Tuesday, July 17

What did you read in high school?

So it's been just over eight years since I got out of high school. Funny, it actually seems a lot longer. For some reason today I got to thinking about what books I was assigned in high school. Perhaps it was an offshoot of the "good books" idea that has been floating around in my head. Anyway, here is everything that I remember reading for school:

Grade 9
Animal Farm
Fahrenheit 451
Of Mice and Men
Lord of the Flies
Black Like Me
A Raisin in the Sun

Grade 10
Seize the Day
Catcher in the Rye
A Separate Peace
Our Town
A Streetcar Named Desire

Grade 11
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Great Gatsby
Slaughterhouse Five
On the Road
Big scary textbook with stuff like Self-Reliance, Hawthorne short stories and orations from early America

Grade 12
Canterbury Tales
The Handmaid’s Tale
The House of the Spirits
Franny and Zooey*

How did I graduate high school having been assigned just two novels (Night and The House of the Spirits) written by authors born outside of North America or the United Kingdom? Is that normal? I know in the honors track the students read Flaubert and Tolstoy over the summer before their sophomore year but we intensive students seem to have been cheated. Hell, we were all cheated without at least a little Far East and a little Africa being introduced to our impressionable young minds.

The grade 9 reading list resembles a syllabus you would likely see again and again if you were to Google “high school freshman English,” but I remember those books all being pretty rewarding, so no complaints on the vanilla course design. I was not a good student my freshman year. I remember being worried about whether I would have strong enough grades to be able to play basketball. A low point came when I failed a quiz on basic plot details of Fahrenheit 451. I had read the chapters the quiz covered and yet I was unable to answer the questions correctly.

Grade 10 is noteworthy only because it introduced me to Bellow and Hesse. Well, I suppose it is also noteworthy for Brando's stellar performance in Streetcar, which we watched upon completing our reading of the play.

In Grade 11, I read what was probably my favorite novel to date, Their Eyes Were Watching God. On the Road was an interesting experience but meh overall, and after having it assigned to me twice more in college it remains meh. (Now Dharma Bums, that's a different story entirely.) I remember being transfixed by the characters in The Great Gatsby but not connecting with the novel as a whole so much. I really need to read that one again. Slaughterhouse Five was magical. I really enjoyed my time in that class, got a A+ for my efforts too. Before that year I was an average student who wasn't even giving a great deal of thought to the idea of college, but over the course of that year something happened and I really got rolling academically. Some of those books you see are largely responsible.

Grade 12 was a good time. The Handmaid's Tale blew my mind and I recall loathing The Canterbury Tales a great deal less than most of my classmates. I remember my nightly one page essays that I had to write on Hamlet being the most fun I'd ever had on homework assignments. I was really into that shit.

So what did you read? What did you love? What did you hate? What do you wish you read? What are some books you read later in life that you think more high school kids should be reading? Why? Do you approve of the new template?

*Selected myself for book review assignments.


Bryan said...

Honestly I can tell you two books I read in high school for sure: Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. We read a bunch of Shakespeare, for sure, and plenty of others, but those are the ones that stuck with me. I don't know how you remember all that shit, honestly.

And, of course, we went to the same high school.

Ben said...

I don't know, man. Maybe I'm strange. I think the fact that I remember what you read in high school just as well as you do ("I know in the honors track the students read Flaubert and Tolstoy over the summer...") is probably a sign that I am strange.

Bryan said...

Actually, we only read Anna Karenina over the summer - that is 100% the reason I remembered it, because I read it at my leisure (and loved it). And I think I particularly enjoyed Madame Bovary because it had many of the same themes as A.K., and we read it right when we got back.

I remember reading Black Boy now too, and loving it.

Bryan said...

And it was before our junior year, for Shark's class... Morrelli taught Sophomore and Senior English.

Ben said...

Black Boy? Oh, you mean...

An all-time low if you ask me.

Bryan said...