Books You Have to Read for School

August 16, 2009 at 12:48 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

So, this is more a reading-based blog entry than a writing one, but I wanted to bring this up. I love to read, and I read a wide variety of books – but pretty much every book that gets forced on me at school, I hate.

Lord of the Flies bored me to tears. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene did the same – the characters did nothing for me, the plotline didn’t excite me and having to read it more that once was torture. Lies of Silence by Brian Moore was okay – but that was it. I didn’t find it unputdownable, just more tolerable than the rest.

This year I have been given perhaps the first school book that I haven’t hated – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it in a night, found it addictive reading (although I was a little disappointed by the ending) and yet I’m not too sure about studying it intensely next year. I’m worried that I will hate it after I’ve read it for the third or fourth time and have read so much more into it than the writer could possibly have put into it.

On that point, as a writer as well as a reader, I don’t believe that it’s possible for writers to put in as much symbolism/underlying messages/dramatic irony as teachers seem to believe. Seriously, the amount of annotations I have in my set text – writing a book would take about ten years if you meticulously thought about all those little details!

So, is it the re-reading that makes so many school books dull, or do they just have a knack of picking books that don’t interest students? Or do you love all the books your school makes you read?

This is partly to see what people think, and part vent – my current school book (Spies by Michael Frayn) isn’t particularly drawing me in. So what are the best and worst books you’ve ever been forced to dissect for school?

Give me Harry Potter related essays any day. :D

~Becky

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  1. YES! Why can’t we have Harry Potter essays? Honestly. This past year, I didn’t read half the books we were assigned. I didn’t even open our last book, Tale of Two Cities; I just read the Sparknotes and wrote the essay and you know what? It didn’t matter. That’s the sad thing – English class has killed any desire I would have had to open and enjoy a book like ToTC… those long, dragging chapters simply cannot be enjoyed when you know you’re being FORCED to read them. The only book I liked last year was The Curious Incident* of the Dog in the Night-time, and that’s modern. Why can’t we have more recent books? As in, published in this millennium? Is that so much to ask? God. haha.

  2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon? We had to read that last year as well.

    As for this summer… our reading list is pretty brutal. I mean, we get these works in translation, so of course it is possible that some of the boredom comes from that, but who knows. Currently trying to get through Madame Bovary by… Gustav Flaubert? idk. Anyway… some of the passages are direct examples of telling, not showing. Just argh.

    Also had to read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, at least the readability of that was decent, but the subject matter isn’t exactly stuff teens these days are into, y’know? Wuthering Heights was brutal. Cyrano de Bergerac was… actually decent (translated from French, I believe).

    Grade 11’s reading list actually wasn’t too bad; I actually found myself enjoying Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. (But maybe I’m just odd like that ;)

  3. Wow, I loved Lord of the Flies – I thought it was dark and disturbing and thought-provoking. Same with A Tale of Two Cities; just beautiful. We also got to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World for my high school English classes, all of which I adored.

    • “Dark and disturbing and thought-provoking” – I know that’s how Lord of the Flies was SUPPOSED to appear to me, and I saw how others may think that, but I’m still with Becky… “ugh.” ;)

  4. The worst book I had to study has to be: ‘Of mice and men’
    *shivers*
    But this year, all- yes all, the books have been fantastic. I really enjoyed The Color Purple, A Streetcar Named Desire (which is a play)and Small Island. I didn’t enjoy the poetry- wilfred owen!
    But next year we study Othello + Frankenstein = Yeah!!!!

  5. There will always be something to be said about studying classic literature, but … why discount modern writing? I’ve always felt adults should worry less about what kids are reading and be more excited that kids are reading and excited about it. And you know, why not get excited *with* them? I’m not saying Harry Potter should be studied in class, but why not books like Speak and Wintergirls? Teens need to engage in intelligent discourse about issues that affect THEM. Not ones that affected girls/boys 200 years ago.

    That’s my 2 cents. :)

  6. To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book I liked in English class, and the amount of analysis we had to do after reading it nearly ruined it for me. Ordinary People, Life of Pi, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies = massive ugh for me. Not to mention Shakespeare. But I think it was really affected by the fact that I was being forced to read them. And dissect them. I agree that there is NO way the authors put that much symbolism and so on into those books. I’m sure when they wrote it, that leaf was just a leaf, not a symbol of life and rebirth and blah blah blah. XD
    What are they trying to show us with these “classics”, exactly? Because a lot of those “classics” seem like prime examples of how NOT to write a book – at least not these days. =P

    • Haha, I know. Can you imagine the introduction of Tale of Two Cities being submitted to a modern agent or publisher?
      “I’m sorry, but I had to reject your submission based on the fact that NOTHING HAPPENS IN YOUR FIRST CHAPTER. There’s this thing called ‘Show Don’t Tell’ – learn it.”

  7. I had to read 1984 this summer in preparation for AP lit. It was okay, but I didn’t love it and I am SO not looking forward to reading it again.

    Last year when we were meeting for a gathering of this year’s AP Lit students, our teacher told us that when we were through with the class we’d be analyzing everything. My first thought? “Oh great…” I don’t understand why we need to analyze stories. Enjoying reading is so much more important that understanding what the rose bush outside the prison in The Scarlet Letter means. When are we ever going to use that little piece of knowledge out of school?

  8. Half of my philosophy class read Lord of the Flies on a plane when it was our summer reading. Could there be a worse place to read that book?

    I think some assigned reading is like running three miles a day. It’s work, but you know you have to do it, because it’s good for you. Other assigned reading is not so bad, and it feels more like taking a daily stroll in the park. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get through it.

    I don’t know if it takes forever to write great Literary Fiction, but if you’ve ever head Toni Morrison analyze one of her own sentences, you can’t help feeling like she did all of that on purpose. Maybe, sometimes, it just comes to you.

    Don’t worry about The Handmaiden’s Tale. Some books will improve on further study instead of getting worse. I once read a book (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and absolutely hated it. I went 15 rounds with anyone who liked the main character and swore there was nothing good it in. After reading it again for my Lit class (actually, by the time the term was done, I’d read that book about 5 times) I could appreciate it better and see its worth. I think sometimes further analysis and consideration improve things instead of detracting from them.

  9. Hm… the only book from that list that I had to read was Lord of The Flies. I thought it was okay… but not amazing. If I were to go re-read it I might like it more.

    I absolutely HATED the Catcher in the Rye.

    Let’s see… in tenth grade I had to read Night, which was amazing. If you can handle holocaust stories, that one is very good. I had to read Inherit the Wind that year, too. That one was okay.

    I absolutely loved the Outsiders from my eight grade year (it is still one of my favorites of all time) and Tuck Everlasting from my sixth grade year.

    Um… I liked A Raisin in the Sun and loathed To Kill a Mocking Bird.

    I’m sure I could think of more books if I really tried hard. Haha.


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