Real Talk: High School Ruins Everything

Why do we look back on the books we had to read in high school as methods of cruel and unusual punishment? I remember reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl and contemplating poking myself in the eye so I could stop reading it long enough to go to the nurse or simply because I had made myself blind. Even now, I feel quite sure that The Pearl is a much better book than I remember it to be, and I should probably give it another chance since society seems to want to keep it around. But nope; can’t do it. Don’t want to. The deed is done. There are too many other books that deserve to be given a chance and, perhaps The Pearl has missed the boat.

I’ve heard others talk about The Great Gatsby is such a way and, after I finish them off with laser eye-daggers, I have to assume that the same “high school ruins all things good and pure” stigma can be attached to any forced (excuse me, I meant “assigned”) reading. So why is that? Why are there so many articles and entire books dedicated to getting adults to re-read the classics they wanted to burn in high school? My first thought is that the average high-schooler is not the best audience. They’re all too full of angst and general dislike of everything to be able to absorb and appreciate the intended message of middle-aged classic authors. But considering the fact that forcing kids to read classics in high school is about the only time most people will be exposed to them, I forfeit that argument.

This leaves me with the impression that being forced to read something devalues it. These days I can toss aside a book that I still dislike after about 5 chapters and start something completely new; but I did not have that luxury with The Pearl. Not only did I have to soldier on, but I had to remember the details for quizzes and papers and such. That’ll do it. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable part of life. Luckily, I had a wonderful British Lit teacher, Mrs. Dalton, who taught Beowulf with great passion that remained with me and helped me choose Early World Lit as my undergrad degree. A great teacher can change everything. But sometimes, a kid’s just gotta hate a classic or two.

As always, I welcome comments. I’d love to know which books you hated in younger years and whether that hatred is still with you. Maybe you’ve given it another chance and found it to be super-duper, or maybe you think it’s just a rotten egg? Let me know what you think and, as always, keep reading!

Check out these reading lists for books you should give another chance: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books, 14 Rereadable Books, The Atlantic Wire article, even NPR says so!!



Filed under Lindsay, Not A Book Review, Real Talk, Wednesdays with Lind-say!

3 responses to “Real Talk: High School Ruins Everything

  1. Karen

    You’re going to think I’m crazy, Lindsay, but……… I liked The Pearl 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    Never really disliked any of the “have to reads” in high school except The Sea Wolf! I was the only one that read it because that six weeks we each had to read different books and no one had the same book. I remember having to correct the teacher for marking my quiz answers incorrect.

  3. Melanie Williams

    Sorry, Lindsay…my high school days were long enough ago that I barely remember what we read. (And that is really sad since I loved my high school English teacher – Marianne Morris – and have a BA in English.) I do remember thinking The Iliad and The Odyssey were tedious though. I loved the stories, just not so much the reading of them. Maybe I should give them another try.

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