If you were tasked with creating an assigned reading list for a classroom, what would you submit? Were there any particular stories or novels that you read in school that you hated or felt forced to drudge through? Were there any that you loved enough to want to read again?
My wife and I took a road trip down to Tennessee this past weekend (from Ohio). During our drive we listened to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; a book that often appears on lists such as “Best Novels” and high school English class assigned readings. And not without reason; it is the epitome of dystopian literature.
I couldn’t help but marvel at how seemingly modern a novel published in 1932 seemed. I won’t bore you with what your high school English teacher has likely already covered ad nauseam, but if, like myself, you made it out on the other end of your high school years having never read Brave New World, I would point you to it. While I was never assigned to read this one, I do remember being assigned the dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. I remember enjoying that one a great deal at the time. It could be that a novel entirely about the horror of burning books en masse has much to do with my adoration for literature. It is entirely possible this was an intended consequence of assigning said book, and if that was the case, I would have to say it did the trick.
To be perfectly honest, the majority of the books I was assigned to read I either breezed through in order to take a test or participate in some class discussion, or I simply bought the CliffsNotes and winged it. But now having gone back years later and read a handful of the books I’d previously passed over, I have been often surprised how much I can enjoy a book when it is not required that I read it (in a time crunch). That’s not to say everything we were assigned is good. Certainly I’ve gone back to start a few previously assigned readings and found them as dry and unreadable now as they were then. Two books I have since revisited that I have found I really love and am sorry that I didn’t give them their due adoration the first time around are The Great Gatsby and Ethan Frome. Both of which I’ve read at least a couple of times long after they were originally assigned to me.
As I was listening to Brave New World this weekend, I found myself asking, “What would I choose to assign a high school English class were I their teacher?” When it comes to dystopian lit, it would be hard for me not to assign the entire Hunger Games trilogy, or at very least the first of the series (because who wouldn’t choose to read the other two on their own?). I would almost certainly assign Ethan Frome, because I think that is story telling at its best.