Required Reading That Wasn't a Chore: Top Ten Tuesday Edition

October 15, 2013 Classics, Top Ten Tuesday 72

Hey Bookworms!

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 DickThe  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.

I hadn't even seen this face yet! (Image Source)

I hadn’t even seen this face yet! (Image Source)

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?!

I still haven't seen this movie, but I'll take a glass of champagne. Thanks, Leo. (Image Source)

I still haven’t seen this movie, but I’ll take a glass of champagne. Thanks, Leo. (Image Source)

In College…

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!

nickel and dimed

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!

72 Responses to “Required Reading That Wasn't a Chore: Top Ten Tuesday Edition”

  1. The Underground Writer

    The Good Earth. When my classmates were rolling their eyes and skimming through the pages, I couldn’t put it down and was bawling my eyes out. O-Lan, when she discovers Wang Lung gave away her pearl necklace to the concubine, “But I gave you sons!”


    • Rena Boxwell

      We ust be of the same generation. I began my love of all things Pearl Buck with The Good Earth and still go back an re-read. Some of the books listed above are of later years than I was in school, but I don’t know how the author missed Tobacco Road or Cannery Row. Both of those were on our reading list as early as our sophmore year. We did not have to read The Scarlet Letter, but Elmer Gantry was on the list. A bit surprising because I went to a Catholic school and the movie was on the “not for adolescents list”.

    • Words for Worms

      They didn’t like The Good Earth?!?! I loved it! I didn’t read it in school, of course, I just read it last year, but still. I really hated that second wife. Grrrrrr….

  2. didibooksenglish

    I have to say I loved Great Expectations. Everybody was hating the fact that it was so long but I enjoyed those adventures Pip went on and was routing for him the entire time. I also loved that the chapters were short and easy to get through.

  3. Ashley F

    So funny how I totally didn’t read most of these books in school
    Some faves.

    Lord of the Flies – WIlliam Golding
    The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Attwood (She’s from Toronto!)
    Lives of the Saints – Nino Ricci
    The Once and Future King – T.H. White
    Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller
    Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
    The Man of La Mancha – Dale Wasserman

    • Words for Worms

      I didn’t read Lord of the Flies in high school, I just read it to catch up because I felt like there were too many holes in my education. I don’t think that’s normal.

  4. Liesel Hill

    I totally forgot about Gatsby! I loved that one too, though it was a forced read. Huck Finn didn’t make my list. I was kind of luke warm about that one. Didn’t hate it, by any means, but didn’t love it either. Of Mice and Men made my list, but I felt the opposite. As I explain in my post, I’m probably the only English major on earth that hates Steinbeck, though a big part of that was being forced to read so much of his work in high school. I’ll have to check out some of these others, though. They look interesting. 😀

    My TTT

  5. ChrissiReads

    I really need to read Gatsby! I didn’t have required reading at my school. I sort of wish I did! I’m very behind now on the ‘classics’. Great list!

    • Words for Worms

      No required reading? I suppose that could be considered lucky or unfortunate, depending on your point of view. It certainly got me exposed to a lot of classics, even if I didn’t like them all. I complain about hating Moby Dick all the time. If I hadn’t been forced to read it, I’d be low on joke material.

  6. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    Summer is one of those books I’d never heard of until recently (gasp!) and now I’m totally jonesing to read it. Good stuff for you! I taught World Lit during the one year I taught high school English, and we had a blast reading outside the box. Wish you could’ve. We were all anglo-centric in my high school when I was a student.

  7. Isi

    I have read only Pride and prejuice, recently, but I don’t think I would have like it at school…
    Of course, here I was forced to read Spanish classics and I didn’t find a book to love between them at that time, to be honest. The Quixote was a special torture, by the way 😉

  8. Ashley Z

    I don’t remember what year it was but I think we were given a list of books to choose from and I picked Catcher in the Rye. It instantly became my favorite book and it still is to this day. I also remember reading Crime and Punishment. Everyone hated it! I liked it! And of course who wouldn’t love the Great Gatsby, Huck Finn, Romeo and Juliet! I also remember reading the Crucible and the Scarlet Letter and really loving them both!

  9. Leah

    I am super jealous of some of the books you got to read in high school! I couldn’t come up with many that I actually liked, so I dipped into middle school reading for my list 😛

    I majored in Communications too! And my biggest college regret is not taking more English classes. From the very start of college, I planned on taking them, but when registration rolled around every semester, either the classes I wanted to take were full, or they conflicted with classes I needed to take, or I just didn’t have room in my schedule. I didn’t get around to taking an English elective until my very last semester, and it was the BEST CLASS EVER. So now I’m hoping I can audit some classes as an alum 😛

  10. Megan M.

    Flowers for Algernon
    Of Mice and Men
    As I Lay Dying
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    The Picture of Dorian Gray
    The Great Gatsby

    Those were all assigned reading that I liked/loved. I remember not hating Heart of Darkness but I wouldn’t voluntarily read it again. When we read The Scarlet Letter our teacher let us skip what she called “the really boring parts” and would summarize what happened so we weren’t lost. Hahaha! She was also the one who would purposely ask a question that would tell her whether we really read or just watched the movie version.

  11. Laura Moore Minnich

    I read 1984 and Animal Farm my senior year in high school and loved both! In college, one of my favorite classes was Women’s Lit. My favorite books from that class were Confessions of a Pagan Nun and Solar Storms. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorites; I think I read it in 9th grade.

  12. Elizabeth

    We definitely have similar taste in classics! (The Scarlet Letter bleeegghhhhhhhh). Pretty much all of these books I’ve read are in my all time favourites (Pride & Prejudice!! The Handmaid’s Tale!!!)

  13. caitlinstern

    I could see Lydia on Sixteen and Pregnant–or maybe COPS.

    Love Pride & Prejudice, and the Importance of being Earnest. We read and watched a movie of the latter. Cucumber sandwiches… 🙂

  14. Samantha

    I didn’t have a lot of required reading books, although I did love Les Miserables, and Northanger Abbey as required books in college.

    And HEY. Don’t hate on communication majors! 😛 There were so many people I heard about who switched to communication because it was “easy”. Imagine their surprise when they get to their first class and whine about how hard it is. Especially when they get to theory…whew! 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      LOL, oh Com Majors. I feel like I can tease us because I am one of us. It really isn’t as big a joke as the reputation would suggest. Com theory sucked my big toe. It was one of the handful of B’s I got in college.

  15. Karen Marino

    I love your list. I was a total book geek in high school and college so there were a few books that were chores but mainly I loved all my books. I think my biggest chore book was by Satre

  16. Book Connection

    I was a total book geek so I would have better luck listing the top 10 books that were chores. I went out of my way to take literature classes. My top chore book was probably Camus’ The Stranger. I hated existentialism and still have difficulties with it. Of course I also admit to being so far out of school I may have forgotten some of the books that were chore.s

  17. Kayla Sanchez

    I loved Huck Finn and P&P as well, even though it took me forever to finally sit down and read it. I got to take a course in college based on only Jane Austen’s books, and it was four weeks of 100% Mr. Darcy!

    • Words for Worms

      Ooooh did you read ALL of her novels in the class? I suppose you probably did as there are only 6. I have two more to read- Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. Sigh. Jane is the most wonderful!

    • Words for Worms

      High schools should lead with Gatsby and Huck Finn. Start the kids off with them freshman year, save the Dickens for after they’ve warmed up to books 🙂

  18. Books, Tea & Me

    HEY NOW. I’m majoring in Communications this year! :O
    Hurt aside, I do love your list. I haven’t read most of the books you’ve mentioned, but I did enjoy Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby.

    • Words for Worms

      Awww punkin, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. It was just a little self deprication. I’m sure you’re a stellar Com student who will take the world by storm!

  19. Jennine G.

    I honestly don’t remember much I read in high school…wasn’t ready for the classics yet I guess (except Huck Finn, remember and like that one). Now Classics are some of my favorites. Gatsby! Yes! Just finished that with my 11th graders. Of Mice and Men is next…another good one.

    • Jennine G.

      Now everything I read on college and grad school is a different story…remember all of that! I was in my groove by then. It’s a big difference sitting with a group of people who don’t enjoy reading and those who do…college sat with me much better for this purpose.

  20. Don Royster

    The Call of the Wild and The Old Man and the Sea still are favorites. But wasn’t exactly in love with Silas Mariner. Did like The Scarlet Letter but hated Hawthorne’s opening essay.

    • Words for Worms

      I rather enjoyed Silas Marner, but I read it as an adult not as a student. I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea in high school, but it wasn’t among my favorites.

  21. Sarah Says Read

    You’ve had such good luck with being forced-fed books! And oh man, I LOVED Amy Tan when I first discovered The Joy Luck Club. I immediately read everything else she had written, prompting her Chinese phrases to slip into my everyday speech for a while there… What, that happens! (I get all Scottish when I read a lot of Outlander too…)

    • Words for Worms

      I do the same thing! When I’m in the throes of colloquial speech I find myself thinking in them. I believe I uttered the phrase “dinna fash yerself” by accident during my last Outlander escapade when trying to tell someone that something wasn’t a big deal…

  22. Nicole Bonia

    I love The Great Gatsby now, but I was so “meh” on it in high school that it was ridiculous. Heh. You had yet to discover Firth as Darcy? Lucky. That might have been what turned me on to P&P.

  23. Ashley

    I tore through 1984 when it was assigned in high school (it was either Sophomore or junior year) and it is still one of my favorite books. I also remember reading The Red Tent for a Women’s Studies class in college and liking it a lot. Oh and Wuthering Heights–was assigned to read it in high school and college and loved it both times.

    • Words for Worms

      The Red Tent is one of my favorite books! (I feel like I say that about a lot of books, but I really mean it!) Wuthering Heights and I have a difficult relationship. It’s cordial and we respect each other, but we wouldn’t hang out and chat over a glass of wine. It would be too busy plotting its revenge on the descendants of its enemies…

  24. PinotNinja

    Of Mice and Men completely rocked my world in high school and turned me into a life long Steinbeck fan. His characters are just so rich, yet so easily accessible. I also really liked Animal Farm in high school — it was freshman year and I felt so worldly and adult to be talking about things like satire and the Russian Revolution. And, secretly, I loved imagining all of the characters as cute little animals because I was still 14 years old. In college, I found Alice Munro’s short stories and they became my everything.

    PS — Communications majors (me too!) unite!

    • Words for Worms

      I still haven’t read Animal Farm. I should do something about that. I’ve not read any Alice Munro either (shame shame shame.) The Com majors are uniting! Huzzah!

  25. Wayne

    If I was going to pick an Oscar Wilde book, the one I enjoyed was *The Picture Of Dorian Gray* It’s kind of dark and the movie of it sucks big time. Still the book has an interesting conceit.

  26. A.M.B.

    Re Pride and Prejudice: “If that girl lived now, she’d so be on reality TV.” That feeling seems to be the basis for Susan Fales Hills’ retelling of it (Imperfect Bliss). It features a reality TV show. It’s a good idea, but I ended up really disliking what Fales Hill did with it.

  27. Bonnie @ For the Love of Words

    I love Atwood and therefore have no freaking clue why I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale yet. I actually just recently bought the audio version with Claire Danes narrating so I’m hoping that pans out. 😀 Great picks!

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