Which High School Books Did You Love/Hate?

An interesting discussion on Twitter has blossomed into an interesting post over at Robin Wasserman’s blog about books you read for class in high school that you loved/hated.

Okay, unscientific and super-fast survey time, because now I’m curious:

Which high-school mandatory reading book did you love most? (More interestingly…) Which did you HATE?

If you’re old now (like me), have you changed your mind?

If you’re in high school now, well, no extra-special additional question, but I’ll be doubly curious to hear your answer. (And maybe if there’s something unanimously loved, I’ll risk taking another look.)

Personally, I loved most of the books I read in high school. I had AMAZING high school English teachers (Mrs. Sayers and Ms. McDuffie) who I credit quite a bit toward teaching me how to write and cultivating in me a love of literature. Because I had nothing against being “assigned” books and they taught literature in such a way that I could learn how to analyze it without losing how to appreciate it (with one glaring exception), I really feel that the books I hated in high school would be books I’d hate now, so I havent actually tried any re-reading.


  • A Separate Peace
  • The Chosen
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • The Crucible
  • all the Shakespeare we read
  • The Odyssey
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Kaffir Boy
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey
  • The Magus


  • The Red Pony
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • All the Pretty Horses
  • Wuthering Heights

At the time, I hated Lord of the Flies. It was the first book we read in high school, and therefore, it was dissected and offered up on the altar of “now we’re going to teach the students how to analyze literature.” I will never forget how one day, we had to answer questions about what the color of the poop the boys were pooping symbolized. I really don’t know why this book was so utterly destroyed, because, as I said before, this teacher was fantastic. Perhaps it was just a classroom conversation that devolved by students who were really resistant to the idea of talking about symbolism or literary analysis. I can’t remember now. But I do remember it wasn’t fun anymore. Things got better after that. (Though I do remember, sophomore year, everyone in my class being so confused by what was going on in The Sun Also Rises only to be told by the students who had a different, less G-rated  teacher what the main character’s big conflict was.)

Over at Robin’s blog, the votes are coming in fast and furious for A Separate Peace. Interesting.

Posted in bookaholic, literature

30 Responses to Which High School Books Did You Love/Hate?

  1. Lenore says:

    I know this will make me sound like a nerd…but I liked all of my assigned reading. Oh well, except a short story by Thomas Mann.

  2. sharon says:

    Wow. I haven’t read any of these. This comes from growing up in Yonkers. I do remember trying to read Lord of the Flies on my own and not really being into it. I read a lot of Robin Cook and James Patterson thrillers back in the day.

  3. JJ says:

    Let’s see, books I loved:

    2. JANE EYRE
    5. All the Shakespeare we read (Midsummer Night’s Dream)
    6. BELOVED
    10. BEOWULF

    Books I hated in high school:

    2. All the Greek plays we suffered through (Sorry, Sophocles!)
    3. Puritan literature (ugh)
    4. Poetry (although I love the transcendentalists)

    I read Wuthering Heights as a freshman and hated it, but when I reread it as a junior (and started reading Paglia–yes, I was somehwat precocious) I gained a newfound appreciation for it. The story doesn’t move me, but HOW it’s told is pretty awesome. A story within a story within a story–like Russian dolls. Heathcliff’s story relayed to us through Nellie, whose story is relayed to us through Lockwood, etc.

    But I’ll be honest. I could care less what happened to these people. JANE EYRE, on the other hand…<3

    I read a lot of books in junior high for English that I loved. I went to private school from 5th grade onward, so our curriculum was a bit all over the place. I read A SEPARATE PEACE, LORD OF THE FLIES and HUCK FINN in 7th and 8th grade, and then Octavia Butler’s KINDRED in my “advanced” section (all of which I loved–I went on to read all of Butler’s other novels).

    But I have serious gaps in my literature reading. And I was an English major. I have never once read MOBY DICK. Ever. We read Benito Sereno and Bartleby the Scrivener in high school. And then in college, my profs assumed I’d already read MOBY DICK in high school, and so assigned everything else by Melville (including his rather excellent poetry). I have also never read or seen a production of Hamlet or MacBeth. But I have read every obscure historical play of Shakespeare’s. Go figure, right?

  4. the dragonfly says:

    Because I was mostly in “advanced” English classes, we were usually given a list and then could choose what we wanted…so I pretty much chose things I liked. Believe it or not I decided to tackle (among many other books) East of Eden, and I really liked it. 🙂 I *loved* 1984 and have read it multiple times since. Shakespeare we were assigned, and I very much enjoyed it all (Rom & Jul, MacBeth, Julias Caesar). The only thing I didn’t like was Great Expectations, read first thing freshman year, and I think it’s because we spent about three months on it and I got soooo tired of it. I re-read it recently, though, and was surprised to find I liked it.

    (Wow, this is making me feel a bit old, I was a freshman in 1992…)

  5. Rhiannon says:

    I have this block,a nd can’t read anything to completion if it has been assigned to be read. I still have this problem, as an adult, when it comes to book clubs.

    I do remember enjoying Of Mice and Men. And The Great Gatsby was fun, if not for the book itself, for the way that our class celebrated reading it by having a field trip to a classmate’s farmhouse and holding a garden party while we all dressed for the time period. Our english class was combined with our social studies class, so we studied the time period at the same time as reading the book. We had lots of flappers and gangsters and even period-specific food. It was lots of fun.

  6. Phoebe says:

    Awesome list–we had pretty similar tastes (though I didn’t read Wuthering Heights til college, and loved it then). Here’s my list:


    The Scarlet Letter, The Odyssey, 1984, Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Great Expectations, Of Mice and Men, Madame Bovary, The Old Man and the Sea, Hamlet


    The Iliad, A Tale of Two Cities, The Red Pony (ugh, what a terrible book!), The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, Germinale, Julius Cesar, The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms

    A lot of my distaste for some of these books–The Great Gatsby stands out in particular–was from the way a few teachers would try to force us to accept only one interpretation of any of the “symbols” of the novel, a practice I’ve come to loathe even more as I’ve gotten older. I think my enjoyment of some of these suffered because they were summer reading, too. No one should be forced to read Emile Zola over the summer against his or her will.

  7. Ocannie says:

    My favorite novel in HS was probably The Scarlet Letter. Probably because the teacher didn’t make us analyze it to death. But I was really into theater in HS, so most of my favorite readings were plays: anything by Ibsen, Pygmalion, Cyrano de Bergerac’, and Shakespeare.

  8. Katherine says:

    Pride and Prejudice
    The Picture of Dorian Grey
    The Odyssey
    Emily Dickinson
    poetry from soldiers during WWI
    Animal Farm

    Romeo and Juliet
    The Scarlet Letter
    The Grapes of Wrath
    Heart of Darkness
    puritan literature

    Everything else fell somewhere in between. I had a couple problems with the things on the hate list. Mostly that I was being forced to read something. I loved to read, when they handed me a list of classics and said pick something I tended to like nearly everything I read. When they choose for me and told me exactly what I was supposed to take from the text, not so much.

    Also, I loved the writing in Rome and Juliet, but hated it because the stupid kids pissed me off so much, even as a stupid kid. I got the point, but it still irritated the crap out of me and I spent the whole time wanting to strangle them.

  9. LJK says:

    I still vividly remember reading The Sun Also Rises for summer reading one year. I was at the pool lifeguarding (it was raining, no swimmers) and a jr. tennis pro who was a year older was sitting with me. He looked at the book and said he hadn’t understood the book at all because he totally missed Jake’s injury. The book made a lot more sense after he told me what the injury was. Probably not the best summer reading choice for the teacher.

  10. Gina says:

    The worst was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Even the teacher hated it, which probably didn’t help the matter.
    Another one I hated, I can’t remember the title, but it was an autobiography by a woman imprisoned in China during the cultural revolution. The only interesting thing about the book was her daughter, and we read the whole darn thing just to find out what happened to her. It was NOT a good ending. (And yes, I know it was an autobiography so a true story and all, but still a boring read)

  11. Cariadne says:

    I didn’t love reading until much later in life. I remember my 5th grade teacher trying to get us to enjoy the classics. He introduced a series of classic pocket series, which were things like Great Expectations, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Huck Finn, Prince and the Pauper interspersed with illustrations, maybe 1 for every chapter. This was essentially my first foray into assigned reading with chapter books and I hated it. Late in my jr high/middle shool years, I became a more adventurous reader. Liked Johnny Tremain. High school: liked Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22. I wish I had a teacher that assigned me Jane Eyre – which I adore. And if you haven’t read Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, you should.

  12. Emilia says:

    Well I’m only in 9th grade, but we have read quite a few books.

  13. Emilia says:

    Sorry that was one whole comment, but my computer freaked.

    The Hunger Games -Yeah we got to read this in English!
    Anthem- Summary: A guy invents a lightbulb. His society worries he’ll put the candle industry out of business. He runs away with his true love. They live happily ever after. The End.
    A Midsummer Nights Dream- We didn’t read this in school I just really like it
    The Arrival- Actually you can’t read this because there are no words

    Strongly Disliked:
    Of Mice and Men- Seriously…worst ending ever
    Romeo and Juliet- Seriously Juliet! You know the guy for 5 seconds and you decidde you want to MARRY him! What is up with that?
    The Hobbit- The only good part was the part with the Were-bear.
    Farenheit 451- I prefer “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”, it is a much better Post-Apcalyptic than Farenheit

  14. Nicole says:

    The Stranger (L’etranger)
    Something Wicked This Way Comes
    Ender’s Game
    The Great Gatsby
    Picture of Dorian Gray
    Cat’s Cradle
    Le Mariage de Figaro
    Le Petit Prince

    (I was in AP French Lit along with regular AP Lit my senior year, hence the French required reading. I loved most of the stuff we read in that class. Believe me, if you can read something in it’s original language, it’s worth taking the time to do so, it makes a huge difference!)

    Lord of the Flies
    Hamlet (only because we killed it, resurrected it, tortured it and then slowly watched it die again)
    Brave New World
    The Things They Carried

    Yes, well, there’s my two cents.

  15. Britta says:

    I did, and do not like Lord of the Flies. I do think it is a strong piece of literature and does have some good points. But this book scared me and made me feel really sad. It had no hope and wasn’t an exactly friendly way to start my time in high school. It was dreary and was just a reminder of how teenagers can be mean. I still feel like I could have lived the same with out this book.
    But I loved a book I read in middle school which was the Scarlet Pimpernel. I Love it. But I read Wuthering Heights on my own and it wasn’t amazing. But I assume I would’ve liked it less if I had had to read it in school.

  16. Tiff says:

    I still haven’t read Lord of the Flies.

    Bleak House
    all Shakespeare except The Tempest
    Things Fall Apart
    Canterbury Tales
    All the Pretty Horses
    Pride & Prejudice
    Death of a Salesman
    The Great Gatsby

    Hated, But Now Love:
    Waiting for Godot
    The Tempest
    The Catcher in the Rye
    Great Expectations
    Light in August

    Wuthering Heights
    A Farewell to Arms

    I’m willing to give Wuthering Heights a try again, but I’m pretty convinced that I will never like A Farewell to Arms.

    By the way, Diana, I LOVED Persuasion. I don’t think I loved it more than Pride & Prejudice – the ending is a bit too abrupt for me, and I feel like the climax comes a little too late…which might be the whole point, I guess – but on the whole, I felt that the story was much more interesting and complex than that of P&P, and I think I loved it equally. I did wish for a more rounded character in Capt. Wentworth, though…I definitely feel like Darcy is a better male lead.


  17. After all these years, and all the books I’ve read, it’s hard for me to separate what they made me read in HS and what I read on my own. I do remember being forced to read Catcher in the Rye – mainly because I hated it. Still do. I loved all the Shakespeare they had us read. I also remember being intrigued enough by 1984 that I went out and read Farenheit 451, which remains one of my favorite books.

  18. Cate says:

    Heh. I went to private (religious) school, so thankfully we did not read 1984, Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, To Catch a Mockingbird, The Red Pony, and/or the Tolkien trilogy. <- All of those books I’ve either read for college classes or on my own and absolutely did not like. :O

    Of the books we did read:

    LOVED (even though I read them long before high school):

    Pride and Prejudice
    Jane Eyre
    Unabridged Shakesphere (technically we had to choose one play to analyze and so forth, but I read through the book which was about six or seven inches thick.

    Hated, Loathed, Despised:

    Great Expectations
    The Iliad
    Wuthering Heights
    The Scarlet Letter
    The House with Seven Gables
    Ivanhoe (LOATHED!!!)
    The Virginian (I still don’t know what it was about)

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  20. beth says:

    Oh dear–you and I were almost entirely different. I loved Lord of the Flies, and All the Pretty Horses is STILL one of my all-time favorite books. I hated Pride & Prejudice at the time, but have grown to like it.

    I still love Shakespeare–he’s just a lot of fun, really.

    But I could NOT stand AT ALL any Faulkner, especially As I Lay Dying, and I detest all Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

  21. PurpleRanger says:

    The only book that sticks in my memory as one that I HAD to read in school was THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne. And once I got into it, it wasn’t that bad. I think I was more against the idea of being forced to buy the book.

    I read FAHRENHEIT 451 on my own when I was in high school.

  22. alaska. says:

    oooh! i feel i should mention i went to an all-girls catholic school run by nuns, and it had no bearing on what we were reading.

    a separate peace
    the orestia
    the bacchae
    mrs. dalloway
    the sound and the fury
    portrait of the artist as a young man
    the bluest eye
    to the lighthouse
    a passage to india
    richard III
    henry V
    the tempest
    franny and zoey
    the essence of christianty
    the inferno

    house of the spirits
    catcher in the rye
    brave new world
    more of the shakespeare
    rozencrantz and gilderstern are dead
    portrait of a lady
    jane eyre

    bleak house (dickens in general)
    huckleberry finn
    hymn to demeter
    a lot of the shakespeare we read (exceptions above – mostly i just liked the villains – we did 2 a year)
    flannery o’connor’s short stories
    wuthering heights

    there’s more, i’m sure. i kept stuff out that i read in grade school unless we read it again in high school. i didn’t mind be assigned things to read, mostly because i trusted my teachers, and they were always interested in why we didn’t like something, if we didn’t. we also read a ton in world lit (a senior elective), but i loved everything in that class, hah. and some of the books i listed i read my “religion and literature” class.

    (but our classes were also seminar-style around the table no more than 11 girls per class, which i think is different.)

  23. Angie says:

    Ooh, I loved The Chosen (though I read it in junior high) and A Separate Peace and The Odyssey. I thought The Odyssey was the most awesome thing in the world until I read The Iliad in college. I love The Iliad so much.

    So you haven’t tried either other Bronte? Can that be right? 😉 I do recommend them both. A lot of people hated Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but it is one of my all-time favorites.

    As far as the ones I hated, Jude the Obscure and A Farewell to Arms are pretty much at the top of the list. Followed by The Grapes of Wrath and Gulliver’s Travels. Hours and hours and hours I’ll never get back. . .

  24. alaska. says:

    can i just ask about the hatred for “a farewell to arms”?

    because i understand “the sun also rises”, but “farewell” is my FAVORITE hemingway by a long shot. oh, i love that book! the ending! it’s so classic!

    (i also adored “heart of darkness” and “1984”. i think i’m in the minority here.)

  25. Nina says:

    Comparatively, my list is a really odd selection.

    All the King’s Men (Just finished this. Best way to end senior year, methinks.)
    The Poisonwood Bible
    The Kite Runner
    The Handmaid’s Tale
    Inherit the Wind
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    The Plague
    Fahrenheit 451

    The Trial (Seriously: WHY?)
    Heart of Darkness
    Romeo and Juliet
    Walden Two

  26. Kaela says:

    Yeah, for the most part I think I remember at least liking most of the assigned literature but at the moment I think my favorites were Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, the Odyssey, Life of Pi, Crime & Punishment…I know I’m forgetting some…The ones I hated were Wuthering Heights, part of Genesis from the Bible (still not sure why we were supposed to read that-my teacher promised we’d spend equal time on other similar scripture texts but we did not), Scarlet Letter, and pretty much anything from the Shakespeare collection.

  27. Layne M. says:

    I liked most of the books we were assigned to read, but a lot of the books we were supposed to read I’d already read (Jane Eyre, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Anthem, The Outsiders, etc.). I loved my 7th grade English teacher because we read a lot of Michael Crichton and Kurt Vonnegut, which was the first Science Fiction I’d ever read.

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  29. N.E.D says:

    Can sum1 help im tryin 2decide 4the best college bk…
    Pride and Predijudice or All the Pretty Horses

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