10 books you really should have read in high school

I’m a sucker for a list like this.

MSN gives us a list of 10 books you really should have read in high school.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Nawthorne
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

My stats on this list are pretty good: 8 out of 10. Here’s your list again with my comments.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I found this moving and interesting; I think I read it twice in high school, and only once was required. Thumbs up.
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Nawthorne: I’m pretty sure I didn’t read this book until I was back in college after my BA, taking post-bacc courses. It was required reading, then. I did find it to address some important concepts, and I think it would do well in high school, too. Thumbs up.
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: I did read this in high school, although I feel fairly sure it wasn’t for school. Although there is no end of discussion of and raving about this book, it didn’t grab me. Perhaps there’s something specifically male about the perspective. I found it dull. Because I know it’s spoken of as being important, I’ll generously give it a meh.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Wonderful book. Was required reading for me in high school and I think it should be. Thumbs decidedly up.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Nobody made me read this in high school, but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Funny, and relevant in any age, witty, clever, and important. Thumbs up!
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: Have never read. You tell me, what am I missing?
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Loved it. Read for school in high school. I think this is an important book. Thumbs up, absolutely.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: If I had to choose just one that every high school kid should read, this would be it.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Another no-brainer in my book.
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: And here’s the other I’ve never read. I have heard that Ayn Rand is a) difficult and b) not, politically, for everyone. What are your thoughts? This is certainly the first I’ve heard of her as a high school required reading selection.

Please share, what are your reactions? How many have you read?

9 Responses

  1. Fountainhead and the Scarlett Letter should be taken off the list because they are bound to discourage students from taking an avid interest in reading literature. Siddhartha is an odd choice as well since it might be a bit challenging but I have no qualms with everything else on the list.

  2. I hear your concern. The Scarlet Letter (or, pick your preferred classic-lit-you-didn’t-like – as you can see, mine was The Catcher in the Rye!) can be difficult, especially at a certain age. But it’s personal. Anybody’s list of 10 books will include some that the next person would quarrel with. We can’t use universality to determine high school reading material, because there’s no such thing as a universally appreciated novel. If taught well, I think a book that a student doesn’t appreciate can still teach them something – including even an appreciation for literature, in the hands of the right teacher.

  3. I’ve read 7 out of the ten (haven’t read Siddhartha, Lord of the Flies, or Fountainhead), but only three were required reading for me in high school. I was in a magnet program that was “international” so we read quite a few non American/British works. Good list, though.

  4. I sometimes feel like high school is the wrong time to read anything. I know that isn’t true but it seems like so many readers were soured on great books because they weren’t ready for them. Although I only read one of these in high school (Twain) I have read 8 of the 10 as well. I own The Scarlet Letter and will read it despite a few aborted attempts. But I will never read Ayn Rand.

  5. This is a rather strange list, I must say. Ayn Rand? Really?

    My high school required Scarlet Letter, Huck Finn and Mockingbird. My father had Gatsby on one of his summer reading lists for me. I read Pride & Prejudice on my own. I remember when everybody I knew was reading Siddhartha and Lord of the Flies (at different times),but I never did (I think I tried Siddhartha, but couldn’t get into it — though I do love Lord of Light 🙂 ). I’ve never read Frankenstein. I have read all of Salinger’s books except for Catcher.

    In high school, we had to read Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Chaucer, various books about characters named Silas, Moby Dick, Homer, and more Moby Dick. Leaving me with some amount of distaste for all of the above. High school can ruin even the best literature (and most of that wasn’t the best anyway).

    Fortunately, I was also diving into the classics: Zelazny, Delany, Heinlein, Stout, Chandler, Doyle, Hammett, Tolkien, Van Vogt, and Vonnegut. And Hemingway, who (fortunately) I discovered on my own, and Henry James.

  6. Julie – cool, I like that you got a more international perspective. There’s certainly no shortage of amazing American novels, but it’s a shame to miss what the rest of the world has to offer. Unfortunately, the US so often does – and not just in terms of books, either.

    Thomas – I DO know what you mean! I want to argue that I discovered lots of incredibly fine literature in high school. But I agree, sometimes damage is done… and it’s hard because we’re at such diverse reading levels in high school (and always).

    Anthony – Looks like you agree with Thomas’s concern at least in part. Ruined Homer for you?? Criminal! I first encountered Homer in high school (studied him pretty extensively in HS and college) and adore him to this day. So sad for you. But the rest… great fun all around.

  7. […] several of you commented on 10 books you should have read in high school. They’re back. Here is an alternate list of 10 books, leaning towards more recent, […]

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