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25 Best Novels for Psychology Buffs

Psychology and mental health issues obviously comprise a significant slice of the literary scene. Hardly surprising, considering the amount of drama and provocative questions to be wrung out of the truly bizarre, occasionally beautiful human mind. Far, far more books than these 25 exist to pique the minds of psychology fans, and many worthy ones were left off due to space constraints. However, this does not devalue their worth to readers in any way, and anyone curious about insight presented would do well to seek these titles out.

  1. The Tale of Genji (12th Century) by Murasaki Shikibu: In medieval Japan, an emperor’s son must descend through the caste system and take an imperial officer position. As the eponymous character’s life progresses, his adventures uncover many observations and inquiries into the human mind and spirit.

  2. Don Quixote (1605 and 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes: The famous tale of an older man completely obsessed with the concepts of chivalry and knighthood embarks on an epic, humorous quest for glory. His frequent delusions and dynamic relationship with neighbor and sidekick Sancho Panza make for both provocative and thoroughly entertaining reading.

  3. The Red and the Black (1830) by Stendhal: A passionate bildungsroman, The Red and the Black weaves a narrative of love, monarchy and an unyielding class-based society — and all the psychological implications those factors entail. When politics, religion and history begin insinuating themselves into the central figures’ lives, it results in a textured, richly layered narrative suitable for perusal and debate.

  4. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: After famous antihero Raskolnikov ax murders a very old pawnbroker, he starts increasingly marinating in his own anxiety and guilt. And things only grow more tense as the novel progresses, with both internal and external pressures percolating until they inevitably explode.

  5. Hunger (1890) by Knut Hamsun: While a young Norwegian man begins succumbing to the myriad visceral effects of starvation, his mind dips in and out of various delusions. He aimlessly wanders about the unforgiving, dark streets while doing his very best to veil the poverty and homelessness that gradually chip away at his sanity, perception and health.

  6. The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) by H.G. Wells: It may seem an unorthodox decision to place The Island of Dr. Moreau here, but the biological abominations inhabiting the eponymous locale provide some bizarre psychological and sociological insight. When compared and contrasted with an average man stumbling upon both their civilization and monstrous creator, plenty of stimulating, provocative questions arise.

  7. The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James: Some of the best ghost and horror stories take a cue from humanity’s fears and twisted psychological profiles, and Henry James added a layer of ambiguity to his popular novella to wrench up the drama. Whether or not the specters actually exist and what they represent remains one particular question psychoanalytic literary critics seem to absolutely adore debating.

  8. The Supermale (1902) by Alfred Jarry: This surrealist, unfortunately overlooked curiosity sports tinges of science fiction and uses psychology as a means to further exploring sociology. A man determined to test the boundaries of the human mind and body undertakes some bizarre challenges, questioning society’s phallocentrism and over-reliance on machinery along the way.

  9. The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka: One otherwise average morning, Gregor Samsa awakes and discovers he’s inexplicably turned into a giant insect, usually interpreted as a cockroach or a beetle of some sort. The emotional and physical torment he experiences at the mercy of his even more monstrous family raises plenty of provocative questions regarding psychology and mental illness.

  10. A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway: A semi-autobiographical romance nakedly contrasts with World War I in one of the American author’s most studied works. Here, he painstakingly details the self-destruction of a soldier trapped in a cursed love affair with nowhere to run but a massive, disconcertingly anonymous and violent conflict.

  11. The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus: Although the author denied any real connection with existentialism, Albert Camus’ lauded magnum opus still does an excellent, evocative and often chilling job of delving into the human psyche’s unfortunate potential. A murder, its subsequent trial and the complex depths of the perpetrator’s mind lay at the center of this absolutely essential read.

  12. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger: Frustrated, introspective Holden Caulfield rages against the WASP machine without realizing the ironies present in his words and actions. Fans of psychoanalytic literary criticism absolutely love picking apart his isolationist, oftentimes idealistic philosophies.

  13. Invisible Man (1953) by Ralph Ellison: The nameless narrator recounting his horrific experiences with racism and discrimination offers up one of literature’s most effective, wrenching perspectives on marginalization. Being unfairly shoved to the margins of society for no reason other than skin color carries with it a unique facet of psychology to explore.

  14. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe: Most postcolonial literature aficionados consider Things Fall Apart amongst the most adroit examples of the genre largely because of its thorough, brutal character study. Igbo tribal leader Okonkwo painfully unravels inside as the British begin threatening the stability of his peoples.

  15. A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess: Grotesque parodies of violent, rape-hungry youth flood the streets of a dystopian England with hearts full of transgression and drugged milk. The leader of one such gang finds himself on the end of a shocking attempt to reprogram his sociopathic, sadistic urges that employ aversion techniques.

  16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) by Ken Kesey: Set in a horrific mental health facility, this novel analyzes the bureaucratic shortcomings that allow abuses to take place and patients to slip through the cracks. The author himself worked as an orderly in one such institution, sympathizing much more with the inhabitants than the often cold, dismissive people paid to oversee them.

  17. A Single Man (1962) by Christopher Isherwood: Following the unexpected death of his lover, an English professor mulls about his daily life and cycles through many recognizable stages of grief. Christopher Isherwood’s most beloved work stood at the forefront of the then-nascent LGBTQIA movement, notably, bravely humanizing a marginalized, frequently threatened and brutalized minority at a time when such things were considered scandalous and unmentionable.

  18. The Bell Jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath: Sylvia Plath channeled many tragic personal demons ? especially those stemming from her lifelong, suicidal battle with mental illness ? into her only novel. It chronicles the rise and fall and possible subsequent rise of a promising young magazine ing?nue who finds life entirely too overwhelming.

  19. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon: At the center of this wild, quintessentially postmodern work lay an intention to entirely derail and challenge prevailing societal norms regarding pretty much everything one can imagine. The results will absolutely fascinate anyone interested in the psychology of rebellion and revolution, providing them with some scathingly tar-black comedy along the way.

  20. A Scanner Darkly (1977) by Philip K. Dick: Psychology students with a particular interest in studying drug addiction and the surrounding culture will find A Scanner Darkly an incredibly fascinating read. A lifetime of mental illness and self-medication went into its often agonizing narrative, which paints an incredibly depressive portrait of users and the people and institutions that prey on their habits.

  21. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole: In spite of this Pulitzer winner’s epic hilarity and breakneck pace, John Kennedy Toole still included plenty of pathos and psychological insight with his beloved narrative. Iconic, grotesque protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly fascinates audiences for more than just his flatulence and defective pyloric valve ? contrasting his intellectualism with horrendous laziness and motivation issues is only the beginning.

  22. Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami: Most of Haruki Murakami’s impressive oeuvre could have easily made this list, but Norwegian Wood notably brings readers inside one of the rare examples of a loving, productive mental health facilities in literature. Main character Toru Watanabe must watch as his beloved Naoko grows increasingly unstable after both her boyfriend and her older sister commit suicide.

  23. Generation X (1991) by Douglas Coupland: Readers can enjoy this phenomenal debut novel as an observation of psychological and sociological phenomena, especially as it pertains to a unique generation effortlessly afforded (then-)advanced technology and other luxuries. Three neighbors and friends bond over similar stories, both real and imaginary, and ultimately exist as a microcosm of the prevailing socioeconomic climate.

  24. Fight Club (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk: Contemporary perceptions of masculinity and conspicuous consumerism receive a much-needed deconstruction and darkly comedic parody in this tense, deeply psychological read. From a sociological perspective, it also provides some incredible inquiry into the ironies and hypocrisies present in various subcultures.

  25. Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides: Anyone interested in the psychology of gender and gender identity should certainly pick up this emotional portrayal of an intersexed man coming to grips with his ambiguous biology. It’s a tragic, evocative and educational narrative that peers into how it feels to be an outsider when society holds ridiculously narrow definitions of "normal," "attractive" and "acceptable."

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