I didn’t exactly hide the fact that I thought The Great Gatsby sucked. In fact, I disliked it so much that I spent a lot of time wondering why so many of my fellow students were forced to read it in high school (I have no idea how I escaped that particular rite of torture, I guess I’m just lucky).
For a lot of us, being forced to read books in high school was the pits. It probably left a bad taste in your mouth when it comes to a lot of the classics. After all, non-negotiable enforced reading isn’t exactly conducive to enjoying and engaging with a story. Plus, as teenagers, how many of us actually had the perspective to understand the themes in Gatsby – or, indeed, any of the other classics bestowed upon us by the evil overlords of English teaching departments?
Still, we’re all older and wiser now, so maybe there’s some value in giving them a second chance. Here’s a list of books from high school that you should revisit.
The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
I had a quick peruse of the internet, and it would seem that a lot of other bloggers and experts agree with me: The Catcher in the Rye is definitely one of the books from high school that you should revisit as a grown up. I never actually read this one in high school either, but I reviewed it for Keeping Up With The Penguins and really enjoyed it. Sure, it’s a coming-of-age story, but Salinger didn’t actually intend for it to be a young adult novel so it’s certainly suitable for an adult audience. Holden Caulfield is a perfect caricature of every young man you’ve ever met, and if nothing else you get to enjoy that in a really patronising way. Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.
Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
I know we probably couldn’t call it a “classic” by any means, but Looking For Alibrandi is the first book that comes to mind when I think about high school reading lists. Teachers always assigned this one thinking that we’d really relate to Josie’s struggles with family, identity, responsibility and culture. I’m not sure how much I could “relate” per se, but I did really enjoy it at the time, and I can tell you that it really holds up – even now, more than two decades after its publication. It’s a bit niche in the sense that it is very specific to the Australian context, so I have no idea whether international readers would be able to get into it. Still, anything’s worth a try! (And if you’re an international reader who’s given it a go, please let me know what you thought in the comments!)
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Now, more than ever, storytelling that explores our understanding of race and power is vital – regardless of whether you’re fourteen or forty. If you read To Kill A Mockingbird carefully, you’ll notice that, even though the story is mediated through the experiences of young people, Scout recounts it as an adult; it’s one long flashback, and a nifty narrative style. You’re in a position, as an adult, to pick up on things like that, and you’ll appreciate the prose all the more for it. Plus, you might want to give yourself a refresher if you’re planning to read Go Set A Watchman, set twenty years after the events in the original book. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is usually assigned in high schools to teach teenagers a valuable lesson about censorship and government power, but it’s about so much more than that (as Bradbury has said himself). You’ll find a lot more to chew on here when you revisit it as a grown up, and you don’t have an English teacher standing over your shoulder telling you what to look for. Bonus: it’s a short and easy read (most editions don’t run more than 150 pages), so even if you haven’t learned to love it with age, at least it will be over quickly! Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
I don’t think I read The Crucible in high school, but I do recall watching the film; indeed, I got full marks on my assignment to write and perform a monologue from the perspective of one of the characters, so I remember it very fondly 😉 Given how many men have called out current events as being “witch hunts” over the past year, it’s great to take a look back at this fictionalised account of what went down in Salem. Or you know, you can try to read more into the allegory that Miller wrote into the story (you probably know what McCarthyism actually is now, so it’ll make a lot more sense).
Lord Of The Flies by William Golding
I once heard an English teacher say that if she had to teach Lord Of The Flies one more time, she’d do something unseemly with that pig’s head. It is pretty ubiquitous in the classroom, presented as a kind of cautionary tale for kids that might think they can handle life without adult supervision. That much is clear to you as a teenager, but revisiting it as a grown up reveals so much more. It’s definitely one to make you ponder the bigger issues of individual responsibility, groupthink, authority, humanity’s capacity for darkness… all that stuff we think we already know as teenagers, until we grow up and realise we don’t have a damn clue. Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.
Revisiting books from high school is great. You enjoy them all the more, safe in the knowledge that there won’t be a test after. You might even get a nice nostalgic kick out of re-reading books that you first encountered as a wide-eyed impressionable youngster, and marvel at how much you’ve changed since then. Have you revisited any books from high school? Did you find any new favourites? Let me know in the comments below (or post your list over at KUWTP on Facebook!).
June 8, 2018 at 10:24 AM
It’s such a good idea to revisit them, because I’m convinced some of us (my own hand up here) didn’t have the emotional set-up at 16 or 17 to appreciate some of the deeper themes, or they were too much for us. But I loved To Kill a Mockingbird back then, and it continues to be just as timely whenever I revisit it.
June 8, 2018 at 1:27 PM
I’d say that practically none of us were sufficiently emotionally developed, Paula 😉 I’m actually quite glad I came to TKAM much later in life. I’m sure I would have chewed through it in high school, but I’m not sure it would have had the same resonance, given how much my own personal politics have changed since I finished school, and also the ever-shifting context of race discrimination in the U.S. It’s a particularly poignant read at the moment. You’re quite right in saying it remains very timely, no matter when you read it – all the best books are, I think! 🙂
June 10, 2018 at 7:05 PM
I read To kill a mockingbird as a teenager. I remember buying the book after having seen the movie on TV. I belive that both the book and the movie are excellent when you are very young ,too. Finally it is a kid perspective we are talking of. And very nicely done. I read it quickly again not long ago as I gave it to a 14 years old girl and the mother, reading the back cover, thought it was not suitable (reference to rape process , I guess). A lovely book.
And the film is very good.
And when a kid a fell in love with Gary Cooper. And even now I think that he was never as sexy as in the clothes of Atticus Finch.
June 11, 2018 at 3:47 PM
What did I wrote!?! Gary Cooper instead of Gregory Peck!?! Jesus!!!
June 11, 2018 at 4:43 PM
I knew what you meant ;P
June 8, 2018 at 10:59 PM
I still, to this day, absolutely LOVE “catcher in the rye” and “Lord of the Flies”! I went to a Catholic High School so sadly, they were not part of the curriculum. I had a fantastic English teacher though who would give me lists of books that I should read (he was so excited that I actually cared!) these, as well as “life of pi” and “one hundred years of solitude” were just a few of the books on his amazing list! THANK YOU, MR. PRIDIVILLE, FOR HELPING TO FLOURISH MY ALREADY CRAZY LOVE OF READING!! 💖💖💖🍻 (He’ll find this message some day. 😉😂)
June 9, 2018 at 12:32 PM
Cheers to Mr Pridiville!! God, we owe those fantastic English teachers a lot. I had a couple myself, across my years in high-school, so mad props to them too 🙂
June 10, 2018 at 7:08 AM
A few years ago I went back and reread a bunch of books that I mostly did not get or was not interested in from my high school and college years. I got a lot more out of them the second time around.
Fahrenheit 451 brings back memories. I was assigned it in Middle School. I was a heavy science fiction reader at the time and lived Bradbury. My teacher was amazed that I had already read the book. So it turned out that my school reading was a revisit.
June 10, 2018 at 12:33 PM
Ha! I pulled a similar trick on a couple of teachers when I was at school; they assigned reading that I had already read (of course, I read it again, I was a bookworm and a chronic re-reader anyway), or they would assign one book in a series and I’d go ahead and read the whole damn lot 😉 (I’m such a show off!) I’m really excited to read F451, and to see the adaptation, too – the trailers look fantastic!!
June 10, 2018 at 7:21 PM
I don’t remember much of the book. All my memories are swirling around the movie. I mean 1966 version.
I am talking about a film by Truffaut, one of the great directors of second half of XX century. And one of my favourite ever.
The making of the movie was difficult and full of disappointment for Truffaut. Troubles with the acting of the main character, troubles with the language (produced in UK but T. didn’t speak English at all, so had little control on the dialogues), troubles with the big production system. Still, a good movie. See if you can find it. The final is breathtakingly beautiful. And the opening genial: the opening credits are not written on the screen, they are read, conformingly to the setting of the story in a future without books. No written words anywhere.
I don’t go to the cinema to see new movies anymore. But I might make an exception for the new Fahrenheit 451. Such a good story to make a film out of. And might be a good idea to have a movie that new generation will go to see. Powerful message we are talking of, here.
June 11, 2018 at 1:08 PM
I’m really looking forward to seeing Fahrenheit 451 as well!! Thank you, as always, for your wonderful and insightful comments Marina 😀
June 14, 2018 at 1:43 PM
Great topic as always! Looking for Alibrandi and Lord of the Flies are two books that remind me of my high school days in Australia. I still feel traumatised by Lord of the Flies after reading it in Year 7 and never read it again. It would be interesting to see how I felt about it as an adult. I remember reading the Narnia series as a child and loving it and then reading it as an adult and realising how much Christian stuff was in it that just went over my head the first time.
June 14, 2018 at 6:49 PM
Yes! You must read Lord of The Flies again and review it for me, I’d love to hear what you think! I never had to read it in high school (once again, I missed out on this literary rite-of-passage, and I have no idea how I managed to skip so many of them! ha!), but it’s on The List so I’ll be reading it soon…
Looking for Alibrandi on the other hand is indivisible from my memories of high school in Australia. It was a great way to prepare myself for Elena Ferrante to enter my life a decade later 😉
June 21, 2018 at 9:53 PM
You had a great High School – none of these came up in my schooling, I mean Fahrenheit 451 is a truly awesome book and would have sat so much better with me than Jane Eyre or Washington Square.
June 22, 2018 at 1:28 PM
Oh wow, yeah, I’m not sure Jane Eyre is the right pick for high-schoolers at all. I actually seemed to miss out on a lot of the “high school classics” – I have no idea how I escaped the rite of passage of reading The Great Gatsby and writing a critical essay about its themes, it seems like everyone I know had to, except for me? So, you’re right, I was indeed quite lucky 😉