What to Read if You Had a Year Left to Live

By: Sydney Lauro

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Prognosis: you’ve got twelve months left to live.

The good news? If you’re literate, you could easily read a book a month. Therefore, it’s time to give up Grey’s Anatomy and escape Meredith’s constant, cliché, and contrived diatribes about life and actually consume a worthwhile use of the English language.

January: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Now, this one may take you the better part of a month… given that it’s over six hundred pages long. Personally, I’d tell you to read the David McDuff translation, but it’s a masterpiece any way you slice it. Crime and Punishment is an epic piece of fiction, tackling issues of poverty, education, death, the criminal justice system, and nihilism. If you like your cop dramas, Crime and Punishment is for you.

February: For a not so obvious pick-me-up after Dostoevsky, read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. This author really impresses me, and I think this is one of his best works – and so does the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, and so on. It’s an amazing slice of life and reflection on the human experience. It’s a truly beautiful and brutally honest novel.

March: March is the month when it’s still technically miserable outside, even though it seems like it should be spring already. Like, you have spring break in March, but it’s a lie. So take the time and go to warm ol’ Nevada with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is one weird book. Amazon reviews calls it “the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page,” and I think that almost says it all. It’s not a book I can say I enjoyed, but it is a book I’m glad I’ve read. It’s a trip in every literal, figurative, metaphorical way.

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April: Spring comes in like a lion and out like a…rabbit? One of my all-time favorite books is Watership Down by Richard Adams. Talking rabbits should be enough to convince you this book is well worth your time. If that isn’t enough, then perhaps rabbits at war, rabbit gods, and HARE-raising danger might.

May: Small heroes are my thing, which is why something by J.R.R. Tolkein has to make it onto this must-read list. Since there honestly isn’t enough time left for you to read the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, you’ll have to settle with the equally as brilliant book: The Hobbit. Now, don’t let the movies fool you; The Hobbit is just as good as The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  

June: By this time in your death countdown, you’re feeling prepared to take on another tomb of a book. No, it’s not the Bible. It’s Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead! Don’t let the fact that this book is about an architect fool you. Cause it’s about a character, Howard Roark, one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in awhile, who happens to be an architect. This book, like Crime and Punishment is about conflicting ideologies. Only this time it isn’t nihilism or bust, it’s individualism versus collectivism. And it’s interesting. Trust me.

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July: After Rand, you’re probably thinking, “wow I don’t think I can read another dense page of literature.” And that’s probably true. But you’re feeling a little soulless afterwards and should feel the call to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Now, some reviews will tell you that this novel changes the lives of readers, which I can’t promise, but this book is all about soul-searching and gaining a little perspective.

August: From one road trip to another…Go from Coelho to Kerouac and get a taste of the ‘20s jazz scene in On the Road. This was a formative novel for me, and it’s one that has had a lasting impact. If you’ve ever had the itch to go out in the world, this is the road trip novel for you. Aside from it’s youthfulness and quirky cast of characters, On the Road is written with rhythm, evoking the same vibe characteristic of the beat generation. 

September: Back to school season hits in September, so it’s only fitting that you harken back to how it felt to be a kid in high school. Ernest Cline’s Ready, Player One is a tribute to the past—specifically the ‘80s—but it has the nostalgia of any generation’s youth. Oh, and it’s set in a virtual reality MMORPG game, but actual lives are on the line!!

October: You’d be selling yourself short, of course, if you didn’t read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Wait! Hear me out before you pass judgment. Persuasion may not be considered a “perfectly constructed novel” like Pride and Prejudice, but that doesn’t stop some readers from considering it their favorite Austen novel. It’s SHORTER than most of Austen’s works and it features a couple getting a second chance at love. It’s one of Austen’s most genuine and authentic novels.

November: In the twilight of your life, reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will show you an often unrecognized side of literature. I don’t know if you know this, but white dudes kind of dominate the published sphere. This novel is a tour-de-force of gorgeous writing, intense plot, and a great example of an author writing back against colonialism.

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December: The best way to welcome in the cold, horrible winter is by reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Now, I know this is yet another classic that you’re probably rolling your eyes at. But even if you read it as a teenager in high school, give it a chance as an adult. I think the really complicated familial history, classism, twisted romance, and brutality just might appeal to your more warped, pessimistic tendencies as an adult. Even if you’re an optimist slash realist, like myself, you’ll enjoy the delicious drama of one of the most detestable families in literature.


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