At Topsham Public Library, when we start getting requests for Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy, we know school is soon beginning. Students who enroll in AP English classes have summer reading assignments, and, as in true student form, they tend to wait until the last minute to get it done. (Who can blame them?!)
Other trends in summer reading assignments seem to be 1984 and Animal Farm both by George Orwell, Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut, and, of course, Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Those are all signs that students are back at it.
Watching these students cramming in those summer assignments causes me to reminisce over my high school reading assignments. I think my favorite book that I read in all my years of high school is another of Vonnegut’s work – Player Piano. It was assigned by Mrs. Maguire my senior year. That book has stayed with me all this time and I think about it often. In the book, Paul Proteus must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run by machines.
I asked my fellow staff members what their favorite assigned high school reading was. (Some had to really think hard because high school was a lloooonnngggggg time ago for some of us.)
Dale’s favorite was assigned by Mr. Palmer, and it was The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which is about the Vietnam War. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote is Dave’s favorite book that he was assigned to read in high school. This book is about a memory of a Christmas shared between a seven-year-old boy and sixty year old woman. Linda read Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. This story tells of journeys by a ship’s surgeon Lemuel Gulliver, who encounters strange lands and strange beings.
Emma did not connect with much of the assigned reading until about age 16 when, through assigned reading, she discovered the poetry of Samuel Coleridge (and in particular, Kubla Khan), Shakespeare’s plays (especially Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream) and the novel Emma by Jane Austen which is a humorous look at match-making in nineteenth century England.
Mr. Kingdon assigned The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier in his English class. That’s how Cyndi came to read it. She remembers that book clearly because it was the first book she read where the bad guy wins at the end. She loved it for the unexpected rush of surprise as she read the last few pages. She went on to read I Am the Cheese, also by Cormier, immediately after she finished The Chocolate War.
In Sixth grade Julie’s teacher, Billie Howe, let the class pick what they wanted to read. Some of them picked The Lord of the Rings series (which her brother had just read). She thought the series was awesome. That was also the first time Julie read To Kill a Mockingbird. Sophomore year, Mrs. Young and/or Mrs. Anderson, had us read The Scarlet Letter. She loved it! Junior year, Ms. O’Neil assigned a lot of interesting books but her favorite was The Great Gatsby. (It was the best paper she ever wrote.)
What did you read in high school? Did you love it or hate it? Does a particular assigned book hover in the back of your mind? Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy a book you have to read, but there are times when those books stick with you for the rest of your life.