It’s probably no surprise that reading was my favorite thing to do in grades K-through-12, and if you’re reading this article, chances are that even if English class isn’t at the top of your list of favorite memories from high school, it also probably wasn’t high among those things that made you want to crawl into a hole and disappear — like, say, the dodgeball unit in gym class. And while I definitely don’t miss dodgeball (or anything about the mandatory physical education that always seemed to end up in fourth period on my schedule) there are plenty of books I genuinely miss reading in high school.
For most book-lovers, I think high school was probably the place where we started to dive really deep into the literature that would inform the people we were growing up to be — the writers who spoke to us in a way that nobody else could, the authors whose perspectives we were shocked to find we totally disagreed with, and the books from our required reading lists that we would have read over and over again, required or not. And then there are those books that we loved back in the day, but that will never be quite the same when we read them as adults. And those are some of the books we miss reading most.
Maybe some of your once-upon-a-time faves ended up on this list too. Here are ten books we miss from our high school reading lists. And OK, a few that definitely did not make your high school reading list, but that you loved just the same.
1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Probably because every teen sitcom to ever grace the cable television airwaves had, at one point, a story line involving a high school performance of Romeo and Juliet that magically cast your favorite leading fella and that gal whose eye he’d been trying to catch all season (or vice-versa) as Romeo and Juliet, finally forcing them to face all those feelings they’d been hiding from themselves and each other all season long by practicing the “and with a kiss” scene over and over again, Romeo and Juliet was THE BOOK to read in the 10th grade. You just knew once Trevor from 3rd period Chemistry read the play he would realize you were destined to be together. Don’t even pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
2. The Odyssey by Homer
I actually really miss reading this book in high school. I loved it back then, and I suspect I’d still love it now, if I could get around to picking it back up. But there’s just something really difficult about sitting down and attempting to reread The Odyssey as an adult — I don’t know if it’s the structure, or the length, or the fact that Mr. Bowyer isn’t here to explain particular elements of the text to me, or the interruption-free expanse of time needed to really immerse oneself in the otherworldly setting of The Odyssey, but somehow this book just does not read the same when you’re not reading it from an alphabetized row of those laminate tabletop desks with the attached plastic seats.
3. 1984 by George Orwell
In 2003 we were like: “1984 is so creepy — how fictional and dystopic; Julia was so slimy for betraying Winston.” In 2016 it’s all: “Yup, sounds about right; and I’d totally have betrayed Winston too if it meant getting out of there alive.”
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I don’t actually miss reading Beloved in high school — since Morrison’s writing only resonates deeper as my reader’s mind grows older — so much as I miss reading Beloved for the very first time. It’s one of those books that teaches you how to read; and if you’ve never read a book quite like it before, Beloved opens you up to a world of literature you never even knew existed. This is one of those books that demonstrates how a reader can be transformed by great writing, and like the many “firsts” there are to be had in high school, the first experience with life-changing literature is one of the more unforgettable.
5. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Waiting for Lena and Kostos to kiss was everything back in high school. Everything. Now, as a grown-up lady, my most meaningful vacation romances are between me and whatever I’m reading. If the bartender knows how to make guacamole, he’ll come in a close second.
6. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Similar to Romeo and Juliet, you read Waiting for Godot in high school as the ultimate, silent pickup line. Heck, you didn’t even have to read it as long as you walked around with it (cover facing out, where everyone could see it) with a far-off look in your slightly-squinted eyes. In high school, toting around Waiting for Godot meant you understood something deep and profound about the world that made you uniquely more attractive than your less-enlightened peers. This wasn’t just me, right? Because I dated a lot of boys who seemed to be reading Waiting for Godot… And sure, while as an adult I understand that Waiting for Godot is still an essential piece of twentieth-century literature, I’m far less likely to agree to wear your letterman jacket just because a dog-eared copy is sitting on your lunch tray.
7. The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
With the 30th anniversary of Ann M. Martin’s adored series coming up, I have been majorly reliving all my favorite BSC moments. And there were many, believe me. But as a reader who has long vacated the I-am-the-babysitter years of my life and is steadily approaching the need-to-hire-a-babysitter phase of life instead, I have to admit the books were a tad more fun to read when kids made you money, instead of costing you.
8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
While being “unstuck” in time seemed like a novel concept in high school (see: all my teenage angst is due to the fact that I’m metaphorically unstuck in time too!) we’ve all since read The Time Traveler’s Wife, and ergo Slaughterhouse-Five will never read quite the same way again.
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was growing up. Loved. I loved the imagery in L’Engle’s writing and the sense of urgency that drove her plot, and I loved that the Murry family seemed so very special and outside-of-society. As an adult all those things are still true — but yeesh, Meg is one whiny, trembling little heroine. The feminist, family-saving adventurer I remember her being when I read this in high school was not the same tearful gal I found as an adult. But that’s kind of fine, because she was there for me when I needed her, and that’s what counts.
10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
If your high school was anything like mine Kate Chopin’s novel about female sexual awakening and infidelity was definitely not on your English class syllabus. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t check it out of the library on your own. And while Chopin’s writing wasn’t nearly as earth-shattering in 2005 as it was in 1899, there was still something super life-affirming about all that uninhibited womanhood. Especially when Hester Prynne was the most feminist fictional heroine on your required reading list. (Not that we don’t love Hester too.)
Image: 20th Century Fox