9 books you should have read in high school that are totally worth reading now.

9 books you should have read in high school that are totally worth reading now.

Category #5 for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge is “a book you should have read in school.” This is the time to catch up on those classics (old and new) you feel like you really should have read by now.

My own list for this category was extensive (even though I thought my own high school reading list was pretty good!) If you, like me, tend to get a little panicky when you consider all the books you feel like you should have read by now, take heart: you’ll get more out of reading these novels now than you ever would have gotten out of them in high school.

Series: 2015 Reading Challenge: books you should have read in high school (that are totally worth reading now)
Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

This groundbreaking classic is a Gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one; its themes were astonishingly modern for 1847. Those who have read it will spot its influence everywhere. If you never read it in high school, you know what to do. If you were forced to read it back then, give it another try: you’ll enjoy it much more the second time around. More info →
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald's classic was the topic of my first high school term paper—and despite that, I still love it. Fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby has built a mansion on Long Island Sound for the sole purpose of wooing and winning his lost love Daisy Buchanan, who married another man while Gatsby was serving overseas. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss. Even if you've seen the movie (especially if you've seen the movie) you need to read the book. More info →
As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying

While I greatly prefer my own assigned high school read The Sound and the Fury, the backstory on this slim novel is truly astounding. Faulkner claimed that he wrote it in 6 weeks, working from midnight to 4:00 a.m., and that he didn't change a word. The story, again set in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. Consistently cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century, both for its own sake and for the great influence it had over subsequent fiction. More info →
East of Eden

East of Eden

Author:
This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. The title references the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent embattled relationship between brothers Cain and Abel. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, interweaving the stories of two Salinas Valley families, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. More info →
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Author:
In this absurd, existentialist tragicomedy, playwright Tom Stoppard reinvents Hamlet from the perspective of the two minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, childhood friends of Hamlet who King Claudius uses to get more information about the insane prince. There's plenty of witty, rapid-fire dialogue to accompany the existentialist philosophy. (PSA: this is easy to read for a play, but the 1991 movie with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfus isn't half bad.) More info →
Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

Author:
I read this myself for the Reading Challenge, having previously read A Room of One's Own but none of Virginia Woolf's novels. In this slim novel, Woolf weaves together two seemingly unrelated storylines: one following Mrs Dalloway, an upper class woman preparing to host a dinner party, and the other her "double," a shell-shocked WWI vet contemplating suicide. Woolf used stream-of-consciousness style to explore the inner workings of the mind; this pioneering technique had a lasting effect on fiction as we know it. More info →
Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Author:
Dickens' thirteenth novel (and arguably his best) follows the early adventures and coming of age of the young orphan Pip. Back in 9th grade, I thought I was "lucky" that MY English class didn't have to read this one, unlike my poor friends who were assigned to a different teacher. Flash forward ten years, when I plucked this off the shelf as a "duty read," and then stayed up way too late turning the pages so I could find out how it ended. More info →
Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Author:
While many believe that Emma is Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice is more likely to show up on assigned reading lists. On the other hand, consider yourself lucky if you never read Austen in high school. If you were lucky enough to have a gifted teacher who brought classic works to life, that's fantastic—but many of us read just enough Austen in high school to be convinced she was boring and stuffy. Give her a try now—Pride and Prejudice is a terrific place to start, and if you don't fall in love with her writing (although I certainly hope you do), at least you'll know what the fuss is about. More info →
To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

Author:
In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It's been a staple on high school reading lists for years (and I talked about my significant high school experience with Mockingbird here), but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was published this summer. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.) More info →

What are you reading for this category? Tell us your high school favorites, or the required high school reading you feel like you should have read by now, in comments. 

9 books you should have read in high school that are totally worth reading now. If you didn't read these in high school, don't worry: you'll enjoy them more as an adult anyway.

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107 comments

  1. Lynn Schaffner says:

    I must be a good deal older than you, because I DID read these books. I read most of them in junior high (7th and 8th grade), a few in high school and “Jane Eyre” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” in 5th and 6th grade. I got sent to detention in 8th grade for reading “Dr. Zhivago.” Apparently, it was a banned book at my school, but I didn’t know it. I had to get a note from my mother giving me permission to read it. I still remember the look she gave the principal when she handed him the note giving her permission. I love your list and the suggestions offered in the comments. There is no friend like a good book!

  2. Ruth says:

    I also read most of these books in high school but I went to a private school that taught a classical curriculum back in the 80s. My youngest child is a sophomore at our local public school and the stuff they have them read is garbage. I don’t understand why public schools don’t teach the classics anymore.

    • Brandyn says:

      They don’t read any classics? My public high school in the 90’s did lots of classics. Luckily I was already a reader or I would have concluded that I hated reading and not just that I didn’t like those particular books.

      I’ve noticed a trend in schools incorporating contemporary books in with classics to try to engage students, but I know that the local schools here still read 75% classics.

    • L. says:

      I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 5th or 6th grade. Many on the list I’ve heard of. The rest I will definitely read. Thanks

  3. Laura Jean Edwards says:

    In my school years I also read Little Women, Watership Downs, Rebecca and Gone With the Wind.

  4. Audrey McDonald says:

    We also read Siddhartha, some Shakespeare, Crime and Punishment, Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Thank goodness for the classics!

  5. Michelle says:

    I love this list! Many of these I read in high school back in the 80s. I went to a southern high school and the curriculum was traditional. We also read Huxley’s Brave New World. I will be reading some of these over the summer.

  6. Julia says:

    Out of all of these, in high school we only had to read To Kill A Mockingbird. That seems weird looking back given that there are so many classics we never read. I should really pick some of these up and give them a go, I suppose they’re classics for a reason!

    Julia // The Sunday Mode

    • Beverly says:

      I read that too, Tara. I should read it again. Also read Death Be Not Proud, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm. I remember my seventh grade English teacher telling me I ought to read The Ugly American. I should go find that….

  7. Krysia says:

    In my English class we read Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, the Old Man and the Sea – at the time I thought they were terrible. I haven’t tried to reread them so maybe I would appreciate them now. It took me until college to discover Jane Austen!

  8. Eleanor Behm says:

    I read 3 of those books in high school: Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All great books. Jane Eyre will always be my favorite. The rest of them are my to-read list. I’m shocked that I haven’t read Pride & Prejudice yet…or any of Jane Austen.

  9. Karen says:

    I’ve read six out of nine as an adult (Jane Eyre and P & P many times). The funny thing is, except for quite a bit of Shakespeare, I don’t remember ever being set novels to read in high school, but I didn’t attend in this country. It’s possible I just have a very bad memory!

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