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!