2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Top Ten Lists: Books You Should Have Read in High School

So this one is presented in honor of Amy (with a nod to Cassie too), who suggested I write a post about required high school reading and all the things she should have read but either avoided or skimmed because they seemed stupid or boring or because she was too busy focusing on math/science to care about English/history. (teehee) So this one’s for you Mamy…

I will admit it freely and proudly: I loved high school English classes. I mean, seriously – they MADE YOU READ FICTION. Sure, they made you read other things too – poetry and plays and non-fiction. And sure, some of the fiction wasn’t that exciting. But they also made you read a lot of really great stuff – timeless classics with lessons and morals and political statements and humor and incredible uses of language. And, lest you forget the critical point, let me repeat it for you: They Made You Read. I would LOVE it if someone sat me down and said “Jill Elizabeth,, you have got to sit here and read this book until it is finished. And when it is done, you will have to sit here and read another.”

Wouldn’t that be great?!

I watch the kids in my life with barely-disguised envy when they announce (usually in world-weary voices) that they “HAVE” to read for twenty minutes tonight or they “HAVE” to finish such-and-such a book by the end of the week. They say this as though they were being told they “HAD” to run a marathon today or “HAD” to work a double-shift. The real kicker when they grouse about “having” to read is that, a lot of the time, they can read WHATEVER THEY WANT and it will count as “school reading.” Let me repeat that for those of you who are convinced they must have read wrong: They don’t even have required reading selections a lot of the time; kids today can often read any book of their choosing and have it count as homework. Imagine that for a moment, people of my generation and/or older – that your homework reading could be any topic, any writer, any length you choose.

HA, she said.

There is no way I can imagine THAT flying at my Catholic elementary school OR my public high school OR college OR law school. “Professor X, for my homework I decided to read Gone With the Wind, and it counts because it is a book.” Honestly – some days I don’t know what this world is coming to…

Then again, on other days, I am just thankful beyond belief that teachers are still pushing the written word on kids. In this media-frenzied, sound-bite cultured day and age, I guess it is a miracle that kids will read any book – or in fact anything longer than a text message. If the best way to encourage kids to read is to let them read books of their choosing, I really should be all for it. And I’m getting there, I am. But I don’t want the classics or a classical education to get left entirely by the side of the electronic-age information superhighway either.

So I’m going to give you my list of ten classics that I think are worth your time and that fell within the required-reading lists of my youth. Who knows, maybe a kid/two (or even an adult/two – perish the thought! teehee) out there will give one a try the next time they can read anything they want. Not only will they end up a leg up on high school, but they may even learn that “classic” does not have to be synonymous with “boring”…

Top 10 Books You Should Have Read in High School (but probably did not because they seemed stupid or you were “too busy”)
1. Animal Farm – George Orwell
2. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
4. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
7. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
8. Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
9. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
10. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

21 comments to Top Ten Lists: Books You Should Have Read in High School

  • Rae

    Wow, I have to admit I am of a certain older age, and I read all those books (and more) except The Picture of Dorian Gray (I watched the movie,hehe) in high school, whether for school or on my own time. Just my thought: I might have added To Kill A Mockingbird, A Doll’s House and A Tale of Two Cities–but then it wouldn’t be 10 Books! Thanks for a great post; brought back memories…

    • Believe me Rae, there are a number of others that could have gone on there – I did a post last week on enjoyable classic literature and TKAM was on there, as well as Dickens (David Copperfield). I have actually never read Ibsen (I don’t love reading plays). I try not to have too many duplicates in my lists, since there are so many great books (altho sometimes one sneaks in, like Gatsby).

      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you enjoyed it and it brought back memories!

  • I have a list of books I was suppose to read in high school but didn’t get to. A couple of them are on your list.

    • Thanks for your comment and for reading Donna! There really were some good things they tried to push on us back then, weren’t there? Too bad we didn’t realize it then, when we had the time to actually read everything, eh?? 🙂

  • Andrea

    Unfortunately, I was one of those who resented the fact that I HAD TO READ something specific and then I couldn’t just enjoy it. We had to analyze what this or that meant, what the author was thinking when he wrote this or that phrase, etc. So I, being the rebel that I was, didn’t read ANY of them! Fortunately for me, I was a great faker and passed my classes with flying colors. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m reading some of these books and LOVING them. (I still don’t want to analyze them though! I just love a good book!

    • I do hear you Andrea – there is something about being told you HAVE to do something… It usually does bring out my inner brat and I will often refuse on principle. 😉 In hindsight tho, I really wish I’d taken more advantage of the time I had then and read more of the “required” books!

  • I think I finished a quarter of the list in high school. I know I was forced to read The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter. I read Little Women just for fun. Lol, among other classics like Dracula and Phantom of the Opera during high school. I defintely agree with the list though except for the Great Catsby. I didn’t particularly like that book or valued the writing style. Just mny opinion.

    • And lest anyone think I’m more impressive than reality would indicate, I didn’t read all of these in high school either… 🙂 I liked the creepier things like Dracula and Poe in high school too – much more entertaining than some of the required books like The Red Badge of Courage, which I confess I have STILL not ever been able to read!

      And thanks for sharing your opinion on Gatsby – I know a bunch of people who don’t like it or Fitzgerald generally, but I just really enjoy it. It’s funny – Andrea pointed out above how she didn’t like having to analyze everything and figure what it all meant. That’s actually when I started to really like Gatsby! 🙂

  • Still working on that list and high school was a LONG time ago! 🙂 I’m a new follower saying “hi”!

  • Thanks Pamela – believe me, there are a slew more that I should get to/through (including some that I’ve tried more than once and some that I’ve never even picked up), and I’m starting to despair that I ever actually will finish everything I should have!

    Thanks for following and your comment!!

  • I’m with Andrea. Tell me I must read these 10 books and I’m off to watch a soap opera-anything but a book.
    But there are the greats. I’ve read I think all of these, somehow! Truth is, I’m a very slow reader. Now as a romance writer, this is a problem. So I seek out those who don’t read nearly as much as they write. Makes me feel better.
    One book I think everyone should read is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I loved the book before I knew what a feat it was to get it published, and how rare. Jamie Fraser will go with me to my grave as the greatest hero I have read. He could have been from any country, time, genre, and I would have loved him.

    • Thanks for your comment Sharon! I could NOT agree more on Outlander – I have a couple of posts/top lists/recommends about that, believe me, and have been in love with James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser since I first opened the book a number of years ago!! 🙂

  • Tami Jackson

    I loved English Literature classes and all the reading assignments as well. While I did not go to Catholic School like you did … I went to a Seventh-day Adventist school and I’m not sure which scenario would be more strict. (I’m not an Adventist now, thank goodness.) I imagine your education might have been better … I know when I went to college I had a lot of catching up to do as I had to learn who was William Butler Yeats and while I’d heard of Shakespeare, we never read any of his works (but reading Shakespeare was easy after all the King James Version Bible studies I had to learn).

    I found you on Book Blogs and am a new subscriber. Please RTF.

    • Well Tami, I would imagine they were not really that different – I was more than a little behind the eight ball when I started public high school, that’s for sure, and there were a lot of things I never got to in high school that were still issues in college! I will certainly RTF – thanks for subscribing and your comment, and I look forward to more back-and-forth!

  • I’ve read all of the ones I was assigned (Little Women was in college rather than high school though). Somehow my teachers neglected to assign The Great Gatsby, and it seems that it’s very divisive when I ask others about it.

    The vital high school reading that I can come up with are examples of epics and drama: The Odyssey and Death of a Salesman. Not sure I enjoyed much of the novels until I was older.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I’ve actually never read “Death of a Salesman” – again, plays have always given me some trouble, as I get distracted by the staging/directions (how sad, but true!) – but I love the story (thank god for theater or I’d miss out on all the canon written in play form!). “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” are great examples too – also “Gilgamesh” which I know not everyone enjoys, but which I also found to be a grand epic of a kind you don’t see as much these days… I also agree on the different perspective I had of many of these books as I got older/accumulated some life experience. It does make me wonder whether 14 yr-olds are always the best audience – is a lot of the material/life-lesson stuff lost to someone who has yet to actually feel the kind of despair/disenchantment of a Willy Loman? Or is it good to expose kids to these kinds of life experiences through drama early? I can’t say I have an answer, and can see both sides clearly – I don’t believe in holding back tough concepts, but also can imagine that reading things with no apparent, immediate relevance might make kids less inclined to read/read these authors again later… Interesting food for thought – thank you, and I’d love to hear your/anyone else’s thoughts!

  • Che

    Great list. I wish I had read more quality stuff when I was in high school. Unfortunately my attention span was minuscule then and i stuck mainly to short stories. Still, at least I took in plenty of O henry and Anton Chekhov.

    • Thanks for the comment Che. Seems to me that if you made it through Chekhov, you read plenty of “quality” stuff! I love the Russian authors, but do struggle to slog through all of the footnotes and references (which I often need to read just to catch all the allusions/symbolism in the writing) – if you could do that in high school, I think you did quite well indeed on the quality front… I also enjoy O. Henry – I am not a huge fan of short stories (I like long, involved stories, as I have mentioned in previous posts) but have always enjoyed his.

  • I Love the post!! I am in college, final year. And I totally envy your education system that permits the kids such a liberty to enjoy varied literature!! When I count the times I had fallen behind my Homework because I had been reading “OUT OF SYLLABUS”, you’d see the tragedy!! And I proudly declare that I did complete your top ten list in high school. All except the one by Richard Bach. But I did read Bridge Across Forever. Tell me, does it count?!!

    • Thank you so much Adharshila! I did not get to read whatever I wanted in grade school/high school either – and am also jealous that kids here can now! And of course BAF counts – I’ve never read it, actually, but a classic is a classic! And now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist, so thank you for that… 🙂 Best of luck in your final year of college, and thank you again for the comment!

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