It’s a new start to the school year! This time of year always reminds me of my time spent in school and especially the books I read. I had an..er.. eclectic high school and college experience which defined my “required reading” list. I was part of both the performing arts and pre-engineering programs in high school. During college, I was in the honor’s program, was an English major for a bit, and had to take some theater classes as part of my major (which was not theater). These vastly different experiences forced me to read both the standards (helloooo Romeo and Juliet) and some that were a little more out of the box.
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Technically, The Diary of Anne Frank was a middle school read, but had such a profound impact on my views about the Holocaust and World War II that I had to include it, especially since many students don’t read it until high school. I had always been interested in this time period, but reading an actual first-hand account of a girl who was the same age and did not survive this horrible time in history really put much of the historical fiction I read, before and after, into context. It is bleak, but out of all the standard school reading, I feel that this is one of the most important books to keep as the tragedies of the Holocaust are further and further behind us. It will help to ensure that we don’t forget.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby was a reminder that money does not always buy happiness. Since it was a “school read,” we discussed the symbolism in great detail and most of it really holds up almost 100 years later. The book lends itself well to actually being able to see what’s happening in your head. I always imagined what the characters wore and their lavish surroundings based on the excellent storytelling of Fitzgerald.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This one really got to me in sophomore English (in a good way). Jane was one of the first independent female characters in one of the “old classics” I had been forced to read. She didn’t rely on being married in a time period where that was so important, but eventually married on her terms. Reading this and seeing her character retain independence made me begin to think that maybe marriage could be an option while staying true to myself.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
I’m not normally interested in dystopian, sci-fi fiction, but this book from one of my college English classes really made me think about the kind of world we could have if we didn’t change the way we’re doing certain things. It takes place in California five years from now. Though it was written in 1993, it did an excellent job of predicting a lot of the issues we had when I was in college and still have to this day.
I had to take a world history of theater class in college. Most of the plays we read were pretty bleak. But this one actually had humor and a satisfying ending, so I have a fonder memory of it than most of the plays I was required to read. The entire premise of the play is light and satirical since Wilde’s contemporaries wrote plays that were intended to make the audience think much deeper about societal issues. He was actually making fun of the over-the-top seriousness of everyone else at the time, kind of like a Victorian-era Saturday Night Live!
There were many books I didn’t enjoy, but am glad I read. One series I didn’t love was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know that’s an unpopular opinion. I had to read the trilogy during a college honors class, and I found them just as boring as the movies. I’m glad I can finally say I read the trilogy and now appreciate the love held by the large fan base!
Reading was something I loved to do when growing up so reading something for school that I actually enjoyed was a bonus. And if I can remember some of these books all of these years later, they may be worth another read as an adult!
What “required reading” books did you like most?
Kelsey Shackelford is the Community Events Liaison for Boone County Public Library.