Which required reading books (and plays, and epic poems) should your blow the dust off of now that you're older, wiser, and no longer snickering too much about Shakespeare's beautiful, dirty puns? The short answer: All of them. The long answer: Start with Shakespeare.
"Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare
Reading this tale of young love for the first time, it seems so sincere! Would you die for your one true love? A thousand times, yes! We're not saying this classic story is completely cynical and tongue-in-cheek, but the Bard, we think, was a little too nuanced to write something so maudlin. Take a closer look at the play, and you'll find more realistic intricacies, like the fact that Romeo very clearly was a serial monogamist, and probably co-dependent. Just sayin'.
"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin
"Awakenings" in high school generally involve edgy new haircuts, or the realization that Hemingway existed, and was actually a pretty cool guy. It'd be difficult to fully process the conflictingly restrictive nature of family life when you're still being provided for, rather than doing some of the providing. Besides, by now you may have read some of the Southern literature this book served as a catalyst for, like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.
"The Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger
Margaret Lyons writes in Vulture, "Coming-of-age stories aren't just about characters coming of age. They're sometimes reflections of how we ourselves came of age -- or didn't." Picking up "Catcher in the Rye" for the first time feels like glimpsing a secret world that you're so glad exists. Pick it up later -- even just a few years later -- and it reads like a sad (albeit compelling) story of depression, isolation, and plain ol' immaturity.
"The Odyssey" by Homer
Monsters, villains and getting the girl -- that's about all we recalled after reading this epic poem for the first time. But, as one of the oldest extant Western stories, we think it's definitely worth another read. If that weren't reason enough, we think some of the weightier material covered -- you know, fate, revenge and the like -- deserves to be reexamined.
"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." POP QUIZ: What comes next? That's what we thought.
"The Stranger" by Albert Camus
This was a polarizing one in high school. Some young readers were appalled by Meursault's callousness, and his lack of explanation for committing a heinous crime seemed blatantly sociopathic. Sure, there's no such thing as an incorrect interpretation (or so said our high school English teachers), but we think Camus' book deserves to be revisited, especially by those who disliked it. When read as an objective explanation of myriad philosophies (existentialism, absurdism, naturalism, stoicism, etc.), it may be better appreciated.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston
It's much more than a book-club stalwart! We recommend giving Hurston's beautifully written novel a second read, but only after reading up on the historical context. This novel was not well-received when it was written because it didn't adhere to the strict standards of W.E.B. Du Bois' Racial Uplift ideology. Hurston made a conscious effort to write fiction that celebrated African-American communities in the rural south.
"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton
This insular little story has not been considered one of Wharton's best -- heck, the author John Green called it the most overrated classic in an interview with The Huffington Post -- but we beg to differ. "I thought it was a lot of work towards just the one thing," Green said, but that's precisely what we enjoy about it. Not every book has to be about the world ending. A small tragedy about a sledding accident can be as much of a page-turner as a bold, flashy fight to the death.
"The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway
Another slow book you'll appreciate now that your attention span has (hopefully) increased. Turns out there's much more to Hemingway's tale than the mundanity of trying and failing, over and over and over again. (Though we will say, the guy portrays optimism and futility so wonderfully.)
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
Dystopia is pre-teen-readers' schtick. Dystopia also happens to be Margaret Atwood's schtick. (Her latest novel is a playful, less-political jaunt through a post-apocalyptic world.) But even more so than Orwell's predictions of condensed language and decreased personal security, many of her predictions, which have led her to brand her writings "speculative fiction," have come true. This book is worth re-reading for that reason alone.
"The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings" by Edgar Allan Poe
To young adults, Poe is among the more enticing authors on the required reading list. He writes stories, for starters, and they're about as thrilling as "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." But Poe is more than a macabre teller of ghost stories. He was one of the first recognized short story writers, and he essentially spawned the entire genre of detective fiction. Plus, a thorough re-reading will expose you to his finest, less-recognized gems, like "The Cask of Amontillado."