I came across this article from Quartz recently, which is all about required reading at top US colleges. It really got me thinking about the books that I was required to read in school, and what I thought of them.
According to the article:
In the US, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein is the most taught work of fiction, with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales a close second. In history titles, George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi’s textbook, America: A Narrative History, is No. 1, with Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi, a memoir about life as an African-American woman in Jim Crow America, at No. 2. The Communist Manifesto is the third most taught in history, and is the top title in sociology.
I actually found this interesting, because I took a number of literature classes in college and I was not required to read a single one of the top books at any of the top US colleges. (I did, however, read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in one of my high school English classes.)
Books that stand out in my memory from my various college literature courses include:
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- Kallocain by Karin Boye
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read in Spanish)
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (also read in Spanish)
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I remember most of these because I struggled to finish them.
I feel really bad saying that because I love to read so much, but The Master and Margarita is literally one of my least favorite books of all time. I kind of want to pick it up and try it again when my boring, dry, disappointing professor isn’t clouding my opinion, but I don’t think I could even look at it without crying.
On the flip side of that, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? That’s a pretty cool book to assign. I gave a 75 minute presentation on it because I loved it so much. Same with Kallocain. That book was ahead of its time and overall just incredible.
I wonder sometimes, looking back, if I’d like those books that I considered “horrible” more now that I’m not required to finish them, discuss their literary merits, and write paper after paper analyzing them.
What books were you required to read in school? Did you enjoy them, or did you despise them?