Required High School Reading. I’m Going Back.

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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?

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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.

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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).

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. The Great Gatsby
  3. Lord of the Flies
  4. The Catcher in the Rye
  5. The Scarlet Letter
  6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  7. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
  8. Frankenstein
  9. The Grapes of Wrath
  10. A Tale of Two Cities
  11. Ethan Frome
  12. The Jungle
  13. Wuthering Heights
  14. Little Women
  15. 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.

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I found a few of my books at a local used book store, complete with the yapping little dog that smelled funny, and quirky decorations.

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?




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I'm a mom to four. A wife to one. I believe in story. I love telling you about mine and would love to hear yours. There's really no sense in wasting our suffering and not sharing in each other's joy. We're all in this together...even if it doesn't always feel like it.


  1. 1

    A great idea! But all I can remember of a few of those books from my high school days is how much I hated them. Old Man And The Sea–gag. Lord of the Flies–double gag. But now I am tempted to reread them just to see if they are really as horrible as I remember them to be. And if I should torture, I mean educate, my own kids with the very same books I read in school.

  2. 2

    I would also read “the giver” it will be a movie soon starring meryl and taylor swift…but a great read. Also, I loved “a view from saturday” not a high school book, more middle school, but your kids might like it as they get older.
    Katie´s last blog post ..Looking Back 2013 (and Forward14!)

  3. 3

    This is an awesome idea! I started re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird last night. My favorite book and the only one I ever enjoyed and read every page of in high school. :)
    Rachel´s last blog post ..Giveaway : Organize it!

  4. 4

    I re-read Little Women, The Diary of Anne Frank, and To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult, and enjoyed them more than I did the first time around. One that I never read as a kid but thoroughly enjoyed a few years ago is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”
    Emily´s last blog post ..Christmas still happened even though I forgot to be neurotic about it.

  5. 5

    I started reading classics again a couple of years ago. I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird (love, love it), The Great Gatsby, Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. My parents were going through some things and found a couple of boxes of old books. Most were my younger sister’s books but in it was my Dad’s copy of Huckleberry Finn and one of my Mom’s Nancy Drew books. So I read them both–how could I not? I started The Grapes of Wrath but I just couldn’t finish it. I might give it another go. I remember reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in school but I don’t remember much more so I might try to read them again.

  6. 6

    What a brilliant idea– and what a great list you’ve come up with! I re-read The Great Gatsby again last year and was surprised at how much I DIDN’T like it… I actually remembered liking that one in high school. Amazing what a little Life (love your capitalization, btw) can do for you! I look forward to reading about what you read!!
    Rachel´s last blog post ..Advent for Thirty: Making Peace and a Hug from the Number 30

  7. 7

    I’ve been wanting to do this for a while – my to-read list is a mile long. They’re different books now, for sure.
    Courtney´s last blog post ..The Best Type of Diet to Do in the New Year

  8. 8

    brace yourself.
    i did this with a few books i had kept from h.s. and some were great and some were painful.
    the painful ones had me wanting to stab my eyes out.
    really bad.
    but hey, the good ones were REALLY good!
    can’t wait to hear what you think about your choices.
    GREAT resolution!

  9. 9

    I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was pregnant with Atticus, because although we weren’t naming him after Atticus Finch, I knew people would make that association and I wanted to be 100% certain I was cool with that. I loved it just as much the second time years later.

    I think it’s a great resolution. I’d like to spend the first part of the year re-reading the books I LOVE and ADORE so I can evaluate exactly WHAT I loved about them and hopefully improve as a writer. One of those would be Catcher in the Rye. I loved it in high school. I tried re-reading it last year and couldn’t get very far. But I’m hoping being in a different mindset will help.

    I can’t wait to read Harry Potter with my kids. Have you read them yet? I couldn’t tell by how you wrote it. I just wanted to warn you that sh*t gets real in book 4. My sister read the whole series when she was 8 and I was not sure she was ready for the second half of the series. Each kid is different, but I wanted to mention it in case no one else has.

  10. 10

    L.O.V.E ATale of Two Cities…I lingered over every word..yes, I was an English geek even when I was 14!

  11. 11

    I love this; I’ve often thought of doing the same thing! Lord of the Flies though…all I remember is puke-ity puke puke. Kind of hated it but couldn’t tell you why at this point… More power to you with that one! :-)
    Jennifer´s last blog post ..My Christmas List

  12. 12

    OK, so all I wanted to know through the post was: what library allowed dogs?!?!?!?!? Thanks for answering that one. I love reading, always have. It seems the older I get the more books I collect and the less I read. I love your idea of reading the classics and I will probably add a few to my collection. Great idea! Really love the idea of the dog in the bookstore. Wish I were there!

  13. 13

    This is a fantastic resolution! My resolution last year was to read 50 books, something that was easily done before children but now, with small humans to attend to, nearly took me out. This year my resolution is to write love notes to my children and husband 100 times each (picture ones for my 4 year old), but I think I might steal your resolution for 2015.
    sarah´s last blog post ..Resolutions

  14. 14
    Catherine says:

    Love Mockingbird! Also, try A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…a favorite.

  15. 15

    I LOVE this, have been meaning to do it for ages and I am going to join you (I even have To Kill a Mockingbird at home)!

  16. 16

    I didn’t mind the Great Gatsby, but I LOATHE Lord of the Flies.. it’s completely stupid, and to me, horribly boring and predictable. LOVED The Scarlet Letter (although I must admit, even as a kid I wondered why there were NOT 2 people with the letter A on their clothes…..) Anne Frank is awesome, and I haven’t any of the others. My high school was addicted to Shakespeare at the time, I did at least one play of his per year from grades 9-12, and since I did English Literature, I got to do 2 of them in grade 12.


  17. 17

    Haha. Timely.

    I was one of those annoyingly smart kids who never read the books, just participated in the lectures and took really. Good. Notes. I never got less than an A on a paper. And I can’t remember a single book that I read all of… Mostly I read cliff’s notes.

    But I homeschool my kidlet.

    He’s *cough* I mean WE are reading Animal Farm currently. He’s in 8th taking an online high scchool lit course and it’s tough going. I can only imagine this is why I didn’t read the required books when I was IN school. Lol

    So I’m in this with you. We have Animal Farm, Mockingbird (one I did read and actually love!) Jane Eyre, LoTFlies Anne Frank, and a couple of others. I learned to love Jane Eyre and those books as an adult. And I did read Hemingway and Camut in high school and loved them. TS Eliot, lady chatterlys lover is one of my favorite all time novels. Anna Karenina. Anything Sylvia Plath.

    and you’re right. These are wasted on kids. They don’t appreciate it. They don’t understand it. we gave to stop while kidlet looks up every third word… Their vocabs just aren’t what ours were I think. (He was in public school… Gifted classes at that. I’m astonished at what he doesn’t know sometimes…. Hoping a few years of homeschooling and focusing on HIM one on one can help…)

    Good luck!

  18. 18

    I like this idea. The one I would for sure take off that list is the Scarlett Letter. I listened to it on cd a couple of years ago when we were moving from Oregon to Colorado…bad idea! It was burning and didn’t do it’s part of keeping my awake at all!!

  19. 19

    I have tried to go back and reread some, or pick up some that my teachers didn’t choose to cover. I spent a lonnnng time on War and Peace. That was before children, don’t think I’d make it now! Loved Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye the second round. But what about adding the Inferno? I still haven’t ever finished Walden or Crime and Punishment. Start a book club- maybe we’ll all get on with reading those again!
    marie´s last blog post ..snowmen fingerprint cards… because snowmen say thank you best

  20. 20

    Great idea! I also love to read, thanks for the recommendations. Aside from those books listed, what is your most favorite book that you won’t mind re-reading after you finish reading it?


  1. […] be read, or maybe you’d like to revisit and old loved book. Jeanett from Life Rearranged is going back to her high school required reading list. I just started re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird {my favorite!}. […]