It’s Tuesday and I’m about to get my list on. The lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish have come up with a wonderful topic this week. We’re discussing the top ten books we were forced to read. My take on this? I’m dishing up some books I read in school that I actually LIKED. I KNOW! Crazy right? Are you ready to have your minds blown?
In High School…
1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain- The curriculum at my high school focused our Junior year on American literature. After starting off the year slowly and writing a lot of papers on symbolism of books I didn’t enjoy (cough cough, Moby Dick…The Scarlet Letter… cough) we were assigned good old Huck Finn. Up to this point I hadn’t really expected to enjoy any of my assigned reading. Mark Twain seemed to be the cure for that attitude. Weirdly, of all the amazing stuff that goes on in this book, the vignette that had me most enthralled was when Huck and Jim had to deal with the feuding families, Hatfield and McCoy style. (Apparently I’m a sucker for a blood feud, because freshman year I totally loved Romeo and Juliet. Of course, the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes movie had come out the year before, so I’ve never trusted that my adoration of the book wasn’t based in part on the movie. Seriously though. That movie’s Mercutio? I love that guy.)
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- We were assigned to read Pride and Prejudice in the spring of my senior year, senior year having been devoted to British literature. Apparently we ignored all other English speaking countries’ literary canons (sorry Canada, Australia, etc… I found you eventually, don’t you worry!) I was not expecting to enjoy this book either, because I was 17 and content to dislike everything in the whole wide world. After struggling a bit to acclimate to the language I realized Pride and Prejudice was every bit as soapy and scandalous as the dramas I liked watching on TV. That Lydia. Whew. If that girl lived now, she’d so be on reality TV.
3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck– We read this one junior year, right after we finished the dreaded Moby Dick. The whole class liked it much better, likely due in large part to the relative modernity of the piece. Unfortunately someone vocalized that it was better because it was shorter, causing my English teacher to leave Great Illustrated Classics versions of Moby Dick on our desks the next day. It was kind of a dick move, but he was retiring that year and was probably sick of his students hating on Moby Dick. It was probably his favorite book or something. I don’t know. Of Mice and Men was awesome on its own merits though. Who didn’t cry when George told Lennie to think about the bunnies?!
4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde- Back to Brit Lit for a moment. The spring of my senior year was such a treat. I am pretty sure my teacher that year intentionally saved the fun stuff for last because she knew we’d be taking the AP exam and wanted to be nice. We actually read this play aloud as a class. I’d never laughed so hard in school. I tried to avoid reading any lines (which is pretty weird of me, considering I was totally the lead in the Fall Play that year… Being a crappy actress apparently doesn’t mean much in a high school environment?) The premise is just SO ridiculous and cheeky and utterly charming that one can’t help but fall for it. Oh that Bunbury…
5. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald– A junior year classic. I can’t describe to you how thrilling it was to read book after assigned book that wasn’t a complete chore! Gatsby was, of course, enthralling. Daisy and her moneyed voice, Gatsby and his hopeless obsession, the booze, the drama, the TWENTIES! What more could a high school kid want to read about?!
A little preface here. When I got to college I majored in Communications. I KNOW. But I was 18 and didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don’t. Anywho, I decided to fill up my electives with classes that I knew would assign novels as “homework.” It was a crafty way of boosting my GPA and getting to do stuff I liked to do anyway. Plus it got me a double minor. Women’s Studies and History. Boom.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I don’t know if it’s possible to rave ENOUGH about The Handmaid’s Tale, but dang it if I won’t try. I’ve talked about it on this blog endlessly, but if you haven’t read it yet, for reals. Why the heck not?! This was assigned in the first Women in Literature class I took and I fell HARD for the Atwood.
7. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich– We read this in one of my Women’s Studies classes. I don’t read much in the way of non fiction, but this book was so amazing. It focused on traditional women’s jobs- particularly those on the low end of the pay scale- to see just how hard it would be to get by in that situation. Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover and got jobs at Walmart, waitressing, and working with a maid service. Her descriptions of the working conditions and the pay are enough to get any feminist’s hackles up. A fantastic read, I highly recommend it!
8. Sula by Toni Morrison– This was the first Morrison I ever read. Talk about intense! The depth of the friendship between the female characters… The betrayals… Sula and her sultry ways shattering gender norms. It’s not a light read (though for Morrison, it’s not bad) but it’s a great introduction to an amazing writer.
9. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan– Thanks to another Women in Literature class, I got hooked on books about China. This addiction began with The Kitchen God’s Wife. Oh Amy Tan! This woman can make foods I’d never ever try sound delectable. The heartwrenching way she describes the plight of Chinese women! Oh yeah. And that Chinese-Japanese war? Me and my Western focused education totally didn’t even know that happened.
10. Summer by Edith Wharton– Why yes, this was more assigned reading for a Women in Literature class. Don’t judge. I was gaming the system and my profs had impeccable taste! Summer was my first taste of a classic novel with a really juicy scandal (that wasn’t all destroyed by my having to write essays on the symbolism of red rose bushes… Still looking at you, Scarlet Letter…) It made me realize just how “royally” (pun completely intended) screwed an unmarried pregnant women was not too long ago… First I got all mad at that jerk Harney. Then I got all creeped out by Mr. Royall… Then I realized that Mr. Royall was trying to save Charity and wasn’t just going to jump her bones… And then all was well… Ish. I mean, as well as it could be under the circumstances.
What about you, Bookworms? What are your favorite books that were assigned reading? What surprised you with its awesomeness? Tell me about it!