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Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday's Five: American Lit 101

It's back-to-school time. I know because all the stores are stocked with pens, notebooks, blue jeans and sweaters -- because nothing says back-to-school when it's 95 degrees in August like a nice sweater. But this post isn't about what to wear on your first day back in the classroom. Instead, it's about five books you should have read in high school English class (or at least your college American Lit class).

If you haven't read these, go straight to your local library or independent bookseller and find them. If you read them in high school, but haven't looked at them since then, they deserve another try. If nothing else, you need to have read them to understand all those literary allusions in high-brow things like ads for The Gap and episodes of The Simpsons.

All five are books that I taught as a high school teacher, and I'm certain I didn't fully appreciate them until I read them as an adult. Whether or not my former students liked them is something about which I will refrain from speculating -- but I can only hope they found their way back to these books a second time.
  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Drama, intrigue, suspense and censorship in a futuristic world that parallels real life today in strange ways. With flame-throwers. The 1966 film version is just bad, so don't bother.

  2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: One of the sweetest, saddest stories of friendship ever. Makes me cry just thinking about it. The John Malkovich/Gary Sinise movie version of this book is actually really good, but you should still read the book.

  3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: The tale of a surprisingly strong female character who is inexplicably in love with a very weak man. At one point, she tells him, "Preach! Write! Act! Do anything, save to lie down and die." That's my favorite line (loosely translated to modern English: "Dude. Get over yourself, grow a pair, and live your life, preferably with me in it.") Watching the Demi Moore film version does NOT count.

  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Secrets, opulence, jazz and heat. So glamorous and tawdry at the same time -- what's not to love? The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow movie version is unintentionally funny to watch (lots of fuzzy lighting and stiff dialogue), but not a particularly good film.

  5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Another strong woman with a tough story, this novel wraps you up in Janie's life and loves in the early 1900s. The book is ritten in dialect and beautifully descriptive. Haven't seen Oprah's film version with Halle Berry, so I can't comment on that.
Note: As always, the links take you to purchasing info about the books at Quail Ridge Books & Music, which neither offered nor sent any compensation in return for this post. Also, the authors in no way bribed me to get their books on the list, given that they're all deceased, except for Bradbury, who doesn't know I exist.

Image from wikipeida.

1 comment:

  1. I read them all in high school except Zora Neale Hurston's book. My high school in Mississippi was progressive for including A Raisin in the Sun. Kidding. Sort of. Well, not really. I'll have to read it now.

    ReplyDelete

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