Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favorite Books I Read In School

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThe kids in Washoe County have already been back in school for nearly a month (we have some weird extended scheduling where there are more breaks in the school year and a shorter summer), but for most people, classes just recently started or will soon. Hence, this week's theme: back to school! I chose to highlight ten books I read in school (both high school and college) that I loved.



To Kill A Mockingbird: This was one of the books everyone at our school read for 10th grade English, and while I think it could just as easily be read in 9th grade, it's a good book for young teenagers either way. It's a beautiful coming-of-age story that (especially in very homogeneously white towns like the one I grew up in) inspires the reader to actually think critically about prejudice and racism. And as a kid that grew up to be a lawyer, Atticus Finch was close to my heart (I haven't read Go Set A Watchman yet).

The Great Gatsby: This was 11th grade English, and while the prose level is appropriate for high-schoolers, I just don't think you can really understand this book as a 16 year old. I actually hated it when I read it for school...it wasn't until I read it again later, in my 20s, that I started to appreciate it. You have to have had a past, to have loved and lost, to really feel this book in the way it should be felt.

The Alchemist: My 11th grade humanities teacher, Mr. Snow, was one of those teachers that kind of had a cult of personality around him. He was young and dynamic and sometimes unpredictable and taught the class as much as art appreciation than anything else. He really liked our class, and so had us read one of his favorite books, a story of love and self-discovery, which I loved.

Cry, The Beloved Country: My AP English class was amazing. The teacher (Mrs. Helppie!) was one of the most incredible teachers I ever had (I give her credit for teaching me how to actually write...to the extent I can, anyways). She gave us two assigned texts at the beginning of the year and then gave us choices on a theme for the other 7 or 8 books we read on our own, in addition to our classroom texts. This was an assigned text that everyone had to read and the lessons about disappointment and mistakes made and the futility of vengeance are so beautifully presented.

The Scarlet Letter: This was a "choice" novel from AP English...I can't remember what the other option was. I was expecting a dull testament to Puritan social values, but Hester Prynne (and her impish daughter, Pearl) are vivid and interesting characters who undermine the very system of shame-based behavior modification they exemplify. Also, through Arthur Dimmesdale, a much more compelling exploration of guilt than Crime and Punishment.

Snow Falling On Cedars: Another AP English choice novel (the other book I could have read was The Secret History, which I ended up reading anyways), in the category of contemporary fiction. It asks a question that seems ever-more relevant into today's world: can a community that has been oppressed (in this case, the Japanese population of a small town in the Pacific Northwest after internment) ever really be reconciled to its oppressors? There is no final answer, but it's thought-provoking with lovely prose.

The Color Purple: The final AP English choice novel for this list (also could have read The Bluest Eye, which I read a few years ago) in the area of Black female experience. I'm glad this is the one I read in high school. Toni Morrison is a powerful and important writer, but Alice Walker's book is much more ultimately life-affirming and overall hopeful in tone.

The Awakening: I can't recall if we read this at the end of the year for 11th grade or AP (I think it was AP, but I could be wrong). Now that I've read Anna Karenina, it feels like Karenina-lite to me. A woman trapped in a boring marriage has a fling and the social consequences reverberate in life-changing ways. But it's a good kind of intro to Tolstoy's work...if you enjoy Chopin's, you'll likely enjoy the longer one.

Inferno: I took a whole class in college on The Divine Comedy, and while Purgatorio was only so-so to me and Paradiso bored me to tears, Inferno is fantastic. It's full of dishy Middle-Ages Italian gossip (there's a whole backstory about Florentine political conflict that it's really worth it to look up because Dante totally puts his enemies in terrible places in Hell) and the system of contrapasso (punishments that match the sins of the condemned) he develops is incredible. It's a masterpiece.

Metamorphoses: It's a pity that Edith Hamilton's dull Mythology has become the standard-issue introductory text for ancient myth, because Ovid's Metamorphoses is so much more interesting. I read this for a Greek Mythology class in college that wasn't quite everything I'd hoped for, but it did introduce me to this delightful book.

8 comments

  1. The Awakening was assigned my first semester in college. I read Cry, the Beloved Country right after Mandela was released from prison--I was just back from 2 years in Southern Africa. Great list!

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    1. Cry meant a lot to me as a 17 year old living in a small overwhelmingly white town, so it must have been even more so after actually living in Southern Africa!

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  2. Great Top Ten! I've been meaning to pick up a copy of The Color Purple. It's a really great movie, so I'm pretty sure the book will be even better :D My Top Ten Tuesday!

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    1. I've never seen the movie, but the book is wonderful!

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  3. I loved Gatsby and TKAM too! And, sadly, I barely remember any others :( I should be ashamed.

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    1. Those ones are such huge pillars of lit that they overshadow a lot! I don't know if I would remember many others if I hadn't loved my AP English class so much

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  4. I felt the same way about Gatsby in HS and loved it later, too. You're so right - it's a book that SEEMS like it would be perfect for HSers, but it's just very hard to connect with at that age.

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    1. I know some people who read it and instantly loved it, but even they agree that it got much richer and deeper and more meaningful once they'd had more life experience

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