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June 13, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Teach.com's Summer Reading Flowchart.
posted by Think_Long (57 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does this count as an infographic? God I hope not.
posted by Think_Long at 8:26 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where was this when I was young?

As I grow older, I found I've lost the patience to sit through hundreds of pages of just one story. I like short story collections, particularly science-fiction and/or horror, like the "Year's Best" series.

You have up-to 50 pages [rarely 100] to seriously wow me and let me get on with things without trying to remember hours or days later what character did what and who is related to whom.
posted by Renoroc at 8:30 AM on June 13, 2012


You too can have bland middle brow tastes just follow this easy guide!
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


The two science options are "Elegant Universe" (which IMO sucked but a lot of people liked it) and "Naked Ape" which is eleventy-billion years old?
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Naked Ape should be supplemented with Sex At Dawn if not outright replaced. Desi wrote a fascinating book but it is pretty dated now.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:34 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kids:

1. Please read more than "one or two" books this summer.
2. Read whatever you want.
posted by chavenet at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


You too can have bland middle brow tastes just follow this easy guide!

I think it's not so much about bland middle-brow books per se - nothing wrong with Anna Karenina, for instance, and although I think Villette is more interesting Jane Eyre is quite worthwhile - as a consumerist/middlebrow approach, putting a glib, comic and inaccurate label on a book, choosing difficult books only if they are already-recognized "brand names", etc. That's why Jane Eyre, which is about (among other things) growing up quite poor and vulnerable among the rich, is labeled as "growing up rich". And that's why you have to pick Jane Eyre instead of Villette - people already know that Charlotte Bronte is "classy".

At the same time, almost all lists are odious in some way but we all read and opine on them despite.
posted by Frowner at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because we all know how much teens love flowcharts!
posted by burnmp3s at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: "You too can have bland middle brow tastes just follow this easy guide!"

Yeah, it seems designed for the person who says, "I've heard about this 'reading' thing, but never tried it out. Where should I start?" Which is not to say that there aren't a lot of people like that (my wife, for one, almost never reads for pleasure), and this chart may be very useful for them, but it's probably not very groundbreaking for a well-read person.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:38 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, I certainly have a completely different definition of "contemporary science fiction" than these people.
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. It struck me more like a way for kids to navigate their summer reading lists from school: "If I have to read one of the books on this list, can someone help me choose?"

I am pretty well-read, too Whelk, yet I would be delighted to see my kids reading something from here over, say, another run through the Harry Potter books or "The Hunger Games" or whatever. *shrug* They have to read them sometime...
posted by wenestvedt at 8:48 AM on June 13, 2012


but it's probably not very groundbreaking for a well-read person

Given it's aimed at high school students, probably not a massive concern.

Those kids who don't need a push towards reading are probably alright on their own, those who do could do (a lot) worse than some of the books on the list.

And I'll second the above - where was such a list when I was a teenager? The "bland middle brow tastes" include some of my long term favourites.
posted by Hobo at 8:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It started out like the Summer Reading table at Barnes and Noble and then got more and more interesting as I kept scrolling. As someone who had to write their summer reading essay on either a novel by Mary Higgins Clark or Dean Koontz, this list would have made me very happy when I was fourteen.
posted by book 'em dano at 8:52 AM on June 13, 2012


Well the classics are fine but the contemporary stuff is amazingly dull, if I was trying to get teenagers to read current lit I'd try to pick up something more interesting than airport bookstore filler.
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


*or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
posted by book 'em dano at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2012


I'm fairly sure this is supposed to be for younger readers. The Whelk, maybe this is awfully middlebrow, but could you point us to a list for people of better stuff that covers all the different genres and subgenres in this chart? Bonus points if you can break it down into stuff teens/early 20s vs. books for older readers. (This isn't snark, btw. I'm legitimately interested in seeing something like this.)
posted by nushustu at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2012


Hobo: "Given it's aimed at high school students, probably not a massive concern. "

That's a good point.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:55 AM on June 13, 2012


Also, I suppose they can't recommend anything that has the dreaded sex or the dreaded anti-authoritarianism in it (assuming that they're not clever enough for a sophisticated reading of Bronte, of course)...it would seem like Consider the Lobster or something would go over big otherwise.

(Was anyone else faintly disturbed by the fact that virtually all the books with African-American protagonists were "big trouble in the inner city" books? Not that those books might not be awesome, but surely there are some other books with young characters of color? And the other YA books seemed to have white folks on the covers.)

I guess my question to the crowd would be what other books to recommend?

I'd suggest the Octavian Nothing books, even though they're pretty sad. And Shirley Jackson novels - I think teenagerdom is just the right time to encounter We Have Always Lived In The Castle.

I did actually read Anna Karenina and Fathers and Sons and a bunch of the other "classy" books on my own while I was 15-16, but I was always pretty much ahead of the curve reading-wise. I read Dorian Gray for the gay, of course.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on June 13, 2012


Oh, geez, when I was that age I also really enjoyed Isabelle Allende's Tales of Eva Luna, Eva Luna and House of the Spirits. Those were great bridges to reading Marquez, whose work I was a little young for as a teen.

And hardboiled detective stories! I loved Red Harvest and Dashiell Hammett in general, as well as Raymond Chandler.

And Robertson Davies! And Murakami novels - I think I first read A Wild Sheep Chase at that age.

I bet a smart teenage reader would also like at least some Angela Carter - Nights At the Circus and Wise Children are funny and gentle instead of really sad like The Magic Toyshop.
posted by Frowner at 9:05 AM on June 13, 2012


I don't have enough time to read that flowchart.
posted by sutt at 9:23 AM on June 13, 2012


What is the What is not about a child soldier. Nor is it fiction.
posted by Tsuga at 9:26 AM on June 13, 2012


Way to spoil Never Let Me Go, flowchart.
posted by Shepherd at 9:38 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think PKD's A Scanner Darkly and Hubert Selby Jr.'s Requiem for a Dream ought to be required reading for teenagers. They'd be a great antidote to the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No!" brand of drug education curriculum.
posted by griphus at 9:48 AM on June 13, 2012


Drop some Robert Anton Wilson on them, that's just the right age to almost take it seriously.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best thing about reading RAW at a young(er) age is that it gets you interested in all sorts of weird-ass shit that you then obsess over, and when you go back to his books after a few years, you actually get them on a deeper level. Although I guess now with the Internet you can just look up who Dutch Schultz is but where's the fun in that?

I actually went to the same high school as Robert Anton Wilson, and it turns out we both transferred out of the same university, as well. Also I did a lot of questionable things in the neighborhood he's from.

So basically what I'm saying is that this association makes me cool and everyone should like me.
posted by griphus at 9:59 AM on June 13, 2012


The problem with calling it "bland middle brow" is .. well, what are you reading? Pretentious high brow or low-life low brow. There is no escape.
posted by stbalbach at 10:01 AM on June 13, 2012


I generally read books recommended by Dr. Phil, except I replace all the names of people and places with characters and settings from assorted Dostoyevsky novels.
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on June 13, 2012


Oh wait Kathrine Dunn, Geek Love, perfect High School book.

And The Handmadien's Tale is the Atwood you want to give, not The Blind Assassin
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


also, a number of those non-fiction choices are either out-dated or widely discredited

Devil in The White City is still gold tho, plus it's got lots of murder in it.
posted by The Whelk at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2012


Many of these books would make someone "culturally literate" by the standards of sophisticated, educated people. As a teacher and a recreational reader, I also think many of these books are about as entertaining as watching paint dry.

One point: When I was a teen, Gatsby was a complete snooze-fest. As a mid-thirties teacher who'd had his heart broken a couple times and had been around rich people, I found it to be fucking brilliant... but I also recognized that it was largely wasted on teenagers.

The Hitchhiker's Guide should be required reading for everyone everywhere, though. Damn.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2012


I didn't post this flowchart for the content necessarily, I've never actually read most of the books they recommend. I just thought the format was a unique way to recommend books to someone, maybe someone who doesn't actually do all that much recreational reading and doesn't have friends to recommend anything to them.

Obviously it will very a lot from person to person. It would be fun to have a collection of people making their own flowcharts sending kids down their own paths of preferred literature. Hmmm, perhaps a community tumblr I shall make . . .
posted by Think_Long at 11:46 AM on June 13, 2012


*very* dammit
posted by Think_Long at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2012


DAMMIT *VARY* (#()@%#*%
posted by Think_Long at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2012


My main question is: why are the books on this list so old? There are few younger than a decade on there, many older. It's not as if there aren't many recent good works that could go on there. There are great lists of awards to pull from, critical reviews and so on. It's not hard to find good books.

The limitations are most apparent in the non-fiction selections. The Elegant Universe, for example is a decent book, but the science in it is more than a decade old and many of the ideas in it have now been superseded or rethought.

Where's a good book to give a politically-aware teen who wants a deeper perspective on what's happening around them? There has been some great stuff written in the last decade. As one example, most US middle- and high-schoolers will know someone who served in active combat. There's not a single book about the wars of the last decade (or the problems that lead up to them) on that list.

There's some good stuff on there, and it's hard to disagree with the value of many of the choices, but it looks to me like it came out of a 1995 time capsule.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're so old because they are among the books that are actually commonly found on summer reading lists assigned by schools across the country, as mentioned by wenestvedt above. They're not just random books picked out by the staff of teach.com.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2012


"As a mid-thirties teacher who'd had his heart broken a couple times and had been around rich people, I found it to be fucking brilliant... but I also recognized that it was largely wasted on teenagers."

Somehow I managed to miss "To Kill a Mockingbird" in high school and college, where I otherwise had excellent "great books" curricula, and I read it for the first time at 24, and I had this dual reaction of, "WHY THE FUCK DID NOBODY MAKE ME READ THIS AWESOME BOOK BEFORE?" and EXTREME GRATITUDE that nobody had because it was so fucking beautiful and at 15 I would have missed so much of it. You never know when a book is going to touch someone in their adolescence and open their mind and give them the gift of great literature that sticks with them, but part of me feels like we should hold just a FEW books off-limits so you can have the miraculous experience of reading great classics for the first time as an adult with an adult's understanding.

My book club read "Great Gatsby" a year or two ago (when it was the The Big Read book), having all read it in high school but not since. We all agreed it was a much better book as an adult, and we all remembered our reactions to it in high school and what had struck us and what we had totally missed. It was one of our most interesting book discussions because we learned as much about us and how we'd grown into adults as we did about the book.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:49 PM on June 13, 2012


Obligatory link to sfsignal's flowchart for NPR's top 100 science fiction books.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:57 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well the classics are fine but the contemporary stuff is amazingly dull

Amen. The "classics" are OK, but the contemporary fiction is pretty weak.

I didn't post this flowchart for the content necessarily, I've never actually read most of the books they recommend. I just thought the format was a unique way to recommend books to someone

Previously
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on June 13, 2012


gah, JINX.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on June 13, 2012


And The Handmadien's Tale is the Atwood you want to give, not The Blind Assassin (The Whelk)

Yep. I'd also substitute Naked Economics for Freakonomics, and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine for Slaughterhouse Five. And since when is Uncle Tom's Cabin "pre"-slavery? Isn't the whole point that the events happen contemporaneous with, amidst, and due to slavery?
posted by d. z. wang at 1:05 PM on June 13, 2012


I'd send summer reading teens off with some David Levithan ('Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' if they've seen the movie, 'Boy Meets Boy' if they haven't), some more Jacqueline Woodson (she's on there with 'First Part Last, which I agree is an excellent book. Frowner, if you're not familiar with her, you would like her quite a bit) maybe 'From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun,' some Scott Westerfeld to update the SciFi section and because the Uglies series is such a hit with teens, some Walter Dean Myers to update the Iraq war stuff (there is one book on that list about Iraq but it's nonfiction) either 'Fallen Angels' for the Vietnam War or 'Sunrise over Fallujah' for a look at Iraq...

I could go on, but my 'to read YA list' is on a different computer. There's a great book review that comes out every week as part of the Unshelved comics and there's always at least one YA book reviewed. It makes for a good way to keep up on the field, for those of us who aren't in it day to day. If you're looking to send some good books a teen's way, that's one great place to start.
posted by librarylis at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2012


I wonder why the books chosen for teenagers to read in English classes are always so unsuitable. I loved to read, I read a great deal, I read far ahead of grade level and I was a fairly sophisticated and culturally literate reader - and I still disliked or, at best, felt lukewarm about almost everything we read. What's more, I haven't returned to the vast majority of those books with pleasure as an adult. I'd say that I managed to derive some enjoyment from reading them but that was more because I liked to read than because I liked the books.

We read a Shakespeare play every year; The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers; To Kill a Mockingbird; Job; Return of the Native; Oliver Twist; Heart of Darkness...I assume we read at least one novel by a black novelist, but I cannot remember what it was. I did enjoy Huckleberry Finn. I know we read plenty more, but they all escape me now.

I don't think it was just being forced to read, as we did read The Sword In The Stone, which I enjoyed and still like. And I certainly read books on my own that I loathed - I slogged through quite a lot of Herman Hesse.

I don't think it was that the books weren't "contemporary", which is a fetish of a certain type of educator - the expectation that teens can't possibly be interested in a book set anywhere but Contemporary edge-city America (unless it's an erotically-charged dystopia that sharply parallels contemporary edge-city America). I read books written and set at a great variety of times and in a great variety of places.

Part of it is, I suppose, that reading a book for class is making something uniform that is intensely personal - as with clothes, books are a very personal thing.

But I do think that the books themselves were chosen on bad lines: first, they were chosen to avoid anything 'mature' or controversial, so books that had any kind of sexuality or critical political thought were forbidden (it was perfectly okay to slog through 1984 or Animal Farm, because critiquing the commies was fine, but even a really serious right-wing novel like some of Doris Lessing's would have been too extreme) ; second, the books had to hold up "worthy" values, like the very blah and flat form of liberalism about race present in The Member of the Wedding and To Kill A Mockingbird. And they had to follow along with an Anglo-centric and canonical view of literature - of course we would read Shakespeare and Hardy, because the were very important dead Englishmen. But the prose had to be either archaic or flat - no Henry James or Virginia Woolf or James Joyce for us.

And then of course there's the fact that many people who become teachers have managed to forget everything about actually being a teenager - so books get chosen that "reflect" teenage experience in ways inaccessible and boring to actual teenagers. In retrospect, The Member of the Wedding actually does have a lot to say about being in your very early teens and about family disfunction, but it speaks retrospectively - it's not for teenagers. Much better to give kids either books that reflect kids' concerns directly or books that are about being/becoming a young adult. I think I enjoyed Robertson Davies so much in my late teens and early twenties precisely because he was writing about people a little older than I was dealing with things I expected to encounter- those people lived in a lively world full of older folks, so the books were not set in a YA world, but they had a lot to say about becoming an adult.
posted by Frowner at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder why the books chosen for teenagers to read in English classes are always so unsuitable.

Well, maybe they're not! I read tons of stuff in school that meant a lot to me then. Some of it still does. Completely canonical, teacher-approved stuff: The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Invisible Man, The Waste Land.... I think a lot of kids find these books eye-opening, world-broadening, and exciting, which is how they got to be canonical works of English literature and curricular fixtures.

(And those were just the books we read in English class; I was lucky enough that my high school had creative writing, too, and there I encounted Barthelme and Raymond Carver....)

I don't know all the books on the linked flow chart, but the ones I'm familiar with are pretty much all things I'd be very happy for my kids to pick up and read, canonical or bland as they may be.
posted by escabeche at 2:06 PM on June 13, 2012


I wonder why the books chosen for teenagers to read in English classes are always so unsuitable.

So I'm a certificated, experienced Language Arts teacher in Seattle, and my honest answer is that there is no good reason.

Factors:
*Are there enough copies on hand to make a whole class set? (Or probably three or four class sets?)
*Is it generally recommended by the district/state for the reading level? (There may be better books, but again, you might not have enough of them.)
*Does the teacher already have a tried-and-true (meaning manageable) lesson plan for said novel?

I will teach The Things They Carried at any possible opportunity because it's a good book and students tend to really get into it. That book is real and they get it. That pack of screw-up boys in the back of the classroom who never do anything? That girl who just rolls her eyes and goes back to her cell phone? They'll read that first chapter and then take it home and have it finished before the weekend is out.

I will teach Speak at any opportunity, grades 7-12, because it's about high school and teen alienation and date rape and holy shit is that book funny. Again, students will love it.

I will not teach Grapes of Wrath, The Glass Menagerie, The Scarlet Letter, Ethan Fromme or Moby Dick without a gun pointed to my head, and in fact, you'll have to shoot someone in front of me first just to prove to me that you'll actually pull the trigger, because I think it's worth the risk. Some of that is about content; some of it is about language and structure.

The WORST part about the pattern I see in what high schools teach as literature is that they constantly showcase a lack of agency in their characters. I fought teachers on this in high school and later when I was in college. Lit teachers seem to have some bizarre fetish for people who do nothing about their problems, live miserably and finally die failures. It's like they're all gripped with angst over the Cold War not ending their lives prematurely or something.

The last thing we should do as teachers is shovel hopelessness and helplessness at our students, and yet Lit teachers do it constantly.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:23 PM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I wonder why the books chosen for teenagers to read in English classes are always so unsuitable. I loved to read, I read a great deal, I read far ahead of grade level and I was a fairly sophisticated and culturally literate reader - and I still disliked or, at best, felt lukewarm about almost everything we read. What's more, I haven't returned to the vast majority of those books with pleasure as an adult. I'd say that I managed to derive some enjoyment from reading them but that was more because I liked to read than because I liked the books.

Ain't that the truth. What drove me crazy is that we weren't allowed to read books that didn't have miserably depressing endings. I think the most uplifting book we read (or at least, nobody's pet died) in middle school was Sarah, Plain and Tall, and that just got on my nerves. (Also, casting Christopher Walken in the movie? WHY?) High school was just as bad. I think Jane Eyre was the only non-depressing book I read in four years. And To Kill A Mockingbird was more uplifting than the usual selections too. I can't blame the kids for not wanting to read when all you ever get to read is depressing. Plus there seemed to be a requirement that no book written after 1960 can be covered in school.

Compared to the stuff they made me read over the summer (Crime and Punishment, anyone?), this list actually has a few books on it I have read and weren't super depressing. So, kudos there.

But that said, suggested reading lists usually suck, and were I to suggest books to kids, I'd ask them what kinds of plots they like to read/watch and customize it from there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:56 PM on June 13, 2012


And The Handmadien's Tale is the Atwood you want to give, not The Blind Assassin (The Whelk)

Both wrong. Alias Grace is the best by far. (I agree Blind Assassin was pretty crap.)

I wonder why the books chosen for teenagers to read in English classes are always so unsuitable.

I read The Stand as my summer reading book before senior year of high school. My English teacher rolled his eyes when I gave my report, but DUDE, IT WAS ON THE LIST.

The best books I was assigned to in high school were probably Crying of Lot 49, Confederacy of Dunces, Absalom, Absalom, and Native Son. All pretty relevant/interesting to high schoolers, I would think. (Confederacy of Dunces is the only one that got visited by the Suck Fairy.)
posted by mrgrimm at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2012


Oooh, now is the perfect time to tell my Junior Great Books story! Was anyone else in Junior Great Books? It was a gifted program that met weekly and had its own book every year - it was around during the eighties. I remember nothing of the stories except for in fourth or fifth grade they were all horribly grim stories about children that were supposed to be full of deep metaphorical significance and that were presented without any context...and that scared the hell out of me. "All Summer In A Day", "The Rocking-Horse Winner"; "The Destructors" and a story about the Indian-American child of a diplomat who was bullied and beaten and whose friend, the protagonist, betrays her...plus, inexplicably, a comic (though really misogynist) Thurber story at the end.

"The Destructors" is about a group of working class British boys who destroy an old man's house out of class-based spite. It absolutely terrified me because all I could think of was that my classmates hated me and that surely, like the old man in the story, I would one day be victim to such an absolute and destructive act carried out for no reason but malice. And then what would happen to me? I'd be homeless and no one would help! It's actually a quite good story...but it was too old for us. (Not that I believe that kids shouldn't read what is "too old for them" - but I think it's best for kids to choose the "too old" books themselves. I got quite a lot out of "too old" books that I read secretly, but those all spoke to me in some way that led me to choose them.)

I have puzzled since then over why the stories were chosen - perhaps because they were all about children, were by "classy" authors and were full of worthy ideas. And I certainly have remembered them - but I would have been better off without "All Summer In A Day" reinforcing my belief that my classmates were stupid and would hurt me because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Which it did; I definitely saw stories as windows on the real world.

As to all the books being depressing - I remember growing up and being astonished that the world was full of books that were not about miserable suburban characters living greyly and without any hope - whether it was the rather sodden happy endings of Dickens, the eerie clash and abrupt survival of Moby Dick, the actual provisional happy endings in Angela Carter or even the cynical endings in Doris Lessing....oh, it was such a relief to read about people who felt things strongly, lived their lives a bit and felt like they were part of the wider world.

Also, Moby Dick is absolutely wasted on high school students. (Although I think I probably would have liked it - I read it when I was nineteen and absolutely adored it.)
posted by Frowner at 3:20 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I had the power too I would banish all copies of A Separate Peace from existence. I wrote like ten pages on why it was boring, dramatically limp, poorly executed, and tedious.
posted by The Whelk at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2012


Was anyone else in Junior Great Books?

*raises hand*

To me, it was sorta amazing how much I loved to read and how voraciously I liked to read (classics, sf, mysteries, espionage, potboilers, pretty much anything) and how much I absolutely HATED Great Books.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:52 PM on June 13, 2012


I absolutely HATED Great Books.

Wait, so based on that website, Great Books is a program where... you don't actually read books? But instead anthologies made up of little pieces of books?
posted by escabeche at 4:00 PM on June 13, 2012


Lit teachers seem to have some bizarre fetish for people who do nothing about their problems, live miserably and finally die failures.

It's weird, because I can totally see how you could describe something like The Glass Menagerie that way, and yet... we read it in high school and it was electrifying. It hits you on the same visceral level that a great horror novel does. I mean, Carrie (the Stephen King character) lives miserably and dies a failure, but I gotta say, that book worked for me too, at about the same age as I read The Glass Menagerie.
posted by escabeche at 4:07 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It hits you on the same visceral level that a great horror novel does. I mean, Carrie (the Stephen King character) lives miserably and dies a failure, but I gotta say, that book worked for me too, at about the same age as I read The Glass Menagerie.

That's a wonderful comparison. I've never been into angsty books, and I've never been into horror, either. To me, they're both the equivalent of sitting around cutting myself with a razor. I don't enjoy hopeless tragedy anymore than I enjoy being scared.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:59 PM on June 13, 2012


I want to like this list. In high school, I knew there were books out there I "should" be reading, and I wanted to know what they were. But I never thought to myself, "Hmmm, I'm looking for some nihilistic Russian literature today." The charts I've seen that I liked are either lists of award-winners or "If you liked this author, you might like...", and authors broken out by category from there. You can send people a zillion directions from Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling, just to name two wildly popular choices.
posted by epj at 6:07 PM on June 13, 2012


Great Books seems to have changed a little bit since I was in it - the "junior" ones seem to have more age-appropriate stories, it appears to be less aimed at advanced readers, and they have gotten rid of almost all of the trauma stories except "All Summer In A Day", which has been moved to the 6th - 8th grade books instead of the 4th grade book, which seems a bit more appropriate.

(Oh, and The Destructors is by Graham Greene and it's even more upsetting than I had remembered.)

The thing is, I understood all the stories quite well on a literal level - I'd been reading English kids' books for quite a while, for example, so I knew what the Blitz was and I had a general mental picture of London. But I didn't have enough reading skills (and I think few kids do at 8-9) to grasp the stories' metaphorical meaning, and I didn't have the words to explain why I found them so frightening and upsetting.

I feel very strange seeming to advocate "safe" and "happy" stories for kids, because I did in fact read lots of scary and disturbing stuff on my own...but just a little later. When I was about 8 -11, the advanced stuff I was reading was mostly pretty cheery - a lot of science fiction and fantasy, some memoir, some history. Even the grimmer "Cold Equations" style science fiction was clear enough in form and style that I could come to grips with it. From about 12 onward, I read Lord of the Flies and Red Harvest and Clockwork Orange and just way the hell too much Anthony Burgess misogyny and I Am The Cheese and all that stuff - but I was starting to have the cognitive tools to process it a bit better, and I read it at my own pace as I was ready, intermixed with much less grim stuff like Out of the Silent Planet or Dorothy Sayers.

If I had to put together a morally challenging set of interesting-to-adults-and-challenging-to-kids books for 8 and 9 year-olds, I think A Wrinkle In Time (which I don't really like, but which is a great book) and maybe The Tombs of Atuan or similar would be great. (A pity that A Swiftly Tilting Planet is so racist; otherwise it has a lot going for it.)

Funnily, when I was a sophomore or junior in high school we had this awesome anthology of essays and short stories - I had forgotten it until this very minute but it was simply terrific. There was a Toni Cade Bambara story, and an essay by Brigid Brophy, and a really sententious CS Lewis essay that I liked a lot at the time, and some Orwell (maybe Killing an Elephant) and just a bunch of other essays that were a huge influence on me. So it's perfectly possible to produce a great anthology for use in the schools. I loved that book. Also, now that I think about it we had a very good British literature anthology that I actually kept instead of selling back, I liked it so much. It had just a really suitable selection of poetry - perfectly geared towards fairly smart students. It had that Tennyson thing about an eagle, "A fragment", that goes "He clasps the crag with crooked hands/close to the sun in lonely lands/ringed with the azure world he stands" and the old ballad with the three ravens.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 PM on June 13, 2012


I mean, Carrie (the Stephen King character) lives miserably and dies a failure, but I gotta say, that book worked for me too, at about the same age as I read The Glass Menagerie.

You know my English class read the play text of Suddenly, Last Summer and then got to watch the movie version at the end of the year and a good portion if the class got really into it cause it was a total horror story, your horrible mom/authority figure is going to lobotomize you and trap you forever cause you're different and Know Too Much. That's super teenager right there and I remember at least ine conversation about how it was so tense even though " nothing happens" .

Granted I had a total fancy pants English dept in HS.
posted by The Whelk at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2012


And honestly the most influential the I ever read in HS was some short story/essay by ...Golding? I think? About meeting Einstein on a bridge and how there where different types of intellect, that which takes down things, puts up things, and makes new things, and I remember being really moved by it and wanting not to just use my intellect to take things down and ruin them but make new things in thier place. It's embarrassing but that was kind of pivotal to my own " hey let's make art and make alternatives to the stuff we hate!" thing that would make me so obnoxious as a young adult.
posted by The Whelk at 7:59 PM on June 13, 2012


> Moby Dick is absolutely wasted on high school students

I read it in high school and loved it -- it's so funny, and a page turner of an adventure. Maybe it depends on the teacher.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on June 28, 2012


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