Let's Talk: Required Reading that Became Something More

Friday, September 27, 2013

Let's Talk is a weekly feature here at i swim for oceans. I think it's important that we all have our say, and there's something to be said for raising our voices. Simply put, here on the little old blog, I like to host some of my very own discussion posts because, well, I like to converse with you all.

And so, Let's Talk will feature questions or prompts, which I will answer, too. Love it or hate it, weigh in or don't, it's my hope that Let's Talk will at least get you thinking...and maybe even get you discussing with the rest of us!
What required reading from school made the biggest impact on you, and why?

I was a bit contrarian in high school. I'm a reader. You all know this...it's kind of obvious by the fact that I've been blogging about the books I've read for the past three and a half years. With all that said though, I had the biggest aversion to required reading in middle school and high school. Guys, I'll read just about anything once. Hell, just put me in a hall of books, and I'll read my way out of there. Force me, however, to read something for grades, and something in me shuts down.

In most cases, my mind pretty much just says, "Nope. Not happening. You make me read? I say no." I remember forcing myself to read The Once and Future King, Les Miserable, A Talk of Two Cities and more - classics, mind you - and suffering through them. I think it was the fact that I couldn't enjoy them at my leisure. Instead, I had to cram and read for detail, instead of pleasure. 

Three books stand out to me from my school days, however, as literary works that I didn't absolutely mind reading. And, years later, I re-read them and remember just how profound they were the first time around.

All three of these books - Night by Elie Wiesel, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Giver by Lois Lowry managed to get past my ardent stigma against required reading.

They're vastly different books, but there's something similar about them, as well. They weren't just flowery prose for the sake of telling the story. They were powerful, profound, and they taught us a lesson without cramming it down our throats. There's a beauty to that that simply can't be matched by novels about medieval times and such. Now, to be fair, I'm sure the other books were profound to many a reader, and I've read them since my school days and found them to be rather enjoyable.

I'm not sure they match the poignancy, the power or the social context that Night, Fahrenheit 451 or The Giver do though. I think that these three are books that every teen needs to read, regardless of whether for pleasure or for school. They will make you think, they will make you feel and they will stay with you long after the last page.


  1. I am still in school and I haven't read anything decent- apart from Northanger Abbey which I am currently reading and it wasn't the core curriculum. The teacher gave it to me because the thought I'd like it.

    Fab list there, Melissa! <33

  2. Definitely The Giver, The Outsiders, The Scarlet Letter, and Great Expectations. I really loved all of those. Lovely topic, Melissa!(:

  3. Actually, I put most of the books we read in HS out of my head (of course, I lived mostly in my head in HS, drifting through classes, so that's not really so surprising). But there were two books I read in middle school that made lasting impressions: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and The Island of the Blue Dolphins (author? eep!). Both stories of survival, both awesome.

  4. I'm still in school, and like Melanie, I don't really feel like I've read anything decent, other than The Giver, which was truly really amazing :D Something about the fact that we have to pick over every sentence and write an essay worth a huge percent of our semester grade, I think. -__- I'll be sure to look up Night and Fahrenheit 451, though! They sound like they could be really interesting :)

    Chri @ Fathomless

  5. I really liked the year where we talked about many works from Shakespeare :) I didn't like most of the other books we read, because they weren't things I'd pick up myself.

    But, since I'm Dutch and this is about required reading, I liked the most books I had to read for my own language. We got to pick most of the titles ourself, so that wasn't so horrible.

  6. I'm with you Melissa, anytime I'm forced to read something I can never enjoy it. It's work above anything else, and almost all the required reading in school was that way for me. Crime and Punishment? Sweet Heaven that was a painful read. And Moby Dick? I may have cried a little from the boredom. BUT there were a select few I actually enjoyed reading, and Fahrenheit 451 was one of them. LOVED that book. I didn't have to read the Giver or Night, but if you liked them, I bet I would too.

  7. Night should be required reading for anyone living in a first world country and/or who has ever used the hashtag #firstworldproblem. It's such a powerful book and gives such a good first person perspective on the Holocaust, more so than anything else out there. I was usually the only student who actually did the reading in high school. By college, the reading got repetitive and I wasn't about to re-read The Scarlet Letter. The classic that made the biggest impact on me was The Great Gatsby. It sparked my love of the 1920s and made reading the classics a little more enjoyable.

  8. I remember hating most of my required reading in high school. Most of it was about boys and men, with the occasional girl or woman thrown in as a rape or murder victim.

    My favourite assigned books were Cue for Treason and Word to Caesar, both by Geoffrey Trease, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first two were in elementary school; the third was in university. High school was a bit of a drought, as far as required reading went. (I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird on my own during those years; they were required reading for some, but not for my particular English class.)

  9. Oh, I am awful for this topic. If it was required to read in school I didn't read it. I was too busy with the books I wanted to read. But now I find myself wishing I did read them or going back to find out what the hub bub was about.

    Saying hi, MS is back from Asia. & Getting back on my blogging feet is so much fun.

    Mad Scientist @ Steampunkery & Book Reviews

  10. I think my favorite ended up being Jane Eyre but it wasn't until I read it for myself in college that I was able to appreciate it. As a ninth-grader (deeply infatuated with Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair) I didn't fully recognize its genius.


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