Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Favorite (and Least Favorite) Assigned Readings

Chances are pretty good that you were assigned a lot of reading in middle and high school. It's also pretty likely that you only remember a handful of those assigned readings (depending on how long it has been since you were in school). You probably remember a few that you just hated, and a few that you actually liked (though, depending on which social circles you belonged to, you might not have admitted that at the time). So today, Cassy and I will talk about our favorite assigned readings, and our least favorite assigned readings.*

Alex's Favorite
I actually found it difficult to choose just one to be my favorite. As I mentioned last week, I was really drawn in by Ray Bradbury's short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" (which, I later discovered, was from The Martian Chronicles). But to avoid being redundant, I would have to say my favorite school reading was probably And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which I read in 7th grade English. (An extremely close runner-up was Night by Elie Wiesel, but I'll find a time to discuss that one later.)

I think I enjoyed this book as much as I did because I remember it as the first time a teacher treated my class like we could handle things like hearing offensive words and understanding complex subjects. She didn't hesitate to tell us that the book was originally called something else that would be very offensive today, and she had us read some of the more difficult passages in class so we could discuss them together. (After all, how many 12-year-olds do you know who would understand the "swan song" reference? In fact, how many full-grown adults do you know who would pick up on it?)

Beyond that, though, I've never been a big reader of mysteries. I didn't do the Nancy Drew thing (or Hardy Boys, either). So this was the first mystery I read and paid attention to, and it was a very good one. For Christmas the year I read this in school, I received a few other Agatha Christie books (because I had announced my love of this one) but I thought they all paled in comparison to And Then There Were None. It's possible that this was because I was twelve, and I didn't have a teacher explaining the more antiquated references, or it could just be because my thirst for mystery had been slaked with just one.

A few years after I had to read this book for class, I thought about it and realized that I didn't remember the ending. I couldn't remember whodunit! So I found a copy somewhere and re-read it, and was surprised all over again. Unfortunately, I remember it now, but it's still not a bad re-read from time to time.

Cassy's Favorite

While I have read more than my fair share of books during my middle and high school years (half of which I don't even remember now, there were so many), Orwell's 1984 always stood out in my mind.

I think one of the reasons I liked it so much in school was because it was one of the first books I read that wasn't bogged down in language I didn't understand or references I didn't get or topics I didn't really find that interesting.  It wasn't Shakespeare, which, let's face it, most of us had no idea WHAT he was saying in high school (and if you tell me you did, you're lying), nor were there chapters fully devoted to turtles (if you've read it, you know exactly what I'm talking about.)

1984's language is pretty plain and the plot is easy to follow.  Besides, it's about someone constantly watching you, constantly having to watch your back.  There's espionage and trickery and a Government that always knows what you're doing.

And the best part?  It's a book that was easy to discuss, even in high school. Question one: do we live in a world like this now?  The constant debate on what our government watches and the rights we have, even in High School was alluring.

I read this again about a year ago and I realized that I still really love it.  It's a great book and, honestly, I still love it for all the reasons that I did before (and the fact that just after finishing it, one of the engineers I worked with made a Room 101 reference and I got it, just made me love it more.  Especially when I told him I had just finished the book and he, sheepishly, responded that he had only ever seen the movie.)

Alex's Least Favorite
Just like with my favorite school reading, it was really hard to choose between two finalists for my least favorite. I think that really, my least favorites would be the ones that had absolutely no impact on me, because that must have been an enormous waste of time. (I remember that we were supposed to read The Great Gatsby but I remember nothing about it.) And while I really hated reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, I don't remember why, so I don't think it would be fair to discuss it here. Which leaves me with Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Wait... Don't get me wrong. I actually kind of liked this book. After the fact.

If you aren't familiar with it, Animal Farm uses a barnyard as a political allegory. That means it's all a metaphor. For those of you who weren't so great with your literary terms, think of it this way. "My room is a pig sty" is a metaphor. My room isn't really a pig sty; it's just messy, like you would expect a pig sty to be. Metaphor! And an allegory is like applying that to a whole book. (It's not a perfect definition, but it's close.)

See, Orwell was a democratic socialist. He wrote Animal Farm to critique Stalinism and a lot of other political stuff that I vaguely remember. It is rife with symbolism and personification and imagery and pretty much every single literary device you're supposed to learn in high school English. Which means you have a lot of content to deal with when you read this book in school.

I'm glad I had to read it for school. Otherwise, I may never have picked it up, or if I did, I wouldn't have understood all the symbolism. But the way it was taught to me ruined it for me. I can only describe it as a mountain of busy work. I would have much preferred being able to focus on reading and understanding the book instead of stopping myself every few sentences to write an entry. (Vocabulary word, part of speech, definition, sentence it is found in, write your own creative sentence using it. Dozens of these per section. At least 150 by the time we were done.)

But, perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the reason I can enjoy the book today is because I have all that base knowledge somewhere in the back of my head from completing every word of that busy work.

Cassy's Least Favorite

I, like Alex, had a tie for least favorite.  While I have a special hatred in my heard for Wuthering Heights, I developed most of that hatred in college (mostly because I had to read it back to back semesters, and that was the third time in three years I had to pick up that God forsaken book.)  If we're concentrating on High School books, well, The Red Badge of Courage easily takes the award.

Do you know what I remember from this book?  The color yellow = cowardice.  That's it.  Really, NOTHING happened in this book.  The writing in it was terrible.  Usually, I was a kid who read ahead, but the book was so incredibly boring, the imagery so poorly written, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

The other thing that made me really loathe this book?  The endless paperwork that went along with it.  There were questions, upon questions, upon questions.  Worksheets full of them that we had to answer.  I remember filling in an answer with 'he got amnesia' because I just didn't care.  I got zero points on that question.  But you know what?  I got the stupid worksheet done.

Crane really has one of the worst times in American History at his disposal, and he couldn't even make it mildly interesting!  It took weeks to plow through this book.  And do you want to know the absolute worst part about it?

The book is only 112 pages long.  It feels like it's about 400.

*We apologize in advance for the length of this post.  We understand it's a bit cumbersome, but it's fun.  We promise.


  1. Its hard for me to pick my favorite because there are so many. I really enjoyed The Great Gadsby, and The Crucible, but for reasons other than the stories themselves. I think if I had to pick, it would be Number the Stars. I identified so much with the main characters and the overall story. I don't remember many details of it since I read it in 5th or 6th grade, but I know that I liked it.

    My least favorites are much easier to pick. I also disliked Animal Farm, but I will have to go with Tuck Everlasting and The Old Man in the Sea as the absolute worst. I read Tuck Everlasting in 5th grade, which deals with issues around immortality. I think I may have misinterpreted the message that the teacher and author were going for, but that book literally made me afraid of death.

    The Old Man and the Sea was just boooorrrringggg. I hate Hemingway's writing style for starters, and the plot was stupid.

    1. I really liked Tuck Everlasting, but probably because I thought it was neat you could live forever. It's been a REALLY long time since I've read it.

      I've heard horror stories about Old Man and the Sea. I think the only book that people I know have hated more was The Grapes of Wrath.