By: Makenzi Mulkins
As spring begins to bloom and summer is fast approaching, many students are aching to keep their hands book-free for a few months until school rolls back around. Some, however, are itching for a new book to read outside while enjoying the warm, sunny days. Then, of course, there are the unlucky few who just need to find a book to read for that last English assignment.
Whatever your reading needs, here are a few you should check out!
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This morally questionable work of fiction, published in 1890, is high up on the list of philosophical novels you should read. The novel focuses on Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man who falls under the mentorship of one Lord Henry. Dorian’s values begin to change under his new guide, and the novel follows his rejection of Victorian morals and deterioration of character as he becomes ensnared in aestheticism and indulgence. Dorian Gray offers the beginning to a debate of philosophy–morality or hedonism–while presenting a novel of colorful language and the wit expected of a man whose famous last words were “my wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This 1961 novel is pure satire. It is set during World War II, focusing on US Air Force bombardier John Yossarian.
Yossarian and his men are all fighting to stay both alive and sane, and their attempts to do so are often hilarious. They get caught in the “catch-22”: the paradoxical situation in which those who are insane do not have to fly, but those who apply to not fly are showing concern for their safety, thus being too rational to be considered insane. Senior Cameron Fontes says, “It’s a satirical look at not just war, but at the establishment in general. The way Heller uses the text itself to mirror the ridiculous paradoxes of the world in which the novel takes place is brilliant and often hilarious. However, when he does want the reader to feel horrified, he emphasizes the situation with starkly serious prose, making it all the more horrific.”
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Keeping with the theme of satirical novels about World War II, Slaughterhouse Five was published in 1969 and chronicles the adventures of Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist who somehow survived the bombing of Dresden, despite his complete lack of any useful military skill whatsoever. Billy’s list of traumatic experiences, beginning with his time in the war and moving on into civilian life, causes him to become “unstuck in time.” In moments of duress, he finds himself transported forward and backward in time, allowing for a thorough look into the passage of time and the idea of fate versus free will through the use of absurd situations. Senior Garrett Keller says, “The absurdity of Vonnegut’s plots are, in my opinion, what makes his work so entertaining; the slight uncertainty as to what’s actually going on in Slaughterhouse Five is something it’s known for. Few authors do a better job of balancing harsh reality with such a unique brand of humor.”
Demian by Hermann Hesse
This 1919 coming of age novel is one of my absolute favorites. Most know Hesse for his 1922 novel Siddhartha, but
this lesser-known story deserves a read for its interesting take on societal values and morality. The novel centers around Emil Sinclair, a German boy trying to find his own sense of self and his own values. He was raised in a very normal, very innocent, very Christian home, but he meets Max Demian, an older boy, who opens his eyes to the underbelly of society: to those souls who live for their own fulfillment, for their own desire, and for the god Abraxas–a mix of both God and the devil at once, the personification of the need for seemingly opposing forces to exist at once and in harmony. Sinclair’s path to find himself amongst it all makes for a novel of enticing language and seemingly twisted morality that leaves its reader with the lingering, haunting questions of if we can truly separate ourselves from the devil, and if we should.
Whether you need a book for a project or a bit of summer reading, make sure you grab a copy of one (or all) of these books. There’s nothing quite like questioning society and your own moral values while enjoying a pleasant day outside.0