Wednesday, July 30, 2014

School Reading Through the Ages

Ally came up with the idea for this post quite a while ago, in which we look back at the books we were both required to read for high school. We finally had time to sit down together and compile a list of the titles that were sometimes a welcome assignment and other times, not so much. It was interesting to note that we had a few titles in common; some books really do seem to be perennial teacher favorites. After taking a browse at each other's reading lists, which are pictured below, we then wrote some reflections on our school reading days.

Ally: English has always been my favorite subject, and I never truly minded all the required reading and writing. Comparing Lee's high school reading to my own, the biggest difference I see is in the quantity. Lee had to read at least double the amount of books that I had to read, which should be embarrassing for the Florida educational system.

Besides two books we had to read freshman year (Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird), Lee and I didn't have any of the same books in the same years. It was interesting because we both had the same feelings about the books: enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird and hated Romeo and Juliet. Freshman year altogether was a meh reading year for me. I was only able to read three books, which was disappointing in itself, and I didn't appreciate the works at the time. Since I disliked the one Shakespeare tragedy so much, I was turned off from reading any of his other plays. I still blame my 9th grade English teacher till this very day for my lack of appreciation for Shakespeare.

Sophomore year was a bright reading year for me; I adored my teacher and she actually assigned intriguing, worthwhile books. My absolute favorite book that I was forced to read in my entire high school career was The Count of Monte Cristo. That book just hit all the right notes with me. I was one of the few students who actually read the book in my class, and I remember trying to give the Sparknotes version of it to my classmates right before the test. The only book that I didn't like sophomore year was The Alchemist. I tolerated reading it but with Melissa constantly complaining about her dislike for the book, it was hard to enjoy.

Junior year was hell. I absolutely despised my crazy English teacher. She would assign us all these books and not give us any time to read them. She also wouldn't have anything interactive to go along with the reading. I hated reading books for her class. The worst was The Catcher in the Rye. The book itself was okay but my teacher didn't promote actually "reading" it. She would go around the class and tell students to read summaries of it online if they didn't feel like reading it.

My second favorite reading year was senior year. We had to read several classics, including Jane Eyre, which is one of my favorites, and Macbeth. I surprisingly really enjoyed Jane Eyre; I only say surprisingly because Lee didn't enjoy the book, and we tend to like and dislike the same stuff. I unfortunately did not care for Macbeth, which is sad because I feel like I should care about Shakespeare, and I can only thank my experience with Romeo and Juliet for that.

All in all, my high school reading experience is slightly disappointing in comparison to Lee's. She read so many more books than I did, and I feel like she had the better books too. Hopefully, in the future, I will be able read more classics without the restrictions of an educational setting.

Lee: I still remember attending orientation for incoming freshmen at what would be my school for the next four years and staring at the summer reading assignment sheet. What?! We had no such summer homework in my elementary school. I was excited, though, to start reading "high school level" books; my elementary school had never really offered much guidance as to book recommendations based on age/grade level.

I think it's kind of funny that Ally and I were both introduced to Shakespeare's plays through Romeo and Juliet. Because, you know, nothing says, "Helloooo, Shakespeare!" like two teens torn apart by tragedy. Sophomore year for me was all about American lit, thus the cluster of American authors on my list.

Junior year English was my favorite; I was a budding Anglophile even back then. I really enjoyed our study of the history of British literature, of which I am still very much an aficionado to this day. No Brit lit course would be complete without . . . Shakespeare! I liked that we got to learn about his life and times and had a bit more of an orientation to the language of his plays. Actually, we had zero orientation to the English of his day when I read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman. I also just enjoyed reading Macbeth much more than R & J. And so the love of Shakespeare that continues to live in my heart today began.

My senior reading list is a little longer because I doubled up on English classes that year, which translated into two summer reading lists. I distinctly remember my parents skeptically eyeing the stack I took up to the counter at Barnes and Noble, which I'd begun visiting with increasing frequency. I still shake my head a little a the inclusion of The Bridges of Madison County on one of my lists. After being assigned classic after classic, this was quite a change of pace. Seriously—it was an odd selection compared to our usual reading fare.

I'm not going to pretend that I miss being told what to read, especially during summer vacation. I also feel that it's time I made a little confession. I didn't finish reading A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce, one of my senior summer reading books. I had no frickin' clue what the bloody hell was going on in that book. I tried. Really, really tried. Exasperated, I gave up and read the Cliffs Notes instead. So, I guess you could call that my first DNF, and that was the one and only time I failed to finish reading a book for school.

Were there any books you read for school that you loved/hated?


  1. Well I've only just completed my first year of high school so I don't think I have as many required reading books up my sleeve as you guys do! But I remember there was a book I had to read in fourth grade that I absolutely hated. That was really the only BAD experience I've had with assigned books. Besides that, I've enjoyed the other books that I've had to read. Even Things Fall Apart which I had to read in eighth grade and is probably the closest I've ever been to disliking a book since fourth grade was enjoyable at times. So I can only hope that I'll continue to have as great experiences with assigned books as I've had so far! In general, I actually really look forward to reading books in class because I find the discussions are always so interesting! Like that's probably most of the reason why I didn't get as bored with Things Fall Apart as I maybe would have reading it out of class.

    Anyway great post ladies! I'm always really interested in seeing what other people had to read for school so this was a really good idea!

    1. I'm glad that you've pretty much enjoyed all the books you've had to read! Yes, discussing the books in class is always fun; it's like book club but in a school setting, lol. I hope you continue to have a great experience with your assigned reading! :)

  2. Wow you guys, what a trip down memory lane this was :) I could not for the life of me remember all the books I read back in high school but I recognized some of the ones you mentioned. I went to a french school though and while we did have english reading for english class, we were more focused on French classics...though we did read some translated English classics...which are never quite the same >.< Anyways we definitely studied all the Shakespeare in English, so I read Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello, all of which I enjoyed. I think it's funny that neither of you enjoyed R&J. In my defence though, by the time we studied it, I already seen the new R&J film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, aaaand it's likely that my then all-consuming lust of all things DiCaprio *probably* contributed to my love of the book xD I studied The Odyssey too but in Uni - and in a French litt class.

    Man I would have LOVED reading The Count of Monte Cristo though. I own it but haven't yet braved the beast. The movie starring Jim Caviezel is one of my favorite films though! And studying Gatsby (!) 1984, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Les Mis would have been cool too. I envy both your required high school reading lists!!

    1. French school sounds cool! Haha, maybe I should try watching the Di Caprio movie of Romeo and Juliet and see if my feelings toward the tragedy change at all. ;) The Count of Monte Cristo is a great book, you should definitely read it soon!

  3. Wow those are a lot of books you had to read Lee! I did have one teacher who gave us this long list of books to read if we were ever in want of a book, but those books were not required! (still have the list though and like to cross off books I've read from it)

    I normally enjoyed my school reading - although I never liked Catcher in the Rye and was opposed to Heart of Darkness until my teacher started explaining it. Then I found an appreciation for it. I'm glad I had great English teachers because it would be terrible to think that a class ruined me for a book or author.

    This was such an interesting post to read and a nice walk down memory lane! ;)

    1. Yeah, Lee definitely had a lot of books to read for school, lol. I'm glad you found appreciation for Heart of Darkness!

  4. First off I want to applaud you both for remembering what all you read in High School. I am a senior, so I'm not even out of high school, yet I can barely remember what I read in my Sophomore year, let alone my Freshmen one. I think this is because most of the books I"m assigned I end up hating so I try to block them from my memory. I think in my whole high school career so far, I've only liked two books. How To Kill A Mocking Bird & the Scarlet Pimpernel (I Highly recommend the Scarlet Pimpernel, it's one of my favorite classics).

    I, so far, have only been told to read one Shakespeare book. That was Macbeth and I loved it!! It was also the first time I read a play, so that book was a mix of many first times. I think one of the reasons I really liked it and could understand, somewhat, the langue was because of the awesome English teacher I had. Every lesson he would go over what actually happened in the pages we were suppose to read, after of course he asked us questions about it so we would interact with the class and prove we read the reading.

    Also, since Lee you did a confession I'll do one to. Last year I was suppose to read Frankenstein. I emphasis the word suppose to. I got really bored with it really fast. I just didn't like the writing style or the main character. So, halfway through it I gave up and went online to read a summary of what I didn't read. I don't feel so bad about it, but now I'm signed up for Gothic Literature and I will probably have to read it again (Nooooooooo), but I'm still really excited for the class!

    Great post!!

    1. I'm usually good at remembering the books that I've disliked, lol. I really enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird too! That's great that you had such a good English teacher! I think if I had a better instructor who was more invested in helping us understand Shakespeare, I would've appreciated the plays more. Gothic Literature sounds like an awesome class! I wish my school had offered it because I would have definitely taken it! :)

  5. Love the Jane Eyre love on here naturally LOL My first Shakespeare was Much Ado which I think led to me liking the plays more..I think the comedies are my favorite!

    1. I've only read 1 or 2 comedies and really need to give them another try. My introduction to Shakespeare was all about the tragedies, lol, and I just fell in love with them.


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