When we discuss required reading, the focus tends to be on the negative: students who are bored, resentful, or uninspired. It is true that I have been assigned a fair amount of stories I cannot stand. Ethan Frome comes to mind. However, it is also true that I have been assigned books I would not have read myself–either because I was uninterested or intimidated–and that I unexpectedly ending up loving them. Below is a(n incomplete) list of favorite books that I owe to my teachers who required me to read them.
Required Reading I Have Loved
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lee’s book seems to be a staple in American classrooms. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t loved it.
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
This is one of those books that was, for me, transformational. And I got to read it for class.
The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
I was reading Shakespeare on my own, but I don’t know if I’d have ever gotten around to this one if it had not been assigned to me. Now it is my favorite Shakespeare play.
Jazz by Toni Morrison
Contemporary fiction isn’t really my thing, so, even though I have read a fair amount of Morrison’s work, it always feels like something I ought to be doing not something I want to do. But this one I actually enjoyed!
Beowulf by Anonymous
Monsters! Battles! Dragons! This poem has it all!
The Maid’s Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher
Renaissance drama beyond Shakespeare is so good and also so ridiculous and overly dramatic that I cannot begin to express my appreciation.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Yes, I really got to read this for class!
Animal Farm by George Orwell
I know that only terrible things happen in this book, so I probably shouldn’t enjoy it. And yet I do.
I Didn’t Like Them, But I Am Glad I Read Them
Some books I didn’t like, but I have discovered that reading them was actually beneficial to me in the long run. Here I list some honorable mentions–stories I did not particularly love or connect with, but that I ended up needing to know about anyway. Thanks, teachers!
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Surprisingly, I have had to explain Kate Chopin’s work and historical context to more than one person.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This is one of those books people like to reference. Now I can nod along knowingly.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I was bored and I hated it, but I realize it’s considered important and influential. At least I know what everyone else is talking about.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Despite not particularly enjoying contemporary fiction, I have read enough of Morrison’s books that I can talk to avid readers about her work without feeling totally lost and ashamed.
What are some books that were assigned to you–and that you unexpectedly enjoyed?
Other Discussions about Classics
- Can You Be Wrong When Interpreting Literature?
- Young Adult Novels I Think Should Become Classics
- Why I’ve Never Liked Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree