Thursday, May 07, 2009

School Books

It's been 15 years since I left my high school, J.M. Olds Collegiate, back in Twillingate, Newfoundland. 15 years. Crikey.

This is not a nostalgia piece per se. I have some fond memories, but I want to go back like I want to regrow my peach fuzz back and drive my parents' Chevrolet Celebrity again.

For some reason today, however, I found myself thinking about all the books we had to read for high school. Do you remember yours?

Mine was a grade 7 to 12 school and I don't actually remember which of these books were for high school and which were for junior high:

1. Romeo and Juliet


My first exposure to Shakespeare. It helped that we had the wonderful Mr. Butt (snicker if you want, but he was a great teacher). From there we also did

2. Julius Caesar

and then



3. Macbeth- Unfortunately we had a different teacher by this time and let's just say he was no Mr. Butt. I wouldn't really appreciate this play again until I acted in it last year in Iqaluit.

But, I'm sure Shakespeare was a part of just about everybody's high school experience in the English speaking world. Am I wrong in that assumption, and if not, which ones did you do?

More unique to the Newfoundland high school reading curriculum were these two nonfiction books:


4. Death on the Ice by Cassie Brown- I love this book. I remember walking around on the sea ice with some buddies after reading this and imitating the old timey cursing of the sealers in Brown's book, "Lard Jayse."

and



5. Bartlett: The Great Explorer by Harold Horwood- About the Newfoundland ice captain that accompanied Peary on his quest for the North Pole, I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy this one. Maybe it was my teacher, maybe it was Horwood's writing. I recently read Horwood's The White Eskimo and despised it.

I know a lot of other Newfoundlanders my age also had to read Dillon Wallace's Lure of the Labrador Wild, but somehow I missed that one, only making up for it in recent years.

Then there were these:


6. Lord of the Flies by William Golding- I loved, loved, loved this book. I was surprised when I used Golding in a Great Wednesday Compare a while back that many people were far less enthusiastic.

7. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway- You'd think growing up in a fishing community would have made this book a slam dunk. Sadly, I was bored to tears. I reread as an adult, thinking maybe a lack of maturity was to blame Sadly, I hated it for different reasons.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell- In my wife's high school, she had to read 1984. We're both convinced our school's picked the better Orwell. What do you think? Is it an issue of whatever you read first?

9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- Most self-respecting readers would be ashamed this is the only Dickens they've ever read. I don't remember much except that it felt a little too juvenile at the time, probably because almost all of us practically knew the story inside and out from t.v. Christmas shows.

10. The Pearl by John Steinbeck- I enjoyed it but again, remember little about it.

11. The Pigman by Paul Zindel- Noticeably the least predictable of the lot, though still another white, Western male. I really enjoyed it, but probably for the wrong reasons. I think there was a moral at the end, but what I really remember were the scenes of kids misbehaving: drinking in a cemetery, prank phone calls. We treated it like a how-to manual.

But, for the most part, these, whether enjoyable or not, were not my books of choice. That credit goes to Stephen King. Stephen King and Metallica. Oh yes, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sad but true.

What are your high school book memories? Did any teachers turn you on or off a book you'd otherwise have felt differently? Any books you're surprised to have covered? Share your thoughts or else you'll have to find five examples of symbolism in 4 of the 5 texts above.

15 comments:

Allison said...

Hmmm...good question. Let's see.

Moonfleet, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, 1984, Death of a Saleman, To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, The Stone Angel...those are the only ones I remember off the top of my head.

I am still bitter about the end of The Stone Angel, which is perhaps the book I liked least. I also hated reading 1984, but I believe that is because I read it too young, around Gr. 10. I think that's a book to read later on in high school.

To Kill a Mockingbird remains to this day on of my favourite books. I had great English teachers (except for my final year of high school) and they were quite inspiring.

Allison said...

*I have re read Lord of the Flies and 1984 since and thoroughly enjoy them.

barefootheart said...

We read a Shakespeare every year. I did The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Henry IV Pt 1, Macbeth and King Lear. How successful Shakespeare is with kids depends a lot on the teacher I think. We had to memorize in some years. I liked doing that. I still remember: "The quality of mercy is not strained..." and "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?" I think the novels are often over the students' heads a bit, but if they didn't take them in high school, they'd never read them. I remember Great Expectations, Moonfleet, A Seperate Peace amongst others. Quite a few short stories stuck with me too. The first poem I remember enjoying was Henry C. Bunner's "One, Two, Three!". Even Dick and Jane and Sally made an impression on me.

Lahni said...

We read a Shakespeare every year also. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Hamlet. We also read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Stone Angel, Lord of the Flies, The Old Man and the Sea (which I hated).
I'm sure we read a lot more Can lit than just Margaret Laurence but I'm drawing a blank.

Book Psmith said...

The majority of our assigned reading in high school was unremarkable. I picked up an appreciation for Shakespeare and Poe and that was about it. We did read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom in the 7th grade which is one of my favorite reads of all time.

An aside: we had a student in our school whose last name was Knipple but it was impossible for me to make fun of him because he was the sweetest guy on the planet.

Remi said...

High school reading for me was more about the books I read outside of class - Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and, of course, Kerouac's On the Road (is there any better book to read as a teenager?).

In class stuff was mostly fine except The Stone Angel. What a horrible book for teenagers.

As for a teacher, I regret my smug feelings of superiority every time Mr. Stoesser (my grade 13 english teacher) told me he just wasn't a fan of the beats. I'm still a little redfaced about it, having learned since then that the literary world has many worth destinations other than 50's New York and San Francisco.

gypsysmom said...

Interestingly I had this conversation with a friend last night at dinner. We were both scarred by high school reading choices. I can't remember what hers was but mine was Victory by Joseph Conrad. At a time when I was reading everything I could get my hands on I had to force myself to turn the page in Victory. I have never read any Joseph Conrad since then. There were some good books on the high school curriculum. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock and Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy stand out in my mind.

John Mutford said...

Allison: I haven't even heard of Moonfleet before. Just had to Google it. Though I love Laurence, I still haven't read The Stone Angel. Based on yours and Remi's comments though, I'm nervous. Then, maybe it was owing to you both being teens at the time. To Kill A Mockingbird is great, isn't it? I imagine it's required reading in more US high schools than Canada, though.

Barefootheart: Another book I haven't heard of- A Separate Peace. Who knew that this exercise was going to add to my TBR pile. Interesting Shakespeare choices? Did teenagers actually like King Lear?

Remi: Well, you certainly had hipper choices than I!

Gypsysmom: Scary that you consider Tess of the D'Ubervilles one of the better choices. It goes down in history as the one book I've not finished once I started.
Lahni: Yours were close to mine. As for Canadian fiction, I don't recall reading any, not even Laurence. My first exposure to the first ladies of CanLit (Laurence, Shields, Atwood and Munro) came in university.

Book Psmith: Again, another book I don't know?! The Hiding Place sounds good. Knipple? Ha. Too funny. As for "Butt," it's a common last name in Newfoundland. In fact, two of my highschool teachers were Butts. And I worked with a guy, who's name, I kid you not, was Harry Butt. Why he didn't insist on Harold, I'll never know. Maybe he figured he'd beat them to the chase.

raidergirl3 said...

We did some good books in Jr High (7-9) like Cur for Treason, Anne Frank, Lost in the Barrens.

High school - Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth. Not a huge fan of Will, but maybe if we had looked at anything other than a tragedy...
Didn't like: The Pearl, Lord of the Flies, Wuthering Heights
Liked: Animal Farm, plays in grade 11 like Inherit the Wind and Raisin in the Sun.

nowadays, they still do class sets of novels To Kill a Mockingbird or A Separate Peace, and Shakespeare, but they will also do an independent novel. Wouldnt' that have been great when we were in school?

John Mutford said...

Raidergirl: Anne Frank, of course! How did I forget her? Yes, we read that book as well. And yes, an independent novel is a great idea.

Melanie said...

We did Shakespeare each year as well, but other plays such as "Arsenic & Old Lace" (which we had to read aloud, all taking parts, and the huge stoner in our class ended up being a hit as Teddy).

I read The Stone Angel in gr.12 and I absolutely loved it! Also read Catch 22 in the same class (independent reading) I remember To Kill a Mockingbird very fondly.

I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, Catcher in the Rye -- hated them all. Why we weren't reading Canadian fiction I will never know. But the worst book ever, which I detested, was The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. BORING! And the main character ends up getting hit by a bus, I kid you not. Horrible book.

Carrie K said...

The only books I remember being assigned and reading in HS were the ones I loathed, Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and....hmm. I didn't read Tess of the D'Ubervilles in HS but when I did read it, I loathed it all the same. It did not get better, in case you were wondering.

Kate said...

To answer your question, as a high school student, I loved King Lear! It remains my favourite Shakespeare to this day. My English teacher that year was also the school drama teacher, and he had us read the whole play out loud - I got to read the part of Regan - he told me to put more emotion into it - to pretend that Cordelia was Sarah (my younger sister) :-)

We did Shakespeare every year - the usual suspects - Twelfth Night; The Tempest; Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet; King Lear.

I tend to remember the novels that I enjoyed - To Kill a Mockingbird; Moonfleet (except that was in Jr. High); Fifth Business (which I had already read, 2 years previously); Swamp Angel; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Inherit the Wind.

I did not like A Separate Peace, and probably some other ones that I have erased from my memory!

I used to spend my summers reading, and discovered Robertson Davies around grade 10 - by the time we studied Fifth Business in grade 13, I had already read almost everything he had written. I fortunately avoided studying Stone Angel, but read the Manawaki books the summer between gr. 12 and gr. 13 - I couldn't stand Stone Angel, but found that the books improved through the series so that by the time I got to the Diviners, I quite enjoyed it. And as for Hardy, I didn't get around to reading his books until university (again in my spare time - I was a science major), but I do enjoy his writing. My sister read Tess (I think around gr. 12) and she's the one who suggested his books to me.

John Mutford said...

Melanie: I remember reading some plays (other than Shakespeare, of course) and short stories as well. neat that the stoner was able to be incorporated-- I wonder if he remembers any of it?

Carrie: I've not heard too many people say they liked Heart of Darkness (which I haven't read). Then, most of them are like you and had to read it for high school. I wonder if it's not just a poor fit for the age group.

Kate: I didn't do it in school, but King Lear is one of my least favourite. I had to Google Inherit The Wind. Sounds good!

Remi said...

Don't fear The Stone Angel. I read it again in my late 20s and liked it. Just not as much as The Diviners. It's just not a book for high school age readers. Of course, no one wants to teach the Diviners because it is A) fairly long and B) fairly honest about such horribly risque things as sex. And we know that teenagers are just too young to know about sex, don't we?