Back to school! Favorite and least favorite assigned books!
It's the beginning of September and you know what that means... school is back in session! Some people approach the first day of school filled with dread, others are pumped to get their learning on.
No matter what, I hope you all approach the first day of school with some singing and dancing!
To celebrate the new school year, I asked my fellow Pub Crawlers their favorite and least favorite books they were assigned in school.
A Tale of Two Cities is one of my all-time favorite books, and I first read it after it was assigned in high school English. Thank you, English teachers! (To be fair, I also had to read Heart of Darkness. I appreciated the book's theme and all, but oh man it was UHZZZZZZZZZZZ.)
In 7th grade, my English teacher read Wait Till Helen Comes (Mary Downing Hahn) to the class. It was probably the first book-for-school that ever truly excited me. (Because the magic and ghosts were real, not explained away somehow.)
My favorite book that was assigned in high school English was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The book's characters came alive for me, made me love them, and then broke my heart. Just thinking about it now makes me want to dig out my old copy and read it again.
My favorite book assigned for school was The God of Small Things. I read it for my high school senior Lit class, and I loved it. If you haven't read it, you should definitely give it a try! The voice is just fantastic, and the description so vivid the setting just comes alive in all five senses.
When I was in 4th grade, I was assigned a book by Monica Hughes called The Tomorrow City. (It's out of print now I think) It was a dystopian (though we probably wouldn't have called it that) novel about a community controlled entirely by a super-computer named C-3, who decides that humans are incapable of making rational decisions. Two friends, David and Caroline (Caro) who is the daughter of the designer look for a way to shut down the computer and escape the city. I remember reading this over and over again under the covers and in the dark after bedtime. I wish it would come back into print because it would be so in-fashion right now.
In university, I discovered a tremendous hatred for 18th century lit (pre Jane Austen) and especially for Pamela by Samuel Richardson. To this day, I still don't enjoy books written in this time-period or ones that imitate that style of writing. I think that's why I never managed to finish M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing books (even though I respect the quality of the writing)—I just can't get into that period.
I remember being bored to tears with Johnny Tremain in 7th grade. The same thing goes for My Antonia. Bored. To. Tears.
But bored or no, I remember most of both books (because, as a book nerd, I read the books whether I liked them or not...most kids just didn't bother). And now that I think about it...both of those books were not just about an event, or a particular moment in a character's life. Both of those books span from young adulthood into adulthood, and deal with major philosophical life conclusions by the main character. And I didn't give a rat's ass about major philosophical life conclusions (from an adult's POV) at that age!
Whereas A Tale of Two Cities had adult themes, but it also had romance, war, intrigue, sacrifice ...god I love that book.
Hm. I wonder what this says about me? I think it means that I like to escape into something more thrilling.
BUT...I also love, love The Catcher in the Rye. But that spans a very specific point in Caulfield's life, and it has a much more immediate feel to it.
In the 10th Grade, I read the short story "Fleur" by Louise Erdrich and it changed everything. It's this ferocious, beautiful, gritty story that slammed me headfirst into magical realism. It was the reason I picked up Love Medicine and continue to read anything Erdrich writes.
Worst? ETHAN (bloody) FROME. What the hell, people? It's the most unrelentingly morose book of all time. To be fair, I remember it very clearly so I guess that says something. But I also feel like it's an unfair introduction to a brilliant author's work. Badly done, syllabus!
S. Jae-Jones (JJ)
I read Kindred by Octavia Butler for class when I was in eighth grade. She was a local author, we were a small, select, "advanced" group of 3 English students, and we had special dispensation from our parents to read it (at the behest of my teacher). Butler was the first (at that time) living author I had read—in fact, she was a lot of firsts. First black author, and first science fiction author we read for school. It blew my mind. It stayed with me, lingered in my brain, so that when I saw her name on the spine of another book at Vroman's, I went to bought it without question. (That book was Parable of the Sower.)
Other books I remember changing...everything, were Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Great Gatsby. I read them both junior year, and they stand out for a few reasons. I read The Great Gatsby in one gulp, instead of piecemeal, doling out chapter by chapter as we were supposed to. It was the first time I was entranced by a book because I wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED. Despite it not being a thriller, despite it not being a real mystery, there was an unbearable sense of foreboding, of inevitability that compelled me to read to the end in one night.
Beloved, on the other hand, was the first book I remember whose prose stunned me. "124 was spiteful." I remember that first line still.
As for books I disliked, I didn't really hate any books until college, but you're not a proper English major until you absolutely loathe at least one thing in the canon. :)
I read a lot of great books in high school, but they didn't make as big an impact on me as a book I read in first year university: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. It was so lovely, and heartbreaking—and it opened up to me a part of history and a culture that I didn't really know about. It's actually THE book that started my love affair with books centering around the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
As for books I disliked... well, there is one in particular from university that I just couldn't handle: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. If any book came close to killing my love for reading, it was that one.
I think my favorite required reading—the one that opened me up to a whole new world of literature—was Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The idea of unreliable narrators combined with the graphic story—graphic both in content and also in how all 5 senses are really explored in each scene—just blew away my impressionable high school mind.
I adored pretty much every classic I read in tenth grade English. I think this had a lot to do with my teacher—he was phenomenally animated and approachable and brought everything to life in the classroom. He had us read A Separate Peace (loved the setting, the characters, the themes, everything), Lord of the Flies (truly unputdownable), and The Catcher in the Rye (couldn't get enough of Holden and his phoniness), among others. These three still stand out in my mind though. Especially A Separate Peace.
The only books I have ever reread are four from junior high: Shiloh, Z for Zachariah, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Hatchet. All of them are still amazing. :-)
One of my all time favourites is Pride & Prejudice, which I was first assigned to read in year eight. I also found The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig really moving—I read it in year seven, and it was one of my first encounters with the Jewish half of my family's history.
Jordan Hamessley London
I was assigned The Egypt Game in third grade and it blew my mind. It's the first book I really remember reading for homework and just LOVING it. In college, I took a class called "Balzac, Dickens, and Poe" and I was sure that Balzac was going to bore me to tears. But then I read Pere Goriot and fell in love. Balzac is just amazing. That said, Bleak House by Dickens was very... bleak.
What were some of your favorite books you were assigned in school? What books do you wish you could remove from a syllabus?