Back to school! Favorite and least favorite assigned books!

It’s the beginning of September and you know what that means… school is back in session! Some people approach the first day of school filled with dread, others are pumped to get their learning on.

No matter what, I hope you all approach the first day of school with some singing and dancing!

To celebrate the new school year, I asked my fellow Pub Crawlers their favorite and least favorite books they were assigned in school.

Marie Lu

Marie SquareA Tale of Two Cities is one of my all-time favorite books, and I first read it after it was assigned in high school English. Thank you, English teachers! (To be fair, I also had to read Heart of Darkness. I appreciated the book’s theme and all, but oh man it was UHZZZZZZZZZZZ.)

Jodi Meadows

Jodi Hi-Res Square In 7th grade, my English teacher read Wait Till Helen Comes (Mary Downing Hahn) to the class. It was probably the first book-for-school that ever truly excited me. (Because the magic and ghosts were real, not explained away somehow.)

Julie Eshbaugh

Julie Eshbaugh pic My favorite book that was assigned in high school English was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The book’s characters came alive for me, made me love them, and then broke my heart. Just thinking about it now makes me want to dig out my old copy and read it again.

Kat Zhang

Kat Square My favorite book assigned for school was The God of Small Things. I read it for my high school senior Lit class, and I loved it. If you haven’t read it, you should definitely give it a try! The voice is just fantastic, and the description so vivid the setting just comes alive in all five senses.

Rachel Seigel

RachelWhen I was in 4th grade, I was assigned a book by Monica Hughes called The Tomorrow City. (It’s out of print now I think) It was a dystopian (though we probably wouldn’t have called it that) novel about a community controlled entirely by a super-computer named C-3, who decides that humans are incapable of making rational decisions. Two friends, David and Caroline (Caro) who is the daughter of the designer look for a way to shut down the computer and escape the city. I remember reading this over and over again under the covers and in the dark after bedtime. I wish it would come back into print because it would be so in-fashion right now.

In university, I discovered a tremendous hatred for 18th century lit (pre Jane Austen) and especially for Pamela by Samuel Richardson. To this day, I still don’t enjoy books written in this time-period or ones that imitate that style of writing. I think that’s why I never managed to finish M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books (even though I respect the quality of the writing)—I just can’t get into that period.

Joanna Volpe

Joanna Volpe I remember being bored to tears with Johnny Tremain in 7th grade. The same thing goes for My Antonia. Bored. To. Tears.

But bored or no, I remember most of both books (because, as a book nerd, I read the books whether I liked them or not…most kids just didn’t bother). And now that I think about it…both of those books were not just about an event, or a particular moment in a character’s life. Both of those books span from young adulthood into adulthood, and deal with major philosophical life conclusions by the main character. And I didn’t give a rat’s ass about major philosophical life conclusions (from an adult’s POV) at that age!

Whereas A Tale of Two Cities had adult themes, but it also had romance, war, intrigue, sacrifice …god I love that book.

Hm. I wonder what this says about me? I think it means that I like to escape into something more thrilling.

BUT…I also love, love The Catcher in the Rye. But that spans a very specific point in Caulfield’s life, and it has a much more immediate feel to it.

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo In the 10th Grade, I read the short story “Fleur” by Louise Erdrich and it changed everything. It’s this ferocious, beautiful, gritty story that slammed me headfirst into magical realism. It was the reason I picked up Love Medicine and continue to read anything Erdrich writes.

Worst? ETHAN (bloody) FROME. What the hell, people? It’s the most unrelentingly morose book of all time. To be fair, I remember it very clearly so I guess that says something. But I also feel like it’s an unfair introduction to a brilliant author’s work. Badly done, syllabus!

S. Jae-Jones (JJ)

JJI read Kindred by Octavia Butler for class when I was in eighth grade. She was a local author, we were a small, select, “advanced” group of 3 English students, and we had special dispensation from our parents to read it (at the behest of my teacher). Butler was the first (at that time) living author I had read—in fact, she was a lot of firsts. First black author, and first science fiction author we read for school. It blew my mind. It stayed with me, lingered in my brain, so that when I saw her name on the spine of another book at Vroman’s, I went to bought it without question. (That book was Parable of the Sower.)

Other books I remember changing…everything, were Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Great Gatsby. I read them both junior year, and they stand out for a few reasons. I read The Great Gatsby in one gulp, instead of piecemeal, doling out chapter by chapter as we were supposed to. It was the first time I was entranced by a book because I wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED. Despite it not being a thriller, despite it not being a real mystery, there was an unbearable sense of foreboding, of inevitability that compelled me to read to the end in one night.

Beloved, on the other hand, was the first book I remember whose prose stunned me. “124 was spiteful.” I remember that first line still.

As for books I disliked, I didn’t really hate any books until college, but you’re not a proper English major until you absolutely loathe at least one thing in the canon. 🙂

Vanessa diGregorio

vanessa-di-gregorioI read a lot of great books in high school, but they didn’t make as big an impact on me as a book I read in first year university: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. It was so lovely, and heartbreaking—and it opened up to me a part of history and a culture that I didn’t really know about. It’s actually THE book that started my love affair with books centering around the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

As for books I disliked… well, there is one in particular from university that I just couldn’t handle: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. If any book came close to killing my love for reading, it was that one.

Susan Dennard

Susan DennardI think my favorite required reading—the one that opened me up to a whole new world of literature—was Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The idea of unreliable narrators combined with the graphic story—graphic both in content and also in how all 5 senses are really explored in each scene—just blew away my impressionable high school mind.

Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman I adored pretty much every classic I read in tenth grade English. I think this had a lot to do with my teacher—he was phenomenally animated and approachable and brought everything to life in the classroom. He had us read A Separate Peace (loved the setting, the characters, the themes, everything), Lord of the Flies (truly unputdownable), and The Catcher in the Rye (couldn’t get enough of Holden and his phoniness), among others. These three still stand out in my mind though. Especially A Separate Peace.

Mandy Hubbard

Mandy HubbardThe only books I have ever reread are four from junior high: Shiloh, Z for Zachariah, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Hatchet. All of them are still amazing. 🙂

Amie Kaufman

amiebiopic One of my all time favourites is Pride & Prejudice, which I was first assigned to read in year eight. I also found The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig really moving—I read it in year seven, and it was one of my first encounters with the Jewish half of my family’s history.

Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan SquareI was assigned The Egypt Game in third grade and it blew my mind. It’s the first book I really remember reading for homework and just LOVING it. In college, I took a class called “Balzac, Dickens, and Poe” and I was sure that Balzac was going to bore me to tears. But then I read Pere Goriot and fell in love. Balzac is just amazing. That said, Bleak House by Dickens was very… bleak.

What were some of your favorite books you were assigned in school? What books do you wish you could remove from a syllabus?

                                      

14 Responses to Back to school! Favorite and least favorite assigned books!

  1. Avery Moore Sep 4 2012 at 7:38 am #

    I live in Belgium, so a lot of my reading assignments were in Dutch.

    When I was about ten or so I got a couple books that weren’t mandatory, but I read them anyway. One of them in particular stayed with me. It was about a girl and bandits and it was really cool with a really sad ending (Hasse Simonsdochter by Thea Beckman if anyone is interested). I never cry when reading a book or watching a movie. But then I cried.

    But then came highschool. And we got these TERRIBLE Dutch authors to read. Granted, some of them were worse than others, but I haven’t enjoyed any of those books. I dutifully read them the first couple of years, but ignored most of them in the last two. Anyway, there is one book I remember. I think the author was sexually frustrated or something, because his book was insane. It was about a guy who follows his girlfriend into Hell. He tries to find her, and on the way he has a homosexual orgy while skydiving.

    There were good parts too, though. We could pick our books in English class, so I read Hamlet. And I read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice for the first time. Good times. 🙂

    • Jordan Hamessley
      Jordan Hamessley Sep 4 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Oh, I ADORE Hamlet, but I loved almost all the Shakespeare I was assigned. His histories took a bit more work for me to get into.

      It’s great to hear about your experience with reading in Belgium.

      • Avery Moore Sep 4 2012 at 2:34 pm #

        Haha, pleasure, even though most of the experiences aren’t great. I told my Dutch teacher on my final exam that I thought the books we got assigned were ridiculous and it was logical I didn’t read them anymore. I guess it’s a good thing I nailed all the other parts of the exam. :p

  2. Megan Duff Sep 4 2012 at 9:18 am #

    As a junior English major I could give you a best and worst from pretty much every class I’ve had 🙂 One class that really stands out for me though was my Modern British Novels class. Mrs Dalloway was my favorite with Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively coming in at a close second. I absolutely ADORED both of them, not surprising as they were the only two women we read. My least favorite…hmmm…The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. Probably the most needlessly depressing book I have ever read. I emphatically bad-talked it whenever I was allowed to speak in class, one of those books I would go to battle over because it was. So. Freaking. Horrible.

  3. Alex Dunne Sep 4 2012 at 9:38 am #

    When I was in secondary school (in Ireland) the curriculum worked thusly: for our Leaving Certificate we had to read one prescribed novel (changed year to year), one Shakespeare play (again, changed year to year but usually alternated between Macbeth and Hamlet I believe) and one movie. We also had to cover a smattering of different poets. Our novel was OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck and I remember racing ahead to finish it, something which didn’t take very long since it’s actually quite a short novel. Going back and doing a-chapter-a-week with the rest of the class was truly painful after I’d already finished the whole thing. That being said, I absolutely adored the book from start to finish and it’s on my “to re-read” list.

    In university there were many books that I liked, some that I adored (FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters, read for a Contemporary Women’s Lit Class and FALL ON YOUR KNEES by Anne-Marie MacDonald for Canadian Lit are two that really stand out) but there was only one novel that I remember hating, violently and unrepentingly – BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickins. Title says it all really…

  4. Rachael Sep 4 2012 at 10:33 am #

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is my favorite school-assigned book. I didn’t read it until senior year and I really want to buy it so I can read it again. A few others that I liked were 1984 (sophomore year), ANIMAL FARM (freshman year), THE OUTSIDERS (eighth grade), and THE GIVER (eighth grade). THE GIVER actually inspired me to hunt down the next two books in the series and I was ecstatic when I found out there’s going to be another this fall!

    There was also a short story in seventh grade, THE SMALLEST DRAGONBOY, that spawned my deep love for Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books.

    Despite my love of reading, I oftentimes found myself turning to Sparknotes when I really didn’t want to read an assigned book. I’m not sure what book was my least favorite but I remember hating DEATH OF A SALESMAN and WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

  5. Christa Seeley Sep 4 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Marie Lu I am totally with you on Heart of Darkness. It’s the smallest book but it just dragged on and on. I had to read it for Gr 12 English and then it was assigned again in my first year of University. Never have I disliked a book so much.

    On the bright side however I was assigned Animal Farm in high school and LOVED it. Same goes for The Odyssey.

  6. Rowenna Sep 4 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Love this question! Without a doubt, the worst read in high school English was Great Expectations–not because of the book itself, but because of how we were supposed to read it. We had write responses every 25 pages–have you read Dickens? That’s like asking you to respond to two pages of a modern author. It was torture. If we’d read it like it was intended to be enjoyed, I think most of us would have liked it.

    I loved most books we read, honestly…but The Tempest, Brave New World, and 1984 stand out as favorites.

    Rachel–have you tried anything 18th century and French? They were often a little more…umm…interesting than their English counterparts 😛 I love the 18th century and I’ll say, Pamela was awful.

  7. JQTrotter Sep 4 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    TESS OF THE D’UBERVILLE will probably be the book I always remember having to read. I never liked being told I *had* to read something, for whatever reason it always took the fun out of reading for me. Over-analyzing a book could really ruin the experience. But my senior year in AP English I got a really good, new, fresh teacher who had so much love for literature it spread around to everyone. I was appalled when I saw the size of TESS OF THE D’UBERVILLE and how short of time we were given to read it. It was pretty hard to get into… and a really retching story but I’ll always remember the way that story made me feel.

  8. Susan Sep 4 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    In ninth grade, Mrs. Trovillion assigned Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. It was weird and wild and difficult and delightfully strange. I loved every word. I read it once in a flurry. Then I reread it slowly and I dissected the language and structure.

    Mrs. Trovillion also assigned James Joyce’s Ulysses. It was weird and wild and difficult and just plain strange. I hated every word. And I never finished it. Once in a while, I’ll give it another go. But I never make it past fifty pages. And it is a monster of novel. Huge. Sprawling. It should be outlawed as an assignment for teenagers.

  9. Eva Rieder Sep 5 2012 at 12:36 am #

    I remember seriously hating ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. There were near tears over how much I disliked that book. On the other hand, I loved SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison as well as BRAVE NEW WORLD and LORD OF THE FLIES. Come to think of it, I loved most of my English books. Except for the pesky ALL QUIET.

    Now that I’m an English teacher (I just switched over from Math), this topic is becoming one of my favorites as I select the books for my Freshman English class! 🙂

  10. Daphne Sep 5 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Really struggled to get through HEART OF DARKNESS as well, it was unbelievably dull! That and SAMUEL PEPYS DIARY of the Great Fire of London. Snooze.

    I would probably say my favourite was ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, because that’s what first introducedme to magical realism. I devoured a lot of other GGM books and my favourite is CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD, so kudos to Susan’s pick!

  11. Alyssa Sep 5 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    We read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in ninth grade and then watched the movie, and I fell in love with both. THE GREAT GATSBY is another one. I actually went out and picked up Fitzgerald’s THIS SIDE OF PARADISE of my own accord because I enjoyed GATSBY so much.

    During my senior year of high school, we read and analyzed Shakespeare’s KING LEAR and I got really into the existentialism behind it, so much that I read WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett and wrote my term paper on the comparison of existentialism between the two.

    And finally, in middle school we read a short story called “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl. It appealed to my love of horror and the macabre, and it’s definitely been an influence on the book I’m currently writing. It’s delightfully creepy. You can actually read the whole thing here.

  12. Alexa (Loves Books) Sep 5 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    It looks like I have a TON of reading to do, based on the books that you all really liked! I look forward to checking out a lot of these titles for myself.

    Some fun books that I remember having to read for school are Hatchet, Where the Red Fern Grows and Shiloh. I moved back to the Philippines after that, and unfortunately, assigned reading was no more (unless you count Greek mythology).

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