I don’t know about you, but I generally loved required reading in high school. The Grapes of Wrath, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby: whatever teachers threw at me, I fell for. I loved picking out my classroom copy of a novel from the cardboard box of books Mrs. Kramer passed around before each new lesson. I loved the worn covers, age-tinted pages, and margin notes left from students of years past. I loved discussion questions, and book reports, and playing Popcorn (you remember that game that involved everyone taking turns reading sentences aloud at random.) Sure, high school wasn’t always all peaches and daisies, but English class, and the required novels that came along with it, hold nothing but fond memories for me.
That said, with great required reading comes great responsibility (that is how that expression goes, right?) In the not-so-right hands, required reading can go very, very wrong. And you know, there was a LOT going on in high school: dates, bad hair, making sure the hem of your flared jeans covered your shoes at the exact right length otherwise your entire day was ruined; so you may not have always been paying as close attention to your required reading assignments as you could have been.
Thinking about revisiting those titles from your required reading days? Read this first. Here are seven things that happen when you reread required reading books from high school.
Holden Caulfield Really Does Suck As Much As You Remember
OK, OK, I know. Lots of people (allegedly) love Holden Caulfield. But I'm skeptical... there must be some ulterior motive for admitting to this. If you genuinely love Holden, feel free to skip this part. I, however, do not love Holden. I think Holden, in a word, sucks. A lot. I did not find Holden deep, or profound, or to be speaking to the experience general social angst in the way that so many readers credit him with doing. I kind of thought he was the biggest whiner in the history of mankind, and basically deserved the misery that was brought on by no one but himself. Holden claimed he was distancing himself from other people on purpose because of their phoniness and hypocrisy, but if I had to guess, people were probably distancing themselves from Holden because he never stopped his self-righteous complaining. I do not regret the distance that has been established between Holden and me since high school. At all.
The Odyssey Is Actually A Much Better Read Than You Thought
Circa 2002 the phrase "epic Greek poem" might have made you groan. But you put your big girl pants on one leg at a time now and the mythic Gods, sea monsters, mysterious seductresses, cannibals, shipwrecks, and general mischief contained in The Odyssey is actually really cool. You're also much more well-read now, so you can enjoy recalling all the other stories you've enjoyed that were so obviously influenced by this epic adventure classic.
There Was Much More To Romeo & Juliet Than You Realized
When you're 16 and dating that one guy your mother doesn't like, Romeo & Juliet is ALL ABOUT YOU. You are tragic, and you are in love, and the windowsill of your second story bedroom might as well be a castle balcony overlooking the blustery moor upon which your love will serenade you with poetry (or, you know, help you sneak out to somewhere irresistibly exotic on a Wednesday night. Like Applebee's.) Give this one another glance after high school is long over and you'll realize this tale is much more political than it is romantic — feuding families, death penalty debates, citizen policing, arranged marriages — and if you pay close attention, Juliet was actually sort of just a rebound for Rosaline.
That One Teacher May Have Been A Little Too Good At Multitasking
I once spent an entire semester on The Book of Job. That is A LOT of time for anyone outside of the clergy to be spending on any one book of the Bible, let alone anyone whose age still has the word "teen" in it. Not only did my class read The Book of Job several times over, we were assigned group projects, individual projects, sentence-level research projects, and all sorts of other inane literary tasks that become painstakingly tedious when required of the same book. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure my sophomore year English class wrote our teacher's doctoral thesis for him. For shame, Teach.
Hester Prynne Was Kind Of A Badass
Is it just me or was Hester Prynne totally a woman before her time? One of the original single mothers of literature, the condemned adulterer continued to live her life and raise her child as normally as possible, despite the fact that her community tried to slut-shame her off the planet. She defended her lover, pastor Arthur Dimmesdale's, anonymity even though he basically gots off scot free, because Hester just had it covered all on her own. She was sexually liberated, socially defiant, and basically blew off all the Puritan bullies trying to make her feel bad about herself. You go girl.
Some Of Your Teachers Were Seriously Preoccupied With Death
A Lesson Before Dying, As I Lay Dying, Death of a Salesman, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Tuesdays With Morrie — sometimes there seemed to be a lot of death in English Lit class. Between all that dying and the nightmare that was Catcher in the Rye, it's a wonder any of us readers learned to believe the world was anything but bleak and doomed. Thank goodness Pride and Prejudice was there to save the day. #TeamDarcyForever
You've Actually Grown Quite A Lot In The Years Since High School
I don't know when Juliet Capulet suddenly became so much younger than me, but at some point between 12th grade English Lit class and now it seems I evolved beyond the days when every great love was my last, every breakup unbearable, every struggle the end of the world, and every conflict with friends beyond repair. Few things will make you realize how far you've grown in the last several years — from an anxious teen into a relatively reasonable adult — than rereading your dog-eared, margin-noted novels of heartbreak, adventure, romance, and loss from high school. It's definitely worth the literary reunion.
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