When I think of required reading, I think of horribly boring books that I was forced to read, usually about white dudes, written by white dudes. But some books from my high school days did pleasantly surprise me. I couldn't put own The Catcher in the Rye, I related to Ordinary People, and I loved the language used in The Scarlett Letter. Still, it's hard for me not to be salty about those books that are "high school famous" and don't deserve it. Two books stick out for me that--if I were the queen of required reading--would be removed from the list.
Lord of the Flies
If you're going to make a teenage girl read a book with only teenage boy characters, at least make a few of them daydream-boyfriend worthy. Boys who smash each other with giant shells and put pig heads on sticks? Gross. Also, the thesis that without civilization, we're all savages (kind of a dark idea to push on the youth of our nation?) is... not true! If you want to know about real-life situations like this, check out Sebastian Junger's Tribe, which shows how humans actually cooperate and treat each other better in times of crisis than in peace. So suck it, Lord of the Flies!
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Reading Ernest Hemingway was when I first became seriously bitter about what we deem as "canon." I remember race horses, one dimensional female characters, and some guy in a hospital bed. The snow means purity? Great. It seems this book has been required reading in every English class I've ever had, and yet, no specific details or truisms have stayed with me. I feel like Hemingway is one of those hearty male writers who people love to put on a pedestal because he's a hearty male. I understand teaching "Hills Like White Elephants" in an intro to creative writing class, but why For Whom the Bell Tolls in every damn lit class? If you want students to read about the effects of war, I don't think you could do any better than Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried .
Your turn--which books should high school English teachers ditch? And if anyone wants to defend my choices as deserving to stay, I'd like to hear it!
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