Back-to-School Reading Recs

It’s September and the school buses are again making the rounds. In honor of back-to-school, us Pub Crawlers have been chatting about some of our favorite required reading from high school. (And also some of our least favorites). I’ll kick things off…

Erin Bowman

Erin BowmanFavorite:A Separate Peace by John Knowles and The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, both read in 10th grade when I had an amazing teacher. I remember connecting with these characters because they felt so distinctly teen, and I loved that.
Least Favorite: The Red Pony. I could not stand this novel. I don’t even remember why. I had a grudge against Steinbeck until Grapes of Wrath won me over in 11th grade.

Adam Silvera

adamfaceauthorFavorite: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Seriously the only book all the Juniors read beyond where we were asked to.
Least Favorite: Ulysses by James Joyce because, come on, who had time to read that when I was busy writing Harry Potter fan-fiction when I was home?

Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangFavorite: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The language in this book is gorgeous!
Least Favorite: Hmmm, probably A Light in August? I just wasn’t a fan of Faulkner…

Susan Dennard

SusanDennardFavorite: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I have no idea why, but I was obsessed with that book.
Least Favorite: My Antonia by Willa Cather. I didn’t even finish this, I’m ashamed to admit. I got, like, three chapters in, decided it was too dreadful to continue, and SparkNoted the rest.

S. Jae-Jones (JJ)

JJFavorite: Probably Jane Eyre or Pride & Prejudice. Because I am predictable like that. Jane Eyre pretty much cemented my love of the gothic novel, but I really appreciated the way my teacher taught us the book, which was pretty much about sex. Passionate sex, romantic sex. In other words, FEELINGS. I loved Pride & Prejudice because I thought it was funny. Austen is extremely wry and she writes about ridiculous people that just SKEWERS their ridiculousness. (Although unlike Bronte, she doesn’t do earnest feelings nearly as well.) Other books I loved were Beloved (Morrison) and The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald).
Least Favorite: Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I tried, Thomas Hardy, but I just can’t get into you.

Amie Kaufman

amie165c-twitterFavorite: The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. This was a memoir about a Polish girl exiled to Siberia during WWII, and at thirteen, it was a revelation to me.
Least Favorite: Far From The Madding Crowd. Like JJ, I just couldn’t get into Thomas Hardy. I faked my book report on this one. Still not sure if my teacher knew or not…

E.C. Myers

EC MyersFavorite: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Least Favorite: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Jo Volpe

Joanna VolpeFavorite: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Least Favorite: My Antonia by Willa Cather

Julie Eshbaugh

JulieFavorite: A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Least Favorite: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Note from Erin: Julie and I are book twins, yay!)

Rachel Seigel

Rachel PaintFavorite: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, which is still one of the best novels about the cultural divide between immigrant mothers & their daughters that I’ve ever encountered.
Least Favorite: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I didn’t find anything likeable or interesting about the characters or the story, and I was assigned the book 4 times between grade 9 and second year university!

Jodi Meadows

Jodi MeadowsFavorite: I also liked A Separate Peace.
Least Favorite: I’m pretty sure I didn’t care for the rest of the books assigned in school, but that’s all overshadowed by the amazing books I picked out for myself from the library.

What’s your favorite novel read during high school? What about least favorite? Tell us in the comments!

13 Responses to Back-to-School Reading Recs

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Sep 5 2014 at 8:42 am #

    I don’t know that I had a favorite, but there are some I remember positively, such as Catcher in the Rye, and A Wrinkle in Time. The school’s don’t usually assign the kind of books I’d remember fondly.
    I definitely remember the book I loathed above all others, which was Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Truly horrible book, but even back then I was more appalled at the philosophy than the writing.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 5 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      I never had to read Anthem, but I think I’ll now avoid it. 😉

  2. Jen Sep 5 2014 at 9:45 am #

    I actually strongly disliked Cather in the Rye. I remember people saying to me, Jen I think you are going to love this book. I just couldn’t get through it at all. All I remember is Holden looking at an ant for a far too extended amount of time. I also did not like The Color Purple

    I did actually love 1984 with the exception of a book that’s in the middle of the book. Also was a big fan of To Kill a Mocking Bird.

    I wasn’t lucky enough to have Jane Eyre or P&P on required reading. I read those one my own as well as many others. It was rare that I would actually read a book assigned (I think it was a bad student thing not anything wrong with the books). I was good at listening to class discussion and regurgitating that on test that nobody was the wiser. 🙂

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 5 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      You know, CATCHER seems to be a very polarizing novel. While I loved it, I remember about half my class hating it, especially Holden’s whiny voice and how much of a hypocrite he was. Then again, I think that’s why I loved that book. He might have been the biggest “phony” of them all. 😉

  3. Elissa Sep 5 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    I liked most of the books I read, both assigned and unassigned. Two assigned ones that stand out are “The Outsiders” and “The Dragonriders of Pern”. One assigned one I couldn’t get through was “The Brothers Karamazov”. I could never keep all the names straight. Only years later did I learn that Sasha is a nickname for Alexander!

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 5 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      The Outsiders!!! I adore that novel, although I read it outside of school.

      • Marc Vun Kannon Sep 5 2014 at 8:39 pm #

        Another favorite of mine as well, although I was never asked to read it for school. I just discovered it at school.
        To be honest I wish they’d do away with the prescribed reading lists. I’ve many times had kids walk into my bookselling tent, looking at the books they wanted to read, but none of them were the books they had to read over the summer so their parents took them away empty-handed. I have a wide range of truly stellar YA stories that are just sadly under-appreciated.

  4. Azaria Sep 5 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Favorite assigned readings-To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. Least favorite-hands down Animal Farm. I wanted to gauge my eyes out. My teacher gave me The Bell Jar to read in my own time and I formed a love-hate relationship with the book. Upon reading it again in college, I understood why she had me read it, and it went on a list of favorites. Still hate Animal Farm.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 5 2014 at 2:14 pm #

      Interesting about your experience with TBJ. You know… sometimes I wonder if certain curriculum pushes books upon readers too early. I remember thinking Gatsby was okay in high school, but appreciating it FAR more when I re-read it in my early twenties. I just don’t think I had the life experiences to connect with the story until a few years later.

      • Azaria Sep 5 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        I was 16 when my teacher gave me The Bell Jar after she told me my writing reminded her of Sylvia Plath. I remember being insulted I reminded my teacher of a woman who put her head in an oven, and I did not fully appreciate the book nor the comment until I was in college. I wasn’t ready for that book at 16. I should try re-reading Gatsby, I enjoyed it well enough at 15, but would probably enjoy it more now!

  5. Rowenna Sep 5 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Favorite: I loved Brave New World (partially for the fantastic discussion our teacher cultivated), All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Tempest.

    Least Favorite: Great Expectations (it was not well-taught and turned me off Dickens for a very long time) and The Jungle (which was just a stupid book aside from the whole “inspiring the FDA” thing).

  6. Kat Sep 23 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    I really loved Dante’s Inferno. I had an AP English class with an outstanding teacher and only 8 people in the class. It was tough at times, but worth it. In middle school, it was Roar of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This may also be because I had it at a time that I clicked into understanding my dyslexia and could actually read! (Biased much?)

    Dislikes: On man, I hate to be the one but…The Scarlet Letter. I love reading, and never skipped a book. By the end of that one I literally hoped everyone in it would die already. This is highly unusual for me, but there you have it.

  7. Sandy Sep 23 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    My fav required readings were To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth (the teacher made the whole thing an experience we had a few fun projects to go along with it) and another book which I can never remember the name of but there was a scene (or scenes) where the main character created a game for her and other kids to play where they pretended they were part of the underground railroad and they would take turns playing Harriet Tubman.

    Least favourite – The Pearl by John Steinbeck (I will never forgive him for that ending).

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