Do you ever find yourself talking to another adult when you realize you both survived the hardest four years, the high school test of intellectual and emotional strength that is Honors/AP English? Maybe you catch a glimpse of that person's beach read — and discover the text is color-coded with highlighter? Perhaps you spot a kindred spirit ogling the different hues of index cards? (Pastel forever.) Regardless of the tell, you know the two of you are going to be bonding over some books.
In my high school, the most formidable aspect of the Honors/AP curriculum arrived during sophomore year. After breezing through A Tale Of Two Cities , us Honors kids were tasked with choosing a single author and familiarizing ourselves with their oeuvre. By familiarizing ourselves, of course, I mean studying obsessively so we'd be capable of writing synthesizing analysis reports that routinely leapt over the one-hundred-page mark and delivering hour-long oral presentations.
I heard rumors that this project was done away with after too many parents complained about their children's near-rabid fatigue, but I'm a survivor who wears my badge of hardship with some cynical pride. I'm thankful for the rigor Honors taught me. And these 13 books will remind you of your own AP/Honors challenge.
1. Adam Bede by George Eliot
The book that taught you Sorrel is a plant and not just a surname. (And maybe also the book that taught you George Eliot wasn't a man.)
2. The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton
In which, amid the opulence of New York's uppercrust, one sees the seeds of today's texting etiquette are already sown.
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Morrison shows that trauma is always personal, no matter how representative of a larger horror that trauma might be. Probably the AP book that forever changed your definition of "ghost story."
4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Relatively short by Honors standards--so why did I never finish this? #Shame--but not like Hester's.
5. A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Ahh, yes: the special thrill of "acting out" a play--or, in AP-speak, reading with passion, at desks.
6. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Research tells me some Honors/AP students read this quixotic gem by the Lolita author, and to those of you who can confirm that, all I can say is: JEALOUS. I read Pale Fire the summer after high school and, true to my Honors English heart, I really would've loved to decode all of Nabokov's allusions with someone other than my lonesome!
7. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
You either read this or Hamlet, and you know you watched all the movies. Bonus points if your class called Macbeth The Scottish Play.
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
Remember how cool you felt when you learned Kafkaesque was a legit adjective? Remember how hard it was to use it naturally in a sentence? Oh wait... remember how you were in AP/Honors and you could indulge all your dorkiest pretensions? (Yup, me too.)
9. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Even the best spellers resented Raskolnikov, not to mention our dear author, Fyodor, whose last name is sometimes rendered with a terminal "i". Dostoyevski? Dostoyevsky? Will I lose points if I choose the wrong vowel?
10. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
There was always that special thrill when you read something from the twentieth-century in Honors/AP. Hurston's book, for instance, was (and is) filled with quotes so devastating you could kind of pretend you weren't reading for class:
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.
11. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Is ... that ... turtle ... really ... still ... crossing ... the ... road? Tires? This chapter's all about ... tires?
12. Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett
This one really made you feel like you belonged in Honors.
13. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Totally normal if this led to something you uncomfortably think of as your "hippie phase," which pretty much meant watching Apocalypse Now, listening to classic rock, and wearing something faux suede.