High school literary memories

I’ve recently begun taking advantage of the free classics you can download on a Kindle.  I’m a fan of older fiction, but as I scrolled through Amazon’s list of free books, it occurred to me that I wasn’t always this way.  In fact, I actively hated most of the novels I was assigned in high school.  Here are my vague memories of the respected classics that my teachers assigned.

Crime and Punishment — Raskolnikov, let me help you with your moral dilemma: it doesn’t matter if it’s OK for great men to murder people, because you are painfully ordinary and kind of crazy to boot.  If you think you might be the next Napoleon, why not try joining the army instead of premeditated murder?  PS — Dunya, you can do way better than that dopey Razumihin.

The Grapes of Wrath — So a guy with the initials JC is killed by people he’s trying to help and his last words are “you don’t know what you’re doing.”  I think Steinbeck is trying to allude to something here, but what, what?!  And what the hell is with that damned roadkill turtle?

The Old Man and the Sea — This is a book. It is about a man. An old man.  And it is also about the sea.  The old man and his young friend like to talk of the Great DiMaggio.  It is written in choppy sentences. Can we switch to Shakespeare yet?

The Great Gatsby — I actually liked this one, except for Daisy.  Why are the unavailable women classic-novel heroes are obsessed with always such drips?  (I’m looking at you too, Great Expectations.)

The Plague — There is a plague.  People die.  Life is meaningless unless you accept it’s meaningless, then it might have meaning.  Then more people die.  The end.

Catch-22 — Insane and kind of depressing, but in a good way.

The Scarlet Letter — I babysat a lot in high school.  Four-year-olds do not talk like Pearl.  Conclusion: kid’s possessed.  Do Puritans believe in exorcism?  If not, they’d better start.

Pride and Prejudice — I don’t believe it.  An assigned book that didn’t leave me depressed and despairing about The Hopelessness Of It All?  No wonder I love Jane Austen.

What were you assigned in high school?  Any favorites stick with you?  Or are your memories of high school English class as spotty and snarky as mine?

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8 comments on “High school literary memories

  1. Grace says:

    I liked most of the books we were assigned in high school, but there’s a catch. I only enjoyed the ones that I read for fun first. I think the entire structure of high school English classes ruins a lot of really good books.

    • Interesting! I also tend to prefer the classics that I encountered on my own — loved To Kill a Mockingbird, loved The Brothers Karamazov, loved most of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories.

      I will say that I don’t think I would have ever picked up Pride and Prejudice had it not been assigned in class — I’d given Sense and Sensibility a go a few years earlier and it really didn’t click for me.

  2. Bri says:

    The only book that stood out to me from high school was Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, which was mind-blowingly philosophical and challenging for me at the time. It’s intensely literary (therefore not fun or easy or escapist), but slogging through it was worth it for understanding how complex and beautiful novels could be. I tried to re-read it a few years ago and got all cross-eyed.

  3. Sharon says:

    Favorite assigned high school read was To Kill a Mockingbird. Least favorite was Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Omg, how I hated that book.

    • Bri says:

      Oh yeah! TKAM! That was a highlight of mine as well. I want to name my future children/dogs “Scout” or “Atticus” on account of that book.

  4. Jesselyn Girl says:

    I actually did love most of the high school books I read. Well. Maybe not LOVE but enjoyed. Dante’s Divine Comedy was lovely. Imagery was fabulous. I enjoyed Great Gatsby too. Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie.

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