September 24, 2017

My recommended required reading | AKA Books that I Read for School and Didn't Hate

Summer has finally come to an end. For many people this means going back to school, either as a school or a teacher, and facing another year of studying, learning, and stressing.

School is made up of many facets; horrifying geometry pop quizzes, a list of extracurriculars longer than your TBR, and late nights trying to catch up on what you should have done yesterday. But all of these struggles pale in comparison to the beast of required reading.

The nature of required reading is a double-edged sword, which is perhaps the topic of another blog post. For now, let's just recognize that while being forced to read may not be the most pleasurable literary experience, it doesn't have to be the worst either. As with any book that you read, the reader has power with the story. Even with required reading, you have the choice to make the most of the book, or to dismiss it as another worthless assignment that you are determined to hate.

Teachers too often get hate about their required reading choices, but the students' displeasure is misplaced. The teacher is not the author of the book, or even the person who decided it was popular. As a society, we collectively put value on certain books that survived throughout time. So, let me say it one more time for the people in the back, IT IS NOT A TEACHER'S FAULT THAT YOU HATED A BOOK.

It took me a while to figure this out, since unfortunately, it is easier to blame a teacher than to blame yourself. But once you start at least trying to appreciate the required books, they will start to appreciate you as well. An open minds leads to understanding, connection, and eventually enjoyment while a closed mind only leads to disappointment.

I am not going to lie, I have read a fair amount of books throughout my education career that I did not like or downright hated. But I have read a ton of books for leisure that I hated too. So, in the spirit of trying to see required reading in a new light, I am going to share some of my favorite books that I was assigned to read.

Flowers for Algernon1. Flowers for Algernon
By Daniel Keyes


This book broke my heart is so many ways. Flowers for Algernon should be required reading for every adolescent. After our class read this novel, no one used the word "moron" or "retarded" for the rest of the school year, which is a testament to the impact this book makes. 

It is a lesson about intelligence, ignorance, and what being human means. As a society, we place a disproportionate amount of our self-worth on intelligence and knowledge. Flowers for Algernon challenges this view of the worth of a human being and shows that we are more than the facts we know or the number of our IQ.
2. A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens 
A Tale of Two Cities 

You really cannot go wrong with Dickens. I mean, I know that his name carries the stigma of a classical author, but his books don't have the pomp and circumstance of a stuffy classic. Dickens takes the story of the French Revolution and makes it intimately personal to the reader, getting us invested into the life of a family living during one of the most dangerous (and in my opinion, most interesting) periods of history.

Also, I would like to make a plug for Sydney Carton. To this day, he is one of my favorite literary characters (in the same vein as Will Herondale from The Infernal Devices, who frequently compares himself to Sydney Carton).  His character arc is phenomenal and everything I could ask for from a literary master such as Dickens.

A Tale of Two Cities will teach you that no one is past the point of redemption, no matter how far you wander into the dark. The story shows that not all battles can be won, but love will always make the best of a bad situation. 

Pride and Prejudice3. Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen 


I give all of the credit for my enjoyment of this book to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries webseries. The show, created by Hank Green, modernized the classic story of, well, pride and prejudice. In the series, Lizzie is a graduate student working on her thesis, which just happens to be a vlog series. Naturally, her vlog involves all of her family's drama, including her perpetual singledom, her sisters' perpetual manhunting, and the rich new guy who moved into town.

The web-series aside, Pride and Prejudice was the first classic that I read and truly enjoyed. It is a classic love story that challenges ideas of class and gender. Plus Mr. Darcy is the best book boyfriend in existence. Enough said.

4. Alas, Babylon
Alas, BabylonBy Pat Frank


Until I read Alas Babylon, I did not know that there were classic dystopian novels. Now that I have read 1984 and Brave New World, I know that is not true, but this book will always hold a special place in my dystopian-dominated heart. 

I also love Alas, Babylon because it has enough action, romance, and literary worth to make it a classic more friendly to both girls and guys. 

In the end, it is not a classic because of stuffy writing or over-the-top themes. Instead, this novel portrays humanity at its worst without losing faith. There are so many gruesome dystopian novels out there without hope or faith in humanity, but this novel counters all of the negative stereotypes. This novel doesn't condemn humanity, but shows how our strength can shine even in the darkest of times.

The House on Mango Street5. The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros


The House on Mango Street is more of a contemporary classic, but that doesn't diminish its literary value. I read it last week for my history class and I was blown away by what Cisneros does with so few words.

The House on Mango Street is written in vignettes, which means each chapter is a short independent scene that only lasts a few pages, if that. These short chapters really give you a snapshot into the life of a Latina girl living in a segregated Chicago. The vignette style is also very friendly to a variety of readers due to the short length. In total, the book is only 110 pages, which is a nice break from the 400+ page fantasy novels I have been reading lately (not to mention how good it is for my Goodreads goal).

I also love the story because traditional classics don't tend to be very diverse, which is the opposite with The House on Mango Street. By telling her story as a young girl of Mexican heritage, Cisneros opened the floodgates for more and more diverse #ownvoices stories to be seen. 

Do you think that required reading is more of a nuisance than a help to students? What books did you read for school and then actually love? Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? Did I convince you to give any of these classics a shot? 

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