Education, Literacy

Books I Only Pretended to Read in HS

I was really good at playing the high school game. So good, in fact, that throughout high school I managed to pull some version of an A in nearly all of my high school English classes, including AP English my senior year. So good that each of my English teachers considered me one of their “top” students (except for Miss P*, who only awarded that title to the freshman boys who sat in the front row hoping to catch a peek of whatever they could under her miniskirts). So good that I did all this only having read approximately 50% of my assigned books in their entirety.

I know. 50%. Shocking right?

Well, not really, if you consider what we know today–and what many people knew then, but whose admonishments fell on deaf ears–about good teaching practice. For example, how students learn best when they are given choice. How important engagement is to learning.

How freaking boring (and white) the literary canon is.

Would YOU voluntarily pick this up to read?

The big revelation-that’s-not-really-a-revelation-to-anyone-paying-the-slightest-bit-of-attention is, my deception was not particularly original or unique. Lots of kids were, and still are, good at playing the high school game. I was good at playing the college game, too, but unfortunately for those of us who would rather read The Stand than Anna Karenina, if you didn’t read the texts you were assigned in college, it wasn’t long before you had to either forfeit your student status or step it up. But in high school–at least, in my rural high school whose giant claim to fame was being blessed with a name that could easily incorporate the word weed in it–you could not merely “squeak by” without reading your assigned books; you could make the freaking Top Ten list (okay, so I missed doing so by three-quarters of a GPA point. Damn that girl who moved in three months before grades closed!).

So I’m here today, as a literacy specialist and mother of two, to cleanse my soul and avoid any future accusations of being a hypocrite by revealing all of the books I was assigned in high school that I either only partially read or skipped entirely. For your entertainment, I’ll also explain why I failed to read them. Perhaps this information will help you to reflect on the implications of this for your own practice, as it has mine**. Or, perhaps it will inspire you to purge your own “lazy student” demons by revealing which assigned books you essentially ignored (and if you do feel the urge, please make me feel better about myself by purging these demons in the “Comments” section below).

Assigned Books I Skipped or Only Partially Read Why I Skipped Them
A Tale of Two Cities So boring. So confusing. So dreary.
Romeo & Juliet (Not technically a book, I know, but I’m counting it here.) Too many innuendos, too few juicy parts.
Julius Caesar (See above.) Boring. Don’t care about the characters.
Billy Budd, Sailor Sailors? C’monnnn.
The Scarlet Letter Interesting concept, but the preface ruined any chance of my reading it. Zzzzz.
The Metamorphosis Couldn’t figure out what in God’s name was happening (or more accurately, not happening).
The Pearl Had nothing to do with me or my teenage life. Therefore, BORING.
Slaughterhouse-Five Umm, what?
Heart of Darkness See above. (I liked the part with the shrunken heads, though.)
The Red Badge of Courage If I wanted to read about war, I’d…wait, I didn’t want to read about war.
Ethan Frome Like watching paint dry. Boring, beige paint.
Dubliners Pretty much all of the above.

*Names have been abbreviated to protect the skanky.

**Such as, but not limited to, the following: give students at least SOME choice in their reading, teach students strategies for overcoming breakdowns in comprehension, choose shared texts that have some relevance to contemporary students’ lives, give students multiple opportunities to read during class, refrain from assigning a response/analysis for every book, and stop with the pastel chinos, for God’s sake. You look ridiculous.

Seriously. (Shout-out to Mr. C.)

5 thoughts on “Books I Only Pretended to Read in HS”

  1. Could you be funnier? Seriously, you hit the nail on the head. My saving grace in Honors English was the Cliff’s notes for all the books I was forced to read. This whole “close reading” movement is new to me…the only “close reading” I ever did in HS was Sassy magazine or the Cosmo quizzes. I can SO, scarily, relate to you and your experience. I just can’t say it as well as you can. Thanks for being my voice.


  2. Thank you for the “relevance” part. If only test makers could read this. Like when a when an assessment created in ancient times was last revised in 1979 and we’re still using it today. Snork.


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