Re-Evaluating High School Reading

Most schools in our area resume in about a month. There’s still plenty of time for some last-minute summer reading.

Local summer reading lists include a mix of old standbys–Jane Eyre, Huck Finn, 1984, various Dickens, Anne Frank, etc.; hot young-adult bestsellers like Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan or Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel; and some unusual adult genre fiction choices, such as Lee Child. I, for one, was happy to see Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men recommended at one local school.

It’s fantastic that more and more young-adult books are being put on high school reading lists. I despised many of the books I read in high school, probably because I didn’t really understand them.

Another seminal high-school read is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. For some inexplicable reason, about 30% of visitors to the Book Cellar blog come here because they’re searching for the book cover image to Lord of the Flies.

Back by popular demand!

I read Lord of the Flies in high school and hated it. Correction: I read three chapters (the first, the last, and–spoiler alert!–the chapter where Piggy gets crushed by a rock), and hated it. (But I still aced my test!) Admittedly, I’m probably not the world’s greatest judge of the book’s quality. Still, I have no desire to re-read this book. Human nature is despicable and violent. I get it. Do I really need a whole book demonstrating this? My current opinion is, of course, highly influenced by my latent teenage disgust. Are there any books you read in high school and felt one way, but reading it later in life changed your opinion?

While I don’t plan on re-reading Flies any time soon, I did re-read The Great Gatsby in college. I really appreciated it during the second reading. When I was in high school, the only thing I liked was when Gatsby got shot. My, I was a violent teen. In college, I still didn’t mourn the self-centered rich boy’s death, but I felt I understood his, the other characters’, near-crippling disillusionment more.

It goes the other way too. The high school version of me really enjoyed Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, probably because I really wanted to live in a house surrounded by shrunken heads on pikes–shrunken heads facing the house. Colonel Kurtz was all emo and angsty and crazy, like me! In college, I found the book impossibly dense. I guess I felt better about skipping the thick language in high school (i.e. the majority of the story), but in college I found it to be impenetrable–much like the jungle at the center of the story.

Heart of Darkness book cover

Will "Heart of Darkness book cover" overtake "Lord of the Flies book cover" in our blog's top search terms? Stay tuned!

Although I didn’t enjoy, per se, Darkness in college (who in their right mind would?), I at least appreciated it more, and was able to better comprehend images and symbols that I didn’t years prior.

So, here’s the question again: What books have you re-read later in life, and how did your opinion of the book change? Comment here, or on our Facebook page. Discuss!

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