Ten Books I Wish I Was Taught in School

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday, but this week’s topic is a great one, and I thought I’d chime in! This week, the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish ask bloggers to write about the top ten books they wish were taught in schools. I’m tweaking it just a tiny bit to choose ten books I wish I was taught in high school — some schools do teach these books, and I wish I had gotten to read them for class!

Top Ten Tuesday

The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is one of my favorite books, and it really made me interested in feminism.  I would have gotten so much more about feminism out of this book at 17 than The Awakening, which I did have to read for school. This book just seems so much more relevant to current life, and I think I would have been way more into Atwood than Chopin as a teen.

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I loved this book when I read it on my own in college, and it would have fit in wonderfully with the dystopian books I read for high school English. Spending a semester reading this, 1984, Brave New World, and perhaps another dystopia (one I haven’t read, or, ooh, The Handmaid’s Tale!) would be fabulous. It would be so interesting to discuss the context surrounding each book and learn how they relate to each other.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken Kesey3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Man, this book is awesome. Like Fahrenheit 451, I really enjoyed it on my own, but I would have loved to read it in a classroom setting; I probably would have gotten more of the themes and had a deeper understanding of the context. It would also be interesting to watch the movie adaptation alongside reading the book and compare/contrast the techniques used.

The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. To be honest, most of the plays I had to read in high school were pretty boring. This, though, is hilarious and would be a great way for a class to spend a week. It would be the funnest play to read aloud in class! Plus, it has elements of social criticism that would be interesting to discuss. This is a great play to show teens that Victorian literature can be fun!

Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I had to read To the Lighthouse for my senior AP English class, and I can’t tell you how difficult I found it. It took me five years to attempt reading Woolf again, and I adored this book. I probably wouldn’t have loved it in high school, but I think it would have been a much better choice for teens to read and understand.

Of Mice and Men6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I wish I had been taught this simply because most of my friends who read it for class really liked it! There weren’t many assigned books that people seemed to universally like, so this one had my attention. My class read The Grapes of Wrath, which is the longest and the boringest when you’re 16. (I do want to try reading it again at some point, though.) Teachers, ALWAYS pick the shorter book, please.

Cloud Atlas David Mitchell7. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I wish high school English classes had a greater focus on contemporary fiction. I understand why reading classics is important, but I also think lit classes should introduce students to high-quality novels of the time. Cloud Atlas is very recent, and it has so many layers (literally – ha!) to discuss. It’s an amazing, intricate book with a lot going on, and I think it would be great to study in a classroom.

Harry Potter8.The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. These are perhaps my favorite books of all time, and I would have LOVED to take a class on them. How awesome would it be to discuss the links to mythology, the symbolism of names, use of Latin, themes of good/bad, loyalty, love, etc? The most awesome. Also, I think it would be great to let kids read books they enjoy for school; what better way is there to teach students that reading can be fun?

Life of Pi9. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I think Life of Pi would be a fantastic contemporary novel to read for class. It has so many themes and techniques to discuss! Allegory, religion, faith, myth vs. reality, man’s animal nature… I can see classes running with this and having some really interesting conversations, especially when they reach the reveal at the end!  This would be a great book to use to teach students to think critically about literary themes.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves Karen Russell10. Short story collections. This is really broad, but I wish I had read short story collections for school. Sure, we read stories out of anthologies, but I never realized that entire books of stories by the same author, often linked by style or theme, were a Thing. At least not until I started blogging and reading reviews of them. I’ve discovered  that I really enjoy short story collections, and I wish my high school classes had made me more aware of them.

What books do you wish you had been taught in school?

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22 thoughts on “Ten Books I Wish I Was Taught in School

  1. I love love love The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it for the first time in college. I did, however, read Farenheit 451, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Of Mice and Men as assigned high school reading. All three of those rock pretty hard though- if they aren’t in a lot of classrooms, they should be!

  2. You have a great list! I have a friend who teaches high school English who assigned The Handmaid’s Tale and The Catcher in the Rye for summer reading – of course, some parents had to complain about THT being “inappropriate” and asked for an alternate assignment.

  3. I’ve taught Fahrenheit 451 and Of Mice and Men. The students generally like Of Mice and Men. I taught life of Pi than hints class – it was their summer reading. And we have gotten parents requesting books once in awhile because they think the ones we have are inappropriate. I laugh to myself because my school teaches pretty mild books compared to what we could have picked.

  4. I’m torn. I sort of agree in that I would love to have had a better literary understanding of some of these books, but I do know for me personally that a lot of the books I read in school were ruined. Some I have been able to revisit and have fallen in love with. Others I just can’t even stomach the thought of going back to them.

    • That’s a good point; there are some books that I’m glad I discovered on my own, because I know I wouldn’t have liked them if forced to read them for class at 16.

  5. The only one from your list I was taught in high school was The Importance of Being Earnest and honestly, until your list, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Will have to have another read 🙂

  6. The Handmaid’s Tale, definitely, and a lot of books written by Black authors (Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, etc).

  7. Yes to all of these. I don’t even know what to say. They’re all books I have on my TBR now or that would’ve impacted me greatly in school. The only one I actually did read in school was Fahrenheit 451, thanks to my kickass English teacher. She knew it would be a huge hit for me.

  8. Great list- I think you definitely named some good ones. The maturity level is important when considering which grades read which book. My son read To Kill A Mockingbird in 8th grade, and I just don’t think he appreciated it.

    • I’m kind of glad I got to discover The Bell Jar for myself at 19, but it would also have been great to study. I chose to write an essay about it for my lit class in college, and I’m so glad I did; I learned so much and got way more out of it than I had reading it on my own.

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