Assigned books. Summer reading lists. Group reads. Whatever form they come in and whatever teachers call them, students rarely get excited about the books they have to read for class. Sometimes they downright hate them.
Even people like myself, who really like reading, can probably name at least one book they only finished because a class required it (mine was Walden). But every once in awhile, you come across one that maybe you don’t mind so much, that you’re actually glad a teacher forced you to give it a chance. And over time, while you may not like the other books on those lists any better, you may come to admit it was good that you read them.
Here are seven books I’ve come to be grateful they made me read in high school.
1. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
I had to read this for two classes, but I forget which came first—the history assignment on McCarthyism or the English assignment on Arthur Miller. Either way, I read it multiple times after that, and even selected a monologue from it for some of my theatre auditions. I enjoy seeing history brought to life, and the fact that this play provides some insight into two separate moments in time is doubly fascinating to me.
2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I selected Truman Capote as the subject of an AP Literature project so I’d have an excuse to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I had to pick a second book as well; that’s the only reason I originally gave this true-crime novel a shot, and I’m glad I did because it showed me I could find interest outside my usual genres, and that non-fiction did not necessarily mean dry or boring.
3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
While I still haven’t come around to The Grapes of Wrath from freshman year, I am glad my sophomore English teacher made me give Steinbeck a second chance, because I much preferred Of Mice and Men. I haven’t read anything else by Steinbeck since, but thanks to this book, I wouldn’t reject any suggestions just because his name is on them.
4. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
This was the first big read for the freshman class at my high school, and many older students had built it up as an awful experience, so we all dreaded it. Granted, it’s not the most exciting book, and it is longer than what most high school freshmen would like to read, but I really didn’t have an issue with that. I liked that it was a different setting and background than what I was familiar with, and I found watching the characters rise, fall, and develop over the course of decades really believable and interesting, even if it did require patience.
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I can’t believe I’ve finally let go of my loathing for Wuthering Heights. I first tried to read this book in the 6th grade (I like a challenge), and surprise, surprise, it didn’t go well. Language-wise, it was probably the densest book I’d attempted at that stage of my life, which was bad enough, but I also had zero sympathy for the characters’ poor life choices. When I had to read it again in 9th grade for class, I still hated Heathcliff and Cathy for being so needlessly stubborn, but I understood the story well enough that it could finally hold my interest. I haven’t re-read the entire book since, but I have sampled certain excerpts and seen some different film adaptations in the intervening years, and I can admit now that while I still find Heathcliff and Cathy unlikeable, their story is a well-crafted tragedy.
6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This was an assigned read I looked forward to when I saw it was on the syllabus because 1) 1920s, 2) short page count, 3) a lot of other people seem obsessed with it, so I figured there had to be something compelling to it. I was not disappointed, as this little novel has a lot that can be unpacked from it. My personal favorite bit is the quote from Jordan Baker, “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy,” because even though, unlike Jordan, I usually dislike large parties, it’s still a very accurate description as to why, and it floored me to see it put into such simple terms for the first time.
7. 1984 by George Orwell
I read this for an English class my junior year, and thought well enough of it then, but I’m certainly glad I’ve read it now, as it seems to be the book everyone likes to reference for arguments (whether they’ve actually read it or not).
How about everyone else? Were there any assigned books you enjoyed reading in high school? How about any you came to appreciate later? And can we all agree that we hope these lists have had more modern additions made in the last decade? Share your thoughts in the comments!