Assigned reading we actually enjoyed

Required reading school books don't have to be boring.

Assigned reading gets a bad rap. Or perhaps I should say it gets an accurate rap: why do our best attempts to introduce children and teens to great literature often end with bored kids swearing off reading forever?

I have always loved reading, yet I have plenty of memories of trudging through tedious required reading that felt like it could be so much better. Is there a former student among us who hasn’t felt at one time that assigned reading in school was turning them off reading, instead of on to it?

My seventeen-year-old daughter stopped me in my tracks this summer with a comment on this topic. I was thinking aloud about writing this post, and she said, “You could talk about how I don’t like reading anymore.” When urged to elaborate, she spoke of how she once loved reading: she read, and read voraciously, because it brought her joy. But then, she entered high school—and was required to read texts she didn’t like and sometimes doubted were even good. But, of course, she had to read them anyway, because that’s how English class works.

Those experiences sapped reading of its joy for her. She said that after being forced to read dull books as duty, it became hard to pick up books for pleasure. Reading had lost its shine.

Her comments called to mind my own years as an adolescent reader. I loved assigned reading in grade school, but by the time I hit late middle school it had turned into a chore. I’ve thought a lot about what went wrong, exactly. Is it fair to say the less-than-enthusiastic modeling of some language arts teachers contributed? I imagine so. Did the impenetrability and glacial pace of some assigned texts blunt the joy of a good book? Undoubtedly. (I’m looking at you, Song of Roland.)

I’ve always loved to read, though I certainly had some rocky years as a reader—with assigned reading being the main culprit. But even in those bumpy times, every once in a while I’d read an assigned book that absorbed me. One that I was happy to dive into with a skilled teacher and (moderately) engaged class. One that made me read ahead so I could find out what happened next. One that reminded me why this reading thing was worth it.

In today’s book list I’m sharing assigned reads I’m grateful for: some books I read and loved as a high schooler, and some my daughters have read and loved. I hope you enjoy perusing the list, and even more so, I hope this reflection reminds you of some of the required reads that shaped you as a young reader. We’d love to hear about those reading experiences in the comments section.

7 assigned novels we actually enjoyed reading

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The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald's classic was the topic of my first high school term paper—I wrote about the concept of time and can still picture the Harold Bloom text I relied on—and despite that, I still love and admire what Fitzgerald accomplishes in his taut story. Fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby built a mansion on Long Island Sound in order to woo his lost love Daisy Buchanan, who married another (loathsome) man while Gatsby was serving overseas. Gatsby's doomed attempt to recapture what was lost—or perhaps, what never really existed—works on so many levels. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss, related by a perhaps-unreliable narrator. My kids didn't hate this assigned reading, but they didn't love it like I did. More info →
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Emma

Emma

Author:
My "favorite" Austen novel changes with the season, but Emma spends much of the year in first position; this was my first taste of Jane Austen as a teenager. The story centers on an unusual household of two: Emma Woodhouse, "handsome, clever, and rich," old enough to marry but independent enough not to want to (and wealthy enough to avoid the shame of spinsterhood), and her well-meaning but exceedingly nervous father. Distinctive friends, neighbors, and love interests spin their way into the Woodhouse orbit throughout the story's course—some quirky, some endearing, some downright obnoxious, and ALL entertaining. I can still viscerally feel the way my 17-year-old mind was blown when my friend Amy raised her hand in English class and asked, during our teacher's introduction to the text, "Isn't the movie Clueless based on this book?" Jane Austen, somehow relevant to life today—even teenage life in Beverly Hills? I was hooked. More info →
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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

I never read Jane Eyre in school: I picked it up in my mid-twenties during my classics catch-up phase I wrote about in I'd Rather Be Reading. I loved it, and was glad I was never forced to read it in school: what if I hadn't been ready for this great book? That's why I was understandably nervous when my daughter read this as a high school sophomore. I was afraid she would find it boring—maybe she should wait till she was in her twenties, too?—but to my relief and very great surprise, she called it the best book she'd ever read. This groundbreaking classic is a gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one; its themes were astonishingly modern for 1847. It features one of literature's greatest—if not universally beloved—heroines. Jane is an orphan who becomes the governess for a brooding Byronic hero's children, learns to speak up for herself, and makes bold choices. Those who have read it will spot its influence everywhere. More info →
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My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

Author:
Speaking of nerves: this was assigned high school summer reading for the senior class, and I was willing to bet my daughter would find it a bit dry. I was delighted to be flat wrong. Apparently toxic friendships make for absorbing reading at any age? This first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet revolves around the complicated friendship between Elena and Lila, from the intriguing beginning when the girls are in first grade and carrying through the jaw-dropping cliffhanger ending during their adolescence. Thought-provoking, beautifully written, realistic enough to be quite difficult in places. Readers who love this Italian novel LOVE IT. More info →
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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

Some of my best and most meaningful school reading experiences came from those moments when I sat back, stunned, and thought I didn't know an author could DO that on the page! So it goes with Flannery O'Connor, widely regarded as one of the all-time finest writers of short stories and Southern fiction. I encountered this specific groundbreaking collection, highly regarded even today for its originality, as a high school junior, and was by turns captivated and repulsed by its shocking, reverential, almost mythical, and often grotesque content. I can still remember reading my first O'Connor story in English class: we dove straight into the deep end with "A Good Man is Hard to Find." A jarring introduction to be sure, and one that kept me coming back for more. More info →
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Crime & Punishment

Crime & Punishment

I don't like to throw around the word "should" when it comes to reading, but I do hope you'll consider reading this classic-for-a-reason. In this great Russian novel, Raskolnikov wonders whether it’s possible to murder someone without remorse, and reaches the conclusion that yes, it’s possible for an important person to kill someone they deem unimportant. He sets out to do exactly that—but he doesn’t count on a growing conscience or an investigator's subsequent pursuit. You could read this book every year for the rest of your life and discover something new every time. This is the book that first showed me what a talented writer could do with theme, symbolism, and imagery, which may sound dry but was revolutionary—and exciting!—to my young mind. Translations abound; mine is by David McDuff. More info →
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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Author:
When my daughter was assigned this book as a high school junior, I had no idea what her young generation of readers would make of this unusual novel. It's a haunting and atmospheric coming of age story that centers on three teens, students in a 1990s British boarding school. Ishiguro expertly combines speculative and literary fiction to weave his tale, with prose that says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. It's a troubling read, but one my daughter was so glad she got to experience. (I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book .) More info →
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Tell us about assigned reading you actually enjoyed! What was the best book you were assigned to read in school? What early experiences with required reading shaped you as a reader? Please tell us all about them in comments!

P.S. 6 tips to help you tackle a classic novel, 10 comforting classics to read after you run out of Jane Austen novels, and 25 classics that are not remotely boring, plus our wonderful What Should I Read Next episode Required reading revisited.

P.P.S. This month Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club is discussing Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, a short nonfiction work in which Alan Jacobs encourages readers to engage with the classics as a way of making meaning in the present. Its themes go along nicely with today’s post. I hope you’ll consider joining us to discuss!

Assigned reading you'll actually enjoy

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  1. This is an interesting thing to think about. Your daughter is being raised by 2 people who love reading and will always encourage that love of reading, but she’s probably an outlier in that regard? Maybe that is a defeatist view, but given the stats on the # of adults who read, it seems less likely that a child’s parents are reading as adults. Much of the assigned reading I did in HS was not enjoyable. What stands out as the worst was Beowolf. Gosh I hated that book with a passion. I don’t think I got a single thing out of reading it honestly.

    I’m having a hard time coming up with books I read in HS that I enjoyed, though… I grew up in a tiny town with a class of 28 people so there were no honors or AP classes or anything like that. Luckily I’ve always loved reading and my parents and grandparents encouraged that love of reading. So there was never any question of whether I would continue to read as an adult, but my English classes did not contribute to my love of reading at all… But in college, I enjoyed several of the books I read for my English classes. The one that stands out is My Antonia. I hope my children have a different experience in high school than I did!

    • Anne B (not Bogel) :) says:

      Required high school reading that I loved includes:
      Great Expectations
      Jane Eyre
      Cry the Beloved Country
      The Song of the Lark
      A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
      Frankenstein

      Books I could have done without are:
      Beowulf
      Middlemarch (I firmly believe this book should be taught in college, not high school.)
      Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

    • Sarah says:

      If it gives you any hope both my father and spouse were raised in households without readers as parents and yet read a great deal. Of course it helps to have reading role models, but it’s not like non-readers never raise readers.

  2. Kacie says:

    My 11th grade teacher nearly killed us with Moby Dick. She was obsessed with that book and we spent 9 weeks dissecting the imagery. Absolute misery.

    I didn’t read for fun during the school year and lost my way a bit when it came to books.

    I, too, read Jane Eyre in my 20s and it changed my life — it got me back on track. I’m grateful!

  3. Hilary says:

    My favorite book I *had* to read was Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I read it as a hs freshman. I’ve reread it a few times throughout my adulthood and I still love it.
    I didn’t really mind most of my required reading but I feel like once it has the word “required ” in front of it, kids have already decided to not like it.

  4. Amanda says:

    I didn’t love most of the assigned reading at school, in part because we spent way too long reading, discussing, and working on projects for the same book. Books I remember enjoying in school are 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, all of the Shakespeare plays we read (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar), A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (though it’s worth noting that, for some reason, they gave us an abridged version), and something to do with the King Arthur legend, but it’s so long ago that I can’t remember which it was. I didn’t like The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, but I really loved it the second and third times.
    My best memories of reading in school were the books that weren’t in the curriculum — books teachers read after lunch in elementary school, books I selected from the classroom library for book reports, books recommended to me by teachers and amazing librarians.

    • Ann says:

      Exactly Amanda! We read Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet, and MacBeth Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years respectively. I was such a nerd and so interested in a deep dive of the old English and Shakespearean English. Sadly I was the only one. Then we ended up having to make a diorama of our favorite scene. I would have liked to have a written report about topics, not an art project!
      Despite their best attempts to turn me off books, I lived to continue loving to read!

  5. Mary says:

    My favorite books that were required were Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. That being said my college experience brought Willa Cather to my attention and I quickly fell in love with her writing.

  6. Mary Jo Durivage says:

    I don’t remember if I HAD to read JANE EYRE but I do remember reading it as a young person. It is probably my favorite book – such a good story – it has everything. I DO remember having to read DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and GREAT EXPECTATIONS. No love lost there. 🙂

    • Suzanne says:

      The movie Dr. Zhivago is glorious, but I was disappointed by the book. I thought if we spent one more minute on the darn train, I was going to scream!

  7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck was my all-time favorite assigned read. It’s very long and was so overwhelming to me as a high school student, but I was immediately sucked into the epic family saga with biblical references. It remained my all-time favorite until I read My Brilliant Friend, also referenced above!

  8. Carrie B says:

    My high school sophomore English class was Brit Lit. I loved reading the Brontes and Jane Austen, and our memorable teacher made Macbeth memorable by doing a fantastic witchy voice. Let light perpetual shine upon you, Mrs. Hill

  9. Kimberly Read says:

    “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt was assigned reading in a class I cannot even remember any longer. However, I will never forget that book or Frank’s autobiography. Five-star read, in my opinion!

  10. I loved A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which we read my sophomore year of high school and remember buying my own copy of it, so I could mark favorite passages. I wish I still had it. I also loved Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, but years later realized we had read an abridged version in our Freshman English class. I later read the whole book and loved it even more. I was an English major in college and loved so much we were assigned. I graduated way back in 1970 and realized a few years later how few women writers were part of the assigned curriculum. I started making up for that in my 20’s and 30’s.

  11. Amy says:

    Being assigned To Kill a Mockingbird in high school really changed my perception of “required reading,” and I fell in love with it.

  12. Laura says:

    I found reading for English class tedious in HS, but still managed to get through it and make time for reading books I liked, thankfully.
    Of the assigned reading, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court stands out, as does Brave New World and 1984. I generally enjoyed when we read plays as well, since we often spent class periods reading sections aloud as a class, making for an immersive experience in addition to the detailed analysis discussions. I also recall my own essay on Great Gatsby – my teacher gave me a B on it to spur me to rewrite it. He knew that I wouldn’t stand for the B (he welcomed rewrites for regrades), and he wanted me to take the thesis a little further.

  13. Blaire says:

    I also distinctly remember reading “a good man is hard to find,” and then seeking out more of her stories to read on my own.

    I think I’m unusual in that I liked a lot of the assigned reading in middle and high school. Favorites included: Watership Down, “where are you going and where have you been,” Oates, “the tell tale heart,” Poe, Animal Farm, Brave New World, lots of Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice..:

    I have been very impressed with the assigned reading at my child’s school – first they always get to pick one of three novels, second the choices have been incredibly diverse and interesting. Two of his favorites have been Front Desk and Song for a Whale.

  14. Diane R. says:

    I was not assigned a specific book that I HAD to read, except we had to read McBeth in 11th grade, oh my what an odd choice, I thought it was creepy and remember it really turning me off to Shakespeare until I got older and read some of the others. My favorite books would have to be CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London, I was just fascinated by that tale and the wild setting too. I loved A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and MY ANTONIA and one called JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN that was popular then. My family members were not big readers and we had no public library close so I depended on the school library to get my books so in the summer when we had more time I didn’t have access to books. I enjoy reading now and always have after I had better access to so many books.

  15. Kiersten says:

    I was very fortunate to have two college English professors who truly changed my reading life! Thank goodness, since my first semester of freshman English was full of The Canon – and I will never recover from the torture of Paradise Lost…
    I’m dating myself, but my second-semester professor Dr. Clements was an entirely different experience, and far before her time – totally breaking away from the canon, she taught The Handmaid’s Tale in 1989, and I have been a lifelong Atwood fan ever since. Another professor was an advocate for diverse voices, and introduced me to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, Rite Mae Brown, Chinua Achebe, etc. etc. etc. and inspired my abiding love for Virginia Woolf, Louise Erdrich, and Barbara Kingsolver. Dr. Ognibene was a TOUGH grader, and even though I could never manage more than a B+ in her classes, I still avidly sought them out, knowing it would be a challenging and enriching experience. I owe so much to these two women!

  16. Susan B. says:

    The only assigned books that I remember liking were Rebecca and Anna Karenina. I vividly remember hating both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (we were also forced to watch the film) and Catch 22.

  17. Francine Sposato says:

    I can only think about a book I had to read in the eleventh grade that I hated, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I will never read that book again.

    • Pam says:

      Oh yes, I do remember reading that one as well. Couldn’t remember reading required novels in high school English (below), but I do remember reading this one now. Yikes. I was part fascinated, part revolted upon finishing it.

  18. Sheri says:

    I enjoyed almost everything the year we studied English lit. The Mayor of Caster bridge underimpressed me, but Lord Jim, Macbeth, and Hamlet stand out. I don’t remember really loving anything from my year of American lit., though.

  19. Casey says:

    When I was in high school, we were assigned books and given extensive lists of questions to answer to prove we had read the assignment. In our answers, we had to copy long passages word for word from the book. There were no questions that allowed us to make connections or bring our experiences to the reading process. It was essentially hours of “copy work.” I went to a small school, so I had the same teacher from 7th through 12th grade for ELA.

  20. Sheri says:

    And how could I leave out A Tale of Two Cities, which probably started my love of Dickens, although I am sure I was already familiar with A Christmas Carol.

  21. Jillyb3 says:

    I’ve been a life-long reader, but yes, some of those assigned books were so tedious! In High School I did enjoy Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, and Great Expectations. My absolute favorite and one that I re-read every few years was Brave New World.
    I read Jane Eyre my first year in college and fell in love, I also re-read that one often. The same class had me read Surfacing by Margaret Attwood and I’ve been a fan ever since!
    For some reason, I had to read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair three times between high school and college classes. I hated it every single time!

  22. Melanie says:

    Thinking back to high school, which was a long time ago, I don’t remember hating any book, per se, but I definitely didn’t like science fiction/post-apocalyptic lit. It was just too weird for my romantic sensibilities. In Canada, we read Canadian lit, and I really liked the titles my teacher chose. He was great, and I enjoyed English class with Mr. Hulley, and had the pleasure of being in his class twice over the five years from grades 9 to 13. We read Jamaica Inn by DuMaurier, Huckleberry Finn, and Othello, which is my favourite play. My two favourites were The Nymph and the Lamp, by Thomas Raddall, and Who Has Seen The Wind by W. O. Mitchell. Great Canadian classics. It’s interesting to see what other people had to read. My favourite book from university was Volkswagon Blues, by Jacques Poulin (I read it in French, but it is available in English, as well.) It’s a road trip/Route 66/historic tourism kind of book to me. I love a good road trip story. Thanks for sharing your list!

    • Wendy Barker says:

      You obviously are quite a bit younger than I am. I am Canadian as well but the only Canadian literature I can remember being assigned was Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town which I did actually enjoy. (Funny story: one of our younger male teachers had to ride herd on a class of teenage females while the boys had Phys. Ed. One day he decided to read My Financial Career to us. He laughed so uncontrollably he couldn’t finish the story.) We had all the usual Shakespeare plays to read and I did enjoy those. I also remember being quite fascinated by Great Expectations and I loved Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (although when I reread it as an adult I discovered it was a sanitized version). One book that I hated was Victory by Joseph Conrad. It took me years to read anything else by Conrad.

    • Melanie F says:

      I read one selection from the New Canadian Library series every month. Last month it was The Nymph and the Lamp…it was excellent!!! I had never heard anything about it before, and now here you are! Funny how that is…

  23. Kate says:

    Three books that blew my mind and completely expanded my reading pallet in high school –
    The Song of Solomon (might have been the only book I was assigned in HS that was written by a woman 😳)
    Go Tell it On the Mountain
    The Master and Margarita
    Luckily my mother insisted on Austen and the Brontes. I can’t even remember which books we read for English (British) Lit.

  24. Michelle says:

    For my 11th grade American Lit class, the teacher assigned us a project for the entire year where we had to select an American author/writer and read several of their works and do various assignments or papers or whatever. As I recall, they had to have written several types of things (eg, novels, poems, short stories, etc). All of my classmates selected Hemingway or Faulkner or Fitzgerald. I went rogue (at least for that time, it was 1991) and selected Maya Angelou. And it was one of the best “assigned” reading assignments of my school career! 🙂

  25. Judy R says:

    I just read The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac which discusses how young children fall in love with reading and then come to hate it as teenagers. Required reading in school is often the culprit.

  26. Milinda says:

    I honestly don’t remember required reading in High School though I’m sure that we had it! I do remember freshman year in college when I read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and LOVED IT.

  27. Carrie Ann says:

    I remember enjoying the following required reading in High School:
    Cold Sassy Tree, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Secret Life of Bees, All Creatures Great and Small, 1984, A Separate Peace, and all the Shakespeare.

    I loathed Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers and Lord of the Flies. We were also assigned the Conte of Monte Cristo which I remember deciding was too long for my summer break! I also grew to dislike “The Old Man and the Sea” as I was assigned this multiple times, and I wanted to read something new/different!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, you were given some GREAT books to read in school! I’m jealous! (Secret Life of Bees, All Creatures, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Count of Monte Cristo!!)

  28. Colleen says:

    I’m a therapist and most of my teens that I see tell me that they cannot enjoy assigned reading books because they HAVE to read them:)

    I loved:
    Handmaid’s Tale (cannot believe we were allowed to read this in a private, Catholic school)
    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
    Snow Falling on Cedar

    I didn’t care for The Great Gatsby (which kills most people I know, including my English teacher husband) or Grapes of Wrath

      • DeAnn says:

        I despise The Great Gatsby. It was never assigned reading, but I read it in college after seeing the Robert Redford movie, which I had disliked. Since then I’ve read it again and seen the Leo DeCaprio version. I just plain hate the story.

  29. Pam says:

    Honestly, it’s been so long – I’m 63 – that I can’t remember most of my ‘assigned’ reading in high school. We didn’t have summer reading lists – I don’t think that is done around here in Western Canada, even now. I’ve never heard my nieces and nephews talk about summer reading lists.

    The required reading in my three years of high school English (grades 10 through 12) was hit and miss for me. Essays, plays, short stories and the like. I don’t remember reading full novels, but perhaps we did. I enjoyed the Shakespeare that we read – Macbeth, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Probably because we were a theatre-going family. (I took a summer vacation to the Stratford (Ontario) festival about 10 years later. Would love to go again.) Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery made a big impression on my teenage self. Abhorred the required poetry! My love is like a red, red rose. Good grief. That teacher wrote a comment about my dislike of the required poems in my yearbook, so I must have made it clear 🙂

    One of my h.s. English teachers had a classroom collection of paperback novels that we were encouraged to borrow and read. As a voracious fiction reader, this was like free candy for me. My introduction to The Good Earth and A Canticle for Leibowitz. Not required reading, but encouraged!

  30. Gretchen says:

    Oh, what a great topic, Anne!
    My two high schoolers just needed to read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah for “One school one book” at their HS. My 14 year old was not excited and slow to start, but just last night said “you know, I really didn’t think I was going to like this. I don’t like memoir/autobiography, and I figured it would be dry and preachy. But, he’s a great storyteller! I shouldn’t be surprised: he’s a comedian. But, he wove the history and his point through very clearly, along with bite-sized stories. I loved it.”
    Growing up, my family read all the time and shared books, particularly ones that had humor in unexpected places, or were surprising. So, I didn’t know to “dread” required reading, though I know my big brother did (I mean, there were so many other fun books to read….)

    My high school English teachers were an independent bunch, so I distinctly remember reading Beloved by Toni Morrison (while we studied slavery in US History), and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in the same class, which discussing politics and religion. She led some very thoughtful, multilayered discussions, and I loved both.
    My favorite “assigned book”, and still one of my all time favorite books, is A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris, read for a Native American Literature class in college. Our prof taught us about the various themes running through it, so I remember some of those that I might not otherwise have noticed. But, it’s a book that has stuck with me, that deep and complicated mother/daughter/grandmother relationship, and, again, a few humorous scenes that still make me laugh (in the midst of other scenes that just break my heart).
    My copy of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water has also had a new life over the past few years: I lent it to an elementary school teacher friend who had a full-leg break so was couch bound for months, and she then lent it to a friend who passed it along until it came back to me a year later. And, the same thing happened again in March 2020.
    So, you never know when a required reading will spark something unexpected!

    • Kiersten says:

      Oh my goodness, thank you for reminding me of Toni Morrison – shame on me! My high school was not quite so progressive as yours, though was fortunate to be “assigned” several Morrison novels in college. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye.. and the rest of her body of work on my own as a result. It’s been so long, maybe some rereads are in order!

  31. Patricia says:

    I loved Grapes of Wrath in high school. When my sons were in high school, I made it a point to read whatever they were reading. Their high school’s AP program was amazing. My favorite was Maus. I drew the line with Moby Dick. My son, however, loved it!

  32. Sandy M says:

    The Hobbit in 6th grade followed by The Lord of the Rings that summer on my own. A Separate Peace in middle school. Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment in high school.

  33. Tiffany says:

    Assigned readings really do leave a lot to be desired and I think some of that is because they are also assigned teachings. Apart from that, I think that our school attempted to avoid controversial discussions by severely limiting contemporary literature, which had the effect of making what we read less relevant and engaging. I went to high school in the late 1990’s, and I think the only full-length work we read published after 1960 was The Color Purple. That probably has more to do with Alice Walker being from Georgia than anything else, though.

    The readings I did enjoy in addition to The Color Purple: Shakespeare, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Canterbury Tales, Night.

  34. Heidi says:

    I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, and Pride and Prejudice, all of which we read freshman year of high school. I was a voracious reader before then, but most of my pre-9th grade reading was of the Sweet Valley High variety. I was surprised to discover that something written centuries earlier could still be so accessible and relatable. I think it depends so much on whether the teacher has a strategy for inspiring curiosity in their students. If they can catch kids by surprise, the kids will keep reading to see what happens next. But teachers who have assigned the same book for the past twenty years have to get pretty creative to maintain that spark within themselves and to be able to nurture it in their classrooms.

  35. Barbara Morgan says:

    I was in HS in the mid 80’s, in Alabama. So assigned reading was fairly standard fare. A Shakespearian play every year,and “classics”. Honestly I can’t think of any title I hated. Even enjoyed Moby Dick, Great Expectations, Silas Marner. My junior year was the best though, because our honors teacher pushed us to read contemporary fiction

  36. Sara says:

    I was fortunate to have great English teachers in high school, particularly my junior and senior years. I was enthralled and feel in love with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s No one Writes to the Colonel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and This Way to the Gas Chamber, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski. I still have the books that I read as a teenager and return to them almost yearly.

    • Allie says:

      I have always been a voracious reader. I was the kid the teacher told my parents to “make go outside a little more and read a little less.” So the “required” reading of high school was a shock to my system.
      Apparently my school decided there were enough English majors in the world, and they would do everything in their power to discourage it. And reading in general. We didn’t read “normal” classics like Bronte or Austen, and I still actually haven’t (I know, GASP!! The blasphemy!!) I remember reading and hating the Shakespeare’s (Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar: WITH a soliloquy we had to memorize and recite to the class, and Hamlet). WHY??
      The Canterbury Tales and Beowulf (seriously, WHY??!?). There was also A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby, none of which I enjoyed the least bit.
      We briefly touched on the Iliad. Or maybe it was the Odyssey? Whichever one was tedious and forgettable. And I will never forget, our big book in 10th grade was ROOTS. Really. That thing is a brick and we slogged our way through it, grumbling all the way. The only “required” reading I enjoyed was a book in 12th grade. We got to pick what we wanted to read the last semester. I picked a non-fiction book about The Body Farm in Tennessee and devoured it. Surprisingly enough, I read The Grapes of Wrath on my own in high school, and it remains to this day my favorite book. I can’t remember for the life of me what I had to read in college. I was most likely still too traumatized from high school (definitely *NOT* an English Major).

  37. Courtney says:

    I have always been an avid reader, but admittedly I have not read many of the classics. I read some in high school, of course, but I’d like to re-read and finally get around to novels I have never read in the classic genre. However, I feel really intimidated by many and worry I won’t adjust to the language or understand it. I’d like to start with Jane Eyre. Does anyone have advice for reading these classics if I have not read many before?

    • Gretchen says:

      Oh! This should be fun, Courtney. Since you’re going to start with Jane Eyre, do you want to stick with a little bit of mystery, so there will be something to hook you? There were some fabulous “classics” recommendation in the MMD introduction to mystery talk and slideshow. What about trying Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier next? (I read Rebecca after my mom recommended I read a classic spy novel called The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett). That’s another gothic style…. My only recommendation would be to have a dictionary and maybe Wikipedia nearby so that you can look up words or phrases that might be different.
      Other suggestion would be to search back through some of the WSIRN podcast episodes, for any classic books Anne recommends there, as they’d be recommended in context of other books. Enjoy! Let us know how it goes.

  38. CathyB says:

    I absolutely hated Crime and Punishment! The only assigned book that I liked in senior year was A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster. I went on to read other titles of his as a young adult.

  39. LindsayN says:

    Such a great topic to talk about! It fascinates me how required reading is so different from country to country. I grew up in Canada and attended high school in the 90’s. One book that I read in English class (probably grade 11 or 12) was Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business. I can’t remember much about the plot, just recall that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the book. One of these days I plan to revisit all of my high school books to see if I feel differently about them as a 40 year old. I especially want to give Margaret Laurence’s A Bird in the House another try.

  40. Frederick Perez says:

    I can’t remember any of my required reading except for Ghost of Sleepy Hollow . I couldn’t get through most books and read the first and last chapter and back cover. I winged my book reports and astonishingly always got a good grade. As a late teenager readers Digest books got me interested in reading and after then reading the Bible my love for reading grew and never ended. Henry James and Steinbeck were my favorite authors. Portrait of a Lady and East of Eden blew me away.

  41. Colleen says:

    In high school/ junior high school I loved A Separate Peace, and I hated both Lord Jim (Conrad) and The Age of Innocence (Wharton), even if it did win a Pulitzer Prize.

    Lest you think I did not like good literature, I enjoyed the Shakespeare plays and my favorite book was Les Miserables.

  42. Kelly says:

    I was fortunate to have loved many of my assigned reading books. Particular favorites that stand out were The Hobbit, Frankenstein, The Scarlet Letter, 1984, A Tale of Two Cities, and Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. The favorite favorite thoguh, would have to be Jane Eyre. I devoured it in a few days as a summer reading assignment prior to 10th grade. Unfortunately that summer reading assignment also included The Catcher in the Rye, my most loathed book of all time. Seriously, it’s the worst.

  43. Bri says:

    I love reading all of these comments! I have a lot of memories of deeply tedious reads for middle and high school English, but my senior year literature teacher was incredible. I loved so many books we read that year, but the three that really stick out all these years later are the interpreter of maladies, one hundred years of solitude, and grapes of wrath!

  44. Jo Yates says:

    I graduated from high school in 1971, so many of the books mentioned weren’t even written yet! Of course there were classics like A Tale of Two Cities, The Great Gatsby, 1984 (which was in the future!), Brave New World, Animal Farm, Steppenwolf, The Picture of Dorian Gray, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Pony, Tess of the Durberfields and others. Some I enjoyed, some I got through. I finally finished Moby Dick a few years ago. I loved reading enough to read Far From the Madding Crowd on my own But one book that stands out was Banners at Shenandoah by Bruce Catton. I loved that book as an eighth-grader!

  45. Sheryl says:

    I have such an unpopular opinion. I absolutely hated the required reading choices (or lack of choices) we had in highschool. It totally turned off me and so many others from reading for so long. And sadly, I don’t like even Jane Austen books (sorry!). Luckily I had some friends turn me on to authors like Jane Green and Jennifer Weiner who started me reading again, then found MMD with amazing books like One in a Million Boy and This Is How it Always Is and my love of reading returned. I say, don’t require classics. Give kids choices and the chance to find something they love.

  46. Joy says:

    I liked Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and MacBeth, different years).

    I didn’t like The Great Gatsby but loved Wuthering Heights. Revisiting those as an adult I found my preferences switched. (It was super fun to have my teenage daughter explain all the symbolism.)

    I finally read Jane Eyre after discovering Jasper Fforde. I did like it but even moreso after reading The Eyre Affair.

  47. Missy says:

    I seriously can’t think of one assigned book I enjoyed. That is sad. Also, I think I had to read A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter multiple times! I can still hear my teenage self complaining!

  48. Jennifer Maynard says:

    I remember reading Jane Eyre in high school.

    My daughter is a junior right now and her teacher lets them have free reading for 30 minutes every Monday. She and her friends were so excited because they get a chance to just read for fun. And this mom was thrilled as well!

  49. Barb says:

    I went to high school in the sixties–yes those sixties. Our school system had a very strong English (now would be ELA) department. We were well grounded by requirements in all the classics from Beowulf and Canterbury Tales to Shakespeare and on through to 20th c. books like Ethan Frome, Grapes of Wrath, A Farewell to Arms, Cry, The Beloved Country and Invisible Man. Being a compliant student with high expectations at home, I dutifully read it all. Some I liked, others not so much. But one thing I am forever grateful for is that these readings are part of my history. No one can take that experience away from me and I remember parts of all of them. The best thing about reading them in HS is that I don’t have to read them again!! I am not a re-reader particularly at my age (so little time, so many books) but I did revisit a few over the years and was not disappointed. As a free lance reader now in my 70’s I read what I want to read and have no driving desire to have a bucket list of classics unread. I love my reading life!

  50. Adrienne H. says:

    I enjoyed very little of the assigned reading in middle school or high school. It seems to me that selected readings are too often depressing, ponderous stories. Books I remember with particular loathing include:
    * Catcher in the Rye
    * The Witch of Blackbird Pond
    * Alive (who gives an eighth grader assigned reading featuring a plane crash and cannibalism?)
    * Lord of the Flies (ugh)
    * Heart of Darkness
    * The Outsiders
    On a happier note, I enjoyed The Odyssey, Shakespeare selections (MacBeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet), Pride and Prejudice, and Gone With the Wind.
    I saw the same pattern with my daughter’s required reading in high school. In middle school she was an avid reader but by the end of high school, she was so turned off from reading due to the steady diet of depressing books and dystopian fiction required by her high school. She finished high school 7 years ago and is just now picking up books “for fun” again. It’s sad…

  51. Maria says:

    I loved Tess if the D’Urbervilles! Hated Madame Bovary.
    Wish I would have been assigned Passing.
    My daughter was assigned The Yellow Wallpaper, which I loved. I also liked reading Dr Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, which she was assigned.
    My son was assigned The Outsiders in jr high and loved it

  52. Natalie says:

    The book I had to read in HS that I absolutely detested and was so confused by was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I mean, what is going on in that book? I didn’t understand a thing so the day that I had to write my essay, I was honest with my teacher about this and I don’t remember what happened but I wasn’t penalized for it. During my college years, I didn’t read at all. There was too much going on and too much required reading.
    I read Rebecca in 2019 and Jane Eyre last year and I absolutely loved them both. It tickles me that the older books really are quite funny. I loved Jane’s spunk and I loved the darkness of Rebecca.

  53. Jody Hoffman-Czwartacky says:

    It was such a long time ago, but I actually remember liking many, if not most of the required reading in jr high and high school, including the much maligned Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter! The Good Earth, Cry the Beloved Country, Gulliver’s Travels, Spoon River Anthology, Our Town….

  54. Tracey says:

    What a fun topic! Granted, I’m a book nerd, but I know that I enjoyed most of the required reading. In fact, the one that stands out the strongest is Pride and Prejudice. It was the first book of its kind I had ever read and I was wholly entranced by her humor and the romance. I still – vividly – nearly 40 years later – remember thinking “I can’t wait until I have a child so that I can experience their reading this book for the first time.” I quickly devoured the entire Austen catalog and she remains one of my favorite authors. I also really enjoyed Crime & Punishment. This led to my trying to tackle The Brothers Karamozov, but that one didn’t capture me in the same way. Jude the Obscure was another (surprising) enjoyable read. I attempted to follow it with Far From the Madding Crowd, but abandoned that one near the beginning, after reading more than three pages describing the desolation of the landscape. Shockingly, To Kill a Mockingbird was never a required high school read and I was in my late twenties before I read it for the first time. I’ve since reread it a handful of times, always marveling at the fact that I could have lived so much of my life without having read it. I think one of the great things about “required” reading is that it introduces us to books that we might otherwise never read. It wasn’t required reading, but someone gave me The Hobbit as a high school graduation gift. I had never read a fantasy book before and was sure that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but we had far fewer options for entertainment back then and I found myself cracking it open during that summer before heading off to college. I absolutely loved it! The rest of that summer was spent working my way through the three Lord of the Rings books (and loving those). That was a lifelong lesson for me to never turn my nose up at a book or genre, sometimes the greatest enjoyment or lessons can be found in the places you least expect.

  55. Grace says:

    Assigned readings that I really enjoyed and would not have read otherwise: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Grendel by John Gardner. After hearing Charles Dickens bashed by most of my English professors, I was surprised to find engaging prose. It’s a long book, but there’s a host of interesting characters and the language isn’t as heavy as I expected. Grendel is another book I would never have read on my own. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it, but the writing was gritty and immediate in a way that I’ve not seen other authors do. It’s another book that I reflect back on and am glad that I read.

  56. This was fun to think about and I realized I read a ton more I loved in a catholic junior high than in public HS (To Kill a Mockingbird, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Romeo and Juliet and Great Expectations, The Odyssey). I remember loving The Scarlet Letter, Siddhartha, Grapes of Wrath, and MacBeth in HS but suffering through Huck Finn and Canterbury Tales.

  57. Ashley C. says:

    This really hit home for me – I remember telling my English teachers how disecting books for class was killing my love of reading rather than enhancing it. I had to read The Great Gatsby TWICE – once my junior year and then again my senior year. My senior year teacher even knew we’d already read it, but still assigned it anyway – I got nothing new from it! But he also assigned One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Handmaids Tail – both of which I loved. I was still an avid reader outside of assigned reading, but was really grateful to finally be done with high school and so no longer had summer reading!

  58. Shauna says:

    I had a tenured and wise English teacher my Senior year of high school who assigned Angela’s Ashes. I was one of two that had already read the book. I was relieved to have something written in the last fifty years. As great as “great American novels” are, English teachers have the opportunity to turn students on to reading by selecting out-of-box books.

  59. Jan says:

    Probably my favorite required reading from high school was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Shakespeare). I remember being incredibly disappointed in “Romeo & Juliet,” but I was a freshman (age 14) and hadn’t understood it was a tragedy (or the value of reading tragedies). My next favorite was To Kill a Mockingbird, and I loved it even more when I reread it as an adult. I absolutely hated Lord of the Flies. I didn’t appreciate Frankenstein or Huckleberry Finn until I had to read each of them 3 more times in college!

  60. Amanda says:

    I believe I can count on one hand the assigned reading I actually liked (despite being an avid reader):
    – The Outsiders
    – Children of the River
    – Ordinary People
    – A Separate Peace (although I probably wouldn’t have remembered that until the comments)
    – The Westing Game
    – Where the Red Fern Grows (it was read to my 3rd grade class, so I’ll count it)
    I am somewhat convinced that high school English tried to suck the will to read out of me. I think half my liked list was middle school reading. I had a high school English teacher that was obsessed with symbolism, particularly in The Scarlet Letter (did not like). I also did not like The Great Gatsby, and I hated Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye. I wasn’t over the moon about To Kill a Mockingbird back then, but I re-read it recently and enjoyed it.

  61. Bette says:

    My favorite required reading in High School were always plays. I remember reading and loving The Importance of Being Earnest with a class right before summer break. I’ve actually been thinking about this book a lot while reading Sense & Sensibility. The next year we read Hedda Gabler, and I loved that as well. My love for these dramas alone is probably what led me to be an English major in college, but I was probably worse of a required reader as a college English major. The sheer volume of reading was overwhelming. I took one drama class and again, loved those plays the most! I loved my Shakespeare class as well. I went to college near Blackfriars in Staunton, VA, so my reading life came full circle when I got to watch their production of The Importance of Being Earnest one spring. I’m happy to report I’m a redeemed English major these days fully participating in this community through book club!

  62. Erin says:

    I was so lucky to have great literature teachers who assigned thoughtful and interesting works to read…
    – The Great Gatsby (of course)
    – To Kill a Mockingbird (of course)
    – The Sun Also Rises
    – Catch-22
    – The Awakening
    – Heart of Darkness
    – lots of Shakespeare
    – Dublin

    And then there’s the crap like The Scarlett Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, etc. that I would love to banish from my memory. That’s what makes kids turn away from reading – the drivel that teachers assign because “it’s always been done.” Enough already!

  63. Suzanne D says:

    I definitely didn’t read much that I loved it high school and to be honest I barely remember anything about a good chunk of them. (I’m looking at you D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf!) The ones I do remember loving were To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, The Crucible, and my beloved Their Eyes Were Watching God – my all time favorite school-assigned book. I would have read Mockingbird on my own but I probably would not have picked up Hurston’s book if it weren’t for a junior year teacher willing to move out of the 19th century.

  64. Susan Baum says:

    I first read Jane Eyre in Senior English class, and, like your daughter, it remains the gold standard for me. However, I did not enjoy The Good Earth in Junior English, where I think I earned a C on my term paper. A few years ago, I re read it with my book club, and Lordy, how a few decades can change one’s perspective! I loved it, and felt intensely the family dynamic with the father’s perspective when musing about his selfish children. I did not love Jane Austen in high school, either…too slow moving and Darcy and Elizabeth never even kiss! Again, as an adult, I grew to appreciate the wit and character-driven beauty of her novels. I did love dystopian novels in college such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. I regret not reading much Dickens, which I need to remedy. There was a PBS series on Great Expectations, a book I was never assigned so didn’t read, which was fabulous…what a story!

    • Suz Stewart says:

      I had a similar experience with certain authors I’d had to read during my academic career. H. G. Welles, Stevenson, and E. M. Forster all come to mind. But then, when reading them again with my own teenagers while homeschooling, I discovered a new appreciation for their talent and their stories. Funny what a couple of decades will do!

      And I must encourage you to read Dickens. All the Dickens you can get your hands on. Please. His stories are not to be missed. His contribution to the literary world is still being felt today.

  65. Shelli says:

    “The Octopus” by Frank Norris just about killed my love of reading in High School. Did ANYONE else have to do that one? But I think “To Kill a Mockingbird” saved me.

  66. Amy Filak says:

    Fahrenheit 451 opened me up to science fiction. I had thought it was all about aliens and weird things. But I had the pleasure of taking a class called Literature of Change and all the sci-fi had deep seeded social commentary. It was politically charged and felt forbidden. I was hooked. And I changed my reading life in a big way!

  67. Celesta says:

    I really struggle to understand how anyone thinks My Brilliant Friend is a worthwhile read. I agree with your picks 99% of the time, that’s why it surprises me to see this on your list. I thought it was downright awful, cliche, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters. So many that I know say they loved this book. I just don’t get it.

  68. Suzy says:

    While some of the required reading in H. S. was “thought-provoking” and I’m glad I did read some of them, I didn’t actually LIKE any of them, and some I hated. What I can remember is Canterbury Tales, Gulliver’s Travels, 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, various of Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, and poetry, which I REALLY hated. Only one title stands out: The short story, The Lottery. Will never forget that!
    But at the same time in high school, ON MY OWN, I was reading and LOVING Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Vanity Fair, The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, Little Women, Dickens, Dr. Zhivago, War and Peace, Cyrano de Bergerac, Giants in the Earth, Rebecca, The Good Earth, and plays like Arms and the Man, and The Importance of Being Earnest. So high school didn’t quash my love of classics, they just picked all the wrong ones! Honestly, are they TRYING to ruin it for kids??

  69. Stephanie Mitchell says:

    As an English teacher and English major, I recognize my significant bias on this topic. I will say that I didn’t love everything I was assigned to read (seconding the Song of Roland and chucking in Moby Dick for good measure), but I have also read voraciously outside of assigned reading my entire life. My husband still doesn’t understand why there are multiple books in progress at all times. My elder daughter is the same way. While not every book she reads earns a place on her “for keeps” shelf (we are library goers who buy books we want to reread), she doesn’t complain about assigned reading anymore than she complains about statistics homework.

    Enter younger daughter… She’s my athlete, my constant mover, and my reluctant reader. She has zero problem telling me she hates a book, especially if it is one she has to read for school. It takes time and effort to find books she is willing to dedicate her free time to, and it is no wonder that the books selected for class don’t make the grade for her.

    For those of you who find your kids to be reluctant readers, I’ll give you the advice I give to parents of my students. Try reading with them. You can take this two ways, but either are effective. Either read the book with them (out loud, on audiobook, silently but together) and discuss (I promise The Outsiders is still just as heart-wrenching), or find your own book, sit by them, and model reading. Not a big reader? Fake it till you make it! This is your kid. Reading is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives, and it is way easier to learn and improve in school rather than out!

  70. Kristin W says:

    I cannot think of a single book I remember enjoying in school, but many I did not! I felt the pace for reading was too fast or too slow and I often felt like we were looking for significance and symbolism that was not the author’s intention. I did not enjoy Jane Eyre in high school and I distinctly remember a long discussion about the why Bronte chose red curtains in one scene. Maybe she liked red? Why did it have to be significant? I read the book in my twenties at the encouragement of a friend and it is now one of my favorites. So far my oldest is enjoying his required reading (3rd grade) and I hope it may continue!

  71. Beth Schmidt says:

    Nearly half of the books on the banned books list were required reading for me. I’m astonished at some of these banned books: Alice in Wonderland; To Kill a Mockingbird; 1984; The Outsiders; The Catcher in the Rye; Fahrenheit 451; Charlotte’s Web; Brave New World; Lord of the Flies; etc. It’s a crying shame that we’re dealing with this in the 21st Century. My state – OK -forced a teacher to retire for giving out a QR code to a library to her students. They claimed she was exposing them to pornography. We should be encouraging reading – not make it a crime!!!

  72. Danica says:

    I see these lists and realize what a different experience I had than many people. We read Shakespeare almost every year in HS (Othello, Romeo and Juliet for sure), A Tale of Two Cities, The Great Gatsby but also read a lot of Latin American books (House of Spirits, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Like Water for Chocolate) as well as Things Fall Apart, Ceremony, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Beloved. I think the problem is that high school is not necessarily the time to read some of those books. I always finished my required reading and can’t say that I despised it, but they weren’t my favorites (at the time) either.
    One required reading that was one that I enjoyed at the time and still do today is The Giver – which was required reading in MS.

  73. Karen Wood says:

    I read “Wuthering Heights” and “The Sound and the Fury” in high school. Loved “Wuthering Heights” and hated the Faulkner. As an adult, our book club read “The Sound and the Fury” and I was entranced. Obviously much better with some years under your belt. Interestingly, a recent adult literature class tackled “Wuthering Heights” and to my surprise, I found it cruel and depressing. Most of my classmates agreed. The professor asked for our reaction to the book and one wag summed it up: “Why?”.

  74. Jennifer says:

    I discovered Ray Bradbury in high school. We also were required to read Night by Elie Wiesel which was heartbreaking but such a great book.

    My least favorite was The Grapes of Wrath or the Scarlet Letter. I’d really like to revisit Grapes of Wrath. I think so much depends on the teacher with some of these reads in k-12.

  75. Lori A. Samilson says:

    School was so long ago. I remember loving Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Jungle, Jane Eyre, Emma, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Night, Inherit the Wind, Wuthering Heights. I don’t remember the ones I didn’t like except for The Old Man and the Sea. I had to read that one twice; once for High School and once for college. I hated it both times.

  76. Mary says:

    Perhaps OT, but I never remember literature class being about instilling a love of reading. It was about analyzing characters and plots. So finding books that teens would love was never central to the class, if that makes sense.

    The only required reading I never made it through was The Last of the Mohicans. Soooo dull.

  77. Heidi says:

    I just had a discussion about this with my 16 year old daughter. She was assigned “All the Light We Cannot See” for summer homework and loved it. I told her that I didn’t enjoy almost any high school assigned reading, but this one has been on my TBR. “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Miracle Worker” are the only ones I can think of that I enjoyed and I think both were junior high reads.

  78. Jennifer says:

    Most detested, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Over everyone’s head.
    Most beloved, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I kept my copy till this day, very tattered but very loved.

  79. Linda Norris says:

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” was required reading that I have read over and over. It was also assigned reading for my son (same high school) and it is one of his favorite assigned reading as well.

  80. Grace says:

    My senior year, our lit teacher was OBSESSED with Canterbury Tales…we read each and every one, saw a theatrical video, and then it go detailed!! lol! We were supposed to do 2 Shakespeare plays as part of the prescribed curriculum, but were to read each independently…MacBeth and Hamlet. Out of 100 questions on the final exam, there were 2 from each Shakespeare play, one from our brief encounter with Beowulf, and 94 from Canterbury Tales…I’m still bitter almost 45 years later!

  81. Suzanne Stewart says:

    I grew up on a farm in an Appalachian “holler”. We only got three tv stations. I was the only girl my age within 3 miles until I was in high school.

    All that meant that I had LOTS of time to read and my mother made sure I had lots of books to spend time reading. By the time I got to Grade 7, I had read everything on the school’s “required reading” list for that grade.

    So the next day, my teacher handed me four books as substitutes for the first four titles of the year. They weren’t in my book journal of books I’d read (yes, I’ve been keeping a book book THAT long.) They were:

    *Pride and Prejudice
    *The Hobbit
    *The Diary of Anne Frank
    *And Then There Were None

    When I’d read those, she brought me more. And still more. She opened my world to so many authors and titles I’d never read before because they were considered “too old” or just not available in the children’s section of the public library for me to check out.

    To this day, I am an avid Agatha Christie fan, especially Poirot. I re-read at least one or two Jane Austen titles every year. I did my university senior English project on Tolkien. (And re-read LOTR every year, too.) And I was inspired to the lifelong habit of journal keeping by Anne’s diary.

    Those four required reading titles changed my literary life forever.

    It’s funny, though, I can’t remember many of the other titles she substituted for me throughout the rest of the year. I remember Watership Down and The Good Earth because it turned out they were required reading in a later grade. Those first four, though, changed my life.

  82. Pearl says:

    I moved to the US when I was 14yr old. I had almost completed my second year of high school and since it was October, had to start all over again. English was taught differently and we were never assigned novels to read as far as I can recall and so I fell in love with reading assigned novels in English in America. It was so new to have discussions about these novels in such a way that made me really pay attention to the language. Some of the favorites I recall were :
    In Cold Blood
    Ethan Frome
    A Separate Peace
    Johnny Got His Gun
    True Grit
    Goodbye Columbus
    English class still holds some of my favorite memories of high school in America.

  83. Emily Burr says:

    The only assigned reading I remember actually enjoying (I didn’t like to read growing up) was And Then There We’re None by Agatha Christie. I’m starting into more of her books just recently actually! I loved the film adaptation of Death on the Nile and that along with never forgetting being humbled by And Then There Were None (humbled because I thought I was too good for assigned reading I suppose), I’m trying her stuff out!

  84. Beverly J Wrigglesworth says:

    The only book of the 7 listed above that I was assigned in high school was Crime and Punishment. I did not like it; I found it boring. However, it did not turn me off reading the books that I really enjoyed. My freshman English class had to read “Great Expectations” and my senior class had to read “Hard Times” both by Charles Dickens. Both books I found so tedious that they turned me off of reading any other Dickens book. However, I have enjoyed watching Dickens novels brought to life in movies.
    My freshman English teacher read to our class the short story “The Open Window” by Saki (H. H. Munro). I loved the story so much that I sought out other stories by him, and eventually found and purchased “The Complete Works of Saki.” Some more of my favorite stories by him: “The Boar Pig,” “The Storyteller,” “Tobermory” and “The Schartz-Metterklume Method,” all of which, with his biting wit, skewer the pre-World War I British upper class.

  85. Karen says:

    I have always been excited to see required reading assignments from school to book clubs. While I have detested as many as I truly enjoyed the practice of required reading introduced me to books I would not pursue on my own initiative. I am and always was an accomplished skip reader when books lose my interest.

  86. Rebecca says:

    My final year English novel, like many Australian teenagers, was ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ ; it’s still one of my favourite books!
    I remember struggling through ‘Madame Bovary’ that same year; didn’t love that one! 🇦🇺

  87. Sabiha Chunawala says:

    Such a timely post! I was having a similar conversation with my 21, 18, and 16-year-old boys. The oldest and youngest were also voracious readers in their youth, and even my middle child found his non-fiction biography niche and graphic novels to enjoy, but then came high school. Unanimously, they all have said how much the assigned reading killed any joy they had for reading, with very few notable exceptions e.g. East of Eden, The Kite Runner, and Kindred. My oldest has slowly come back around to enjoying reading while at university and especially the format of audiobooks, so keeping my fingers crossed that this is a temporary phase.
    I loved so many books in high school – The Great Gatsby, As I Lay Dying, The Scarlet Letter to name a few. My favorite book and the one that made me fall in love with the classics was Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I wrote my final paper for AP English on Tess. This book has stayed with me forever and even on a re-read recently, I still love it just as much.

  88. Allison says:

    Most of my High School reading focused on American writers. We studied a bit of Shakespeare, but otherwise, this is what I remember:
    I read To Kill A Mockingbird in High School and remember NOT GETTING IT. And honestly, I still wonder if it is a good book for High Schoolers? Maybe it is today, as kids are a lot more aware of the themes and ideas in that book, but when I picked it up and re-read it again as an adult, it was like reading a brand new book. I think I must have been very sheltered in my white, middle-upper class community…

    I also read Beowulf and then Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill. We also read A Streetcar Named Desire. And then something by James Joyce, but all I remember about him was learning about “stream of consciousness” writing!

    But as I see what some other people have said they had to read in High School, I think there was a lot I missed. I didn’t complete my college degree in four years either (took me 20, but that’s another story), so never had the chance to take an English Lit class etc, but have read some of those classics in my adulthood. It’s never too late!

  89. KD says:

    My Junior AP English class was taught by a total spitfire of a woman. We all loved her or were a little scared of her. The best thing she ever did was assign Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver, thus making me a devout Kingsolver fan for life. Big thanks to Ms. Riley for that assignment.

  90. Noelle says:

    While I had my share of assigned reading that weren’t my favorite, I’m thankful that never stopped my love for reading. Perhaps it’s because I was homeschooled?

  91. Suzanne H says:

    Yes to Flannery O’Connor. Reading her short stories in 11the grade AP English was transformative for me. I also loved William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (unabridged); George Orwell’s Animal Farm; and the BEST Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I went through high school in the 1970s and our diversity of reading was not ideal. It makes me happy to know that kids today are exposed to so much more.

  92. I’m a boomer kid educated by (mostly) sweet nuns in the Midwest. The luckiest got to participate in two years of the Junior Great Books Program. If you are not familiar, the program provides excerpts from the world’s classics for middle school kids. The poor volunteers who led the discussions really had no idea what they were doing, but it was a great way to get out of class and get exposed to some works we would not have encountered until college or maybe never. Some went way past our heads(yes Song of Roland) but I discovered Boccaccio’s storytelling in the Decameron and the wit of Moliere and Benjamin Franklin. It was uneven experience but not that bad. My college required reading was for an elective of Eastern Civilization, and that was a real eye-opener. I am still a big fan of both classic and contemporary Asian (Japan, India, China) literature.

  93. Jax says:

    I remember in 11th grade, I think maybe for AP Literature, we read Fight Club. And then we got to watch the (edited) movie in class. My school district wasn’t particularly religious or conservative so we had some pretty good reading choices, but 20 years
    later, Fight Club stands out.

  94. Kara Spalding says:

    What interesting comments. I liked my H.S. reading. The one that fascinated me most was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. It was also the first time I was aware of parents objecting to a book in school. My school was very small, there were eight kids in my class, so we were all aware of what was happening. My teacher stuck with his selection but did let the one student read something else. We also read Rendezvous With Rama, 1984, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace and The Caine Mutiny. It did get me reading science fiction.

  95. Dr. Courtney R says:

    It wasn’t a popular opinion at the time, but I enjoyed Catch-22. I also loved the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which was an existentialist spin off of Hamlet.

  96. Becky C says:

    Even if they got to choose a book, teachers make them stop and annotate. How can you enjoy reading anything if you are only worried about getting sources for your term paper? I ask their English teachers every semester why they do this and have yet to hear a good reason.

  97. Terry says:

    Great comments! It got me thinking about my high school English experience, and what led to me getting a college degree in English. I think that in high school, it’s the teacher, not the books! Because I had wonderful teachers, I got a glimpse into the world of reading that has guided my life ever since. Now I have grandkids in high school and I’m intrigued by their reading lists and their comments about their reading. I would still say that in high school, Shakespeare should be watched, not read. They’re plays after all. Some high school loves for me included The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Siddhartha, A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath. Others that I think I enjoyed more because I read them in college were Jane Austen, George Elliott, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Hemingway. I also think early classics like Beowulf, the Illiad and the Odyssey, while they can be touched on in high school, turn off too many teenagers to reading and should be saved in depth for a liberal arts degree in college. I still struggle with Faulkner! I would like to honor my favorite English teachers who changed my life – Mrs. Neiman my AP English teacher, William Mulder, Geoffrey Aggeler, Roberta Steensma, Norman Council (the Fairy Queene!) I can still hear him reading it to us in that VOICE. Thanks, Anne, for the trip down memory lane!

  98. Nicole says:

    I’m a reader, married to a reader, raising a reluctant reader. Capable, just doesn’t like to do it. I’ve been slamming my head against the concept of high school reading lists (he’s a homeschooled 8th/9th grader now, we’re flexible there…). I love to read, yet as much as I loved to read in public high school I ended up bluffing my way through most of my literature classes because I couldn’t make myself get past the first few pages (Heart of Darkness takes the prize, I couldn’t get past the second paragraph). So… I’ve been busy paring back my expectations to what I think is actually likely to happen.

  99. Sarah says:

    Great post and comments! I only see two mentions of Catcher In The Rye and they’re both “loathed” – it’s the only book I’ve kept from high school (graduated ‘95) and for the longest time I always defaulted to it when asked “my favorite book.” However I have literally NO recollection of the story or the characters (other than the name Holden Caufield) AT ALL… and wonder if it’s aged well or if I’d feel the same? I have been called to re-read it now…and I’ve never re-read any book! I am so curious!

    • Pam says:

      I first read Catcher in my first-year university English class, back in 1977. Reread it about five years ago when my book club at the time chose it. I liked it well enough the first time, but even better the second time. And we had a good book club discussion about the book. Male teenager perspective, trauma and family dynamics, etc. I’ll probably reread it again soon, and then go back to reread some of Salinger’s other books.

  100. Sarah says:

    I read fairly quickly and in volume, so high school reading didn’t turn me off, it just ate into my time for my own selections. These comments highlight that different readers have very different reactions to books, so when a whole class reads the same book is going to get some different opinions particularly if most are reluctant readers. Personally, I think teachers should encourage students to talk about what they hate about a book, if they hate it; I’ve always found it useful for identifying books and things I will like. Also it’s helpful to recognize that I can dislike a book even while acknowledging that it is well written and doing exactly what the author set out to do.

    The one book I recall loving was A Tale of Two Cities.

    Some that were okay were the Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, A Separate Peace, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Lords of Discipline, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Aeneid (technically translated for Latin class).

    Ones that I absolutely hated: Ethan Frome (I still rant about this one), Jude the Obscure (a favorite of my 12th grade teacher so we spent a lot of time on it).

    Ones I didn’t like at the time but might understand better now: Gulliver’s Travels (I know now that it is a satire) and the Handmaid’s Tale (I was underwhelmed at the time but think it might hit different these days).

  101. Amanda says:

    So much to say! And based on the comments, so do a lot of fellow readers!
    When I was in middle school through college, I would always tell people that school got in the way of reading. During the school year I would read what was assigned and then fall/winter/spring break and all summer I would devour the books that I wanted to read.

    The list of assigned reading in high school I did not enjoy is longer than the titles that I did enjoy. I remember them because I did not like them. Most I found unrelatable, dry, and boring with equally as boring assignments essays to accompany them. Crime and Punishment was crime and punishment in 11th grade AP English. It was boring, it was long, and the answer was always the symbolism of 3s and 7s in the book. A Separate Peace, The Scarlet Letter, My Antonia were just words on pages. There were others that were okay. I did like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Little Prince (which we read in French in French class).

  102. Adults may find hilarious a YA novel about assigned summer reading, THE UNBEARABLE BOOK CLUB FOR UNSINKABLE GIRLS by Juli Schumacher. Entertaining story might actually get readers to try some of the books discussed by characters–who are contemporary versions of three Jane Austen heroines and maybe one author of classic novel, something that may not be obvious to even Austen fans.

    In Schumacher’s re-imagining, pump room in Bath, England is transformed into public swimming pool in Delaware. Fans of NORTHANGER ABBEY may realize why girls’ instructor is named Ms. Radcliffe.

    Some earlier comments on topic of assigned reading (by Danica, Suz Stewart, Susan Baum, etc) touch on fact that many young students just don’t have the emotional or intellectual maturity or life experience (or vocabulary) to understand literary works written for much older adults. Also, traditional aim of literature classes has been preparation for college studies, NOT primarily to get students to enjoy reading. Typically in the past, those who didn’t already have aptitude for such courses would have already been diverted to other paths for their lives, rather than waste time and money on educational attempts they weren’t interested in.

    Favorite novels about book lovers include autobiographical HALF MAGIC by Edward Eager, BETSY-TACY series by Maud Hart Lovelace (“Betsy In Spite of Herself” includes assigned reading of IVANHOE she already loved) and Melendy family and Gone-away Lake books by Elizabeth Enright, all of which may show love of reading is partly fostered by adults such as librarians, writers, book sellers, and partly inherited, or encouraged by environment.

    Also recommended: Thomas C. Foster’s books HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR and READING THE SILVER SCREEN which applies similar skills to interpret and increase enjoyment of visual arts.

    I wonder if microsecond mentality fostered by social media is unable to appreciate extended metaphors and themes developed throughout a lengthy story, as is done in literary fiction. Yet even before cyber citizens were born, teachers and others concerned with literacy used to lament that in many homes, the only book was a phone book…

  103. Marilyn says:

    In the eighth grade we were assigned to read David Copperfield. Every Friday afternoon we would discuss the parts we were up to. We also had to draw how we pictured the characters. This was one English class I enjoyed.
    Marilyn

  104. Elizabeth says:

    All of you who read classics in school have much to be thankful for. I went to high school in the 70s when classics were considered boring. We read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” which, if you aren’t familiar with it, is because it wasn’t worth knowing. I picked up classics on my own, reading “Robinson Crusoe” on trains in Europe. When I saw the 1980s BBC production of “Pride & Prejudice,” I couldn’t wait to buy the book. Libraries didn’t have many classics! Now I teach English and hope my enthusiasm communicates to my students.

  105. Megan says:

    I was homeschooled, and didn’t read a lot of the typical required reading books, but I did have to read Moby Dick and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I found Moby Dick interesting enough (I would like to re-read it and see what I think of it now), but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea bored me to death.

    In college, I minored in English, and some of my favorite required reading for those classes were:
    Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin
    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
    Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    There were others I enjoyed as well, but they’re not coming to mind at the moment. Next on my classics list needs to be some Jane Austen I think, I’m sure I’ll enjoy her once I get into it.

  106. Hannah says:

    I think I was lucky with my English teachers. There were books that weren’t for me: Animal Farm and Huckleberry Finn to name two, but there were a lot that I liked and loved. We read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit, The Hiding Place, and they made Shakespeare great. All my teachers also loved poetry and opened my eyes to the genre.

  107. Grace says:

    I loved Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, and Animal Farm. I would also read assigned reading that my older sister read in school, which exposed me to books that were never assigned to me. She gave me the scoop for which ones she actually liked and I would follow her guidance.

  108. Carlene says:

    I wasn’t assigned any of these books. I loved The Lord of the Flies, The Crucible, and 1984 thanks to an awesome sophomore English teacher!

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