Night by Elie Wiesel
This book was one of the first books that challenged my naïve perception of the goodness of man, yet forgives man for his imperfections. I was first introduced to this autobiography recounting the Holocaust when I was but 12 years old. Since then, I have continually read it to remind myself that one can create their own hope in the darkest times of humanity. Elie Wiesel has continued to be an inspiration for me in how he continued to have faith in humanity when most of us would turn away from it forever. I am a firm believer that every person should be exposed to this short, chilling account of the Holocaust.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book was one the first times I was exposed to literature and imperfect endings. Written from the perspective of Death, Markus Zusak follows the life of a young German girl whose family was hiding a Jewish man in their basement during the Holocaust. To me, it showed how joy can be found in even the darkest of situations, like being happy that we can see the weather every day, unlike the man hiding in this girl’s basement. Zusak shows the imperfection of the Nazi regime and its demands, and even provoked me, as a reader, to begin to question every society’s drive for the unattainable, perfect image.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck, in the eyes of many, is of one of the giants of United States literature next to people such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. My first exposure to this short novel left me utterly shocked – the brusque, short ending would shock anyone as young as I was when I first read this novel. However, after re-reading it multiple times as a more critical reader, I fell in love with Steinbeck’s honest portrayal of the human condition. It can be quite a shocking read, thus I do not recommend this book to any looking for a ‘light’ topic.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Another novel by John Steinbeck, I was exposed to this novel for the first time in my last year living in the United States. For me, it was the gateway into my passion for literature. Steinbeck has almost no plot in this novel, yet he develops a number of allegories and significant central tensions throughout the novel that, again, reflect life’s imperfections and every person’s struggle to obtain their imagined heaven. This novel will open one’s eyes to every person’s microcosm of struggles, and also show examples of how to escape the many societal conventions that we unconsciously find cumbersome.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Though I have not read this book in a number of years, this book is one that reminds me of home. A fairly low-level novel, I love this book because of the way it teaches even children about independence. In this novel, the main character is a 12-year-old boy whose plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness where he must learn how to survive with nothing but a hatchet he received as a gift. I must admit, the fact that this novel’s setting is in the same wilderness that I call home makes me biased, but regardless I would encourage anyone to read this book. Not only does it offer good survival tips, but is more heartening than the previous novels I have recommended.