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Great books for high school English class?
October 5, 2004 12:36 AM   Subscribe

My high school daughter has been assigned some odd books for her English class. Decent books, but not heavyweights. Thinking back it was the same when I was in high school: weird selections: Silas Marner, Invisible Man, Scarlet Letter. So I was wondering: what would be some great books to read in a high school English class?
posted by kk to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I suppose it depends on what you mean by "great". During my high school career, we read a series of books that in retrospect were obviously meant to teach us specific Life Lessons by way of vagueness and circumlocution.

9th Grade: Sometimes, People Who Shouldn't Die Do Die
Lord of The Flies, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird.

10th Grade: People are Persecuted for The Darnedest Things
Night, The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, excerpts from The Bible, The Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Dante's Inferno.

11th Grade: White People Were (and/or are) Mean to Non-White People
Huckleberry Finn, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Beloved.

12th Grade: Women are Strong, Even if The Books About Them are Crap
Tess of The d'Urbervilles, Jane Eyre, The Awakening, Gone with The Wind.

Whether any of these are particularly redeeming is purely subjective. I always found the less agenda-driven books to be more interesting, i.e. Great Expectations, Catcher in The Rye, The Canterbury Tales.
posted by Danelope at 1:25 AM on October 5, 2004 [1 favorite]


would've been nice, but would probably never happen:
-poems by george oppen
-prose poems by paul valery
posted by juv3nal at 3:25 AM on October 5, 2004


Lolita
posted by yerfatma at 4:08 AM on October 5, 2004


please, do not encourage people in power to force kids into reading the scarlet letter while in high school, or even while in grade school, as i had to. let them seek it out if they want to read it--it's not right to make an entire class suffer the book.

i read lots of great short stories at high school, but didn't know it at the time (not including the scarlet letter.). we had a good sampling of joyce, munro, oates, o'connor, etc.. maybe i would've appreciated it more if we'd taken time to read an author's collection, rather than one or two stories.
posted by lotsofno at 5:27 AM on October 5, 2004


Um .... I hate to be the lone dissenter, but Invisible Man, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jane Eyre, the Inferno -- these are all truly great books! Just because you didn't enjoy them when you were fifteen doesn't mean they're bad. It most likely means that you were either (a) a hormone-crazed adolescent with no desire at all to read or (b) stuck with a mediocre teacher who made the book boring and about some lame, simple moral. Or some combination thereof.

(The Scarlet Letter, I will admit, I didn't enjoy when I read it *last year* in graduate school--but I assume that someone, somewhere, will be able to open it up for me and make it worthwhile).

The problem is not that, say, "Invisible Man" is not an amazing book--it is an *amazing* book and will repay your interest ten times over. If you or your daughter aren't getting enough out of it from the teaching she's receiving, which is perfectly likely, then you should seek out some outside reading. Buy a collection of Ellison's essays (there's only one, and it's good) and read it. Rent a documentary on the civil rights struggle from the library. Find a good critical introduction to the book in the library. "Invisible Man" is a hard book, but some context and a good reading of it will really help you get more out of it. Often great and difficult books suffer in high school because they end up being taught as about obvious, simple truths, e.g., "white people have been bad to black people." But it's not the book's fault. Most of the books that've been listed are, in fact, "heavyweights," which means sometimes a little extra work is required.

To the question: I'd say I would've liked to read "Disgrace" in high school, and if you're not reading "Heart of Darkness" or "Lord Jim" instead of "Lord of the Flies" then that's a shame.
posted by josh at 6:01 AM on October 5, 2004


1984.

But I think it's (thankfully) still assigned reading.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:10 AM on October 5, 2004


I had one teacher that made an effort to get away from Hawthorne and Dickens and Thomas Hardy (good god I'd rather pull out my own toenails with my teeth) and other Dead White Men, and found that really refreshing and interesting. I remember liking Things Fall Apart and the essays and novels of Chester Himes.
posted by ChasFile at 6:26 AM on October 5, 2004


Danelope, great list except for 10th grade: "excerpts from The Bible, The Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Dante's Inferno" have no place in an English class. High-school English should be about the language and its flexibility and power, not a survey of cultures or philosophies and certainly not of translated works. It would be nice if the usual list of canonical great books were leavened with a few modern classics - Motherless Brooklyn, maybe, or Walter Tevis' Queen's Gambit but hopefully if you force Moby Dick and Great Expectations and House of Mirth on the little bastards while you can they'll read the modern greats on their own later.
posted by nicwolff at 6:44 AM on October 5, 2004


I read some Shakespeare when I was in high school: MacBeth and Julius Caesar, and of course a bunch of sonnets. Other good choices would be King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing.

I also read (and appreciated) Gulliver's Travels in high school.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:02 AM on October 5, 2004


I love all the books on the original list, but almost any book is bad (or weird) if you're forced to read it.

I love to read, and I owe my love of reading to my parents. They NEVER forced anything on me. They just filled our house with all sorts of books, read all the time (showing me an example of adults who like to read), and told me lots of stories. They let me dig around the piles and read whatever I wanted to read.

My tastes were really juvenile at first: I read nothing by sci-fi and comic books (I don't mean to imply those are juvenile tastes -- I just mean that my desire to read ONLY those sorts of books was juvenile).

My parents didn't share those interests, but they still encouraged me to read whatever I wanted to read, discussed comics with me, etc. In time, I grew out of that phase and started reading non-fiction, modern literary fiction and loads of classics.

So, in answer to your question, the best books to read are those that YOU want to read. That's really the only answer to the question. Asking for "good books for children" is as meaningless as asing for "good books for adults." People are all different and each person will like different books.

Schools should follow my parents's models. By forcing kids to read, they do nothing but create resentment. I love Shakespeare, but I've met hundreds of people who hate him because they were forced to read him in school. That's what school creates -- people who hate Shakespeare but can talk about King Lear at a coctail party if they have to.
posted by grumblebee at 7:03 AM on October 5, 2004


We read some pretty good books in my high school: The Mayor of Casterbridge, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Crime & Punishment, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Scarlet Letter (well--I liked it).

Also some books commonly thought to be good that I didn't like so much: Wuthering Heights, Pride & Prejudice, Beloved (actually I didn't like Beloved at all), Othello.

And then there was Ethan Frome, the less said about which the better.

Grumblebee, I think if schools did that, the result would be a bunch of people who just don't read, period. My experience is similar to yours, I think, except that I read almost exclusively fantasy before branching out, but it sure seemed like there were a lot of people who read exclusively nothing.
posted by kenko at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2004


I read Siddhartha, Brave New World, and The Stranger one week during my senior year in order to catch up with my assigned quota. I chose them arbitrarily from our list, based on low page counts for each--17 year-old logic, I guess. Reading those back-to-back so quickly was a little overwhelming, but I would highly reccommend any of them.
posted by whatnot at 7:17 AM on October 5, 2004


If my teachers had only selected any of the many good books listed on this page, I might have continued reading fiction past highschool.

As it stands, my entire highschool english experience consisted of nothing but a drab treatment of Shakespeare's so-called "greatest works", punctuated only by an equally poor treatment of a few fossilized tomes I couldn't bear to bring myself to read, and one book which made no sense to read in my country (When did Canada persecute black people? Am I supposed to feel superior to Americans or something when we read "To kill a mockingbird" or what? Did I miss the point?)
posted by shepd at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2004


"excerpts from The Bible, The Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Dante's Inferno" have no place in an English class. High-school English should be about the language and its flexibility and power, not a survey of cultures or philosophies and certainly not of translated works.

There are a couple books of the Bible that are standards of English literature classes. Selected psalms and (I think) the Song of Solomon. Also, why lump The Inferno in with the Bible/ Koran, etc.?
posted by yerfatma at 7:26 AM on October 5, 2004


As former English teacher, here are some of the books I fould really productive to teach at the 11th and 12th grade level, when I could design my own electives--Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Mary Renault's The King Must Die, Montaigne's "Essays", "Beowulf", Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Kafka's The Trial. Oh yeah, and Sartre's End Game.

Boy, I miss teaching, sometimes.
posted by LairBob at 7:35 AM on October 5, 2004


High-school English should be about the language and its flexibility and power

There is no power in the language of theological texts?
posted by archimago at 7:37 AM on October 5, 2004


Often great and difficult books suffer in high school because they end up being taught as about obvious, simple truths, e.g., "white people have been bad to black people." But it's not the book's fault.

This was my problem reading the Scarlet Letter or the Crucible or, to be honest, a lot of Shakespeare in high school. The teachers didn't even seem to like them, or were so inured to teaching them that the entire thing was a huge sleepwalk for them. When I went back and read some of them [okay not those, but The Catcher and the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc] I was amazed at how the language was actually pretty complex and the writing had a bunch of subtleties that were not immediately apparent when all you were worried about was what was on the test, and when your teacher was all about making sure you know what "foreshadowing" was.

And, of course, the reasons the classics endure also has a lot to do with their tepidness. The longer track record a book has at being taught in the public schools, the less some wacked out parent is going to freak out on the school because it mentions difficult or tricky issues. The fact that you can even read The Scarlet Letter in schools nowadays without someone having a hissy fit that she's pregnant out of wedlock [well I guess she gets in trouble....] in the current US climate is sort of surprising.

I feel the same way about "What if we all read the same book?" programs that are happening around the US. These books are clearly chosen to be good "issue" books but not always because they're appropriate for all age groups or even fun to read. In Vermont we get to read First They Killed My Father. It's a great book but not one to necessarily inspire a love of reading in reluctant readers, it's about slaughter [and yeah the indomitable human spirit] for chrissake! I was surprised to learn when I got out of high school that there were quite a lot of books you could read that weren't just heavy-handed moralistic "bad people are bad" message books.

My vote for schools would be a lot of non-fiction interspersed in with the fiction, since you rarely read that sort of thing in other classes. Books like Salt, Cod, Longitude, The Professor and the Madman etc. You can still learn a lot about language and writing by reading them and maybe also learn not to hate history and science while you're at it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 AM on October 5, 2004


I feel lucky -- although 9th and 10th grade featured a lot of the standards, 11th had great variety, and by 12th, we read fun things like The Stranger, Waiting for Godot, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Picture of Dorian Gray (how can you go wrong with Oscar Wilde?)
posted by pardonyou? at 8:07 AM on October 5, 2004


Oh yeah, the Catcher in the Rye, we read that too, that's a great book. When my tenth-grade teacher retired (which was the year I had her) she gave away a lot of posters she had accumulated, and I got an ancient Catcher poster. (Actually I was supposed to share it with two friends who also wanted it but ... I didn't! And as far as I know they've forgotten about it! The perfect crime.)
posted by kenko at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2004


1984
Brave New World
The Grapes of Wrath
Catcher in the Rye
On the Road

That should turn her into a good little anarchist.
posted by trbrts at 8:13 AM on October 5, 2004


I find it interesting that, of course, in our memories of what we had to read some of us loved the books that others hated. (Ethan Frome began an affair with Edith Wharton that continues to this day for me—Portait of the Artist? Crime and Punishment? Eye-scourge, please.) But that's rather the point: when you have fifteen or thirty kids reading the same book, someone's not going to like it.

It then becomes a question of good teaching and good learning. I had teachers who got to me appreciate authors I wasn't into at first (John Donne, anyone?) and a mother who got me to understand that I could still get good things from books I didn't like. That strikes me as the only real solution.


And yes, Jessamyn—more nonfiction.

On preview: Catcher in the Rye is the most overrated book I've ever wasted my eyes on.
posted by dame at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2004


Also, something that may help—augment. Reading On the Road? Read Minor Characters too. To Kill a Mockingbird? Some Carson McCullers or Flannery O'Connor might work. My reading of Beowulf was made so much more bearable because we read Grendel too. Maybe The End of the Affair to go with the Scarlet Letter (on the guilt & adultery axis)? North of South or some modern African travelogue with Heart of Darkness.

This way I think it becomes easier to see books one dislikes as stepping-stones to those one may like instead of a dead end.
posted by dame at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2004


My 10th grade English teacher gave me extra books to read before 11th grade, ones that weren't part of my school's curriculum. I wish they had been, they would have been great to discuss in class - 1984, Animal Farm, Othello, Black Boy, Siddhartha, and my favortie - Master and Margarita.
posted by inky at 9:20 AM on October 5, 2004


I had pretty much the standard stuff for grades 9-11, but my junior year English class disappointed me so much that I signed up for one of the alternative versions for my senior year, Creative Writing. Mostly we wrote in class instead of reading (duh) but we did get into Demian by Hesse and Dandelion Wine by Bradbury. Demian kicked ass.
posted by LionIndex at 9:48 AM on October 5, 2004


I like the idea of building from Classical literature: letting Homer and the Greek dramatists serve as a foundation for understanding Western literature. I think this approach works especially well for understanding Shakespeare, since he was so tuned into the Greeks. It also makes for a good transition to Virgil, Dante, and Milton, I suppose. That's Freshman and Sophomore year; Junior year is the emergence of the novel (Austin, Dickens (?), James, Twain, etc.) and maybe early modern drama. Then the Senior year can be spent on Modernism and maybe some contemporary stuff.

I think books that are essentially political polemics have a more comfortable place in history or political science classes. Not that 1984 isn't a great book; it clearly, indisputibly is: I just tend to think that the lessons that can be built around such books are more about history and politics than they are about language.

Would such a curriculum be at all workable?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:42 AM on October 5, 2004


yerfatma, archimago, you miss my point - it's not that they're religious documents, it's that they weren't originally written in English and it seems strange to select and teach one translation. You're not reading Dante, you're reading Sinclair or Mandlebaum or Merwin. I suppose maybe the KJV is canonical in its influence on the language but the other translated works mentioned certainly aren't.
posted by nicwolff at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2004



Grumblebee, I think if schools did that, the result would be a bunch of people who just don't read, period.


I'm torn, because I really want to resond in depth, but this isn't the place or time. But I'll derail for two seconds to say that though your view is common, I think it's wrong.

Currently, we have LOADS of kids graduating from school, hating classics. Sure, some of us love them, but mostly in spite of school, not because of it.

The common view says, "that might be true, but we still need to force these books on people, because if we don't, they won't read them at all. And it's better that they read them and hate them than for them to be totally unexposed to them."

First, I disagree with that value statement. I LOVE classic, but I wish everyone shared my love. But if that's not going to happen, then I'd rather live in a world with people who don't know Shakespeare than a world with people who hate Shakespeare.

The other problem with the common view is that it assumes that unless you force people, they won't choose to read on their own. Behind the assumption is that idea that "I wouldn't have read King Lear if someone hadn't forced me." Trouble is, someone DID force you. So you can't know what people who aren't forced would do. You're a dirty testtube. We do know that 99% of the time, forcing leads to hatered and resentment. That's human nature.

There have been all kinds of educational experiments that didn't involve forcing. The most extremes are schools like Summerhill, where kids aren't compelled to go to class. They go if they want to. If they skip, they don't get in trouble. When Summerhill started, people went blue in the face screaming that the kids would, of course, play hookey all the time. But this didn't happen. Most kids stay away from classes at the beginning, get bored, start attending, and then get interested. Kids at these schools tend to score well on tests, go to good colleges and -- most important -- then tend to be happy people who feel that they make their own choices.

Sure, SOME kids choose not to go to class. Sure, this sort of education fails SOME kids. But so does our current model. Our current model fails LOADS of kids. People say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, our education system is broke.
posted by grumblebee at 1:14 PM on October 5, 2004


I'd rather live in a world with people who don't know Shakespeare than a world with people who hate Shakespeare

So, basically, you'd be okay with every literary allusion you make in conversation sailing over your listeners' heads. You could never say "parting is such sweet sorrow" or "to be, or not to be" or "alas, poor Yorick" and have people get it. Extending this to all literature, you could never say "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or even "look, the sky's the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

The very thought is sufficiently depressing to induce an orgy of wrist-slitting among the literate, which, I guess, would solve the problem once and for all. It would still be an incalculable loss even if nobody was left who missed what was lost.

As for free education, the idea that kids are capable of determining what they should be learning is patently ridiculous. It's like buying candy "because the kids like it." Of course the kids like it, it's MADE OF SUGAR! What kids like often has little overlap with what is good for them. Kids must sometimes to be made to do things that are good for them that they do not want to do. That's what makes them kids.
posted by kindall at 2:06 PM on October 5, 2004


are you sure? i would have thought "the literate" would be glad to see the back of those cliches. and how often do you refer to shakespear without using a cliche? when was the last time you were eating a pie that had a bit of gristle and made some smart remark about titus adronicus?

books are already pretty much dead as shared culture. listen to people talk - they don't compare things to books, but to tv and sports.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:29 PM on October 5, 2004


I was thinking about this more today while working in the library. Some other books I wish I'd been assigned:

Dubliners
Down and Out in Paris and London
The Fall (Camus)
Yeats (e.g., The Stare's Nest)

I think the biggest problem with high school English is lack of context: often you read a novel from a particular time or place (like Invisible Man) with only the simplest ideas about that time or place. When your'e in your twenties, you can read with less context because you've read more novels, and have a better sense of the form--but when you're just reading Pride and Prejudice forthe first time it can be hard to really understand why it's good. So I wish more schools did that thing where history and literature are taught side-by-side. On the one hand, there's a danger of reducing literature to a historical document, which is lame, but on the other, I think it would open up a lot of meaning.

Great example: The Scarlet Letter. A lot of what makes that book amazing is that it shows you how things *were* in the United States--it's almost unimaginable. When you read that novel alongside even a little American history and some theology, you get to understand what's really going on. If you don't know anything, though, about Puritans, womens rights, or New England, it's pretty meaningless.

Teaching the classics is, IMO, pretty essential, but it has to be done well, i.e., as part of the larger history of life and thought.
posted by josh at 2:44 PM on October 5, 2004


The reason that they teach such mediocre(ish) books in High School is largely due to fascistic school boards. My Sophomore year English teacher got embroiled in a battle with the batshit crazy Wendy Leece over "Snow Falling on Cedars", and "Of Love and Shadows."

We still got to read plenty of great, somewhat, er, naughty books. My two favorites from high school ae "Welcome to the Monkey House," by Kurt Vonnegut; and Louise Erdrich's "Love Medicine."
posted by LimePi at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2004


Silas Marner, Invisible Man, Scarlet Letter -- good god, why are Americans so obsessed with moral improvement? Now, if I were a high school teacher I'd steer clear of anything didactic, and go for classic adventure fiction, thrillers, fantasy, anything to give pleasure.

Among the books I read at school:

(at age 12) Moonfleet (very English; this is what I mean by classic adventure fiction. Our teacher made us all draw maps of the Dorset village where the story is set; a great way to ensure that we all read the book carefully, looking for all the little geographical clues.)

(at age 13) A Wizard of Earthsea (an ideal choice; all that stuff about "only in silence the word / only in dark the light" seems so profound when you're 13).

(at age 14) Rogue Male (introduced me to the concept of the unreliable narrator).

(at age 15) Titus Groan (made a great impression on me, though in fairness I have to admit that many of my classmates hated it).

The closest I came to Silas Marner was at age 15, when our teacher gave us the opening paragraph of the novel and asked us to write down our reactions to it. Several of us, including me, wrote that it 'makes the reader want to find out what happens next'. 'What nonsense', snorted our teacher when he read this, 'of course it doesn't, it's bloody boring.' That taught me a valuable lesson: say what you really think, and not what you think you ought to think.
posted by verstegan at 4:25 PM on October 5, 2004


Though I'm very late to return to the conversation, I'd like to point out that I wasn't providing that list as suggested titles. I was merely documenting the selections we were compelled to read during high school and the transparent lessons we were supposed to have gathered by reading them. I suppose I didn't make that very clear, but hey, it was 1:25am and I was still in the office during what turned out to be a 20-hour workday.
posted by Danelope at 4:56 PM on October 5, 2004


So, basically, you'd be okay with every literary allusion you make in conversation sailing over your listeners' heads. You could never say "parting is such sweet sorrow" or "to be, or not to be" or "alas, poor Yorick" and have people get it. Extending this to all literature, you could never say "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or even "look, the sky's the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

I would counter that a lot of people have heard those phrases but don't really know where they come from originally. I'd bet the average man on the street has no idea that "parting" comes from Romeo and Juliet. Heck, most people think "wherefore" means "where" instead of "why".
posted by LionIndex at 5:21 PM on October 5, 2004


In my high school 9th grade English class, there was a general theme of suffering through industrialization. Three of the novels in that unit were:
How Green was my Valley
The Grapes of Wrath
The Jungle

I loved them all, quite frankly. More than most of the books I read for school. HGwmV was hard to get past the sheer number of characters with Welsh named, but I still enjoyed the book. I think the reason these books were so powerful (from an adult perspective) is that each book shows you a bunny (and its family), helps you fall in love with it/them, then kills it/them slowly, leaving you helpless to do anything. This is a very evocative writing technique.

10th Grade was English literature, but we did more with poetry than prose. Scarlet Letter.

11th Grade is a blank. Maybe that was the Crime and Punishment1 year - definitely the Oedipus year.

12th Grade was a "study a novelist" year (aside from other books) and I drew E. M. Forster and read A Room with a View, A Passage to India, and Howard's End (each well before the films were made--dammit) and they were interesting. I liked ARwaV best, HE least.

I was iffy about The Scarlet Letter, but not as much as some of you. I think this is a wonderfully human discussion because of the strong difference of opinion.

I think a good set of books would be on a general theme of disillusionment. For that you could do The Beautiful and the Damned, Catcher in the Rye, Less than Zero, Bright Lights Big City, and Generation X. They're all pretty much the same theme, just told from a different voice. I really like the opening paragraphs to TBatD, but it was poignant to my life at the time I read it.

A friend of mind did a long unit on utopia/dystopia which had a pretty good selection of books in it too.


1Crime and Punishment was most notable due to singing to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme: "Come along and sing a song and axe the family. R-A-S K-O-L N-I-K-O-V. Raskolnikov! (Svidrigelov!) Raskolnikov! (Maria Lizeveta!) Forever let us hold our axes high (high! high!)...R-A-S... S this a good novel? K-O-L.... L no! N - I - K - O - V!!!
posted by plinth at 5:33 PM on October 5, 2004


A good book, though not a novel, for generational disillusionment (and one cited in the intro to my copy of Titus Groan) is The Unquiet Grave, by Cyril Connolly under the pseudonym Palinurus.
posted by kenko at 6:26 PM on October 5, 2004


As for free education, the idea that kids are capable of determining what they should be learning is patently ridiculous.

I agree. But I'd also suggest that beyond health, saftey and job-getting/keeping skills, it's also ridiculoua to claim that adults know what kids SHOULD be learning. Why SHOULD anyone learn anything -- unless one wants to.

People who are allowed to explore their own passions learn to love the learning process.

We've never had a world in which ALL people read the classics. If the goal of the current system is to get all people to read (and like?) the classics, it's not working.

"Free education," as you call it, won't "work" either, in the sense that it won't lead to everyone in the world loving Shakespeare. But it's a better system, because more people will be happy.

And it's not "free." I'm not advocating a school where anything goes. I'm advocating teachers who teach specific books. If students don't want to study those books, they shouldn't be forced to study them. But if they CHOOSE to go to class, they will be studying the books chosen by the teacher.

I also think there should be plenty of free-reading time in school, where you CAN read whatever you want. And the classroom should be full of interesting, enticing books -- just laying around.

Every day, the teacher should read aloud from a book. Not the whole book, just a teaser.

As someone else said here, the class should explore context -- and not in a dry way. If it's shakespeare, they should SEE productions -- or act out scenes. It it's a book set in the middle ages, they should watch movies set in that time, etc.

Teaching takes work and planning.

Oh, and if a teacher finds out that a kid (who doesn't read much) is interested in, say, baseball, the next day that kid comes to school, there should be seventeen books about baseball (non-fiction, fiction, etc.) checked out from the library and laying around the classroom. A teacher who doesn't do stuff like this is not doing his job.

As for the literary references, do you folks really go to coctail parties and throw random quotations into the conversation? I'm a big reader, but I never do this or feel like doing it. And if I DID do it, and someone asked me, "what's that from," I would simply tell them what it's from. Better that than they KNOW what it's from and say, "oh my God! That's from The Great Gatsby! I HATE that book."
posted by grumblebee at 7:06 PM on October 5, 2004


Why SHOULD anyone learn anything

So that you are not a waste of space as an adult.
posted by kindall at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2004


I would highly recommend The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence as well as Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

I read each of these for or in connection with a high school English class. Although all three may be controversial choices for high-school students (and the last has quite a bit of "adult content," I found them gripping, even with the relatively short attention span that I had, and thought-provoking.
posted by sueinnyc at 9:10 PM on October 5, 2004


Books that I was assigned in high school and hated:
1. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Natassja Kinski's appearance in the film version didn't even help this one)
2. The Scarlet Letter
3. A Tale of Two Cities (I later took a class on Dickens in college and grew to appreciate even such books as Bleak House, but in high school it was pure tedium)

Books that I was assigned in high school and liked:
1. Brave New World
2. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
3. The Metaphorphosis

Books I wasn't assigned in high school, but wish I had been:
1. 1984 (I guess our curriculum missed this one, I read it recently and loved it)
2. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (would have been a great follow-up to Hamlet)
3. The Grapes of Wrath (easy to read, but powerful)
posted by hashashin at 10:35 PM on October 5, 2004


Vonnegut is great at any age. Breakfast of Champions is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

The dystopian novels are good too, I think. They appeal to the brooding teenage mind, often incorporate entertaining science fiction elements, and are highly instructive. 1984, Brave New World, A ClockWork Orange, and the HandMaid's Tale come to mind. If A ClockWork Orange is too risque, try The Wanting Seed, also by Burgess. Oh and Catch-22.

I also really loved Voltaire's Candide and Crime and Punishment around that age. Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest should be on every list, too. Jane Eyre is fantastic and not too frilly.

Please spare them The Chocolate War and A Seperate Peace if you can swing it.

I'm surprised no one in the entire world seems to teach any fantasy books, ever, anywhwere, period. Has it ever crossed anyone's mind to teach the Foundation books?

"excerpts from The Bible, The Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Dante's Inferno" have no place in an English class. High-school English should be about the language and its flexibility and power, not a survey of cultures or philosophies and certainly not of translated works.

Oh, wow! How wrong! Their place is exactly this: as critical thinking studies. We don't teach kids Catcher in the Rye so they'll pick up smoking and prostitutes. English class isn't about showing off the power and the glory of the language. It's about teaching kids to read, understand, think, and ultimately judge critically. It makes zero difference if the text was originally in English, and kids need to learn to think critically about "sacred texts" as much as anything, IMHO. The only reason not to teach them that I can think of is all the parent controversy they'd likely stir up.
posted by scarabic at 11:48 PM on October 5, 2004


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