10 Books You Skipped in High School (But Shouldn’t Have)

I’m getting a lot of feedback from friends and family about books that they think I should have on my college list (from last week).  But many of their recommended books are ones that I assume people read in high school.  So, I tried to avoid the classic high school reading assignments in that list.

This week, I’ll attempt to atone and make a list of the top 10 high school reading assignments.  This is a difficult feat for me for a couple reasons.  First off, I never took a high school Literature course.  I did two years of high school and zoomed right off to college.  One of the casualties was literature (ironically).  So a lot of what I know of high school literature comes as hearsay to me because I tend to hear from my students about what they read in school.  But, that tends to mean that I’m pretty up to date on what’s being read.  Also, I know from my friends who teach high school what sort of books they assign.  Finally, I know from my own personal quest to fill in the gaps in my own reading, what books I’ve missed.  I like to do searches every so often to see what’s being read and make sure I’m up on it.  If my students are reading something, I want to be able to converse with them about it.

1.  The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

This one gets top marks for the most read High School text.  I’ve reconsidered assigning it to my college students because I think my students are probably pretty burned out on it.  Even though I think they might grasp it better at this stage in their lives.  I was recently asked why this one gets read so often in High School, and I think it primarily has a lot to do with the length and the accessibility of the writing.  But the themes and the depth of its symbolism are pretty intense for a high school student, if you ask me.  Re-read it as an adult to see what I mean.

2. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)

A great book about teenage angst, which makes it a hit among this age group.  Lots of cussing, which also makes it a target for censorship and less likely to get assigned in more conservative schools.

3.  To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)

Most kids probably recall the iconic image of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the film version of this book, but the book version is of course, also worth your time.  Then again, it’s hard to beat Gregory.

4.  Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1954)

An allegory of schoolboys on an island and the chaos that ensues when boys go “native.”  You can see how school aged boys would like this one.

5.   Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)

A scary vision of the future where reproductive technologies have farmed out child rearing to industry.

6.  1984, George Orwell  (1949)

This book seems to always get assigned around the same time as Huxley’s, and there is inevitably a “compare and contrast” paper somewhere in the mix.  The book introduces another vision of the future with a totalitarian regime and the infamous “big brother” who is “watching you.”

7.  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953)

Anybody who loves books should consider the premise of this book, another imagined future, where books are outlawed and burned. 

8. Night, Elie Wiesel (1960)

A more recent addition to the holocaust literature canon.  This one seems to have replaced The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place as the essential holocaust literature in high school reading.  Of course, I think you should read all three.

9.  Catch 22, Joseph Heller (1961)

A satirical novel focusing on the topic of war, especially WWII.  The title alludes to the nature of war, and the style and message of the novel reflects this general premise.  This seems to have replaced Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms as the canonical wartime novel (at least in terms of High School reading).

10.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (1969)

This autobiography discusses issues of femininity and racism.  I think it has replaced Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in the top 10, but this might vary according to the how conservative the school district is and how much they stress reading the older “classics.”


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting post. I guess I have only read 5 of these. One author that I see missing is a John Steinbeck…Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden??? Guess that ages me :]

    AL: Right on with those. I think if there was a #11, it would be Of Mice and Men.

  2. The comment by A woman who is reminded me…I also read a lot of Steinbeck in high school. The Pearl comes to mind as well as those she listed. I’ve read 5 of those you listed, mostly after I was out of school, on my own. I never finished college.

    AL: I’m in the same boat. Lots of books that I heard that I should have read, so I caught up later.

  3. I love catcher in the rye and to kill a mockingbird!!

    I want to read lord of the flies!!
    I think it’s beautiful!!!

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