Required Reading

July 8th, 2010 • Kate

LIGHT_IN_FORESTSo today, in random things that cross my mind, I found myself thinking about required reading in school. After wracking my brain, I think the first book I was assigned to read was The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter. It was seventh grade.

Now, I read a million trillion books before then, but I think that was the first one I was assigned to read. It did not go well. In high school, I think I similarly struck out with my first reading of Jane Eyre and various short stories by Flannery O’Connor. Back then, Shakespeare didn’t even do it for me! Luckily, by the time I got to college I’d read even more on my own, and got into some great classes that allowed me to bring my sense of reading for pleasure to my assigned reading.

And so I’m curious — how did you do with your assigned reading in school? What books were assigned? How’d they go? And if you have kids, what are they reading today in class?

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26 Responses to “Required Reading”

  1. Zane Says:

    12th- beowulf, king lear, harry potter 1

    before that is kind of fuzzy… romeo and juliet, to kill a mockingbird, the odyssey, the scarlet letter, and lord of the flies.

  2. Shannon Messenger Says:

    Ooo, I did not have good luck with assigned reading in school. I LOVED to read as a kid, but by the time I graduated high school I never read for pleasure, ever. I remember only bits here and there. I know I had to read Where the Red Fern Grows in either fourth or fifth grade, and it made me cry so hard. I remember in ninth grade I had a teacher who was very big on having us read 'outside the cannon' so instead of The Grapes of Wrath, we read The Pearl. And while everyone else read Catcher in the Rye, she decided to do something completely different and have us read A Separate Peace. I did not enjoy it. In fact, pretty much every book I remember reading for school was super depressing. Not entirely sure why.

    The only books I remember reading and enjoying were Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, The Indian in the Cupboard, and My Side of the Mountain, all of which I read in elementary school, but I can't remember which grades.

    Hope they're picking better books for kids these days. Would it kill them to let them read something FUN???

  3. Mike Jung Says:

    I was crappy with the assigned reading in high school, although I did circle back around to some of the choices years later. I ended up liking ANIMAL FARM and LORD OF THE FLIES, which probably explains my current fondness for dystopian fiction. I felt nothing for Shakespeare back then, but eventually became a huge fan. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, on the other hand, is one that I disliked at first and continued to dislike…well, ever since. (I've had a few stones thrown at me for that one.) And I didn't like BLESS THE BEASTS & THE CHILDREN, but oddly enough I never forgot it either…

  4. Monica Says:

    I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond in the 4th grade, and loving that book. Where the Red Fern Grows. Alas, Babylon in the 9th grade. Really liked that one as it was close to home. I'm sure there's others I can't remember right now. I did pretty good with assigned reading, even if some trudging was necessary! I've always been an avid reader.

    My kids are really young but my oldest is starting 1st grade in the fall. So far, he's been required to read a certain amount of books, but not a particular one.

  5. Gema Says:

    In high school, I was required to read:

    -To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    -Life on the Color Line by Gregory Howard Williams

    -Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

    -The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

    -Siddhartha by Herman Heese

    -The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,

    -Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurstone

    -Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

    -Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    There were more books, but these are the ones I remember the most. I did not like assigned reading, mostly because I HAD to read it by a certain time while balancing other school work. I knew I couldn't read it just for pleasure, but had to dig my way through metaphors, often assigning symbolisms to things that weren't just because I wanted to sound smart and get my A already. Class discussions were horrible because, well, kids didn't care. My classmates in AP English were sometimes the worst ones because they didn't care about the literature, they cared about getting the good grade, and the credit and then leaving.

  6. Kris Says:

    Im a senior in high school now, and for our AP Literature class we have to read Crime and Punishment for our summer assignment. Im nearly 100 pages in, and it has a really interesting plot, just the language is a bore.

    Last year in AP Language, we read The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby (which introduced me to Fitzgerald and now I LOVE his books.) We also read essays by Throeau and Emerson. Going even farther back, we've read The Catcher and the Rye, Lord of the Flies, lots of Steinback, and Animal Farm in 8th grade.

    I know that this upcoming school year we'll read Hamlet and have a big poem unit.

    Ive grown to try to appreciate the assigned readings as much as I can, being a big book nerd myself. But usually, I lose interest within the first few chapters. I have a theory that, if they weren't assigned, I would like them a great deal more. Or, if I go back and read them in a few years, I will understand a lot more about them.

  7. Cayce Says:

    I'm a recent high school graduate and when I was younger I really struggled with required reading. In 6th grade I was assigned a book called MC Higgins the Great. I don't remember the author but I just remeber it being one of the worst books. But once I got to High School we were required to read books like 1984, Their Eyes Were Watching God, To Kill A Mocking Bird, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Fahrenheit 451. These books really opened my eyes to my love of literature and made me want to explore many other works! Now I'm pursuing English in college and hopefully I'll work with books in the future. Although at the time required reading isn't always fun or easy but eventually a book sparked my interest.

  8. Krista V. Says:

    I still have a lingering aversion to all things Charles Dickens, since my first reading of him in ninth grade didn't go so well. I also didn't make it through THE GRAPES OF WRATH in eleventh grade.

    On the other hand, I loved, loved, loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD when I read it for the first time (in ninth grade). And I love it even more now. I reread it about a year ago, and I picked up on so many more details that my fourteen-year-old self didn't (or maybe couldn't).

    And congratulations, Kate – I just saw the tweet:)

  9. Kate Says:

    OMG, Zane. Lord of the Flies. I blocked it from my mind, I hated that SO MUCH!

  10. Rissa Watkins Says:

    The three that stand out are:

    Wuthering Heights- thought Catherine & Heathcliff were horrible people with their selfishness. Funny, thought the same about Edward & Bella in Twilight.

    Scarlet Letter – liked it.

    Grapes of Wrath – Read every other chapter because I hated the ones with all the details. It's funny, still don't like reading about a lot of detail.

  11. Trish Says:

    I really hated Grapes of Wrath. It put me off Steinbeck for YEARS, until a friend suggested I try Sweet Thursday and Travels with Charley. Now I'm a fan, but I still refuse to read Grapes of Wrath again. I did love All Quiet on the Western Front, though.

    My daughter was assigned Great Expectations last year for her summer reading and she hated it. This year she has Ethan Frome, so that will be interesting.

  12. Nicole Marie Schreib Says:

    I did not enjoy most of my assigned reading. My first was Rascal in the 6th grade, and it was pretty much downhill from there. I struggled through Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Heart of Darkness, Animal Farm, and The Scarlet Letter. Ugh! I did enjoy Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, The Crucible, and A Farewell to Arms, though. I really wish there had been a teacher or a librarian that had steered me toward Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden in my younger years and Jane Austen or the Brontes in high school! They are much more to my taste, and I would have liked to have discovered them earlier in my life.

  13. Nina Nakayama Says:

    Top few required readings from each year that I loved (I was a reading dork though so my loving these wasn't exactly the norm):

    6th = Light in the Forest; Red Badge of Courage; The Greek/Roman myths

    7th = Hobbit; Anne Frank; To Kill a Mockingbird

    8th = Brave New World (hands down blew-my-mind favorite); Julius Caesar; A Separate Peace

    9th = Native Son; Canterbury Tales (I'm serious…crazy teacher); The Odyssey

    10th = The Great Gatsby; Grapes of Wrath; Macbeth (we had 1 Shakespeare a year though it didn't fit…I still loved it)

    11th = The Crucible; The Scarlett Letter; Lots and lots of poetry (=

    12th = Candide; Local Hawai'i literature; Faulkner & Becket (which truthfully, I appreciated much more in college)

    My son is still a toddler but all my "kids" are in the middle/high school classroom now (I'm a secondary ed professor w/ students who are English teachers). I continually analyze the school reading curricula for my students…they are pretty different from what I read (c/o '96). When I talk w/ my colleagues about this, we marvel at how much earlier we used to read some of these canonical texts (what we read in middle school are now strictly high school texts). Rather than list 'em all, here is a great pdf doc…Jim (Burke) is the author of one of the textbooks I use and this appendix site has a list of the books typically taught in high school. Overall it's a pretty accurate breakdown of readings per grade…though not necessarily by Hawai'i reading lists.

    You're right, many of my friends didn't have the same reaction I did to the literature in class. For me, I loved both adolescent lit and canonical lit; I still do–I teach my teachers to teach both. Yes, I was a total English dork who absolutely adored Brave New World & Julius Caesar as an 8th grader, but I loved Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike, and Lois Duncan too (besides the adult novels I was already reading by then). Honestly, had I not had wonderful teachers who taught me to love the classics, I don't know if I'd be the reader I am today. Reading them in parallel with YA fiction introduced me to this beautiful & diverse world of language and living that I keep with me as a teacher and writer today. (=

    Thanks for posting this!!! Teen literacy is very much about both what is read in and out of the classroom.

  14. Mandy Says:

    I generally liked the assigned reading I was given, but then again, I was never made to read a lot of the books people complain about (no Scarlet Letter for me).

    Most of my friends hated The Great Gatsby, but I think one of the reasons I loved it so much was because I read it before it was assigned to me. I read it when it was assigned to my older sister. It's forcing kids to read books that make them not like them.

    That being said I HATED Heart of Darkness, which we read senior year. That book was awful. It was the only book I had to read the Spark Notes for because I simply could not make myself comprehend it.

  15. Megan Says:

    Oh my school books were awful! I was a massive reader – always have been – and to read such pitiful books was horrible!

    However we did do HATCHET by Gary Paulsen when I was in year seven and I LOVED it so much!

  16. Mandy Mikulencak Says:

    Lord of the Flies, 1984, Beowulf (didn't go well), Cantebury Tales. Didn't develop a love of reading until college — didn't care for my high school English teacher's taste in required reading. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Noelle Pierce Says:

    By seventh grade, our required reading list included:

    Animal Farm

    Mysterious Island

    On the Beach

    I loved to read, and had read Anne of Green Gables, the Narnia series, and several other classics (Stuart Little, etc) on my own. Of my required reading the ONLY book I enjoyed was On the Beach. And I did't really even get it (at 11, can one really understand the end of the world and radiation and suicide and WW3?). I've since reread it and understand it, and I still like it.

    By high school, the books I loathed were

    Billy Budd

    The Sound and the Fury (I still have nightmares about that)

    Light in August (Prof was a Faulkner fan, but this one wasn't bad)

    Grapes of Wrath

    Great Gatsby

    Heart of Darkness

    Ethan Fromme (sp?)

    Great Expectations (earned more appreciation from me long after high school)

    I hated most of my assigned reading in high school. To this day, I avoid most of the classics and prefer to read more commercial fiction. Literary fiction is just over my head, and I don't have the energy or inclination to force it.

  18. Lara Ruth Says:

    I'm like Shannon. I used to love to read growing up and then AP English classes killed that since it became a "chore" and no longer something I enjoyed. It wasn't until after college that I finally began to embrace reading for fun again. And now I just can't stop. Definitely don't regret being exposed to so much back in school – just hate I missed out on reading for a good four or five years.

    We read tons of Shakespeare… Dickens… Toni Morrison (I loved Song of Solomon)… and James Joyce (he single-handedly ruined my senior year).

  19. Melanie Says:

    I enjoyed many of the books I was required to read but they have mostly been mentioned–except for A Wrinkle in Time. I loved that book!

    However, there were a few that I couldn't stand. Foremost on that list is Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Every character was either a complete idiot or a total jerk. So aggravating.

    My children are finishing elementary school. For the most part, their teachers let them select their own books (as long as they are reading). I'm sure that will change in the next few years but they have developed a huge appetite for reading.

  20. Miss_Tammy Says:

    The Red Badge of Courage was painful, which is probably why I stopped on page 2. I didn't fare much better with The Scarlett Letter. But To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace were both excellent reading assignments.

    Now, our high school gives Sophomores the choice of reading The Fountainhead or Hunger Games over the summer. Choices, choices…

  21. Allie Says:

    Having just finished High School, I think I can remember most of the books I was assigned to read. They include

    9th- Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations, The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and Animal Farm

    10th- Dandelion Wine, The Canterbury Tales, Dr. Faustus, Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Antigone, Cry the Beloved County, Cyrano de Bergerac, Tale of Two Cities, Go Tell it on the Mountain, and the Cherry Orchard (lots of plays that year)

    11th- How to Read Literature Like a Professor, The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, Huck Finn, The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, Our Town, Raisin in the Sun, and lots and lots of short stories and poems

    12th- The Elements of Style, The Poisonwood Bible, a non-fiction unit where we read lots of speeches, letters, and newspaper articles, Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, Death of a Salesmen, Catcher in the Rye, Heart of Darkness, and a poetry unit.

    I think that's everything. I was on the Honors Track at my school, so we had to read much more than the normal classes, in addition to reading 1-2 outside books per quarter, depending on the teacher that year. We read a mixed bag of books, some of which I like, some of which I ddin't, but I'm glad that I read them all.

  22. Carol Benedict Says:

    Some of the required reads in my high school were:

    Grapes of Wrath

    Tale of Two Cities

    Of Mice and Men

    Lord of the Flies

    Romeo and Juliet

    Pride and Prejudice

    Red Badge of Courage

    I didn't mind reading the books, but I hated analyzing them for symbolism. The literature teacher thought everything had an underlying meaning, and I always thought authors meant what they said.

  23. ***Dave Says:

    I went into Junior High and High School already an avid reader. But with very few exceptions ("1984" and "Brave New World" stand out, though "The Grapes of Wrath," "The Red Badge of Courage," and various Shakespearean plays (Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet) were also cool), I generally disliked most of the Literature books I was assigned to read in high school.

    "Wuthering Heights," "Jude the Obscure," "Moby Dick," "Scarlet Letter," "Waiting for Godot," Lord of the Flies," "Heart of Darkness," "Great Gatsby" – hated 'em all. I got very good at first-chapter-last-chapter vamping about the themes, not to mention an occasional perusal of Cliff's Notes.

    Not that it turned me off reading the stuff I enjoyed, mind you.

  24. Lila Swann Says:

    I'm a rising senior in high school and the books we're assigned for next year are the same as others that have already commented (Crime and Punishment, Hamlet, etc etc).

    One thing I wanted to comment about was that my private school decided to assign To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal Farm in 7th grade. Horrible, horrible mistake – we were all too young to understand anything, much less the poignancy of both books, and our teachers didn't even discuss it – AT ALL. I've been trying to make a point to reread both, but with all of the schoolwork, this novel, and trying to work my way through "new" books that I haven't read before…it's nearly impossible.

  25. Karen Says:

    I think I'm a bit like you, Kate, it doesn't go well for me when I HAVE to read something. I don't remember what I was assigned in Jr. High…I think I blocked it out. But I remember being assigned To Kill A Mockingbird in high school and loving it…Beowolf and Macbeth, not so much.

  26. Joe Iriarte Says:

    Oh gosh, I had way too many required books over the years to remember or list them all. I will say that this wasn't a problem for me for the most part. I ended up majoring in literature, so I must not have hated literary analysis too much. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I didn't have any strong antipathy to Lord of the Flies or Catcher in the Rye or A Separate Peace or Heart of Darkness.

    The first bit of required reading I remember not liking was Wuthering Heights in eleventh grade. I guess I wasn't crazy about The Scarlett Letter in tenth grade either. Twelfth grade I pretty much loved everything else we read in AP lit except Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, which I still loathe.

    The next required reading I remember disliking was Yeats in grad school, but a big part of that was that I was a research assistant to the Yeats professor, and spent my days typing what I can best describe as typographically accurate transcripts of Yeats's handwritten drafts so that other scholars could look at his process. So–and this was back before WYSIWYG word processors–if Yeats scratched out a word and wrote a new one above it, I had to type the word, overstrike it, and position the replacement word in the live above, all in WordPerfect, which did not line things up correctly on the screen. By the time I'd done this for a semester, I despised Yeats as a person and could not possibly appreciate his poetry.

    I'm curious, Nina Nakayama (if you're following the comments): You reported that high school kids are reading canonical texts at an older age, but not your opinion of this. For me, this doesn't seem like a bad thing. Even the books I didn't mind reading, I often feel now like I read at to young an age to really grasp–and I was a bright kid! I mentioned not caring for The Scarlett Letter in high school, but I read it again in grad school and I got a lot more out of it. Similarly, in college I got little to nothing from the various "comedies of manners" I had to read. I've read–and loved–some works inspired by Jane Austen in the last couple of years that lead me to think I need to give her another chance.

    I think a big part of why we make kids read books they may be to young for is that we only have them under our thumbs for so long as educators. If you need to be in your mid-twenties to appreciate a work, but most people in their mid-twenties are no longer taking literature courses, then will great works die out–kind of like modern poetry–and only be read by an elite few? Can we successfully prevent this by cramming this down kids' throats at a younger age, hoping that the guidance of a teacher can fill the gaps in their experience and knowledge? Obviously it worked for some of us, but doesn't it seem like the majority fall through the cracks?

    Does fostering a love of reading trump fostering an appreciation of literature?