Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Books Read in High School

If I don't respond, assume I have not figured out how to hook up our Internet connection.


What book assigned to you in high school had the biggest impact on you over time? Which book did you hate the most?

THE GREAT GATSBY. I've read it two more times. Each time I liked it more.

Worst-THE SCARLET LETTER. I went to a Christian school and we were never let in on what Hester Prynne did exactly and were too dumb to figure it out. We spent a lot of time guessing...wrong.

52 comments:

David Cranmer said...

THE GREAT GATSBY is my #1 favorite book. But I never read it in high school. I went to a private school that did its best to take all the joy out of reading. During that time I read a collection of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories (away from school) and that had a huge impact.

Scott Cupp said...

I loved GREAT EXPECTATIONS and Dickens. A lifelong passion.

K. A. Laity said...

I read The Great Gatsby in high school and referred to it as "The So-So Gatsby" largely, I think, because I was so cynical about love and I thought he was a sap. I have since learned to love Fitzgerald's style. The books that really blew my mind in high school were A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker. I was somewhat irked to find the glossary for Burgess' book only after I had finished reading it, but I still loved it. I loved Hoban's novel, too, but I didn't understand it as well as I did when I reread it much later (my strange autodidact path had a lot of weird turns that missed seemingly essential knowledge bases) after I had read a lot more. But again, it was the language, knowing how much could be done, wild and playful. Fitted in neatly with the books that continue to be my lifelong touchstones, Alice and Through the Looking Glass.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - It actually wasn't a book (although books have had a real impact on me, of course). It was Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. So much to think about in that play....

George said...

We were clueless too when we were assigned Boswell's LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON and HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Only years later did I reread and finally "get" these two great classics.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked both Gatsby and the Scarlett Letter pretty well in school. I can't remember any book given to me in school that had anywhere close to the impact of those I read on my own. As for the worst, oh man, Silas Marner had to rank wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy down there.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, how can I forget Silas Marner. I may have to change my vote. A joyless book. Kate-was Clockwork Orange assigned? We also read a lot of Hardy. I think they liked the punishing nature of Hardy at my school. Nick Adams were the first short stories I read, I think. Of course we read A Tale of Two Cities rather than Great Expectations. Another lesser work IMHO.
And we also read Boswell-got nothing from it. We did read A DOLL's HOUSE but I don't think I got it then--not until I saw it acted later.u

Heath said...

My favorite "they made me read it" book is probably Lord of the Flies. I still like that a lot.
Worst: The Red Badge of Courage. Ugh. Boring.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Huckleberry Finn was my favorite assigned reading in school. Silas Marner was my least. It is probably responsible for turning off more potential readers than any one book. I also had problems with Moby Dick-a book I now love but it was way to difficult for a 15 year old.

Jen Green said...

I really liked Cue for Treason, and the Shakespeare plays... I did not like Emma so much. Thanks for the nostalgia moment, and for a blog on reading and re-reading, even if you think you won't enjoy it!

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Best= Gatsby, hands down. Fitzgerald the writer, and the person is still tops with me.

Worst= "The Grapes of Wrath". Could never get into Steinbeck or Faulkner for that matter.

K. A. Laity said...

You know, I can't recall if Clockwork Orange was assigned. It might have been a "choose one of these" -- I know I wrote my first research paper on prisons because of it. Hmmm. Riddley Walker was definitely not assigned. I realised early on that my school system was dedicated to making better autoworkers for tomorrow (where it turns out, they were not needed after all), so I knew I was on my own as far as trying to know everything which was my naïve ambition.

Margot reminds me of the impact of plays: it was not so much reading Lear as seeing James Earl Jones play the role that made me understand for the first time why Shakespeare was held in such esteem.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Moby Dick in hs! I am not sure I am ready for it now.
Red Badge-I read in college--but still hated it.
Cue for Treason-new to me. I loved Emma

K. A. Laity said...

Oh but that reminds me (gosh, how the memories stir when I should be doing other things), reading Catch-22 in junior high and the profound impact of that and all the Vonnegut, too. In fact I was surreptitiously reading 22 in math class and cried out at the end, which disturbed class a bit. I think I may not have read Breakfast of Champions until high school, but I read a lot of Vonnegut before that (fittingly). I think I will never get over the deflation of the ending of Sirens of Titan. Or the horror of Slaughterhouse 5.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, the best books I read were of my own choosing for sure.

K. A. Laity said...

Moby Dick: a novel made for hypertext.

Charlieopera said...

The Stranger, Camus (loved it).

Anything Shakespeare (hated it all--what did I know?)

pattinase (abbott) said...

We read so much Shakespeare I think it really ruined him for me for years. We should have gone to the plays rather than read them.

Anonymous said...

I was about to mention Winesburg Ohio when I remembered that I had to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. We also had to buy the book -- probably so the school wouldn't have to hold onto a stack of books with profanity on every page. Denisovich was the beginning of a lifelong love of Russian lit (the only thing I read regularly except hordboiled fiction).

I don't remember a bad book I had to read in high school but I think that Our Town is totally lost on a young reader. It's got lots of kid parts to read but I was over 30 before I "got it."

I never read Melville until my 20s and I never read Hemingway or Fitzgerald until my 30s (pendulum swing I guess)

Dan Luft

eviljwinter said...

When we were assigned Scarlet Letter, I bought the Cliff's Notes as the prose was so thick you needed a jackhammer to get through it.

Huckleberry Finn was, despite a the culture shock, blessed relief. One thing I didn't get then that I noticed when I read it last year was that Huck's Pa was too racist for the pre-Civil War South. Now that takes talent to write.

To wash away the bitter taste of A Scarlet Letter, I read Fleming's From Russia With Love and Forsythe's Dogs of War.

Jerry House said...

Most everything assigned in high school was ruined by high school. The low point was Mill on the Floss. Unlike most students, I didn't despise Silas Marner and actually liked House of Seven Gables.

I much preferred the books I took to study hall -- better stories and cheesier covers!

Todd Mason said...

Very little I was assigned had nearly as much effect as what I sought out on my own, as with others here...I preferred Hawthorne's short fiction, which I had been reading for years by the time my American Lit class got to THE SCARLET LETTER (but that class was taught by the kind of hateful anti-teacher who could write on my first paper for class, "This is beautifully written, but not a thesis paper. F."). I'm at a loss to cite anything assigned that I actually hated...reading aloud ANTIGONE and ALL MY SONS in hs English classes was a diverting way to waste time, less so in the first case since we didn't do the whole play and it was a class in Theater.

sandra seamans said...

I must be the only person who enjoyed Silas Marner. Here was a man who was hiding from the world so he couldn't get hurt, something I could understand as a teenager. We also had to read Ethan Frome which I enjoyed, but it had a greater impact when I read it after being married for about ten years. And the lovely Miss Clark assigned us Treasure Island and I fell in love with adventure.

Randy Johnson said...

It depends on how you define impact. My senior year, the teacher had a spinner rack of paperbacks from which everyone had to pick one, read, and do a report. The one I selected was IN COLD BLOOD by Capote.

I got a double off it as my Sociology teacher spotted it and said if I made a talk to the class about it, I would get extra credit.

I don't remember any book that affected good or bad from school. As Charles said, to many from later years had a more lasting affect.

Richard R. said...

The answer to this one really depends on when the person was in high school as much as it's curriculum. I liked OUR TOWN, TALE OF TWO CITIES, ANCIENT MARINER and have re-read them all more than once. I also liked Steinbeck's "The Pearl" and CANNERY ROW. I liked BABBIT, ARROWSMITH and MAIN STREET too.

I was - still am - only somewhat impressed with Fitzgerald. I know I'm leaving a lot of stuff out, and sometimes get high school and college reads mixed up. No doubt in my mind, the worse were MOBY DICK and BEOWULF.

I like Hemmingway a lot, but don't think I read anything but OLD MAN in high school or college as assigned reading.

Mike Wilkerson said...

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburn Clark. I loved it back in the Palco High days and have watched the movie once or thirty times since.

Not too long ago I re-visited the book again- just a fantastic piece of writing. My English teacher was a butthole, but I thank him for introducing Ox-Bow to me.

Yvette said...

I love THE GREAT GATSBY and reread it every few years. I had the best English teacher in High School, Miss Eisenberg. Thanks to her I was introduced to GATSBY and Thomas Wolfe's LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL and ETHAN FROME. Books that remain favorites to this day.

The worst: TALE OF TWO CITIES by Dickens.

K. A. Laity said...

Beowulf rocks -- but I'm kind of glad I didn't read it until I had read a lot of other things *and* had an instructor who knew about and loved the poem -- both unlikely in most high schools. I always have an uphill battle re-introducing Beowulf to my students: they mostly all hated it in high school. I'm pleased to say that many come around to loving it in my class. My favourite evals have comments like "BEOWULF rocks!"

Anonymous said...

Worst - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS and SILAS MARNER (George Eliot). Ugh. Also EUGENIE GRANDET (Balzac) and DEATH IN VENICE (Mann).

Best - GREAT EXPECTATIONS and DAVID COPPERFIELD (Dickens). THE COUNT OF MONTE CHRISTO (Dumas), which I read on my own one summer.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Other favorites: THE SUN ALSO RISES and FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (Hemingway). I've reread the first several times and still like it. Also THE GRAPES OF WRATH, though I've never revisited it.

Also disliked: Faulkner's LIGHT IN AUGUST. Like the Mann, I was definitely not read for Faulkner at 15-16. I may not be ready yet.

Jeff M.

Iren said...

Best: Manchild in the Promised land by Claude Brown Tied with The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Worst: The Bluest Eye

and all of them were for the same class.

pattinase (abbott) said...
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pattinase (abbott) said...
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pattinase (abbott) said...

I just read Ethan Fromme for the first time a few years ago and was knocked out. But in hs I wouldn'at have gotten it. Too subtle. I think that's the trouble with a lot of books chosen. I do remember reading A SEPARATE PEACE and loving that. I was a very impatient reader in high school and alot of books require patience and maturity.

Dana King said...

Favorite: THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I liked it enough to read it again a few years ago and really appreciated it.

Least Favorite; A LIGHT IN AUGUST. To a 16-year-old boy, this is what hell is like.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I've been wracking my brain to think of any book that was assigned reading in my school and I can't recall a one. I read a few from lists of recommendations, but that's it. I did read one on my own that made a huge impression on me: FANNY HILL.

Anonymous said...

Patti, unlike many we never had to read either Ethan Frome (Jackie did read it) or A Separate Peace.

As mentioned before I was in an advanced class as a senior and read not only the Mann but James Joyce.

I was not a happy camper in that class, though it was as much the teacher as what she assigned us to read.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Jackie says the book that made the biggest impression on her in high school was HIROSHIMA.

Jeff M.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

I really enjoyed Portait of the Artist as a Young Man. And, though none of them were assigned, I was inspired to start reading James Baldwin's novels because my 9th-grade English teacher said they were great but too sophisticated for us; I borrowed one the next day from the library (JUST ABOVE MY HEAD--still one of my favorites).

It's not a novel, but my high school ruined Wilder's OUR TOWN for me; I think if I have to hear the word "universality" again, ever, I'll be sick...

Kieran Shea said...

BEST: The Moviegoer (Percy...)

WORST: The Worldly Philosophers (conservative Christian school they were trying to shove free market dogma down our throats)....

BIGGEST IMPACT: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (opened my eyes)

Erik Donald France said...

Given that I've been working in libraries for a while, you may not be surprised that: I liked *every book ever assigned* in school from 7th grade through BA, and then cut corners on the duller tomes in grad. school.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, loved that Percy book but I assume that was a choice of yours and not your teacher.
I think any book assigned to me, including now, I am resistant to.

Naomi Johnson said...

I don't think I came away from school with any favorites that were assigned. Maybe GREAT EXPECTATIONS, but I read that before it was assigned in junior high. The one I hated was Carson McCullers' MEMBER OF THE WEDDING.

Deb said...

Of the books that were required reading, I think my favorites were THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER and AS I LAY DYING. They may not have had lasting "influence" on me, but they led me gently away from gothics, teen romances, and YA.

The book I detested was THE LEATHERSTOCKING TALES by James Fennimore Cooper. Years later I read Mark Twain's hilarious essay, "James Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," and could hardly finish it I was laughing so much.

Naomi Johnson said...

LOL! Twain's essay is great. I can't even watch the film of LAST OF THE MOHICANS without laughing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Got nothing out of Last of the Mohicans, Deb.

Anne R. Allen said...

Worst--I'm so with whoever mentioned The Red Badge of Courage. And Last of the Mohicans is a definite contender.

Best--Too many to name. Loved every Fitzgerald I could get my hands on. Ditto Dickens. Ditto Hardy (I had a dark streak.) And most of all I loved plays. Reading "School for Scandal" was life-changing. After that, I knew I had to be an actor.

Todd Mason said...

You know, I never had to read A SEPARATE PEACE for class, but the other 8th grade English class next to mine did, and they rebelled mightily. I have a copy of the Knowles somewhere in storage, but I can't say I got too much encouragement to pick it up seriously from my peers at that time (I think a babysitter from some years earlier left it around the house)(I think our class might've had A CATCHER IN THE RYE instead, but it's a remarkably hazy memory...and it might well be that was the class where our teacher was out for a month with illness, and we were coasting on make-do projects with substitutes...).

Perhaps the best novel experience out of assigned reading was ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, which I suspect I would've gotten to eventually...oddly enough, no one whose class I took assigned GATSBY till college, iirc, and I'd read it by then.

Todd Mason said...

Howard Fast's APRIL MORNING was actually an assignment for 7th Grade history/social studies, and a surprisingly agreeable one (I, too, never enjoy assigned reading, even when I enjoy the work in question).

Ron Scheer said...

Never read a damn thing for high school worth the paper it was printed on. It is a mystery to me that I ever learned to love books.

R L Kelstrom said...

Thought provoking question and comments. I lucked out and had some good English teachers. I was introduced to Shakespeare in Jr High by a teacher who was also a professional actor. It was love at first hearing. The love affair continued in HS with a field trip to King Lear and an in class viewing of the sexy new Romeo and Juliet (Zeffirelli) The teacher was lucky to keep his job after that one. But I went on to read all of Shakespeare's works that year and see as many as I could- still do at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Melville had to be the worst. We read both Moby Dick and Billy Budd. Totally joyless except for all the sexual jokes they inspired.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A teacher can mean everything. Wish I had had a good one in high school. Mine conveyed little joy and if I didn't already love to read, I doubt I ever would have.