In high school everyone has required reading, that it is my understanding that most people do not read. I have been told I am a goody two shoes, so you can bet your boots I did read all the required books. Even the awful ones I hated.
Some of them were a pain to struggle through at the time, and it wasn’t until I got older and/or until the current political landscape that I realized some of those were valuable lessons and even warnings.
These are the books I had to read during high school, the ones that in hindsight I would have passed on and the ones I would recommend:
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Read!)
Apparently a lot of people skipped reading this one back in high school. We are still burning books, we just call it banning now because it is better for the environment. Banning and cancelling books, ideas, and people we don’t like.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Pass)
Stale. Dated. If a book about a French prison is what you want why don’t we go for a first person resource and read Papillon? Or if it the revolution that is the appeal, why don’t we find a good book about the American Revolution?
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Pass)
Weird is the first word that comes to mind when I recall this one. I don’t really remember the point or any earth-moving lessons.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Read!)
This one is a classic, it has glamour, excess, pining, jealousy, murder, and excellent vocabulary words. Skipping this book and just watching the movie (the DiCaprio or Redford version) just don’t cut it!
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding (Read!)
On the surface it’s a story about boys getting lost and bullying (and killing) one of them. Anarchy reigns. With bullying being such a hot topic of late it is a book many need to read or reread, along with the fact is illustrates how biased and corrupt governing bodies can be, no matter their age.
- The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Pass)
The time this book is set in, and in the time it was written adultery was a big deal. Now a days when divorce rates in America are between 40-50% adultery seems to be more commonplace and accepted. (Not by me, but society at large.)
- The Odyssey by Homer (Read!)
Classic epic poetry! I must be honest, I was first exposed to Odysseus and his heroic journey (or odyssey) via a little 1990s program called Wishbone. This tale has it all, betrayal, sirens (mermaids), a cyclops, bows and arrows, justice, and wit… Old and little stuffy, but it withstands the test of time as a classic adventure saga.
- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Pass)
It has been made into too many movies, it is slow, and outdated in my opinion. I can think of another French book about betrayal and injustice and revenge, etc, that I think is better than this one…The Count of Monte Cristo.
- Brave New World by Aldus Huxley (Read!)
Ok, in high school I hated this one. Hated it. This is one of those that as I get older I see it for the warning it was possibly intended as…
In the last six months or so I’ve wondered if it was a warning or some one has read it as a manual.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (Pass)
Oh Mrs. Havisham in her wedding dress… Pass. Again, it has been made into many movies, and I believe Dickens has better stuff to read instead.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Read!)
This is still one of my top five favorite books. This book has so many good lessons in it: child-like faith, innocence, respect, how to view all others, honorable actions, the importance and simplicity of kindness and so many more.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller (Read!)
This one seems a bit outdated, but it illustrates the power of mob thinking (something we can see in modern day America), and how quickly a lie becomes fact (again, frighteningly familiar sounding).
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (Read!)
Not because it is an epic love story, because when you boil it down it is a three-day relationship between a 13 year old and a 17 year old that caused 6 deaths – although it is a great lesson in how communication is key in a relationship; I think everyone should read some Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet is easier to understand than Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc.
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Read!)
Technically I read this in middle school, but like Shakespeare I think everyone should read at least one Agatha Christie mystery. Her works all involve a good deal of critical thinking, which is lacking of late.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Read!)
Not because it “glorifies racism” or anything like that, but because it is a product of its time that is a part of American history and as Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Plus, rewriting history is something they did in Germany in the 1930s.
- Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Read!)
Again, everyone should have some exposure to ol’ Bill Shakespeare.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Pass)
All about the Dust Bowl which is history yes, but at this time I think we can find novels that have more relevant/recent history. Or what about autobiographies? Why are most of the required reading books works of fiction?
- Things Fall Apart Chinua Achbee (Pass)
I say pass on account of its high rating on the depressing scale.
- 1984 by George Orwell (Read)
I am kind of on the fence about this one… There are many lessons to be learned from this one, but I remember reading it in 2006 and thinking “This is so far off…None of this happened in 1984.” In reality, it took 10 to 15 more years after I read it for us to really get there. Considering this book was first published in 1949, we should give Orwell credit for his predictions coming true even if they were almost forty years late. I think we could still get the message of this warning/book across with a more modern take, say The Hunger Games…
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (Read!)
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Perhaps if more people had read (and understood) this book we wouldn’t be seeing it creeping back into real life. So much of 2021 can be wrapped up in the quote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
- Oedipus and Antigone by Sophocles (Pass)
Outdated, and kinda gross. If you want high school students to read about incest just go ahead and give them Game of Thrones.
These were the few required reading books in middle school that I think should be read (at some point) by all:
- The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (as I mentioned above)
Be honest, did you do your high school required reading or were you a fan of CliffNotes or SparkNotes?
Of the books you DID read in high school, which ones did you like best?