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