The 12 Books You Must Read In Your Lifetime

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A wise person once wrote, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." No, that wise one was not me but thank you for your thoughts.

Rather, it was my favorite doctor, Dr. Seuss, an author of such imagination who when confronted with a word he could not rhyme, simply created his own to fit.

But my adoration is not reserved simply for him. My bookshelves overspilleth with treasures found elbow-deep in boxes at garage sales and shelves at second-hand stores.

Most of those books, though enjoyable, were not life-changing. There are few that truly are, but once found, you'll be hard-pressed to let them go from your shelves or your thoughts.

Here are 12 books you must read in this lifetime.

This list is by no means definitive. Please, put your suggestions in the comments section below.

1. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

The first and only published novel written by Emily Bronte, sister to Anne and Charlotte, this story follows the doomed love and lives of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, set upon the lonely moors of the farmhouse Wuthering Heights.

It's a dark romance of star-crossed lovers which puts Twilight to shame. This is the original story of destructive love, a stranger tall, dark and handsome, and how jealousy and infatuation can shatter lives. A tough read, but necessary.

2. Lolita, Vladimir Nobokov

A disturbing tale of a middle-aged professor who falls for a pre-pubescent girl. Nabokov has such a way with words; he can describe scenes with such poetic prose that even the ugly is suddenly beautiful. Take this line, a scene in which Humbert Humbert describes to the police how his newlywed wife had been hit by a car:

He opened his mouth only to impart such information or issue such directions as were strictly necessary in connection with the identification, examination and disposal of a dead woman, the top of her head a porridge of bone, brains, bronze hair and blood.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

Pick up any of his memoirs and you will see Sedaris. Is. Hilarious. Humor aside though, his stories will stay with you; his wry sense of wit describing such everyday occurrences paint a larger picture of the human condition with insights that will change your perspective and linger long after the belly laughs.

4. Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl

Dahl is a paradox: author of some of the most beloved children's tales and yet known for the dark and disturbing slants he gives to his work.

If revisiting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Twits is too nostalgic, this tome is the perfect reintroduction to Dahl's delightfully mischievous writing. Though he writes these short stories for an adult audience, it doesn't stop him from embracing the crass with his cheeky wit.

5. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Where most B-grade horror movies focus on the monster (say, the leprechaun in Leprechaun or the dual threat of sharks and tornadoes (!) in Sharknado), Shelley's classic teaches us it's not the monster to fear so much as the man.

Most modern-day horror writers owe Shelley a debt for pioneering the gothic horror genre. This novel mightn't have been the first but it's definitely one of the most significant.

6. Into the Woods, Bill Bryson

Read most travel writing and you're left with this takeaway: "I'm here, you're there, sucks to be you." Bryson's travel memoirs are a rare feat, then; with such ease, he takes you to far-flung corners of the globe, happy to be your companion and share interesting tidbits and regale you with his stories, even the most embarrassing.

Each of his travel memoirs are a gem, but this is one of the most exhilarating as he hikes the remote and, at times, unforgiving Appalachian trail.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

An absolutely chilling tale, but a must read, particularly in an America where neither schools nor movie theaters are safe from tragedy. What's important here is not what happens but rather seeing the world through the protagonist's eyes, teaching us that to overcome unspeakable acts, empathy, rather than finger-pointing, is essential.

8. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

Some scenes... most scenes will sear into your memory. Ellis plunges into the depths of insanity, painting a grim portrait of how a person can be easily corrupted by the modern world, driven mad by greed and lust, vanity and ambition. Chapters of incomprehensible violence are sandwiched between platitudes on the everyday, from music tastes to exercise regimes.

9. The Shining, Stephen King

The movie is good; the book far, far better. King writes with such patience, slowly and purposefully so that you won't have realized your knuckles turning white, your cuticles chewed to the quick. King is dutiful to the method of showing, not telling, and knows showing little is far scarier than showing a lot.

10. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Tess is a victim to her gender and to the 19th Century customs. And yet, the trials she faces and judgment heaped upon her through no fault of her own bears uncomfortable resemblance to our own times. Modern-day women, like Tess, are damned if they do, damned if they don't, struggling with a Madonna-whore complex that tries to fit 51% of the population into tidy categories.

11. Room, Emma Donoghue

Jack was born in Room and Room is all he knows. This heartbreaking novel follows the lives of Jack and Ma, who live in a room held captive by his mother's kidnapper, his own father. Narrated entirely by the five-year-old protagonist (a challenge in itself and never once does Donoghue waver), this is an honest take on heartache and struggle but, above all, finding hope in the little things.

12. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Makes the cut just for the famous opening line alone: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Elizabeth Bennett, though, is a standout protagonist in 19th Century literature, notable for her complexity when many female characters at the time were mere cardboard cutouts. 

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