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Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Discussion: Assigned Reading

I have back to school on the brain.  My kids start back a week from tomorrow, and yesterday I attended a back to school event for my alma matter.  Also I know that for much of the day at the desk today I will be frantically trying to find an available copy of the assigned summer reading books for local high school kids. (At the time of posting the number is already up to 10) And it doesn't help that all of the incoming Freshman at Morton West are being told to read The Hunger Games, which isn't on the shelf anywhere without having it be assigned (and we added 20 local use copies).

Each time I help a kid locate a copy of The Hunger Games (yes, I know I work at the adult desk, but YA is next door and often unmanned), I think, what a great read they are getting for their assigned summer reading. This got me thinking even further, asking myself: Did I ever get assigned something that great to read in school?

Usually if something is assigned in school, as readers we automatically dislike it before we begin, or we read it differently than if we chose to read it on our own.  But once in a while, we get a gem that stays with us forever; a book that if it had not been assigned, we might never have gotten around to reading it.  Below I have listed some of those gems that came to me during my education and the year I was initially assigned the book.

8th grade: Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  I have read this book 2 more times since and still love it.

High School: Reading Beowulf was an awesome experience, one I still remember.  I was introduced to the book in 9th grade and the teacher began by having us listen to a record of it being read in Old English.  She then told us a summary of what happens in the book before we ever read it.  I was enthralled by the plot of the story and entranced by its antiquity and the foreignness of the "English."  Looking back now, it may be the beginning of my interest in doing RA work.  The idea that such an old story could still hold a modern reader's interest was an eye opening experience to me.  As an adult, I purchased the great Seamus Heaney translation, and have reread it.  I cannot wait to share it with my children when they are older.

Interestingly in 11th grade I may have also taken another step toward my future career without knowing it.  For my English term paper, I was supposed to chose a book and write a 8 pages paper on it.  I chose The Turn of the Screw by Henry James because I was intrigued by the creepy story and the multiple interpretations the book has had overtime.  This novella is considered a precursor to modern horror and psychological suspense.  So this one was not assigned specifically, yet without reading it for a school paper, I may not have read it.  And who knows, maybe I never go down the horror maven route.

College: In college courses I was introduced to 2 of my all time favorite pieces of literature.  The first is the Russian novel The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which is a must read for any fan of unreliable narrators, book within a book structures, or magical realism.  The second is the story Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. (link is to the free full text)  If you want to know why this is one of greatest short stories ever written, I tell you to click through and read it.  I could tell you why, but "I would prefer not to." (read the story and you'll get the joke).

So for today's Monday Discussion, let's all go back to school.  Share your favorite assigned readings from your school days. Why are they so memorable?


Anonymous said...

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and, of course, Lord of the Flies.

Kathy BPL RA said...

I don't remember anything as appealing (it was recently written, has been super popular long before it was assigned, etc.) as "The Hunger Games" when I was in school but there were a lot of the usual suspects that I ended up loving - "Slaughterhouse Five", "The Scarlet Letter", "Gulliver's Travels" to name a few. But the one that really stands out is "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin which I read in college for a Utopian/Dystopian Literature class. I never would have even known about this book, which is considered one of Orwell's inspirations for "1984", much less read it if it wasn't for the class.

John BPL RA said...

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton! It's like a bible for alienated youth. It has teens against adults, teens against authority, teens against the norm, and most of all, teens against teens. Even though he wasn't the main protagonist of the story, my favorite character and the one I most identified with in the book was Dally. He seems to only appear when heavy advice is needed. The part towards the end where he taunts the police into killing him is still the most poetic death scene I've ever seen in literature. "Let's do it for Johnny, man. Let's do it for Johnny!"

Jose said...

the very first book i read was assigned reading my first year of high school, it made me fall in love with books. the things they carried by tim o'brien