Saturday, April 12, 2008

How Well-Read Are You?

A section in the Literature Lover's Book of Lists reveals a compilation of books and short stories that are required reading by colleges and universities across the U.S. Take a gander and see how many you've read!

You might think that as an English teacher I have an unfair advantage in this exercise, but there are actually quite a few here that I was never asked to read (and did not take up on my own). My total: 21 out of 44.

Pride and Prejudice
(Jane Austen)
Go Tell It On the Mountain (James Baldwin)
Humboldt's Gift (Saul Bellow)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
The Stranger (Albert Camus)
Don Quixote (Miguel De Cervantes)
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)
Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
Adam Bede (George Eliot)
Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
The Unvanquished (William Faulkner)
Joseph Andrews (Henry Fielding)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (John Fowles)
Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
The Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy)
The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The Portrait of a Lady (Henry James)
Dubliners (James Joyce)
The Trial (Franz Kafka)
Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis)
The Magic Barrel (Bernard Malamud)
Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
1984 (George Orwell)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)
The Tell-Tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe)
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
The Red and the Black (Stendhal)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift)
Vanity Fair (William Thackeray)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
Native Son (Richard Wright)

Am I troubled by the lack of diversity in this list? Of course. For a start, I can't imagine how Edith Wharton and Charlotte Bronte were left off. But that's for another post . . .

How did you fare in the college-bound reading?


Anonymous said...

Julia, I found this quite interesting because in our high school, where I currently have 2 kids, several changes have occurred that involve these books. Huck Finn and Great Gatsby have been removed for more contemporary literature. Animal Farm, 1984 and The Red Badge of Courage are no longer read at high school, but are read in junior high. Books by both Brontes, Jane Austin and Edith Wharton are only read by honors English students as summer reading options. The times are changing and I don't know if it's for better or worse.
Mary Beth

Julia Buckley said...

It's always a dilemma. Some things that are read at jr. high level would obviously be appreciated differently at the hs level, when students are more able to think abstractly (therefore appreciating symbolism).

And the question is, when bringing in a new and worthwhile work, which great classic do you let go of?

Most English departments I've been on clutch those classics like lifelines, not, I don't think, to try to limit the students or refuse to adapt to the "modern" age, but because they know how meaningful the books are, and what important themes they address. We want to teach it all, and we can't.

Anonymous said...

I've read 22 of those. (A few I started and couldn't get through, frankly) I really think students tend to be hurt when they are presented with literature which might be excellent but for which they are unprepared by simply having not yet lived enough!

I read Heart of Darkness in high school and hated it. I reread it a couple years ago and it blew me away.Steinbeck, I think, would be a good choice for high school. I read lots of his books when I was a teenager and though I suspect much went over my head, they were accessible.

I am actually still working on that list. A couple months ago I finally read Crime and Punishment which was fantastic, utterly riveting, hands down one of the best things I've ever read.

Julia Buckley said...


I teach Crime and Punishment to seniors; a lot of them like and appreciate it, but can't figure out how I can teach it year after year, sometimes to multiple classes. But that book is as complex as Shakespeare, and every time I find something new in it. I am madly in love with the characters of Porfiry Petrovich and Dmitri Razumikhin. So wonderful.

And I agree that, with living, one sees characters and events in a whole new light.

One Steinbeck book that students like a lot because of its good versus evil theme is East of Eden. What a crazy ride that book is. :)

Anonymous said...

I've only read 11 but a lot are on my list of "I should read..."

I will say that I had to read 2 other ones by Faulkner (can't even remember which ones) and I hated him so much that I ended up with a bad attitude about "classics" that has lasted most of my life. Sadly. I really did not like my high school junior year honors English teacher. He was very snobby about books and by the end of the year, no one wanted to read anything ever again that was over 25 years old. LOL

Julia Buckley said...

It is a shame the way people can ruin books for you. In an opposite way, there is a teacher at our school who is so enthusiastic about teaching Pride and Prejudice that about half of her class ends up putting it on our library's "favorite books" poll at the end of the year. And my own high school English teacher was the one who really got me interested in Crime and Punishment, as well as Return of the Native, which I doubt I would have liked if I'd read it on my own.

But many of these, I think, would be enjoyable even if you read them on the beach. And that East of Eden--well, I dare you to start it and then put it down.

suesun said...

How well read am I? Not very! 13 my magic number, and most of those in high school when, I freely admit, I was not ready. If we want to create life-long readers, then we should let high schoolers READ, and then read and read some more. We must throw books into their hands that we love, and communicate the LOVE as well as the symbolism.

I wandered over to "In Our Own Words". I had never heard of this publication and think it is fascinating. My friends keep telling me to publish my poems, but I never know how or where. Maybe this will be it....... thanks!

Julia Buckley said...

Absolutely right, Suesun. They have to love the books, so we must convey the love.

Send out those poems! Share your words with the world.

Clair Dickson said...

Ha! I'm an English teacher and I've only read 6 of these! I don't even teach any of them either, but that might not count since I'm currently an Alternative High School teacher.

Julia Buckley said...

It certainly is not a measure of our excellence, Clair. :)

Jody said...

I've read 28 of them and am familiar with the titles of others. I can't remember which ones I read on my own and which were required reading for classes. I was an English major.

Julia Buckley said...

That's impressive, Jody!

DL said...

Late on this.... I have read 23 of them, but I was a weird teen who considered reading lists a candy store. I definitely read things without completely understanding. I loved Grapes of Wrath in HS. Just re-read it as an adult and couldn't believe all that I had missed before. Yet, Steinbeck changed my life. (and politics, to my family's dismay.)

Julia Buckley said...

Ah, yes--such is the power of books! Each year more of my beliefs are put on trial, depending on what I read.