The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, there is a film with Leonardo DiCaprio, but that doesn’t get you off the hook from reading this perceptive, pitch-perfect novel. Set in the jazzy Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald’s tale of obsession, ambition, love, money, and a world that would vanish with the Depression was to be his Big Hit—and he was surprised and disappointed when it sold poorly. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, he was an all but forgotten writer. Soon after there was a revival of his work, and he is now viewed as one of the great American novelists. Today, 500,000 copies of Gatsby are sold each year.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lee’s only novel, published in 1960, has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. For all that it exposes of the racial injustice of a particular time and place, it is timeless and universal. As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg wrote in Reader’s Digest, “Many people see To Kill a Mockingbird as a civil rights novel, but it transcends that issue. It is a novel about right and wrong, about kindness and meanness.”
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac’s agent spent more than four years trying to find a publisher for this turbo-charged, road trip novel about the postwar beat generation. Finally published in 1957, On the Road—written in a style at once breathless and disjointed—spoke to the deep restlessness of young people chafing at mainstream Cold War culture.