High school was a crazy time.
A mix of irreverent rebellion, skipping classes, brushing my hair so it was oh so straight with a giant paddle brush, doodling on the thick soled rubber of my Vans, and memorizing the lyrics to every Jane’s Addiction song ever wailed.
But I still did my homework. And I made up any work I missed when I had breakfast at Denny’s instead of sitting in first period.
I graduated with a GPA I was proud of, with a number of absences my senior year that was astonishing, and I did what I could to fit in, yet never reaching Popular status.
High school is a complicated beast. One I have fond memories of. One I have ugly memories of. I’m glad I was there. I’m glad it’s over.
But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that while my grades may have been higher than average, I skimmed through my work. I had figured out the system. Just how much I had to do to get that A. No more, no less.
While I don’t really miss geometry, I do feel a sense of sadness at all those great books…the classics…the required reading I groaned through…I read as quickly as possible so I could BS my way through a report…but didn’t truly READ. (Although I self-righteously refused to use Cliff’s Notes. An odd hill to die on, I admit.)
On the one hand, I feel bad. Foolish. Silly young girl, more concerned with the fit of your shirt, and the brand of your shoes than the staying power of beautiful writing.
I often feel like the great classics are wasted on high school students.
Fickle, self-absorbed teenagers.
But then I realize that I can’t give myself too much grief over my unappreciative work ethic. The truth is, how could I ever understand the constant, tenacious giving of self by Ma Joad until I had become a mama myself? I wouldn’t smile a silent smile about the irony of life alongside Holden Caulfield until I had walked more of Life myself. No matter how much I swore I knew about life back then, I was only 17. Contrary to my own belief, I did not, in fact, know everything.
And so, I’ve decided to make 2014 the Year of the Under Appreciated Classics.
I want to re-visit the books I was required to read in my youth…the ones I have read…or at least skimmed…through the lens of adulthood with some Life under my belt. Perhaps this should be an every ten year event? My guess is that my takeaways at 33 will be wildly different than if I was reading them at 53. I love that about life and learning. It never really stops, you know?
It was really hard to narrow it down to just 15 books. Only 15, because I want to also have time to read regular, non-classics that come across my path…and then there’s the Harry Potter series I’m reading through with Henry. But even still, it felt almost impossible to choose just a couple dozen. After all, Goodreads has a Required Reading in High School list that numbers 376.
In the end, I selected books I vaguely remember liking even in my silly flat ironed youth, books I wasn’t assigned but have always wanted to read, and a couple that I still secretly dread, but I’m forcing myself (Old Man and the Sea, I’m looking at you).
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- The Great Gatsby
- Lord of the Flies
- The Catcher in the Rye
- The Scarlet Letter
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
- The Grapes of Wrath
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Ethan Frome
- The Jungle
- Wuthering Heights
- Little Women
- The Old Man and The Sea
My list is in no particular order, although I will start with To Kill a Mockingbird. Mostly because I’m fairly certain no book was more widely assigned and loved by all.
I’m really excited to get started.
If you were doing this too, which books would you add to the list? Does this sound like an excruciatingly boring New Year’s Resolution (is it really a resolution?), or does this oddly appeal to you too?