School's out for summer: What better time to relax with a few of these classic reads?

Exams are over. A long, hot holiday stretches ahead. There's nothing to do but read for fun, and no set texts for another six weeks. Oh, you lucky, lucky things...

This is not a prescribed reading list. There is nothing on these pages that you "should" have read. Reading isn't about duty – especially not right now. We're just all very jealous about your summer.

The next few weeks of glorious holiday hold opportunities that most adults will never have again. Time to read all night and sleep all day, if you want to. Nobody telling you which books you must plough through. The chance to lie and read in the shade of a tree; or sit and read through a rainy day. Real time and space to get lost in a book.

There is not one book on this list that you can't live without reading. If you don't get on with one, don't waste your time by grinding on – there are millions more books out there that you might just love. It could be the next one that changes your life.

None of the books here is currently a set text at GCSE or A-level, so you won't have been forced to read it already. But that leaves out a lot of wonderful books. To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of Dickens. The complete works of Shakespeare, which are more fun to see than read anyway (preferably in a garden).

It's also a list based on (several people's) personal taste. It might not be to yours – you will learn that you can even love someone but hate their choice in literature. So please go to independent.co.uk/books and suggest titles to add, or throw in the bin. Here, meanwhile, are 42 suggestions – one for each day of the average school summer holiday. Read them, if you fancy. And have fun. '

Rogue Male, Geoffrey Household

In the derring-do vein of John Buchan, Geoffrey Household's hero takes a pot shot at Hitler and hunkers down in the English countryside. The 1941 Hollywood adaptation, Manhunt, retained much of its creepy chill but cut the scenes of torture.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Intrigue, murder, ancient Greek and Bacchanalia on campus make for 600-plus pages of heart-in-mouth. Don't worry: university life probably won't be like this.

Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems, Wendy Cope

Gentle, wise , often bitingly funny, Wendy Cope's poems are human and accessible but repay deeper reading. The title poem of this latest collection reads: "1. Don't see him. Don't phone or write a letter. / 2. The easy way: get to know him better."

Moonfleet, John Meade Falkner

A teenage boy searches for a lost diamond while dodging Blackbeard and his Dorset smugglers in an 18th-century adventure. The thinking reader's Famous Five.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Love, racism and pirates in 1876 Missouri – this classic story will stay with you through life, and always remind you of the things that you knew were important when you first read it.

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

A classic outsider novel. An anthem to misery. The stonemason's small son commits the most tragic act in 19th-century literature "because we are too menny". Read it, despair, then get out and enjoy the sunshine.

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

A saucy, fictionalised version of this unbearably moving Holocaust story is about to be published, but there's no need for that. This subtle diary about life in hiding in Amsterdam proves the maxim that millions of deaths may be a statistic, but the death of one person is a tragedy.

Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti

Inspiration for untold reams of poor teenage verse, Christina Rosetti's 1859 poem is a tribute to female solidarity as much as it is a steamy romp among those saucy goblins and their juicy forbidden fruit.

Anthem, Ayn Rand

A short but sharp paean to the individual, starring our hero, Equality 7-2521, who works as a road sweeper in a dystopic near-future. A reminder, should any teenager need it, of why it is important always to think for yourself.

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

Still one of the bitchiest, cattiest, funniest and most entertaining novels ever written, it gave the world Becky Sharp, to whom all women must now compare ourselves (and find ourselves slightly disappointing ).

Carry On, Jeeves, PG Wodehouse

The definitive collection of Jeeves short stories, it changed forever the way that British people look at butlers, toffs and aging aunts. Sweet, old-fashioned and wickedly funny – the originals are even better than the Fry and Laurie TV versions.

We Need to Talk About,, Kevin Lionel Shriver

Narrated by the mother of a high-school shooting killer, this should be read by anyone considering having children. It concludes with the sick twist of the decade.

The Snow Goose, Paul Gallico

A hunchback, a young girl and the eponymous bird discover friendship in the Essex marshes and the carnage of Dunkirk.

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's oldest tragedy, and the goriest. He grinds up their bones and blood to make a pie. They deserve it. There's very little flouncy language and absolutely no smooching. Horribly good.

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

Boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy gets roaring drunk and... that would be telling. Academic satire, romantic comedy and one of the funniest novels of the 20th century. Makes Richard Curtis look dull.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary and making early fans feel old, this lesbian coming-of-age story set in northern England doesn't seem to have aged a bit.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac claims to have used no stimulants other than coffee during the writing of this jazzy, Beat Generation, crazy road trip. A 1950s classic.

Forever, Judy Blume

An honest and moving novel about teenage sex and love, written at the request of Judy Blume's daughter. It reassured a generation of girls, but had unfortunate ramifications for boys named Ralph.

The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

The novel that defined teenage rebellion and gave us Holden Caulfield and writing down our dreams. Teenagers love it.

Emma, Jane Austen

If you like the movie Clueless, you will love the original, which is funnier, warmer and more contemporary than any fully paid-up member of the canon has a right to be.

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela

The deeply inspiring story of Mandela's childhood, political life and time in Robben Island prison is uplifting, intelligent and impressively lacking in rancour. His is surely one of the life stories of the century.

Small Island, Andrea Levy

Wartime Britain, Jamaican immigrants and two of the strongest female characters for a generation – Hortense and Queenie.

Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett

The Discworld series continues to enthral readers with its elaborate mythological imagery and a background based in Terry Pratchett's love of science. Geeks are sexy, apparently – so go for it.

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

Though the film of the book (which Mario Puzo co-adapted with Francis Ford Coppola) is one of the greatest of the 20th century, it lacks many of the subtleties of this magnificent 1969 novel, with its drugs, crime, guns and gut-wrenching insight into family ties. We'd never have had The Sopranos without it.

Ulysses, James Joyce

If you manage to love this enormous novel set during one day in Dublin, it will change your life. Guilt-free reading means skipping bits you don't get and looking forward to Molly Bloom's saucy monologue. And remember, you do have all summer. If it's still too daunting, read Joyce's semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

The catch of the title, a meaty satire about World War Two military bureaucracy, says that no airman can be relieved of his duties on the grounds of insanity, because wanting to be relieved is proof of being sane. So sad it's funny.

Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited is Waugh's masterful novel about youth, sexuality and belonging, beautifully adapted for ITV in 1981. The shorter Scoop is a fun summer read about a hapless foreign correspondent. Beware being tempted into a career in journalism.

The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins

Though Richard Dawkins is so much more than just the world's most famous atheist, this smart and engaging "evidence for evolution" is required reading for those who want a grounding in the facts. It's as fascinating as it is challenging.

The Bible

Much of the Western canon is rooted in these, some of the most thrilling stories ever told. There are even some thought-provoking life lessons – just not necessarily in the bits about gays or eating shellfish.

Ariel, Sylvia Plath

If only one could read these poems without the lens of Sylvia Plath's suicide and later adoption as an emblem for tragic women, their wit, warmth and sardonic smartness would be cause for more celebration.

The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Louis de Bernières

Surreal and hilarious early novel from the Captain Corelli author. The trilogy (Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord; The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman) is perfect for anyone lucky enough to be on a South American gap year – but a dangerous gateway drug into full-on magic realism.

Don't Look Now, Daphne du Maurier

One reader had to lock this in a cupboard until her husband got home, so terrifying are the final scenes. Set amid Venice's mist and shadows, this torturing psychological suspense is far more scary than the film.

The Magus, John Fowles

A young graduate and wannabe poet is caught up in sinister psychological games on a Greek island in this 1966 debut novel. One of those that's best read as a teenager, but once read you'll never forget it.

The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto "Che" Guevara

More inspiring than On the Road. More exciting than Das Capital. Che's journal of his nine-month road-trip across Latin America has Communism, axle grease and two hot boys on a bike. No wonder it is consistently a New York Times bestseller.

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie

This is guilt-free reading, remember? Agatha Christie's writing may not win any Booker prizes – but many "literary" writers could learn a few things from her deft plots.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson

Another all-male road trip fuelled by drugs and hippie dreams, it simultaneously began, defined and blew apart a brief era of what was known as Gonzo journalism.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Thrillingly introspective, about a fractured family mostly not going to the lighthouse. It could be subtitled: "Don't waste summer worrying, because one day you'll die."

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

For winning young ladies, handsome chaps in bright new motors and crumbling old houses, Smith rivals Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate series for 1930s toff charm.

Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama

Though our own Gordon Brown can also hold up his head as a gifted prose stylist, President Obama is clearly quite a lot more. A stunning polemicist and a role model to die for, Obama here discusses his upbringing, his own inspirations and the legacy of his Kenyan father.

Sophie's Choice, William Styron

The crushing story of a woman forced to choose which of her two children to save from the Nazis. Read it if you can bear.

Weaveworld, Clive Barker

Not to be confused with Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People, Clive Barker's fugue is a magical world woven into a rug. Hypnotic.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Clever, inventive and uniquely amusing, Hitchhiker explains what happens when Earth gets in the way of a planned inter-stellar highway, and why 42 is the "answer to life, the universe, and everything".

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