if you’ve been reading this entire list so far with a look of scepticism on your face, why not give this a try? It’s only around 180 pages long (a.k.a it's quick to read) and a certifiable classic to add to your first date repertoire. Also, it’s a pretty freakin' good read. A tragic story, set in a world of parties, money, flappers and booze. Good last line too (no spoilers).
By Chuck Palahniuk
The first rule about Fight Club is we don’t talk about Fight Club. Sorry, we had to. Chuck Palahniuk is basically a dark, twisted wizard when it comes to putting words onto paper, and if you have a strong stomach (seriously) we recommend going through all his works. Fight Club was originally written as a diss to the publishers who didn’t accept some of his other work (allegedly), but ended up becoming the phenomenon that it is today, not to mention a movie with mega babe Brad Pitt.
The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Sylvia Plath. She’s often dismissed as a ‘Tumblr’-style, moody teenage girl—uh, wrong. Yeah, teen girls will relate to aspects in The Bell Jar, but that’s no easy feat considering it was published back in the 60s. It’s a super real, heartfelt account of the struggles of day-to-day life, fitting into a world that’s being mapped out for you by other people, and mental health. Give it a crack.
In Cold Blood
By Truman Capote
True crime is having a moment right now. We’ve got podcasts, Netflix specials and docus. Let’s throwback to one of the early stories that started it all—In Cold Blood. Capote spent like, six years working on this and it’s the second best-selling true crime book ever. (The one about Charles Manson narrowly beats it, but come on, people are weirdly obsessed with that guy). This book has come under fire in the past for Capote 'embellishing' the truth at parts, making it a great topic of debate in terms of fiction vs. non-fiction, and the ethics of truth vs. fact. Read this just so you have something intellectual to add to your next dinner party convo. (Your welcome).
Catcher in the Rye
By J. D. Salinger
We’re gonna be honest with you—you’re either going to love this book, or totally hate it. We think it’s well worth the read just to find out which. Hey, it could be your next favourite novel. This book has serious bad boy street-cred too, considering the controversy that it stirs up (just say the title loudly in a crowded room of bookish people and see what happens). It’s a stream of consciousness, angsty coming-of-age novel set in New York. Check it out.
Got through those ones? Check out some new Aussie fiction you need to read this winter.
Image credit: Karim Ghantous