Fri 29 Apr, 2005 08:58 am
I'm thinking of books that were part of a school's literature program, particularly in high school.
Most of my life, my parents would cringe every time the title Silas Marner popped up. When I finally read the book, I loved it!
What were the books you had to read that you loved?
Which ones did you hate?
In either of the above, do you think it was the book or the teacher?
How do you feel about "must reads"?
If you are a parent, what do you say to your kids when they balk at a particular book?
Do you think your high school experience made or broke your love of reading?
What would you include in a high school American lit curriculum? English lit curriculum? World lit?
My senior year of high school, we were given a prose redaction of the Iliad to read. It was horrible. Try as I might, I could not get through the thing. I resorted to a "pony" for the first and last time in my life.
I picked up that same book again about five years after graduating and then again when I was about 40. Just could not read it. After tossing it, I bought one of the great poetic translations and loved it so much that I passed it to my then husband and two older children and went on to read The Odyssey.
Why we were made to read an inferior prose redaction is beyond me and why the Iliad instead of the Odyssey (which has more myths and should have been better for cultural insights). The odd thing is as a kid, I loved Greek myths!
Any alumni of Cabrini High in Allen Park, MI out there? How do you remember The Iliad?
I am a stubborn and contrary sort of person. I don't want to read a book because i am told to do so. So, for example, i've read every one of Charles Dickens' novels, except David Copperfield. I was forced to read passages of Copperfield in school, and so i have never had the least interest in reading the entire novel.
Setanta -- Dickens wasn't required reading at my high school. I attended a Catholic elementary school through 8th grade. Although we were required to do book reports -- which we shared with the class, as I remember -- there wasn't a literature program per se. In eighth grade, we had an anthology that spent most of its neglected life on the shelf. I think the teacher only distributed it for in class reading once, or twice at best. the one thing I remember reading as a group was a selection from Dickens who was supposed to be good at descriptions.
Dickens was very good at descriptive language, but if that is all your literature instructor offered by way of comment on his style, then his/her comprehension was bad indeed.
Dickens is capable of sustained metaphor to a dregree i have seen in no other author. His description of the Quaker rack-rent landlord and his agent in Little Doritt is a superlative example.
But more than that, Dickens has a talent for exploiting the rhythm of the language which few others than perhaps Shakespeare (Francis Bacon?) could claim . . .
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .
and . . .
`I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both.
`I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place--then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement--and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
`It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.'
These are, respectively, the opening and closing passages of A Tale of Two cities. That entire, compact novel, despite its very obvious flaws of John Bull patriotism, is a tour de force in sustaining the contrasts of absolutes, and of creating mirror images for each character.
I consider Charles Dickens to be one the very best to ever have written in this language.
The comment on Dickens' descriptive ability didn't come from the teacher but was part of the intro to the selection. It actually may have been from David Copperfield: the people in the selection were on their way to a house by the sea. One member of the party was a woman named Peggoty or perhaps Piggoty.
I love to read and I have always loved to read. Almost every required book, I have thoroughly enjoyed. Some books I did not enjoy to read (the first time) were "The Scarlet Letter" and Shakespeare. I first read "The Scarlet Letter" in Junior High and did not understand it, thought it was boring, etc. I again read it in High School and loved it. So perhaps I was just not old enough to understand it. Similar with Shakespeare. I read it in Sophomore English; I also disliked the teacher immensely. When I was older, I read it again and enjoyed it much more.
The only other material I had to read in literature classes that I disliked were essays. That was the worst - I prefer stories even if there is lots of symbolism to delve into.
Not sure what I would include in a curriculum, but I think what would be most important is the teacher. The teacher, if enthusiastic and able to communicate effectively with the students could definitely increase a student's enjoyment of reading. I think making even classical literature relative to them would be helpful. Maybe start of the class with a book that kids seem to eat up. Then slowly increase the difficulty and broaden the subject matter.
Linkat -- I read The Scarlet Letter during sophomore American Lit and loved it because I was involved in Hester Prynne, her character and her dilemna. I just read it again this year and found Hawthorne's political rant a hoot.
Some books definitely belong to a certain time in life. Members of my former book group agreed that some books that they loved in girlhood seemed pretty silly in middle age, while other books that were less than interesting when we were young improved as we aged.
I read The Forsyte Saga at age 14 and, while I should have loved it because the heroine's predictament wasn't all that different from Hester Prynne's, I thought it was just one year after another in a not very interesting family. (BTW, this was not required reading!) Read in my 50s, I found it nuanced and funny.
Actually, I am considering having students read essays from magazines like Scientific American or Harper's in order to teach them how to write.
I liked pretty much all my "set" books - and usually did my best to read more by authors I really liked.
Interestingly, I did not much like "Wuthering Heights", I recall - or "The Scarlet and Black" but fell eagerly into the other Bronte novels, and a lot of continental literature.
plainoldme mentioned "Silas Marner" That was a book I neither loved, nor hated. It held my attention but my memory of it is vague.
That is the sign of an average book, one that leaves you no memories but the title and a few vague recollections of the characters.
I adore George Eliot with a passion uncontested - but only because of "Middlemarch" and "Daniel Deronda".
The others are also-rans.
Not that there is nothing to be gained from the likes of Silas Marner - but life is too short - and the choixces too many....
I think schools need to get kids to read the really good books by classic writers.
Though I guess the length of the two I mention might put of fthe bad readers...sigh.
Dlowan, is "The Jungle", by Upton Sinclair popular in Australia? That was a hell of a book that opened a lot of eyes to the mistreatment of people and the horrors of the meat-packing industry practices.
I think I will reread that one.
I had my waterloo with Wordsworth, forget the title of my waterlooing poem. I couldn't bear to finish it, at what was probably 2 a.m., much less analyze it.
I suppose I'd love Wordworth now, but I haven't been back.
Well, I have never heard of it. Good, eh?
Beg pardon, as that wasn't a book as such, just some very thin paper pages.
On assigned books: I've liked them, or at least appreciated the experience of being in them.
I think I may remember more emotionally books I read on my own that stunned me at the time, and Tale of Two Cities was one of them.
I was a voracious, enthusiatic, and indiscriminate reader.
Silas Marner came close to changing that.
Great post, George, you made me laugh...
Beg pardon, as that wasn't a book as such, just some very thin paper pages.
What the hell does that mean, Osso?
It means, Gus, that I noticed I posted off topic, yet again, yet again, as the Wordsworth poem was one of many items in a general literature book, and as such it was only printed on a few pages out of, say, a thousand - and the original question here mentioned books, presumably each comprised of two covers with a novel within.