Pages - Menu


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pin It


Back to School Reading We Didn't Hate

It's back to school time! And that means Cliff Notes sales are on the rise! 

Required reading is the bane of most students' existences. But we put our heads together and came up with a few books that we definitely didn't mind being made to read. 

One of the things that I am most grateful for, regarding my schooling, was the integration of multi cultural literature into our curriculum. The program I completed in high school empashized a balanced, well rounded education and so I was exposed to a broad spectrum of cultures and civilizations through my school reading. Two of my most notable favorites were Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquival and Woman At Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi. Both of these novels have female protagonists, and they allow the reader to gain valuable insight into to very different cultures and experiences. Both of these women suffer greatly, but their strength is incredibly moving and absolutely well worth the read.

In terms of more traditional required reading, I am very fond of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I think that this story should absolutely be required reading for all students, middle or high school. This novel is an ideal way to open up serious discussions about racial conflict and allows for optimum understanding by all parties. I am so grateful to have read this book the summer before high school, and I plan to reread it soon to see what else I can pull from it as an adult. 

I was a little bit of an oddball when it came to assigned reading. I loved it. And even if (on the rare occasion) I didn't like the book, I still read every single page. I was one determined over-achiever, and I stubbornly suffered through a book or two, so just don't talk to me about Moby Dick or Herman Melville for the next 20 years, give or take. But I suffered through them for a reason. That reason being I knew the teachers had a reason for assigning the book in the first place.

My 10th Grade English teacher told us this: Every book we teach you has greatness. You may not like the book, but it is your job to find its greatness and understand it. And I took that very seriously. When she assigned One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and I was struggling through the Russian to English translation, I pushed through because I knew she wouldn't have assigned a book without it having greatness. It took time and reflection after finishing the book to find it, but I did, and understanding it made me like a book so much more even after it was so difficult to read.

So I'd say that I'm glad that my teachers made me read every book they assigned. I may not have enjoyed reading them all, but I was able to challenge myself and find the greatness in all of them. Yes, even Moby Dick with it's goddamn beautiful Queequeg/coffin allegory. (But, seriously, a whole chapter on coiling rope?!)

Let’s face it. When you’re in high school, you’re a little jerk. Somebody tells you do something—or worse: they actually have the audacity to ask you to try and get something out of it—and your response, of course, is to do the opposite. For me, a lot depended on the amount of contempt I had for my English teacher that year. By the eighth grade, I could diagram a 50-word sentence in under a minute, and if a teacher showed any sign of weakness, I was there, leading the mob of teenagers with pitchforks and stupid questions that wasted time. I practically branded my American Literature teacher with a Scarlet A for Arrogantly Uneducated in my sophomore year (the transcendentalist movement particularly brought out the rebellious side in me). Or maybe it had something to do with growing up in the suburbs, which has a tendency to breed the worst kind of boredom.

Among the books I remember reading, there were many I didn’t have time for: Moby Dick (an entire chapter on whale blubber), The Jungle(depressing as hell), A Doll’s House (marriage is boring as hell), and someone made the mistake of putting me into the class that read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, one of which earned a me a 60% on my final research paper. Diagraming sentences only gets you so far—which is nowhere unless you want to grow up and be an adult who still knows how to diagram sentences. 

Then there was A Separate Peace, Catcher in the Rye, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin--all books that I loved. But one that really stands out to me is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, because every other freshman in my class loathed it with a dying passion. And I was like, come on nobody saw that ending! Crazy lady (aka: the secret wife of her lover) burns down the mansion leaving the old creepster blind for life? Sure, there were slow chapters, but there was a lot of good drama. Her parents having died tragically, Jane is raised by her horrible aunt, who encourages her cousin to punch her in the face at one point. Then she’s shipped off to boarding school, where a lot of people she loves die of tuberculosis. And then she gets hired in a creepy mansion with ghosts. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m seeing a lot of similarities to Harry Potter. And you know, I didn’t think it was necessarily romantic, the way a teenager might feel about Pride and Prejudice (after all, the dude locks his mentally-ill wife in the attic for eternity)Maybe that’s what my classmates thought it was supposed to be. But honestly for me, it was the first time I remember a main character like Jane. She’s plain and ordinary and has no one in life, but she's strong and stands by her beliefs. And in the end, she gets what she wants, without sacrificing her morals or dignity. And now I get to picture Mr. Rochester as Michael Fassbender, thanks to the 2011 film version. So win-win.

Since then, I’ve re-read many books that I was assigned in high school. I fell in love with The Picture of Dorian Gray at age 23 and I couldn’t imagine that 16-year-old me got the same thing out of it. But perhaps, I will read it again when I'm much older and feel very different about it again. That's the best part of reading when you're young. Because you get to re-read a book later in life and not only remember how you felt, but marvel at how much you've changed. And despite what I thought back then, most teachers know what they're talking about. So read your assigned books, cause you never know when 17th century drama will put Pretty Little Liars to shame.

No comments:

Post a Comment