By Sarah Wright
Slaughterhouse Five By Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five has long been classified as a science-fiction novel, much to Vonnegut's chagrin. Though there are typical genre elements like aliens and time-travel, there's so much more in play here. The story follows its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, through an incredible life of war, success and, yes, time and space travel. Ultimately, it's a story rooted in philosophy, and the sci-fi elements are a means to a thematic end, rather than the central thrust of the novel. In the midst of all this is Vonnegut's ever-present dark humor, making the read a surprising and fun experience.
The Infinities By John Banville
This novel, published in 2009, isn't Man Booker Prize winner John Banville's most famous or celebrated work. But it is nonetheless a very fun read. In The Infinities, Banville's poetic prose is a joy to read, and makes a fanciful concept more engaging and realistic than it could be in less skilled hands. The basic aspects of the plot sound drab: an elderly, comatose English math professor's family gathers at their estate as he slips toward death. But the inclusion of mischievous Greek gods, frequent switching of narrative viewpoint and rich character development keeps the novel fresh, original and enjoyable from beginning to end.
Catch-22 By Joseph Heller
As another one of the classic novels frequently assigned to high school literature students, Catch-22 might not have the best reputation in some corners. It's never fun to be forced to read, but students would do well to be open-minded about the darkly hilarious narrative on display here. Though it's a war story on the surface, Catch-22 offers readers a vividly rendered cast of characters whose exploits help make a case for the utter absurdity of war. At the center is Yossarian, a World War II U.S. Army captain who wants nothing more than to go home, and the title 'catch' that prevents that from happening.
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The Count of Monte Cristo By Alexandre Dumas
This classic, epic tale of revenge, redemption and folly is a fun read any way you slice it. Though it takes a while to get through, the payoff of watching the protagonist evolve from a simple country boy to a man with the power to fulfill his wildest fantasies is worth it. This isn't a simple happy take of redemption, though. Instead, Dumas guides readers into a stunning twist that allows us to feel the protagonist's own agony in considering the benefits and drawbacks of a life consumed by revenge. Intrigue, deception, moral quandary and what amounts to a prison training montage help the story move along at a surprisingly quick pace, considering the book's length.
Moby Dick By Herman Melville
Reading through Melville's storied classic is an accomplishment in itself. But anyone can just turn the pages and say they've read Moby Dick. Really, truly reading it, engaging in each word, from beginning to end, is a multi-faceted literary journey. Part of the reason the novel is so long is that Melville spares no linguistic and narrative expense. In addition to the famous central plot of a vengeful sea captain's quest for the great white whale, there are elements of historical nonfiction and description of everything from whale migration patterns to the different jobs available on a whaling boat.
All throughout is an amazing tapestry of gorgeous prose, poetic description, rich metaphor and enduring thematic consideration. This is a book that truly deserves its mythic status, and those who take the time to work their way through will be glad they did. Moby Dick is the kind of book that will make you feel like you've run a mental marathon with each chapter - and that includes the euphoria and satisfaction that comes with hard work.
If you're looking for more book suggestions, check out this list of ten books everyone should read before college.