The Top 5 Books You Should Have Actually Read in High School
Hi. My name is Natasha. And I haven’t read books I’ve been tested on.
Settle down, class. We are all culpable of this awful deed, and now is the time to own up to it. Throughout high school, middle school, and (I can’t believe I’m admitting this right now) college, I have used Sparknotes for evil. What was intended as a supplementary study guide for novels, plays, and various subjects, has become the slacker’s bible and the last-minute-studier’s closest companion. Is it cheating, some may ask? No, not at all (the cheater responds), it’s ¨helping¨.
Take advice from me, the English and French Literature double major (I only sparknoted THREE TIMES in college, I swear), and re-read the following five classics that you most likely used mankind’s greatest website to skim through.
1) A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
My first sparknoted novel. It was not the best of times while my 13 year old brain attempted to read this literary classic; it was clearly the worst of times. Upon receiving the book, a fellow classmate told me that Dickens was paid by the word, creating a never ending abyss of reading for us students. That being said, I gave up on the struggles of France and England, and instead turned to Sparknotes instead.
Why you should re-read this novel: Your 13 year old self, like my 13 year old self, was not old enough to understand the intricate storytelling and delicate, complex characters in AToTC. Dickens creates a fascinating picture where characters struggle to find peace and love, all leading to Carton’s beautiful closing thoughts. It’s a necessary lesson in redemption and forgiveness, one that could make you change your outlook in life.
Other recommended books: Great Expectations and The Adventures of Oliver Twist.
2) Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
I am 90% sure that during my sophomore year of high school, I was the only student in my class that read this book. I loved Jane Austen before I even knew who she was, because every few months growing up, like clockwork, my mother and I watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, featuring Colin Firth’s steamy lake scene. Ever since then, the apple was bitten, and I have read and re-read all of Austin’s novel since (even when I was required to read P&P again in high school).
Why you should re-read this novel: Elizabeth Bennet is a captivating and strong female character; some can consider her as one of the first modern day literary heroines. For her interesting journey alone you should re-read P&P, and discover the intricate comedic touch Austen places upon the Bennet family. And if you are dead-set against reading it again, watch the BBC movie. It follows the book nearly word for word.
Other recommended books: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (featuring the Bennet sisters of Zombie Hunters. Oh yeah.)
3) The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
One of my closest friends in high school was ¨forced¨ to read this book in class; and as a result she gave it 1 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Why one star? ¨Goodreads won’t let you give 0 stars. I hated that book.¨ Intrigued by her apparent contempt, I decided to read the book for myself, even though I wasn’t required to.
Why you should re-read this novel: This was my first experience with ¨stream of consciousness¨ in literature, and I found it absolutely fascinating. Faulkner places hints and puzzle pieces throughout this family tale, and it creates a more engaging, profound style of proactive reading. That being said, it is more difficult to read than Dr. Seuss of course, but the discoveries you will make are well worth it.
Other recommended books: Light in August and House of Leaves
4) Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
In junior year of high school, I chose to write my year-end paper about this book. And let me tell you, 17 year old Natasha was not pleased that it took 100 pages into the story for it to become somewhat ¨interesting¨. How on earth is this book considered one of the greatest romances of all time if it is about a ranging megalomaniac? This is the question I kept in the back of my head while I [attempted to] read Wuthering Heights.
Why you should re-read this novel: Luckily, in college I took a class on Literary Vitalism, and Wuthering Heights was part of the required reading. I think what ruined my first reading of this novel was that I expected it to be ¨the greatest romance of all time¨, when in fact, it is much more than that. It is a bildungsroman, where each character struggles to find their place in this world while competing with the constraints imposed upon them. The writing is clear, the story is a tragic lesson, and poor Heathcliff’s desperation and conviction is empowering.
Other recommended books: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (my favorite Bronte sister book) and The Importance of Being Ernest
5) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
THE most sparknoted readings in existence, as it has it’s own ¨No Fear Shakespeare¨ category. The biggest complaint in middle school and high school classes? ¨Shakespeare was meant to be SEEN, not READ, so why do we have to read it?¨
Why you should re-read the plays: They're challenging, a great history lesson, and the characters are complex and driven by our own faults. And if you find difficulty in reading Shakespeare, speak it out loud! Plays are meant to be performed, so have some fun pretending to be Iago or Richard III.
Other recommended books: Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Station Eleven.
Notice how I only included one book I sparknoted? I can’t reveal all of my dark secrets.
Moral of this post? Use Sparknotes for good, not evil. Actually take the time to read the book, because social media and your brother’s new video game can wait. Escape into the world of literature.
Have any more suggestions for this list? So do I! But it would be impossible to list every book in this one post. Reach out and let me know what books you think should be in the ¨Top Five¨.