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10 Required Reads for Adults

School starting in many locations across the country today got us thinking about those required reading lists. Even though you had that list to work your way through all summer, most of us didn’t start reading until school actually started. And even then, it was probably just the CliffsNotes. As an adult, you have a second chance to rediscover some of those required reads – on your own time and with no pop quiz afterward.

Here are a few Southern required reads you may have missed the first time around:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird
Even kids don’t mind reading Harper Lee’s one-hit wonder, which just made NPR’s list of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. Set in the fictional Alabama town of Maycomb, the book and its themes of race and equality remain highly relevant today.

2. The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is much more relatable as an adult. What kid can get lost in a world of champagne parties and new vs. old money? Rediscover the glitz and glamour of Gatsby, especially before the new movie version comes out next summer.

3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Indicative of the “great American novel,” Mark Twain’s tales of a young boy’s adventures along the Mississippi River remains a favorite of both children and adults.

4. A Farewell to Arms 
Set against the backdrop of World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s first bestseller is based on his own experiences during the Italian campaign of the war and his real-life romance with nurse Agnes von Kurowsky. Parts of the novel were written in Arkansas, the home of his second wife, Pauline.

5. The Awakening
Like Gatsby, Kate Chopin’s feminist hit makes a lot more sense at an older age, especially for women dealing with the challenges of marriage and family. Set in New Orleans and on the South Louisiana coast, the book was controversial when it was first published in 1899 but is now considered to be one of the first Southern works in a style that would be carried on by Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams.

6. The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry’s short story about a young married couple buying Christmas gifts for each other is one that sticks with you at any age. Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, O. Henry, whose real name was William Sydney Porter, is said to have written the story at Pete’s Tavern in New York City.

7. The Sound and the Fury
You won’t find much Faulkner in required reading, and the Mississippi author’s work is tough for adults to digest, but this book was instrumental in the author receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. Its stream of consciousness style and narrative form represented something entirely new at the time and deserve our respect today.

8. The Road
A newer required read – published in 2006 – Cormac McCarthy’s Southern Gothic novel about the post-apocalyptic journey of a father and son won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was catapulted to fame when Oprah chose it for her book club.

9. The Cask of Amontillado 
We’re sure lots of Edgar Allan Poe has graced required reading lists over the years, but this story is different in that it required the reader to solve the mystery. Without a detective like in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” or “The Purloined Letter,” this story creates suspense by what doesn’t happen.

10. Native Son
An immediate bestseller in 1940, Richard’s Wright’s story of race and class is one of the earliest attempts to explain the racial divide in America. It made him the wealthiest black writer of his time, but has since been challenged in schools and libraries for being sexually graphic, violent and profane.

For more required reading, see Goodreads’ Required Reading in High School list.

To find out more about your favorite Southern authors and their haunts, download the Deep South Literary Trail App, now available directly on iTunes! 


Related Content: 

Rereading Gatsby

2012 Fall/Winter Reading List

2012 Summer Reading List



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  • Conrad Deitrick / August 20, 2012

    I’ve read most of McCarthy’s published novels, but I am taking a pass on the Road–it smacks too much of bleak awfulness for bleak awfulness’s sake to me, without the kind of chillingly compelling philosophical horror of, say, Blood Meridian.

  • Susan Cushman / August 28, 2012

    I’ve read 1-7, so I guess I get a 70. But I’m thankful that I’m no longer being graded. As an adult, one freedom I enjoy is being able to read whatever I choose. I agree with Conrad on “The Road” being too bleak. And I’ve never been a mystery fan, so I’ll pass on No. 9. The only one on your list that intrigues me is No. 10. Having just read my friend, Ellen Ann Fentress’s wonderful review of Richard Wright’s “Foreign Son” in the Oxford American, I’m wondering if “Native Son” might be worth the read. And I would add to this list (or perhaps replace 8 and 9 with) “The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor” and “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham.