You likely have specific, vivid memories of at least one book that was required reading in middle or high school. Perhaps required reading in school was torture for you. Maybe you trudged through Hamlet or The Scarlet Letter at a snail’s pace, constantly asking your friends or parents to help you figure out what was going on. Or, maybe you just skipped it altogether and went straight to the Cliffs Notes, no passing go for you.
For those of us who were the lucky ones, something clicked. Usually it was an invested, passionate teacher—one who opened the door to great literature by showing us the relevance of what we were reading and sharing their own passion for it. When this happened, middle and high school required reading led to a lifetime love of books and good literature.
Revisiting Required Reading
But it’s not too late to develop a love of the classics, for the required reading that tortured you in school. Give these books another try—from an adult perspective. You might discover that you actually like or love a book that you hated in school.
We may be a little biased, because To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite here at Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe. If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since school, it’s definitely worth another read. The story follows 6-year-old narrator, Scout Finch, as she navigates life in the poor, segregated Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. She learns valuable lessons from her father, and her honesty and wit will charm, amuse and enlighten.
Monroeville native Harper Lee hasn’t published another book for 50 years, but this summer the follow-up novel to Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, is coming out. Written before Mockingbird, Watchman will allow us to reconnect with Scout, Atticus, Jem and the citizens of Maycomb. If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since school, it’s time to refresh and fall in love with this charming, important book all over again!
George Orwell’s allegorical novel about talking animals may have seemed odd and even simplistic in high school—why do we care about the struggles of farm animals and the evolution of pigs? The historical/allegorical aspect is interesting, but may have distracted you from the excellent story and writing. All you need to know is that the animals represent the Russian Revolution of 1917—Old Major is a Marx/Lenin figure, Napoleon is Joseph Stalin, and Snowball is Leon Trotsky. Now just relax and read, and watch the socialist experiment unfold! You’ll love the end.
If you read Vonnegut in high school, it was probably Slaughterhouse-Five and you were probably annoyed and confused by Billy Pilgrim’s nonlinear journey. But if you had one of those fun, fantastic professors, you might have read another of Vonnegut’s novels—Cat’s Cradle—later on in college. Though Slaughterhouse-Five is worth a reread, my recommendation is Cat’s Cradle. This surprising, humorous book is about science, religion and the apocalypse—everything you need for a fun, literary romp. Check it out if you’ve never read it, or give it another try if you read it in school—you won’t regret it!
Bradbury’s dystopian book, Fahrenheit 451, is not only exciting and intriguing—his predictions get more accurate and relevant by the day. In a world where books are illegal and houses are fireproof, the job of a fireman is to start fires—to burn books when citizens are found with an illegal stash. Society is obsessed with television and other mindless pursuits. Bradbury published it in 1953, and you’ll be disconcerted by the accuracy of his predictions.
Dystopia not your cup of tea? Maybe you’re in the mood for a mystery? Though many would recommend Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, I suggest you check out Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. From its famous opening line: “Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again,” to its beautiful, eerie setting—you’ll be glad you gave Rebecca another shot.
What was your favorite required reading in school? Have you reread and formed a different opinion about a required reading? Leave a comment and let us know, we’d love to hear from you!