Required reading gets a certain, um, how do I say this... horrible, terrible rap? Even for those of us who love reading, who do it often, on our own time, there's just something about a teacher saying, "Read this. Now," that gets under your skin. But yesterday, I stumbled upon a Reddit discussion that turned the notion of assigned school reading on its head.
"What's the best book you've ever read for school?" Redditor Superpineapplejones asked the Reddit books universe yesterday. "Usually the books teachers assign in class suck to read, simply because you are being forced to read it. But every once in awhile there is a book that is actually great and fun to read. " And while I certainly snorted at the wording — having taught various writing and English courses over the years, I have seen, over and over again, how the implication that a student must read something, even it's a two-page short story, elicits sighs and pouts and a chorus of eye rolls — I realized that as soon as I began to think about my own answer, a host of memories came flooding back.
Over 100 responses have poured in since yesterday, with many accompanying their favorite required reading with anecdotes of their middle school reading habits. There were those who remembered one book because it was, well, the only book they read. Others remember a title as the first time reading didn't feel like a chore. Or there was a novel that taught a lesson, or introduced a new genre. And at the core of these responses lay the whole point of required reading: to foster, even amid the grumpiness, a love for reading. Even if it's just one story. Even if it's just one book.
'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
Hardly surprising that the first title mentioned was Harper Lee's 1960 novel about a racially charged trial that tears apart a small Alabama town. "After slogging through middle school barely reading anything, TKAM rekindled my love of the written word freshman year," wrote AbacusFinch. "One of the few books I’ve re-read, and plan to again."
'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad
Published in 1899, Heart of Darkness, a deep dive into imperialism and the colonization of Africa, has been hitting classrooms hard for decades. "I grew up in a very white town in Northeastern Wisconsin," wrote dorsin4. "In high school I read Heart of Darkness, and it completely changed the way I look at people who are different from me."
'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller
"I read other books I enjoyed, and many books that were fun or enjoyable but felt like a chore because it was forced reading," wrote ArthurBea. "But Catch-22 was the first fun read." Fun, in a deeply dark way. Catch-22 birthed the popular term, "catch-22," which stemmed from a comically sinister rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly flies dangerous combat missions, but if he tries to quit, he's considered sane, and therefore ineligible to quit.
'Kindred' by Octavia Butler
'Candide' by Voltaire
'The Education Of A WASP' by Lois Mark Stalvey
"Really interesting memoir which certainly helped open my eyes to stuff I hadn't thought about before," wrote j12601. "Some stuff in here still pops into my head on a regular basis a dozen years later." The 1970s memoir tracks a young white woman's realization of, and reckoning with this country's history - and current reality - of violent racism.
'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
'The Giver' by Lois Lowry
'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende
'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
"I was told it was a landmark feminist novel so went in with low expectations and it was actually quite life changing," wrote JonnotheMackem. "It was a tremendous, deep, even handed and realistic nightmare that made a point of showing how men would suffer too, which my teenage mind took almost as an olive branch."
'A Separate Peace' by John Knowles
"A Separate Peace might have been the only book I actually read throughout high school and ten years of college," wrote boiseshan. And whether they really were in college for ten years or not, A Separate Peace, a coming of age novel about male friendship, honesty and forgiveness, has been capturing the attention of students since 1959.
'The Martian Chronicles' by Ray Bradbury
"We read The Martian Chronicles, and that started my lifelong love of science fiction," wrote hexqueen. And isn't the whole, heckin' point of school reading assignments, at their core? To spark some curiosity, to build on interest, to foster a relationship between student and author?