Thursday, November 05, 2015

What novel were you forced to read in high school?

One of my daughters read Ethan Frome in high school because it was a class assignment. She hated the book. Ethan Frome was written by Edith Wharton and published way back in 1911. Wharton was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1920 for a later novel, The Age of Innocence. I have not read The Age of Innocence, but I read Ethan Frome--because my daughter hated it. It is a depressing story. However, it is well written--and short, which is probably one of the reasons it was assigned to the students in high school. Nevertheless, I am glad I was not forced to read it at a young age. Well-written novels are often foisted upon tender minds before they are ready to understand them. Worse, the books are then picked apart--piece by piece--until the students are completely sick of them.

I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter, The Call of the Wild, and The Old Man and the Sea when I was in high school. I appreciated The Scarlet Letter most. I later read--on my own--The House of the Seven Gables, which was also written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I could not appreciate The Call of the Wild. I am sure that a dog has a point of view, but I am also sure it is not quite that literate. Nevertheless, I read The Sea Wolf recently, which was also written by Jack London. I liked it. It has romance. It is also about people--not dogs.

The Old Man and the Sea was one of those books my high school teacher made into a torturous experience. Every bit of symbolism was pointed out. Yes, it is well-written--but tragic. Why do teachers insist on tragic, unhappy stories?

Maybe part of the reason some young people do not read today is due to the fact that they've been forced to read depressing books about sad, miserable people.

Why can't English teachers in high school assign happy, upbeat romances? Not all romances are jam-packed with sex. The main ingredient for a romance is a happy ending. Romances are uplifting and not depressing.

Please stop picking the books apart piece by piece. Let the young people enjoy them. Maybe they'll pick up another romance and get hooked on reading for life.


ManicScribbler said...

Interesting post, Penelope. I must admit I was drawn to it by its title - or rather the word 'forced'. I don't believe I was ever 'forced' to read anything at school because I happily devoured every book chosen for us. I do remember in my junior school though that my beloved English teacher gave me 'Hereward the Wake' by Charles Kingsley to read because I'd enjoyed Monsaratt's 'The Story of Esther Costello', of which she disapproved. I just couldn't bring myself to tell her I dislike her choice and struggled on with it for weeks, for fear of offending her.
That experience must have stayed with me, because when I became an English teacher myself, I always told students not to struggle on with a book they couldn't enjoy. There are always many more excellent alternatives to choose from and forcing a child to read a book they hate will never foster a love of reading, which I believe is so vital to a child's academic success.
Sorry to be so wordy, but this subject always gets me up onto my soapbox. Thank you for raising it on your great blog.

Penelope Marzec said...


So glad you reminded your students there were many alternatives if they were struggling with a book. Reading should be a joy. :-)

Daryl Devoré said...

A Death in The Family - don't remember who wrote it - but I got in a lot of trouble with my English teacher as I rebelled against things in the book and being a budding writer at the time I expressed my thoughts.

I - also - agree - if teachers would let their students read some lighter literature they might continue with a love of reading. My husband says his English teachers drove him from reading. Reading became painful and a chore.

In music class - the students learn classical pieces but also more current music.
In art class - students learn to pain like a Da Vinci but also like Picasso.

Why in English class must they be forced to read books that bore them? I'm not saying scrap the classics - but add some more enjoyable books to the curriculum.

Penelope Marzec said...

Daryl Devore:

I completely agree with you. I've enjoyed many, many classics in literature, but there are some that are torture to read. Most of the books handed out for students to read are depressing--like Ethan Frome. There are people who haven't picked up a book since high school and I tend to suspect it was at that point the love of reading was knocked out of them.