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“Old-School” Favorites

musingmondays1Tomorrow I have my first teaching job (yes, I’m sharing my non-book bloggy news!) and it’s inspired today’s Musing Monday.

What books did you read while in school? Were there any that you particular liked, or even hated? Did any become lifelong favourites?

This question will open up a wide discussion because at least for me, high school readings have introduced me to some of the greatest writers and thinkers in time, but the books by these authors were not necessarily my favorite works of theirs. Even though Crime and Punishment inquires into the moral issue of conscience and class supremacy, what became my favorite Dostovesky is The Brothers Karamazov, which I read on my own before I started college. Since then it’s been on the re-reading shelf. Instead of teachers’ beloved The Pearl by John Steinbeck, The Grape of Wrath and East of Eden are what find favor in my eyes. Some of the favorites from school include The Great Gatby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (the beauty and full meaning of which I didn’t fully grasp), Beloved by Toni Morrison, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (although I abstained from eating burgers for three months after reading it), A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I wasn’t sure if I liked The Catcher in the Rye (which I had just finished re-reading), although I recognized it’s significance in American literature. Reading Walden and Civil Disobedience was a chore over winter break. Equally arduous and somewhat disinterested is The Fountainhead, which was aborted halfway since the perusal would only merit extra credit. The dreamscape prose in House Made of Dawn was confusing but the book should reward a re-visit. The Light in August turned out to be the only readable Faulkner to me, as the reading of The Sound and the Fury was such a pain.

22 Responses

  1. OK, Matt, you and I might as well have been raised on different planets! Or maybe I was just raised in a cave. I think I might have read a couple Steinbecks, but was uninstructed and uninspired. That is it. The weird thing is that I totally remember my best friend going on and on about various classics, and I’m pretty sure she was reading them in a class. But where was I? Did I shirk off the opportunity to take that class? It is a befuddling and frustrating mystery to me. I need to look further into this. I can’t believe you read The Brothers Karamazov on your own in high school!

    • Sandy, I think California schools (over) emphasize Steinbeck because he’s native here. He grew up in Watsonville about 80 miles south of SF. The Pearl and Of Mice and Men are also hot on the reading list, which are usually taught in 9th and 10th grades. Well…after Crime and Punishment, which was (I believe) on the AP English curriculum, I was very interested in exploring more of Dostoevsky. So I spent the summer reading him before I started college and was browsing through the university catalogue to see if there were classes offered on him.

  2. We seem to be reading twins, at least about what we read in high school. I read Crime and Punishment, fell in love and read The Brothers Karamazov the summer before college as well. We read Of Mice and Men and I was underwhelmed, but read Grapes of Wrath last summer and was blown away. Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God were favorites as well. I also had a whole semester on magical realism in high school, which was life changing and probably why I’m a Spanish major now.

    • I like Grapes of Wrath so much better than his other works. I cannot tell you why schools always hot-list The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, maybe because of their relatively shorter lengths. They are very slim books and even by high-school standard, you may be able to finish on two days. What kind of high school did you go to that offers magical realism??? That sounds like heaven! In 12th grade I had translated literature for elective and I thought it was very rad! 🙂

  3. To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm are among my favourites that I read at school and now encourage some of my more advanced students to try their hands at.

    • Oh how could I have forgotten To Kill A Mockingbird? That was (I think) 9th grade (equivalent to F3 in Hong Kong); although now looking back it think the book would work well with US History which was taught in 11th grade. My college reading and composition course required the book again and i enjoyed it even more since I understood the history of the South better.

  4. My experience in high school really varied — I loved some and hated some. LOVED We Have Always Lived in the Castle and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Enjoyed Gatsby and the various Shakespeare plays.

    HATED The Scarlet Letter and Of Mice and Men. I think I liked Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies, at the time, but I’ve never wanted to read them again.

    • I am re-discovering Nathaniel Hawthrone this year and g=having The House of Seven Gables on my night-stand. I could imagine adultery’s being a big deal back in his time but now it seems out-dated. I didn’t read ken Kesey until I was well into college, for a sociology course actually. Lord of the Flies was also taught in high school. That book and Of Mice and Men pretty much summed up the first half of 10th grade for me.

  5. I really enjoyed some of Steinbeck’s earlier novels like Pastures of Heaven too. I struggled with Faulkner but found As I Lay Dying to be the most accessible for me. You’ve got a great list here that I know you will enjoy re-reading through the years.

  6. Where are you teaching?

    I read at least 6 Shakespeare’s plays,
    Scarlet Letter, Red Pony, 1984, and too many others to remember.

    • 1984 recently made the all-time best novels ever written based on consolidation of six lists. To be honest I am somewhat underwhelmed.

      I apologize for the confusing blog post. The hostess of Musing Mondays, Rebecca, is taking a new job as a teacher and she is asking about school favorites. 🙂

  7. This is a great post and brings me back to some wonderful books I discovered in high school and college. I read Crime and Punishment the summer before I started college and then again while in college where I also read the Brothers Karamazov. I loved both but prefer C&P a bit more! I took a great course on Shakespear in college and really enjoyed reading his comedies. I read Brave New World and Orwell’s 1964 and Animal Farm in highschool and had a good time with them. I discovered the wonderful Jane Eyre in college and took a fantastic class on Detective Fiction. I was an English major so I read many wonderful books.

    I see you’re reading Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I hope you’re enjoying it. I love that book.

    • I read Crime and Punishment for 12th grade translated literature course. The premise of a murder just completely grabbed me. In college, my slavic literature class read it again along with some of Dostoevsky’s short stories. I think Brothers Karamazov is more plot-driven, whereas C&P is character-driven. It was interesting that I had bypassed Jane Austen and all of the Bronte sisters in high school! I didn’t pick up Jane Eyre until last year.

  8. sorry about the typos…Shakespeare (above) should have an “e” on the end :o)

  9. I’m a Steinbeck fan and To Kill A Mockingbird is another favorite classic of mine.

  10. Many of the books I was assigned in High School I still enjoy, coming back with a different perspective at a much later stage of life. Great Expectations (9th grade, actually) became a lifelong fascination and led to my reading and loving many other of Dickens works. Certainly, a lot of poetry, much of which I didn’t like or understand at the time, has become something to savor and reinvestigate. Hamlet was the breakthrough for Shakespeare, and I seem to revisit that very often, sometimes in it’s entirety, sometimes just a favorite scene or speech. We read Steinbecks Of Mice and Men out loud in class, so I tackled East if Eden and loved it; I should re-read it and see what I think of it now. Faulkner I’ve only been able to approach through the short story. (We read one of them in English Prep, I think it was A Rose for Emily.) I read Crime and Punishment on my own, then in College was assigned The Brothers Karamazov, which I re read a couple of years ago because of this blog. I’m still chipping away at this remarkable book. Someday maybe I will be able to discuss it with some cogency.

    On another note, I’m looking forward to learning about your new job. Congratulations Matt!

  11. Wow…I gather that Great Expectations (which is not my favorite Dickens) has been a staple for 9th grade English. I do have to give it credit for leading me into the Dickens’ works. I read on my own Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Hamlet was taught in 11th grade even though the course was American Literature. It was, as you say, a breakthrough into Shakespeare.

  12. We had been assigned so few novels in high school, so most of the classics you mentioned above I had read on my own. We love so many of the same titles both. The Sound and the Fury was also a pain to me and so I didn’t finish, but am seriously wanting to try once more. Will you read it again or no?

    • I would approach William Faulkner with “fear and trembling.” I want to be able to read through his works and get something out of them. I plan to read As I Lay Dying first, then attempt The Sound and Fury again. How about a read-along for that one? 🙂

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