Thursday, August 9, 2007

Required Reading

There’s a possibility I have scarlet fever. But I am too lazy, too cheap, and too stupid to go to the doctor to find out. When my brother—the aforementioned non-reader—heard of my illness, he asked if I was now wearing a red “A” on my chest.

I couldn’t believe he actually paid attention in school.

I discovered teaching college English that very few students actually read the required texts. And those who do hate the books because they are forced to read them.

I can relate with that feeling. I do not like being told what to do. And there were some books I read in high school that I did not love (though my feelings could change if I read them as an adult): Gulliver’s Travels, The Good Earth, and The Grapes of Wrath.

There were some books, though, that I couldn’t help enjoying:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird: I am reluctant to include this book because it is so obvious and very little needs to be said about this Harper Lee classic. Of all books, though, it breaks my heart to know students skip reading it.
  • Fahrenheit 451: I did not want to like a science fiction book, but this Ray Bradbury novel caught me. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for books about books (think The Eyre Affair). To be perfectly honest, I only have vague memories of this book—something about beetles keeps popping into my head—but at least I’ll never forget at what temperature paper burns.
  • Wuthering Heights: Okay, this is a bit of a lie. The first time I read this Emily Brontë novel, I did not love it. I was a Jane Eyre fan and found Wuthering Heights too gloomy, too moody, and too depressing. However, this is one of those books that improves with multiple readings (or maybe it is just my increased maturity). Wuthering Heights was required reading for at least three of my college English courses, and each time I read it, the more I like it.
  • The Unvanquished: I’ve never met anyone who had to read this book in high school English. Come to think about it, I’ve never met anyone who has ever read this book. The Unvanquished was my introduction to Faulkner. And I loved it. The Civil War novel is dense and confusing, but I had a deep sense of satisfaction when I finished it. I also have good memories of reading it and making my friend ask our teacher: “Do you think Colonel Sartoris and Drusilla consummated their relationship?” She had no idea what she was asking, I was pretty pleased with myself for making her, and our teacher answered the question honestly.

Looking at this list, I realize I read from a very old-school canon. High school requirements are now more contemporary and "hip." But maybe it doesn't make a difference whether you read crib notes of a classic or best seller.


notaconnoisseur said...

Are there Cliff notes for some of the more recent required books?

Wanna-Be Lit said...

I enjoyed all of the books you mentioned. And I really should reread some of them, especially "The Unvanquished," to see if I understand more of it now.