I took AP English my senior year of high school. It was easily one of the hardest and greatest classes I have ever had (and that include some very awesome classes in college). I loved the class because it was engaging, it was interesting, and the teacher really wanted to hear our opinions. (Anyone who goes to Monroe High School will understand the awesomeness that is Scott McCloskey.)
The hard part of the class (aside from being required to write a 50 page Novella) was reading all of the demanding material. We also had a lengthy summer reading list which we were to read and write reports on before school began. I think most of my class waited until the very last minute to read anything on the list. But, most of us did get it completed (or at least read the Cliffs Notes, not that I will admit to doing this).
Ok, so what is the point of talking about my high school English Class? I’ve been thinking about those books we had to read for school. If you are anything like me, being told you HAVE to read something automatically makes it less appealing. I belong to an awesome book club, and even though I helped select all of the books we read I still usually wait until the last minute.
But, here is my point. Some of the books we are required to read in school are actually (gasp!) great books!
I polled my facebook friends and asked them which books they enjoyed reading even though they were required reads for school. Most of them selected books which I liked as well. In case you never get assigned these books for your classes, these are books that may be literary or classics, but they are also really good reads.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I think this is one of those books I could read a hundred times and never get tired of it. It has everything you could want in a great book- mystery, intrigue, and great characters. I LOVE this book, and many of my friends also said they loved it as well. If you are not familiar with the plot the story is told from the perspective of young Scout Finch and her brother Jem as their lawyer father represents a black man accused of raping a white woman in a southern town during the 1930’s. This book won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a pretty awesome movie.
1984 by George Orwell. This is another book that can be read over and over again without losing its appeal. Even though Orwell was a little wrong in how our future would enfold, the premise is still pretty haunting. It’s set in a world where the government controls pretty much every aspect of human life. This is the book that brought us the phrase “big brother.” It’s a great read, whether it’s a required book or not.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Ok, full disclosure, I have actually never read this book. I’m including it in this list, though because my cousin Shannon was pretty obsessed with it throughout high school and it was mentioned by several of my friends. It’s on my to-read list, so someday I will read it and I’m sure I will love it just as much as they do. School Library journal explains the book like this: “The volatile world of male adolescence provides the backdrop for John Knowles’ engrossing tale of love, hate, war, and peace. Sharing a room at Devon, an exclusive New England prep school, in the summer prior to World War II, Gene and Phineas form a complex bond of friendship that draws out both the best and worst characteristics of each boy and leads ultimately to violence, a confession, and the betrayal of trust.”
Hamlet and/or Macbeth by William Shakespeare- I’m lumping these two together because they are both Shakespearean tragedies I read in high school and depending on when you ask I will go back and forth between which one I like best. Hamlet has some of the best quotes in all of Shakespeare. Macbeth has some of the best characters. Hamlet tells the tale of the young Prince of Denmark as he fakes insanity to get his Uncle to admit to killing his father. Macbeth tells the story of a nobleman who kills the king to take the throne, but things don’t go so well for him once he becomes the King. For those of you who think you don’t like Shakespeare, I invite you to watch it performed. A good performance of Shakespeare will change your mind about not liking him. Check out Kenneth Branaugh’s version of Hamlet. It’s long but it’s SOOOOOO good.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut- I was never actually required to read this in school, but a lot of schools do have this on their on their reading lists (it’s also regularly on banned lists- which in my opinion makes it even better!). I picked this book up off the shelf in my sophomore English teacher’s class and it began a love affair with the works of Kurt Vonnegut. I have read this book at least a half dozen times since, and I’m sure I will read it a half dozen more. The story follows Billy Pilgrim as he becomes “unstuck in time.” It explores Billy’s past as a prisoner of war during World War II, an experience that mirrors Vonnegut’s own. I don’t think I can begin to explain how much I LOVE this book.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Ok, here’s another one I haven’t actually read, but since many people enjoy it I wanted to include it in the list. It’s another one that has been on my to-read list for many years. Wikipedia describes the book as being, “ Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries.” This book also won a Pulitzer Prize.
So, that is my list. How about you? Do you have books you were required to read in school that have turned in to favorites? How about books you really hated? Let me know what you think?