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5 Lessons You Can Learn From Classic Novels

“A great book should leave you with many experiences,” Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist William Styron once said. Here, five noted authors share the life-changing wisdom they discovered inside their favorite timeless reads.

By Kate Rockwood
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Be Courageous

I grew up dirt-poor in the Dominican Republic, and when my family moved to the United States (I was six), my new home felt very hostile and cold. As a kid who wanted protection, I read Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It’s about a group of rabbits who are forced from their home and encounter another warren of well-fed rabbits. The displaced animals realize that their fat kinsmen are safe because a farmer has turned their burrow into an outdoor refrigerator. At just eight years old, I realized that security is sometimes too high a price to pay for your freedom. Kindling bravery is a daily challenge: not hiding away in safety, not settling for whatever is just good enough.

Junot Díaz is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ($16, and This Is How You Lose Her ($27,, out in September. He lives in New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Don’t Judge

I’ve read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so many times through the years. The narrator is sharp and observant: No one crosses her field of vision without being assessed, and sometimes skewered. Yet the story shows the danger of snap judgments. After their first meeting, Elizabeth and Darcy seem such an unlikely match, but their eventual marriage is based on real romance. I think that I’m a kind person, but on occasion I quickly write people off. Part of the reason I return to this book is that it reminds me to take a second look. In books and in life, you need to read several pages before someone’s true character is revealed.

Gail Carson Levine is the author of 20 children’s books and young-adult novels, including Ella Enchanted ($7, winner of the Newbery Honor Award. She lives in Brewster, New York.


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