Sunday, December 11, 2016

Top 10 Books I Hated in School

Hi book lovers!
I'm incredibly grateful for all the support my teachers have given me over the years, especially my English teachers who fostered a love of reading and learning in me. Despite their best efforts, there are some books school kind of ruined for me. This is a list of these book. The list is ranked, they get worse as we go along.
Video version of this blog is available here:

#10. The Red Badge of Courage.

When I was 15, I read this book straight through in one night, not because I had great interest, but because I had forgotten I had a quiz on the next day. That, in and of itself, is never a recipe for fun reading. We hadn’t had any classes on the book yet, we were supposed to read it first and we’d be quizzed to see if we truly read it,and not just sparknotes. It’s about this teenage guy who was a soldier in the Union army in the US Civil War and he deserts during battle and he feels bad about himself. And he struggles to accept his duty as a soldier. This book is fairly low on plot and plumbs the psychology of the main character. I became frustrated that I was being quizzed on plot and yet there wasn’t a lot of plot. The main character’s name is Henry, but he’s constantly referred to as “The Youth” and the dialogue is written in a really strong dialect.  The first line of dialogue in the book is "We're goin' t' move t'morrah--sure," and it’s just more of that for another 200 pages. The dialogue takes awhile to read through and combined with the fact that I read this very quickly for a test, I didn’t connect with this book.  

#9. Ethan Frome

So, for the same high school English class as The Red Badge of Courage, We had to read a certain number of extra books each semester, books that weren’t being taught, but you had to read them and you would be tested on what happened in the story. And actually it wasn’t the number of books we read, we had to read a certain number of pages of classic literature. And there was a list of classic books that we could choose from. It was near the end of the term and I had less than 100 pages left that I had to read that semester, so I picked the shortest book on the list, which to begin with is NOT a good reason to read a book, and that book was Ethan Frome. It was May, I was a vivacious teenager who was mentally done with school and dreaming about summer break and this bleak story set in the dead of winter in isolated rural New England was total misery. The characters are passive aggressive, suicidal and anxiety rideen nad. Again, the book is more psychological and does a very thorough job of establishing the setting and the feel of the place, and it’s pacing is slow. It’s low on plot, which isn’t necesarily bad, but it makes for a difficult read when you’re a high schooler who’s in a bit of a rush to finish the book. I could not get out of frozen, isolated Starkfield Massachusetts fast enough. There is a crazy twist at the end of this book, but it wasn’t enough to save it from making this list.

#8 Beowulf

I read this college. And my professor gave me the essay topic to compare the really, really ancient English, NOT Shakespeare English. Like this: "HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum, þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon." Do you understand that? Yeah, me neither.  My professor had everyone go to her office hours to meet about one of our term papers, and the topic she gave me involved a comparison of the ancient English and the modern version of Beowulf. I didn’t get a good grade, and anytime I hear the word Beowulf my stomach clenches.
#7 Ulysses by James Joyce

Also for college, I had to read Ulysses, which is massive tome that entirely takes place in one day,June 16, 1904. I was struggling to connect with it. For me, it was slough mostly due Joyce’s meandering writing style, and I shared that with some of my classmates when we were talking about it.   And the thing about some literature students, is that their self esteem comes from knowing more about literature than everyone else. And that’s the group of people I happened to be talking to.  One girl actually told me I needed to drop the class if I didn’t understand Ulysses and asked if I came from a bad high school. Thanks guys, thanks.

#6 Oedipus Rex
So, two days before my Enlgish AP exam in high school, my teacher told me I needed to read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, which was really bad advice.  Oedipus Rex is the famous Greek Tragedy where the main character kills his dad and has sex with his mom. Anyway, I was told to read this right before my AP exam, because it was sure to be on there, so instead of studying intelligently for my AP exam with a more general approach or with practice tests I was frantically reading Sophocles.  I now associate this book with the stress of that AP exam. By the way, nothing by Sophocles was on there.

#5 Animal Farm

My eighth grade teacher read this book out loud to us. The entire book. She read it in a strange, high pitched singing voice. Imagine sitting at an uncomfortable desk in a cold classroom, underneath buzzing florescent lights, listening to a woman with an amateur singing voice, sing Animal Farm at you. I think you’d hate Animal Farm too. It’s still beyond me why she wouldn’t just rent the audiobook from the library, or since she did this every year, just buy the audiobook.

#4 Romeo and Juliet

Same eighth grade class, I sat in the desk behind my middle school crush. We talked to each other and laughed constantly about … god knows what. And one day, halfway through a lecture about Romeo and Juliet that I wasn’t paying attention to, the boy and I got into a lot of trouble because he did something really goofy to make me laugh, and I couldn’t stop laughing. And the more I laughed, the more he laughed. And we’d both gotten in trouble before. Like, quite a bit I think, actually, for talking, but this time we really got in trouble because I had to switch seats with someone at the other end of the classroom.  And I had to spend  an extra period in the library copying Act I of Romeo and Juliet by hand. And to top it all off, by the next week my crush just started goofing off with a different girl who sat close to him.  Anytime I think about Romeo and Juliet, all I can think about is the misery of copying all of Act I by hand. All the middle school drama I associate with this play is pretty appropriate actually, since Juliet was only 13 when she committed mutual suicide with Romeo.

#3 The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

Okay, I had to read this book in college. It’s not a book, it’s an epic poem. And it’s the epic poem that never ends. It’s an allegory that’s supposed to be about how to live your life, and how to pursue certain Christian virtues . It came across as political diatribe, that promotes the Queen of England, and blames the Catholic Church for much of the evils in the world.  Overall, I had a really hard time connecting with this book. To make matters worse, I had the flu the week that I had to read this. I was soooo miserable. I had a massive headache, I couldn’t breathe out my nose, I had a fever, I was a hot mess. All I wanted to do was sleep, but instead, I was staying up past midnight several nights in a row to pass a test on to this gargantuan epic poem The Faerie Queene. I was so sick, that I slept through two alarms and missed the quiz. My professor let me take it, but automatically dropped my score by one letter grade. I associate the Faeire Queen with Elizabethan propaganda, the flu, and bad grades.

#2 The Stranger by Albert Camus

So, I complained earlier about the problem of testing for plot when the book isn’t driven by plot. But this book, is by far, far and away the worst offender. Our teacher did try to talk some about the book being a commentary on how humanity focused on immediate, basic needs such as food and being comfortable, but that little nugget was not worth the experience of reading this book. The Stranger just seemed like an argument for the meaninglessness of life, and I really think high school is too young to read this book. Unless you’re a high-schooler who has a lot of exposure to modern philosophy, just... no.

Most of these books I’ve somewhat come around on. But I’m actually still a little bit confused by The Stranger, because the main turning point of the book is the narrator choking a priest and accepting the indifference of an entirely physical world with no afterlife. It’s like we’re supposed to be happy for him, but the narrator is also a genuinely terrible person whose worldview leads him kills other people without emotion.

#1 The Return of the Native

My number one hated book. We made it guys! The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.   The year I was introduced to this book, I was in high school, and I had a teacher who had not taught this course before.  She was new and she didn’t know how to pace the course. We spend three MONTHS. MONTHS. Just on this book.  Way too long. Like, ten weeks too long.  Three months of hearing that the heath is a character and listening to my classmates complain about how annoying Eustacia Vye is and taking copious vocabulary quizzes on words in every chapter.  And all of this was interspersed with tangents about my teacher’s pet peeves of which there was never any shortage. When we finally finished with this book, I never wanted to hear about it again.  

So those are my top ten books that I hated in school. I’d love to know down below which books the school system has ruined for you.  I want to end this video by sincerely thanking all of my teachers, especially my English teachers, because even though there were a few times that didn’t work out so well, on the whole, you instilled a love for reading and a love for learning in me for which I am incredibly grateful. 💗

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