Adventures in Reading

School Reading

On my recent Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights post, there were some great comments about rereading a book as well as assigned reading from high school. After witnessing a few seasons of summer and fall assigned readings from the store side, it never fails to amaze me exactly why so many young people would never pick up a book on their own. (Hell, at least from overhearing conversations it sounds like few of them even read assigned materials.)

Personally, I have felt that too often so called literary “classics” are foisted on students entirely unprepared for the material. This can be because of the complexity of a book, unfamiliarity with the genre, teachers working within a curriculum they’re not interested in. Of course I have had people disagree with me and often these are fellow readers who fell in love with literary classics in high school.

So, some reminiscing was done in the post’s comments and I obtained a master copy of grade 4 through 12’s school summer reading list (a compilation that has grown over the past few years). I went through the titles that I had read and was quite surprised at what high school students were assigned. In fact, the majority of the books that I had also read I had not read until I was in college and many of those in my free time:

A Room of One’s Own, All Quiet on the Western Front, And Then There Were None, Angela’s Ashes, Anna Karenina, Autobiography of Malcolm X, Billy Budd, Brave New World, Candide, Catcher in the Rye, Death of a Salesman, Esio Trot, Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, From the Mixed Up Files…, Giver, Grapes of Wrath, Hatchet, Heart of Darkness, How To Eat Fried Worms, Jungle, Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, Little Women, 1984, O Pioneers, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Pride & Prejudice, Scarlet Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Two books that were assigned in high school were Frankenstein and Grapes of Wrath. The previous one I abhorred and have not been able to bring myself to rereading it quite yet and the latter I think was far too much for my high school brain to really wrap around. Looking back though, some assigned reading that I did enjoy in high school that did not appear on this list includes (and a surprising number of plays):

Notes on a School for Scandal, Song of Solomon, The Stranger, The Rhinoceros, No Exit, Wuthering Heights, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, and here my mind starts to become a little too foggy to remember. Granted, some of these books appear on fall assigned reading lists but the hundreds of books on the summer reading list are mostly foreign to me.

So while I don’t think Frankenstein was the ruination of my literary pursuits, I really don’t think I was at all partial to reading until I took a great books course in college while I was an anthropology major. The point of the course was to explore and challenge capital “L” literature and I fondly remember reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.



Not to nit-pick, but one book listed’s title is incorrect: “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denison” should be “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” I read this in tenth-grade Honors English. I highly recommend it.

Comment by Claire C. Cake

And to stimulate interest as well as increase pleasure and understanding of many of these “required reading”, their film adaptations can also play an important role…although some are more apt to do that than others.

Comment by Arti

Claire C. Cake: I knew when I wrote that it looked wrong but admittedly was too lazy to go and dig up the story in one of my Nortons. Though, I did actually read that one in high school, which led me to reading Notes From Underground.

Arti: I completely agree with you here and sometimes I’m a bit surprised more teachers don’t do this, particularly at a high school level. A lot of great discussion can be produced from comparing novels and their film adaptations, not to mention if you can bring in some author’s own opinions on the adaptations (i.e. Nelson Algren’s rather bitter response to The Man With the Golden Arm).

Comment by bookchronicle

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