Allison Peters at Book Riot has a post up about getting turned off by books because you read them before you were able to appreciate them.
I’ve never read Tess of the D’Ubervilles, which is one of the titles specifically mentioned. Or The Color Purple, which is another.
In the same post, Becky mentions The Great Gatsby and how she didn’t “get it” when it was assigned, but loved it when she read it much later on her own. Well, this kind of post always makes me think about WHY I have spent my life mostly avoiding classics.
Books that I was forced to read in high school: Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men. And plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear.
Books that I was never assigned: Anything by Jane Austen, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, any Shakespearian comedies.
If I ever, ever saw an optimistic ending in an assigned book, I don’t remember it. The implicit belief of my lit teachers that tragedy automatically confers depth and that happy endings are automatically suspect turned me off classics SO HARD. It’s a miracle I ever got into Austen — or actually, it’s solely because of the movie version of “Sense and Sensibility,” which a friend dragged me off to see over my strenuous objections.
I finally read Jane Eyre in order to appreciate Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn. I didn’t particularly like it, but at least its overall message isn’t grim and despairing.
I’ll never know whether I would now be able to appreciate Lord of the Flies, because I do not plan to re-read it. Or anything else I loathed in high school. Maybe I would love those books now; we’ll never know.
So, yeah. Tip for teachers: if you want to encourage a love of the classics, maybe lighten up the curriculum a bit?
I realize it would be impossible to choose great stories that would appeal to all young readers. Hah hah hah. Naturally plenty of students would be bored to tears by Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know what I would actually choose to assign if I were teaching high school lit classes. But if I wanted to assign 1984, I would warn students that the book’s overall message is dark, dark, dark. And then I would also assign a dystopia with a more hopeful ending. That would even allow a discussion of hopeless endings vs hopeful endings. Wouldn’t that be better than assigning nothing but All Is Despair books from front to back of the curriculum?
My most loathed book ever: Madame Bovary, which was not assigned in high school, but which was assigned twice in college. I can’t imagine why I didn’t just glance at the Cliff Notes for the second time through, but no, I actually suffered through the book twice. OH THE TRAUMA.
The single book I most wish had been assigned: Pride and Prejudice. I would have discovered Austen much sooner and perhaps not be so thoroughly put off classics in the first place.
The one classic I would most like to read but probably won’t: War and Peace. My TBR pile is so huge, and there are so many books I really want to read, and I still have to overcome a good deal of fear-of-classics to reach for one. But that’s too bad, because I’d sort of like to have read War and Peace.
How about you? Did you enjoy the books you were assigned to read in high school (or college) lit classes?