What is the heart and soul of literature? What is the purpose of a reading-driven life? I believe people who read a lot, and with variety, are uniquely placed to learn more about the world, its history and its people, and to become more compassionate, tolerant, and patient because of their reading experiences.
These are the real reasons why I love to read the classics. Yes, they’re an escape; they can be beautifully written, exciting, scary, and emotionally charged. But, mostly, they teach me, and show me, more about the world and its people and places than anything else ever could.
The books below are some of my favorites, and they’ve all helped me to experience the world in ways that I couldn’t possibly in my own life. They’ve transported me to a different world, taught me about different cultures, and helped me step into the shoes of people who are different from me. From the poverty and union movements of French miners to the experience of Jewish people during the Holocaust; from the lives of women, gay and straight, to the experience of black men and women, Latino immigrants, German philosophers, religious leaders and spiritual seekers, and the mentally and physically disabled. The books below can teach us so much about the world, past, present, and future.
Even dystopian fiction like A Handmaid’s Tale helps us to explore gender roles and the dangerous, complex, and unfair power structures established to keep women subservient. I am not going to write specific thoughts on these, and there are so many more I could have included, but I do highly recommend the list of books below. I’ve reviewed some of these here at Roof Beam Reader. Unfortunately, I read a number of them before I began blogging, so I don’t have reviews to share.
- Germinal by Emile Zola
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
- Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
- Angels in America by Tony Kushner
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
- Rain God by Arturo Islas
- Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
- Wonder by RJ Palacio
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- A Rasin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Which books have allowed you to truly step into another’s shoes? To experience a completely different lifestyle? Please share your own recommendations!