What books should be taught in high schools?

What books do you think should be taught in high schools?

    • I think this should be required to be read by everyone! ❤️

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    • Just started audio today. I’m always driving my kids around so this is how I read half my books

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  • From the list, my number one choice might be the Harry Potter series. There is a depth of substance that goes beyond the pop culture phenomenon.

    • I remember reading this in high school. Some of the kids in my class would break down into tears as they tried talking about it and their tablemates would try to comfort them.

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    • Anything about the Holocaust. This is something we all need to be reminded of.

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    • This book made one of the biggest impacts on me in high school. If my kids are not assigned it I will still have them read it.

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  • Something kids can relate to…and enough of the stories where kids, dogs, and parents die on the poor protagonists all the time.

    • Agree! Hated Where the red fern grows, etc

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    • Julia yes! My 13yo had to read that last year. Why are they picking such depressing stories?

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  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Only book in high school where I felt like I could relate to the main character.

    • Just read that book and loved it!

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    • Katie Have you seen the movie? They did a pretty good job with it and Laurie got to have a cameo role in it.

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    • What there’s a movie?? I didn’t know that

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    • Katie I think you can find the whole thing for free on Youtube.

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  • The Unwind Series is so powerful, the depth of discussion and analysis that could happen in high school would be amazing. The Red Rising is also another that could really be amazing. It has so much in it to dig into. So many characters for students to identify with and really explore.

  • I think it should be somewhat open to the student’s choice. Some kids aren’t going to enjoy the classics (I loved to read then, but I hated Ethan Frome that was assigned). I think it’s more important to stress a love of reading than focus too much on theme and symbolism, which I always felt should be open to interpretation.

  • As a former high school English teacher, it is all about teaching the joy of reading. Teaching the students that it really doesn’t matter what they are reading just so they are reading and enjoying what they read

  • I teach at a high school. The required novels are “Of Mice and Men”, “Lord of the Flies”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Great Gatsby”, and some Shakespeare, short stories, and poetry. However, students are required to pick novels of their choice (off of a list of over 300 books and plays) to read outside of class. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is generally the favorite book of students.

    • I taught at a high school where the literature curriculum was similar, In addition to Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies and Gatsby,we were thorough with Shakespeare with most students reading Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and one other, ranging from Hamlet, Macbeth, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They also read Orwell, Homer’s Iliad, and sometimes mixed in A Tale of Two Cities, Cry the Beloved Country, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. What I have loved is years later running into many former students who tell me how much they value their background in literature!

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    • Our sophomores read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I joked that I would be hosting a Summer Solstice party at 5:45 a.m. on June 21 at a local park. I’ve been thinking about whether any of them are coming this week!

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    • My sophomores also read Midsummer, Rand’s Anthem, usually A Tale of Two Cities (but we did not get it in this year due to flu x 2 for me!), and Sophocles’ Antigone. Repeaters read Kafka’s Metamorphosis instead of Anthem. I also have a require independent read each nine weeks, and I am thinking about increasing it to two reads a nine weeks. They are given a book list of around 500 books ranging from classics, to mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy, tough stuff, and non-fiction. That is where the truly get to explore the lit they love. The Unwind Series, Night, The Outsiders, Animal Farm, and 1984 among others in these comments are all there. This year, we are adopting a new textbook, and I am looking at making some changes.

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    • As for Shakespeare, freshmen do R&J, sophomores Caesar or Midsummer, and seniors do Macbeth. My drama class has done Twelfth Night or Taming of the Shrew. Drama also does Medea or Oedipus Rex, Everyman, and a few others, usually ending with A Streetcar Named Desire.

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  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.
    12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup.
    Crank by Ellen Hopkins.
    Anything that deals with real world societal problems and human differences to help prepare them for what they will find and encounter once they’re out on their own. That way they can develop healthy relationships and respect and they can better understand certain situations.

    • I loved that book. It started out slow, but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. The book was required reading for all freshman my first year in college and we even had Greg Mortenson speak on campus.

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    • My girls devour Ellen Hopkins’ books, and some of the boys do as well.

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  • I agree with the comment what the kids want to read. Maybe compile a list from here or the 100 (minus 50 shades 😵) and brief summaries and have the kids vote.

  • The Things They Carried is a big favorite. It’s tricky to teach, since the author classifies it as “a book about how to write a book,” but there are a million conversations, debates, and research papers just waiting to pop

  • Caitlin Alifirenka – I Will always write back
    Alan Gratz – Refugee
    Benjamin Alire Saenz Aristotle & Dante discover the secrets of the universe.
    RJ Palacio – Wonder.

    • Refugee. I just read that a few months ago. Made a very big impact and I quickly bought a copy to keep on my shelf

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  • Should any book ever be “taught” How about teaching the importance of reading and try to instill that in t he students. If grammar, spelling and writing skills don’t have to be taught (at least in some states) why should only certain books be taught

  • History should be taught through historical fiction. The classics should be introduced. Shakespeare should be watched. Literary terms taught from award winners. Then let students select from any of the above and contemporary fiction. Teach them a love of reading by not forcing entire books upon them.

    • Was just going to recommend historical fiction too! In addition to reading, generates interest and understanding of history. Books set in different culture than one’s own; geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, etc. Also biography/autobiography selection can be pretty exciting reading, spark career/field interest, provide more accurate look at things that sounded glamorous or exciting.

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    • I had a really good history teacher in high school but I don’t think it really came to life for me until I read historical fiction. I think understanding the thoughts and values surrounding historic events are so much more important than memorizing dates and names.

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    • The Bible should be taught in church.

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    • In an elective theology class. No one should be forced to read that unless you’re willing to introduce other religious texts from multiple religions.

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    • The Sutras would be far more beneficial.

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    • One of the best university level classes I had was The Bible as Literature. The professor made it very clear that it was not a class to promote religion and I remember we still had one or two who would try to sneak in their own denomination ‘s beliefs. It would take a strong teacher to keep it from becoming a religion class so I would be reluctant to suggest it.

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    • I actually agree, along with other religious texts. So much literature is based on religious themes, even when they are not overtly religious. My AP English teacher had us read excerpts from the bible to help us understand universal themes used in (mostly Western) classic literature.

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    • Karen ha! I didn’t read you comment before I wrote mine! We are entirely in agreement!

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    • I read portions of the King James Bible as literature in AP English in my public high school in Maine in 1989-90. It was taught SO PROFESSIONALLY. Not at all as “you have to believe this,” but as “much of Western Literature and Art reference the Bible – this is literature you need to know if you study English Literature.”

      My parents are very devout Catholics and actually had misgivings about me reading the King James Version (technically not recognized by the Catholic Church)!

      How can you know why we say “she extended an olive branch” or “they treat him like he walks on water or something” or “oh lighten up. This isn’t the Suffering of Job” if you don’t know the story?

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    • There are many reasons to read The Bible.

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  • I think there should be more modern books on the curriculum. The local high school is still teaching the same classics I read in school and while I appreciate the importance of many of those books, they also need more books that are based in the world teenagers are living in.

    • Definitely agree with you on this!

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    • I read about that in college and watched Miss Evers’ Boys. I can’t recall a time where I was totally disgusted with human logic in my life.

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    • Annestasia While I think we need to teach the great things about America in grade school and high school, I think we must not hide from the atrocities that have been committed…..and continue to be committed.

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    • I completely agree. I don’t believe the curriculum in schools exposes our students enough to the real history of this country. They try to hide the bad stuff while exaggerating the good.

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    • Annestasia And then when they grow up and find all the things that were concealed, they often feel betrayed enough to discount the good stuff about America.

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    • I have thought about bringing in at least excerpts from Imbeciles about the Carrie Buck case to align with the Council of Eugenics in Anthem for that very reason. We cannot let these kids walk through the world with blinders on and thrust them into reality on graduation day.

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    • Jennifer Besides, much of this type of atrocity happens while they are still kids. Carrie was 17 when she was raped by foster parents nephew.

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    • Linda, this is why the kids are constantly checking out my tough stuff selections, which include Go Ask Alice and the works of Ellen Hopkins. The voice of the character has to be believable and relatable to the reader. Some of my kids have opened up in major ways by reading these books!

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    • I love teaching Night, kids really get into it

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    • Megan This book changed me. And I am still after all these years reading wwll history . Just finished The Nightingale . Oh my goodness, what a teach this would be♥️

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  • And in reality , we are at the mercy of the teachers! I loved the years I homeschooled . Our reading curriculum was wide open .

    • But in some home school situations, they are pure propaganda.

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    • My parents preferred that we not read anything written after about 1960. While there are some great older books, and I don’t want to belittle the classics, only reading older books can perpetuate things that ought not to be perpetuated.

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    • Well, I chose a program called Calvert. A brick and mortar school in Baltimore with the most amazing homeschool program. Rich in history and choice. My son, now in law school credits his 4th grade year with the beg of his love of history.

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    • Linda, I actually think where your personal beliefs lie, there is your own propaganda. I forged my own path based on a ton of objectives. I have 2 successful children now forging their own lives ! One is a political consultant and the other a law student .

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    • Speaking personally, I didn’t feel I was at the mercy of my teachers when I was in school. I read what I wanted to read. Assigned reading made me MORE of a reader, rather than less of one, because I read the books I liked on top of the ones that were assigned (happily, sometimes those two categories converged). The high school years were when I was discovering my adult tastes through writers like Franz Kafka, Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, Clarice Lispector, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Peter Handke, Thomas Mann, August Strindberg, Suetonius, Virgil, Euripides, Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, Albert Camus, Kurt Vonnegut, Eugene O’Neill, Don DeLillo, and many other writers we weren’t assigned. Through high school I was also introduced to Homer, Thomas Hardy, Chinua Achebe, Arthur Miller, Alan Paton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Giovanni Boccaccio, Sophocles, Molière, and other favorite writers.

      In my experience, the education I received helped mold my tastes just as much as my leisure time reading did. Often times I’d read something because it spun off from something I was assigned. I was so blown away by “The Odyssey” that I bought “The Iliad” and then “The Aeneid” by Virgil to continue the story. I liked “Oedipus the King” so much that I read the whole trilogy. Earlier this year, I also read “Sophocles II”, a collection containing his other tragedies, “Ajax”, “The Women of Trachis”, “Electra”, and “Philoctetes”, and that’s certainly due to the exposure to his great play in high school. I read the whole trilogy Achebe wrote (which continues with “No Longer at Ease” and “Arrow of God”), after I belatedly found out it was a trilogy because of how much I liked “Things Fall Apart”. Moreover, I was inspired to read other Nigerian writers like Amos Tutuola (“The Palm-Wine Drinkard”), Buchi Emecheta (“The Bride Price”), and Ken Saro-Wiwa (“Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English”). Just yesterday at the Friends of the Library book sale I bought two novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another Nigerian writer. These are probably authors I wouldn’t have picked up on my own but for the prodding given to me by being assigned texts from outside my background in high school.

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  • Any book on basic, classical logic. Honestly, I wish I’d been taught some thinking rules BEFORE college.

    • Gamut’s Logic Language and Meaning would probably work.

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    • Yes, this exactly. Luckily, I didn’t need it because of the fact that I was reading lots of philosophy, even academic philosophy, but it would have been useful and saved time for me to not have to puzzle this stuff out on my own. Being a young atheist before “New Atheism” was a thing, I was curious to see if my atheism were intellectually justifiable and the only way to investigate the subject at that time was to dive into the deep end of philosophy with books like “Critiques of God” by Peter A. Angeles (ed.), “The Miracle of Theism” by J. L. Mackie, and “Atheism: A Philosophical Justification” by Michael Martin. Martin’s book in particular was heavy on formal symbolic logic and reading it was something of a struggle.

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    • Aristotle’s Poetics plays a role in my classes with rhetoric being discussed in English and speech and the theory of tragedy falling into drama and English.

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    • Yes! I taught this at an arts school in Tacoma and still got in trouble 😕

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  • Mix it up! To present one focus area could kill the desire to read for pleasure. A challenge (classic), something funny, something non-fiction etc.,

  • The suggestions here lack strong African American titles. Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison (though maybe wait until college for her). And American-Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat. Love her work.

    • I also love James Baldwin and Jamaica Kincaid 💙

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    • Katy Thank you. I will check them out.

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    • I think a lot of schools cover African and African diaspora authors already, even twenty-some years ago (which is when I was going to high school). I was assigned “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, etc. And in addition to the full-length books we were expected to read, our American Literature textbook had numerous selections from Harlem Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, an essay from W. E. B.’s “The Souls of Black Folk” was included, as well as extracts from “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, poetry from Phyllis Wheatley, etc.

      And being a theater nerd, I was also reading lots of black playwrights on my own. I first discovered August Wilson in an anthology titled “Famous American Plays of the 1980s”, which included his play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (part of the Pittsburgh, or Century, Cycle of plays, which I subsequently devoured as fast as he was writing them — and, by the way, the adaptation of his play “Fences” is the best movie I’ve seen in years), read Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman”, Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman”, Anna Deveare Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992”, Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Venus”, and saw productions of Parks’ “The America Play” and Don Cheadle’s “groomed (the unrefined technique)”. The latter is a very fine play but it’s now sadly forgotten, probably because it’s also a response to the L. A. Riots and therefore may not strike producers as timely. It was only four years past the riots when I saw the play but the memory of it is still green. Even his Wikipedia page doesn’t mention it!

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    • A couple of teachers in my school have started teaching Yaa Gyaasi’s Homegoing and Colton Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The students have responded really well to these, especially Homegoing.

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  • In my high school days we would read six books a semester plus do up to four book reports/analysis a semester. Each year we read a variety, and some are still on the reading lists at my grandsons’ school. Out of their classes, the favorite has been One Flew Over The Cuckoo’ s Nest and HUCK FINN!

  • Fahrenheit 451. It’s timeless and pertinent to media consumption and freedoms in today world. Any age can relate.

    • A mentor once instructed me not to even think about it. Her words were something to the effect of “Don’t give them the gun to shoot you with.” We are in a very conservative area. I have fought to keep Anthem, because it is in my curriculum due to the kids wanting it to be in there. I have fought to keep Ellen Hopkins on my independent reading shelf, and Fahrenheit is there too. I encourage kids to read it, but I cannot do it as a class study with all of my kids, sadly.

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    • Jennifer, yes very sad. A true classic. Students are cheated when teachers are stifled from using quality, classic literature. You can only do what you can. Have a list of banned books on top of a pile on a counter top or your desk and some kid will see it accidentally!

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    • I know some who make a shelf of banned and challenged books for Banned Books Week and put caution tape around them with “Do not read these!” signs. I may start that this year. That will get them reading! Forbidden fruit is extra tempting! 🤣 Seriously, my parents all have to sign a disclaimer with their student before they can check things out of my library. The disclaimer says if they and/or the kid are offended by a selection, it is the kid’s responsibility to return the offensive book, get another one, and complete the assignment ON TIME. No excuses!

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  • I’m a high school teacher and I believe all high school kids need to be exposed to coming of age novels-it’s what we are about. I love Huck and Holden. I’ve fought for Song of Solomon and last year I taught A Lesson Before Dying (amazing discussion and thinking about author’s purpose vs protagonist and character). Also my students love The Crucible which seems current and important to consider. We also dig intensely into The Things They Carried.

    • It used to be part of Sr High curriculum.

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  • Fewer miserable and depressing books. More non fiction. More inspirational. How about Hidden Figures, The Night Circus, Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, Confederacy of Dunces, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

    • I totally agree with fewer miserable and depressing books. Why kids are forced to read Lord of the Flies still astounds me. It is one of a few dreadful books that are forced on young people. They should have some leeway as to what books they want to read. Maybe give them a list of 50 books and let them pick 10 to read (or whatever number of books comfortably can be accomplished in a school year).

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    • Pamela, standards guide what we can do. We have to teach different forms. I would love to just do novel studies. Unfortunately, curriculums are moving toward more and more excerpts. My colleagues and I agreed we will sit down together before school starts so we can each maintain the stories we believe it is important the kids read in their entirety.

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    • Jennifer I hear you. I teach too. Just thought of something cool that I developed that might appeal. Historical fiction. Short. Novels in a series of self contained vignettes in chapters. Companion books. A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by James Patterson. Set around the Depression in middle America. The former from a grandson’s perspective, the latter from a granddaughter’s — kids can choose. Serious and sometimes poignant but also very, very funny. The central character, Grandma, begs readers to explore morality — what does it mean to be a good person? Probably more middle school than high school. Wonderful as part of a project about the Depression.

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  • I love teaching The Great Gatsby. But I would also love to teach A Prayer for Owen Meaney and The Perks Of Being a Wallflower.

  • Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project by Jack Mayer

  • I strongly think the books should reflect what they are learning in social studies. Of the books I had to read 50 years ago, I think Red Badge Of Courage, Scarlett letter, Return of the Native, James Fenimore Cooper, Shakespeare and The Odyssey should still be taught. I feel Animal Farm, Silas Marner, Death in the Family, On the Waterfront, and Of Human Bondage can be replaced with something else.

    • This is precisely why I have kept A Tale of Two Cities every time I have thought about swapping it with Great Expectations or Wuthering Heights. My tenth graders study World History, including the French Revolution.

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    • Jennifer I read Tale Of Two Cities in nineth grade in anticipation of reading it in tenth grade. Ended up in regular English where we read Death in the Family. Honors English read it and Greek plays and I’m not sure what else. Ninth grade was World History and we read in honors history Animal Farm, The Prince, The Communist Manafesto, and On the Beach since this was during the Cold War and Vietnam. In fact our World History book started with Japan and worked East from there. We never got further than Russia!

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  • Esmeralda. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. Tulsa Burning. Even the Glass Mountain. Many kids are living with parents who are mentally ill. Need to read stuff that could help.

  • Beowulf in both Old English and modern translation. I had to struggle through it and so should every high school fereshman.

    • That reminds me, I need to get the Tolkien edition.

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    • Beowulf was a waste of time for me.

      I remember nothing of it but the headaches it caused me.

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    • I didn’t read “Beowulf” until I was a freshman in college, but my instructor’s forte was Old English. It was a terrific experience listening to him recite “Beowulf” in Old English.

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    • Billy Have you seen the recording of Benjamin Bagby reciting “Beowulf” in the original Anglo-Saxon? If you haven’t, I’d recommend it. I believe you can get it from Netflix.

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    • Yes, we listened to a recording. It is truly a work that is meant to be heard.

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    • Kevin No, I haven’t. Thank you for the recommendation.

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    • Beowulf has always been part of the senior curriculum in my experience, but it is on my independent reading list.

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    • Old English is pretty much a foreign language compared to Modern English. Are the students going to get language classes first so they’re able to understand the foreign words on the page?

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    • Annestasia There are dual-language editions of the book. I have a copy of the celebrated Seamus Heaney translation in a dual-language edition.

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    • The copy we read had the Old English at the left page and modern translation on the right. We read the modern on our own for understanding the story and listened to the Old English to appreciate the poetry of the original.

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    • So you never actually ‘read’ the Old English. And without the translation that someone already did for you, then you wouldn’t have been able to understand what was going on.

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    • We used the Old English to learn about the peom’s structure…alliteration, rhythm, lenghts of each line etc. Listening to a book and reading a book have virtually the same benefits. We followed along with the book while listening. I found both the story and the “sound” of it captivating.

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    • I love foreign languages and I often find myself listening to music in many different languages. I don’t understand much of what is said, but I can usually find a comment or two with a translation. The band Leaves’ Eyes has a song in Old English called Meredead.

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  • Some good Canlit to include might be Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. I would also suggest Oliver Twist by Dickens.

  • My freshman year high school world literature teacher was better than any college or post-bachelor’s lit professor.

    It’s not what you read as much as who is teaching you.

    • My high school English teachers were stars! So grateful for Miss Cunningham and Mr. Little at Newtown H S in Elmhurst NY.

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    • Yes! A marvelous book and even better as an audio book. The only book I’ve ever felt that way about.

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  • Without naming specific books, I’d like to see a greater emphasis on books that bridge the gap between young adult and adult fiction, because one of the drawbacks of assigning young adult books is that they’re rather homogeneous in their vocabulary and syntax. They don’t challenge kids that much, so as a result students get stuck at a reading level several grades below . I’d like to see kid-friendly classics being mixed in with more modern YA fare from about 11 – 13, which would gradually prepare them for having to read adult lit as high school and college students. It doesn’t necessarily matter what they’re reading, so long as it strikes the balance between being not difficult enough and too difficult. The problem with assigning nothing but YA is that publishers are incentivized to train YA readers to keep on coming back, rather than expanding their horizons to different kinds of books.

    However, I’d like to see Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” taught in high schools. Aside from the fact that it’s an excellent work in its own right, it’s also the basis for an extraordinary amount of subsequent literature, art, opera, etc. I think a lot of people are handicapped when reading great literature by not having a foundation in classical myth. And if “Metamorphoses” isn’t taught, they should at least teach Thomas Bulfinch’s “The Age of Fable” or Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes”. But Ovid is probably best, because it was largely through him that the great writers of the past became acquainted with Greek mythology.

    • Well … I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in high school … in Latin.

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    • Oh my yes. The book not the movie

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    • I’ve never seen the movie. Not sure I realized there was one.

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    • The movie is heartbreaking. Watching the boy crawling under the fence and knowing what was going to occur pulled at me. Wanted to reach out to him.

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  • As a high school English teacher, I would add a few points for consideration: there are very few schools that leave the choice of which pieces to read up to individual teachers. They teach what is on the state or local curriculum. Even wealthy schools still read actual texts and they cost $$. We can’t simply go out and order whatever book we feel like. Next for those who (like my students ) complain that all the books we read are depressing…People don’t generally write novels when life is going swimmingly. It is when the world crashes around us that humans write to explore life’s great mysteries and tragedies. Additionally,