Mrs. Graves was my ninth grade language arts teacher and she was tough as nails. I can still clearly remember sitting in her class and being handed the synopsis of the school year. We were to write a term theme and pick a book from the list she presented. It was going to take six weeks to write and then type (pre computers people, typewriters!) We had to learn how to research using the card catalog in the school library (I can hear kids today asking, what is a card catalog?) and document our information on index cards. It sounded terrible.
I chose To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Thirty years later, I still have that term paper. It is in the attic in a box somewhere because it was special enough to keep. Students simultaneously hated and loved Mrs. Graves. She made us read and work and read and work and write and write and write. It was terrible. And fun. And rewarding. It prepared me for the rest of high school and beyond. And introduced me to a classic book I love to this day. My husband mentioned this topic for my post this week (thanks honey!). He said, "You should write about books we were required to read in high school." I wonder how many of us were reading these books, still read these books, and if kids now are reading them. I know my own boys have read a few from my list. Hopefully they will continue being presented to kids because they are timeless and wonderful even if we don't thank our teachers for making us read them at the time. What books did you have to read and do you still love them today?
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I loved this book because of the beautiful and complicated relationships presented between Scout, her lawyer father, Atticus, brother Jem, and Boo Radley, the town recluse. The dynamic courtroom drama as her father defends a black man accused of rape by a white woman are as memorable as you will find in a novel. Being from Texas, it resonated with me in many ways, showing the prejudice of the time while also maintaining the pride in being Southern. It highlights the best and worst attitudes of the time. A classic for sure.
2. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I'm pleased that this is still required reading at my sons' high school. I wasn't too sure about this book, being a girl, but ended up loving it and have re-read it over the years. You can't help but feel desperate for the stranded boys and the spiral into chaos that results in tragedy. As a parent, I have even more appreciation now for the situation they find themselves in. It is also a timeless lesson for all of us as to what can happen without law and order in society.
3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I'll admit I didn't really understand the point of this book at the time. It still is the shortest classic I've ever read and is quite depressing. But something about George and Lenny's life and the Great Depression era stuck with me. It was realistic and raw and when you are a teen that kind of thing usually speaks to you. Not exactly my favorite required read but one I'm glad I was made to tackle.
4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Another book I didn't fully appreciate or understand until I was older, it still was great to be introduced to it as a teen. Hester's predicament and the community's reaction both angered and annoyed me but was also an intriguing look into Puritan society. It fueled my love of historical fiction from that era.
5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Sad to say this book is still relevant. Though Orwell was mocking the leaders of the Russian Revolution, the underlying themes of dictators, utopian dreams, and arrogance of the elites still happens in our current world. I've returned to this book more than once as it is timeless, humorous, and clever. As a teen it was way over my head historically but I got the gist of how people's true nature can overtake them and cause them to slide into tyranny. And the animals were a cute way to represent it.