Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Blogmas 2k15: Day 9-- Books I WISH I Would Have Read While in School

Even though I majored in English in college and teach English today, there are some marked gaps in my literary knowledge.  Most English teachers, myself included, skew our classes' literary selections towards our own personal favorites.

Contrary to popular thought, there are very few texts that are solid staples in the American grade-level classroom.  Most of us could very easily teach the same skills to our students using a myriad of texts; rather, in many instances our selection of a text is based in large part on our personal preference, not an objective measure of literary brilliance.

So, it's not uncommon for otherwise hyper-literate people to make it through decades worth of schooling without reading major figures in the cannon.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was one book that I didn't read until after I had earned my BA (summa cum laude, btw).  Even then, I only read the novel because I was teaching a lesson in the text to a rowdy group of inner-city sophomores during my pre-professional program.  In retrospect, I imagine I would have had an easier time teaching the text had I more experience with the novel during my high school years.

Shockingly, I didn't read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, my favorite book OF ALL TIME, until my mother recommended the novel to me until I twenty-three.  In fact, I cannot remember a single class in either high school or college that had SF or any other Vonnegut novel on the syllabus.  As an avowed Vonnegut devotee I can recognize this for the egregious oversight that it is.

In retrospect, I also can't believe that I wasn't assigned a Bronte novel either during high school or college-- not a single novel by a single sisters.  Nada.  Zilch. Zed. Zero. A big ol' goose egg.  On my own I read Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey in my late teens/ early twenties, but I have never taken a course where either book was assigned or even suggested reading.

Similarly, I have never fully read either Homer's The Iliad or The Odyssey either.  I know what both epics are about and can identify allusions to either work in other works of literature, but I've never read either poem in its entirety.  This omission wouldn't sound nearly as odd if I had read Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides in school and on my own.  Oops.

Of all of the authors I never read in school, this one is the worst.  While I was in school, I.  Never.  Read.  John,  Steinbeck.  *ducks under a table to avoid flying projectiles*  Even though I read lots of Steinbeck of my own volition since childhood, his work was never a reading requirement when I was in school.  Steinbeck is a cornerstone of many English programs in the United States and abroad, so his omission may seem no more controversial than any other on my list except for the fact that I live in "Steinbeck Country."  You know The Grapes of Wrath?-- that book takes place IN MY BACKYARD!  Were it not for a precocious streak growing up and my maternal family's socialist leanings, I doubt I would have had any exposure to California's finest writer.

So, what classic novels were you not assigned to read when you were in school?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev !

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