Classic and Contemporary: School Stuff (Top Ten Tuesday)

September 3, 2013 Classics, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction 34

Hola, Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday, but since yesterday was a holiday (at least in the US) it’s basically a Monday. To combat the blues, we’re gonna get a little listy. The ladies of The Broke and the Bookish have come up with a fantastic topic for today. We could take this two ways: pair contemporary books with classics OR list out 10 books that we think should be required reading in school. I’m going to take it half and half. Ready?


Classic and Contemporary: The Perfect Pairings

1. The Odyssey by Homer with The Penelopiad by Margaret AtwoodThe Odyssey by Homer (or at the very least, excerpts of it) is required reading for tons of high school students. Everybody heard about Odysseus and his epic journey, but what about poor Penelope who is stuck on the homefront fighting off suitors? Margaret Atwood tackled the story from her perspective, and it’s very cool to see the retelling of a classic in such a way.

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath with Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a largely autobiographical novel about a young woman who despite her youth, talent, and beauty is suffering from a mental breakdown. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen is a memoir of a woman who spent time in a mental institution following her own suicide attempt and crippling depression. Two tales of mental illness with a very personal bent, one classic, one more contemporary. Both powerful.

bell jar

3. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson with World War Z by Max Brooks. You like monsters and end of the world scenarios? Try either of these! I am Legend deals with a vampire takeover, and World War Z is about the zombie apocalypse. Both are awesome and will probably give you nightmares (if you’re like me.)

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. This pairing is a lot of fun. Bridget Jones is a not so subtle homage to Jane Austen’s classic. It’s full of witty little asides and silly tributes. It’s also about finding love with people who initially annoy the crap out of you. Good times all around.

5. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The non-fiction classic account of a Jewish girl and her family living in hiding from the Nazis during World War II pairs well with Markus Zusak’s fictionalized version of life for dissenting German citizens under the Nazi regime. Both heart wrenching and fantastic.


Why Didnt’t They Assign Me This High School?

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is one of my all time favorite dystopias, and so enthralling I couldn’t put it down. It’s full of important lessons and stuff, I don’t see why spending a thousand pages on Moby Dick was so critical…

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. They may teach this in school, but they didn’t teach it in my school. Actually, I’m lying a little bit. The scene with the Christmas tree was in several of my English textbooks, but never the whole thing. And the whole thing rules!

3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. This book was awesome, for starters. I think it would be good for kids to read for a couple of reasons. First, all the cranky for no good reason kids (like myself) might realize that their lives totally DON’T suck. Second, if the abuse that is presented in this book is discussed in the classroom, perhaps kids who are suffering would be encouraged to ask for help. At least, I’d hope for that.

glass castle

4. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. This is a great book, and it discusses the difficulties of people of Asian decent living in the US during World War II. It focused on the Japanese internment camps, but ALL people of Asian decent suffered as a result. The Japanese internment camps have been swept under the rug, and it’s an important lesson for kids to learn that their government sometimes does stupid things. Maybe they’ll pay more attention to what goes on around them?

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I’m of the opinion that if a kid ends up actually enjoying assigned reading, they might decide to read more in their spare time. What better way to get kids to dig a book than dishing up some teen angst? Teen angst that, while at this point in time is still out of touch, is more accessible than The Catcher in the Rye. Even better, read them both!

34 Responses to “Classic and Contemporary: School Stuff (Top Ten Tuesday)”

  1. Amy

    I had to read The Glass Castle for university and loved it, it’s such an inspiring book! I agree that it’d be good to read at school

  2. Christy

    Yes! to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Glass Castle. I love those books! Also, I’ve never seen that particular cover to The Book Thief – I really like it.

  3. Jennine G.

    Oh! I’ve read all of the bottom five you put up! Three of them just this year. I really liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! Perks was okay – I actually liked it better as a movie. I never say that, but the purpose seem to translate better for me. And just read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet two days ago! Enjoyed it – post to come this week. Great pics all around!

  4. Pauline

    Oh yes, totally agree with the pairing of The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted. And The Handmaid’s Tale should definitely be more widely read in the schools! Great list!

  5. Care

    I have yet to read the Hotel on the Corner +, but like your list very much. And the pairings are great, too – even if I’ve only read both of one of your pairings: P&P and BJones. No, wait. I have read Diary of Anne Frank but should read it again. I adore The Book Thief.

  6. kristinshafel

    Great pairings in that first half! I had a lot of trouble with remembering books I was assigned in school. And I definitely want to read #2 and #3 on your second half list.

  7. Rory

    I wish a school would teach either I am Legend or World War Z – it’d be amazing if they’d teach both. I’m not holding my breath. I am curious in twenty years what will books will be required. Surely Atwood will be considered a classic, necessary writer by then…

    The Book Thief is staring at me from my bookshelf, chastising me for not having read it yet.

  8. PinotNinja

    I love that this got me thinking back to all of the books I read in high school. To your list, I would add pairing Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea with Life of Pi. And, when it comes to the short story unit pairing anything with Alice Munro’s Olive Kitteridge.

    • Words for Worms

      I haven’t read Life of Pi! And, honestly, the thing I remember most about The Old Man and the Sea was the guy peeing outside. For some reason it struck me as odd that a school book would talk about bodily functions?

  9. Elizabeth

    Yes yes yes!! I’m loving how much Margaret Atwood I’m seeing on all these lists! And you get a golden star because you’ve got two haha

  10. Leah

    Yay, great lists! I’ve been wanting to read Girl Interrupted pretty much since I fell in love with The Bell Jar, and The Penelopeiad sounds amazing! (I might be too lazy to actually pair it with The Odyssey, though.)

    I also thought about putting A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my list, but who knew it could be so hard to pick just 10?

    • Words for Worms

      I had a hard time picking stuff that I didn’t think would already have been widely read, you know? I was all “well, just because I didn’t read Jane Eyre doesn’t mean nobody else was assigned it…” But whatever. It’s all good. Lists of good books are my favorite!

  11. TrishaDM

    Great list!
    I totally agree with “The Glass Castle,” even though it didn’t make my list. I do agree with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
    I also loved your pairing of “Pride and Prejudice” with “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” I laughed a little, but you are right, they are similar and work great together.

    • Words for Worms

      I read Pride and Prejudice shortly before reading Bridget Jones. I was won over when Bridget said something about Mark having the audacity to be named Darcy and act aloof at a party. That happened in like the second scene, so I was a goner early on! 🙂

  12. Bonnie (@missbonnie13)

    Fantastic list! Love the pairing of The Odyssey with The Penelopiad… really need to check that one out by Atwood! It’s funny my kid is a freshmen in high school and he just got assigned The Book Thief. I’ve never read it before myself so I’m reading it with him… I read The Outsiders and Romeo & Juliet when I was a freshmen. This is so much better. lol

    • Words for Worms

      The Penelopiad is a good one! I’m excited your son gets to read The Book Thief! In my freshman English class we did Romeo & Juliet, Great Expectations, and To Kill A Mockingbird (that’s what I remember at least.) To Kill A Mockingbird is recent when compared to Shakespeare and Dickens, but to a 14 year old it’s still ancient. A little contemporary fiction goes a long way into encouraging young readers!

  13. Sarah Says Read

    “The Japanese internment camps have been swept under the rug, and it’s an important lesson for kids to learn that their government sometimes does stupid things. Maybe they’ll pay more attention to what goes on around them?”

    Ooooo yes that. Kids need to learn that. Also The Diary of Anne Frank paired with The Book Thief = genius. Not that I’ve read Anne Frank, but I know the gist of it. Why aren’t more schools making it a point to pair books up like this??? It seems like a great way to get kids more interested in classics and in reading in general.

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