Four stacks of books on a table. The thirst stack from the left is the tallest.

Making the Most of Required Reading | Seven School Books I’ve Actually Enjoyed

Most people don’t like required reading. Not even English majors. There’s nothing that kills my motivation more than someone handing me a paperback and then telling me I will be graded on my ability to read, comprehend, and analyze the words inside. I love reading. I wish I could do it more often than I do. It’s just that I have the kind of personality where the instant someone tells me something’s required, even if I will probably enjoy that something, I’m determined to dread it.

Sorry, professors.

Actually, I’m not all that sorry, because in sprite of my bad attitude, I have enjoyed a lot of my required reading. At the very least, I’ve only hated one or two books (and generally with good reason, so I don’t feel all that bad). Since school recently started for a lot of us Americans, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the books that make me love being an English major.

1) Price & Prejudice by Jane Austen

A fun factoid about my experience with the much-beloved P&P is that I actually watched it as a stage production before I read the book. In some ways, I think that experience helped me a lot. I could better visualize the action happening in the book, which in turn allowed me to focus more on the more minute elements of the novel – the satire and the character development especially. It’s been years since I sat down to enjoy this book again, but it still remains one of the most positive high school reading experiences I had.

2) Hamlet by Shakespeare

Don’t tell my department, but I could probably live without Shakespeare (or maybe I’ve just been reading the wrong plays). Hamlet, on the other hand, is one I definitely enjoyed. Part of the reason might’ve been the other students in my class – we would take on “roles” for each scene and read the lines accordingly, and we always had good discussions about the book. (I miss you, Brit Lit!)

3) The Chosen by Chaim Potok

This was a book I chose to read (ha ha) for a project in my AP Literature class in high school. We had to pick a book off of a list, and it was either The Chosen or Great Expectations since those were the ones my family owned. Nothing against Dickens (well, maybe a little), but I’m so glad I chose this book instead. At the time, this story was different than anything else I had read for school. I loved the characters, and I enjoyed the historical setting as well. This is definitely another book I want to read again sometime.

4) Stateside by Jehanne Dubrow

This is the first book of poetry that I actually enjoyed. It was the first time I saw how poetry wasn’t just a genre for pretty images and rhyming words, but it could actually be used to tell a story in the same way that prose did. Stateside explores the thoughts and emotions of the speaker during her husband’s deployment, and while it is poetry, the poems are arranged in a way that shows the journey she experiences during this time. Plus, Dubrow alludes to Greek mythology a lot, so that’s a bonus.

5) Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

This is another book I was allowed to pick, this time for my Young Adult Literature course. I have to be honest, this was not an easy book to read. Challenger Deep is a real and often raw portrayal of mental illness and its effects, but I believe it also serves as a beacon of hope for recovery.

6) Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo

Listen, the next time someone tries to tell you that graphic novels aren’t “literary” or “academic,” I want you to hand them a copy of this book. While Citizen 13660 isn’t exactly like the graphic novels we know today, it is certainly one of their ancestors. Okubo masterfully uses the art and writing together to tell the story of her experience in Japanese internment camps during WWII. While it looks simple on the surface, there’s a lot going on in every drawing, and I loved having the chance to study them closely.

7) The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I’m not sure I can completely put into words the way I feel about The House on Mango Street. The book has its ups and downs like any story, but it always leaves me feeling warm and hopeful. Esperanza’s journey as a writer is inspiring, and I love watching her grow up over the course of the book. I loved The House on Mango Street and Citizen 13660 so much that I used them both in my final project for my American Women’s Writing course, which you can view online.

What “required reading” have you enjoyed? What was your favorite book to study in school? Have you discovered any new favorite authors through academics? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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