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Book-Talk Monday: Surprisingly Enjoyable Assigned Reading

Monday, September 12, 2011

As a kid, I was an avid reader . . . except when it came to the books/stories I was assigned to read for school. I almost always hated assigned readings (with my least favorite to date being Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was assigned for a modern American History class my first semester of college).

So with as often as I balked at actually sitting down and picking up those assigned stories and novels, I occasionally (though not as often as I’d like) found myself actually enjoying the assigned readings.

So that’s what I want to talk about today.

What favorite books/stories/authors have you discovered through assigned readings from school?

The biggest, and most obvious, one for me is Jane Austen. In eleventh grade, we read Pride and Prejudice. And while I didn’t fall in love with that book or with her as an author then, I did remember ten years later that I didn’t hate it. So in 1998, when I saw the movie Persuasion, I decided to give reading Jane Austen another shot—starting with Persuasion—and I fell in love. (And Persuasion remains my favorite JA book.)

Another author I was forced to read in high school was Willa Cather. And while I wasn’t really a big fan on My Antonia (the book we were assigned), I did go on to fall in love with O Pioneers! (which I just finished re-reading last night).

One of the biggest surprises to me, with as much as I absolutely loathed The Scarlet Letter in tenth grade, was when I got to college and we read a few of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories in American Lit—and I discovered I did actually like NH’s writing (Young Goodman Brown being a favorite).

So, what have been your surprise favorites discovered from assigned reading over the years?

  1. Monday, September 12, 2011 2:50 am

    Oh I know what you mean one of the first in high school I had to read was Lord of the Flies boy did I dislike that book. I dont remember alot of others we had to read except a couple of Colin Thiele An aussie author who I happened to meet in grade 6. He had some good aussie books. We read Dolphins Crossing in year 9 about WW2 and how these boats saved so many soliders from dunkirk. I remember the one book I loved was The Pigman. I wasn’t in the higher levels so didn’t have to read some of the classics like Shakespeare etc. When I was at high school which is the last 5 years of school here they graded students and I was in band B which was the less bright students the problem was it also meant you had all the trouble makers in the one class so often didn’t get to advance to a higher level. This meant we didn’t have to read some of the higher novels. I do remember we saw the movie A brave new world instead of reading it and I know we read Of Mice and Men.


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:18 pm

      After my 10th grade year, in which I struggled to keep up in Advanced Placement English, a mutual decision between me and the guidance counselor moved me into the College-Bound Track (we had three tracks—bands—at my school: Advanced Placement for the genius-level kids, College-Bound for the smart but not over-achiever kids, and Vocational/Technical for whom college wasn’t a consideration). In College-Bound in 11th grade, I aced everything without having to do much of anything, mostly because what we did in the first semester was learning how to write essays (which I’d been thrown into in 10th grade without the basis those AP kids got in 9th grade—I wasn’t in the public school system in 9th). The second semester of 11th grade was British Literature. That’s when we read “A Modest Proposal” (still one of my favorite pieces of satire) and Pride and Prejudice, with Beowulf and a little Shakespeare thrown in. In 12th grade, it was World Literature, though I only got the first semester, because I finished and went off to college at midterm—The Aenid, The Odyssey, some Plato and Socrates, Sophocles, etc. At least in that class, we were reading excerpts, not entire books. And it’s what got me fascinated in early Roman history.


      • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:59 pm

        Read THE ODYSSEY in college and LOVED it. The movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is based on it, and it’s very easy to spot the themes when you’ve read it!


  2. Kav permalink
    Monday, September 12, 2011 8:02 am

    What really scares me is that the required reading lists for high school hasn’t changed that much over the years despite the wealth of wonderful new books. I remember more that I hated then I loved. Catcher in the rye. Ugh. And I didn’t like Lord of the Flies either. We never covered Jane Austen. Our books were always chosen with the boys’ interest in mind.

    In Junior High we read Cue for Treason by Geoffry Trease and I loved that one! It was set in Elizabethan England and two runaways join a traveling acting troupe — one of them is a girl disguised as a boy. They have tons of adventures and are taken on as apprentices by William Shakespeare…and of course, the foil a traitorous plot.


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:19 pm

      I’ll have to look for that Trease book—that sounds great!


  3. Marcia permalink
    Monday, September 12, 2011 9:55 am

    I liked Lord of the Flies. When I look at a group of kids today, I wonder how they would fare if dropped onto an Island. I wonder what the sequel to Lord of the Flies might look like too or a rewrite giving God His place. M


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:20 pm

      Not a big Lord of the Flies fan (had to read it for a Government class, not an English class, though). Didn’t really like the movie, but did get bonus points for going back up to school one evening to watch it with the other few teacher’s pets from that class. 😉


  4. Monday, September 12, 2011 10:17 am

    I actually liked “The Scarlet Letter” in 10th grade, when we read it as a class, but hated it when I tried to read it on my own. My pick would be “The Great Gatsby.” I even remember the essay I wrote for Jr. English, on “The most honest person” in the book. I made an A+ on that one. 😀


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:21 pm

      I still have my copy from 10th grade . . . with all of my notes in the teeny-tiny margins. When he told us that the test over the book would be an open-book test, it was the first time in my life I ever wrote in a book. And I’m so glad I did. It was the only way I passed that test. I’m still no good at picking out symbols and themes and such.


  5. Monday, September 12, 2011 11:54 am

    Edgar Allen Poe. I’d always liked him before, but then when I had to dissect The Red Death (in conjunction with studying the plague) WOW. Fell in love. A couple years later I was in Barnes and Noble and there was a book that contained the complete works of Poe. On the clearance table for something like $10. I bought it and treasure it, though it’s in a box right now.


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 2:38 pm

      If you get to Charleston (Sullivan’s Island, actually), go to Poe’s Tavern. It’s got Poe stuff all over, and in fact, the restroom is papered with pages from old textbooks with Poe’s stories and poems! My girls both loved it!


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:23 pm

      My abiding memory of Edgar Allen Poe is that in sixth grade on Friday afternoons once a month, they brought all three classes together and we watched a movie. In the spring (I know it was the spring, because my arm was still in the cast from breaking it over spring break), one of the movies they showed us was The Pit and the Pendulum. Even though I spent most of the movie hiding my eyes with my cast, I had nightmares for months afterward. So . . . even though I had to read some Poe in high school and college, he’s never been a favorite.


  6. Monday, September 12, 2011 2:48 pm

    I’d have to say Dickens. I enjoyed his books. I mostly didn’t like assigned books. We rarely read anything contemporary. I’m glad to see my son’s school incorporate both contemporary and classic readings. They had Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help on their summer reading list. But their also doing things like The Crucible and poems by Frost, Whitman and others.


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 3:28 pm

      Can you believe that even as an English major, the only Dickens I was ever assigned to read was Great Expectations—in 11th grade. Of course, that’s mostly because at LSU for sophomore English, instead of Brit Lit A & B, I took The Novel followed by Short Stories, Drama, and Poetry. So other than that one semester in high school, I never had a general-overview British literature course!

      Over the last few years, having fallen in love with several of the miniseries they’ve made from his books, I’ve picked up a bunch of them—GE, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and A Tale of Two Cities in hard copy, and a bunch more as free downloads onto my Kindle. But I just haven’t been able to commit myself to reading them. The length is so intimidating!


  7. Monday, September 12, 2011 3:40 pm

    I know this is probably not cool to do but growing up in the school districts we attended very rarely did we get assigned a full book to read. Usually we’d be handed excerpts of famous books and then discuss them. Most of the “classics” that I love came from my own reading on my own time. (I was one of those sick 12 year olds who would read Shakespeare on his own.)

    My 12th grade year I had this really hot teacher for English. (Hey, I was an 18 year old boy and she was fresh out of college, OK?) I took an interest in her because of her red hair…but she took an interest in me because of my creative writing work. One day she announced everyone would have to go into the library and pick out a book for a report.

    As everyone was getting up to go to the library, she motioned for me to wait. She pulled out a copy of Stephen King’s collection “Different Seasons.” (That set of short stories contained Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption.) While I was a fan of horror movies, I really didn’t read a lot of horror writing because my mother didn’t approve of it. (She hated that I would go to horror movies.) She told me that based on what she saw from my own creative writing that she thought I would really love what King did in his work & that my assignment was to read that book. Plus, since it was an assignment, my mom couldn’t really say no.

    I’ve been addicted to King ever since.


    • Monday, September 12, 2011 4:06 pm

      I love hearing stories about how teachers have taken an interest in students and helped them discover something that becomes a lifelong love/passion. (A love/passion that lasts longer than that student-teacher crush!)

      Though quite a different situation, I “discovered” my favorite writing book because it was assigned reading for a college Creative Writing course—Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water.


  8. Monday, September 12, 2011 4:04 pm

    So I finished re-reading O Pioneers! last night. Went to the library after work this afternoon and came home with Siri Mitchell’s Love’s Pursuit and Tessa Dare’s newest, A Night to Surrender. Planning on doing some reading this week!!!


  9. Monday, September 12, 2011 4:52 pm

    Good question! The biggest “surprise” school reading that comes to mind is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness — I wrote some pretty good papers on that one, choosing the option of revisiting it more than once between high school and college.


  10. Monday, September 12, 2011 5:13 pm

    Discovered The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird through assigned reading. I love them both and have read them repeatedly.

    Two others I liked but haven’t gone back to are Lord of the Flies and The Turn of the Screw. The last one was my first introduction to the character affecting how the story was portrayed to the reader; was she telling the truth or not? Now I want to go back and reread it!


  11. Monday, September 12, 2011 6:13 pm

    I never expected to love a bunch of boys stranded on an island hunting pigs and each other, but I fell in love with The Lord of the Flies! I also loved To Kill a Mockingbird–one I’m encouraging my daughter to read. I think she’d like it. The other book I’ve read multiple times thanks to my Lit. teacher junior year. A Separate Peace. I can’t put my finger on why I enjoy that book so much!


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