Even though I’ve always loved reading, getting through a required reading list in school was always a struggle for me. Typically, I always read the books, but some books were harder to get through than others. Some of my favorite required reading was actually in a introduction to literature class I took during my senior year of school. That’s where I read The Great Gatsby for the first time and fell in love with Beloved (two books I’ll talk about later in this post). Whether you’ve been an avid reader since you first learned, or reading has always been the bane of your existence, it’s always going to be a part of your life, especially your school life. I’ve rounded up some of my favorite required reading throughout the years. Let’s get started!
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This was the first book I actually remember being told to read and liking. I read To Kill a Mockingbird during my freshman year of high school and immediately fell in love with Scout’s passion for life and Atticus’s kind fatherly nature. It’s been quite some time since I read the book (I guess it’s time for a re-read), but I still remember vividly how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. It takes place during the Great Depression in Alabama. Atticus is a single-father raising Scout and her older brother Jem while he serves as a lawyer in town. Atticus is appointed to represent a black man in town in a rape case, and when he accepts the position, many of the townspeople judge him for his choices — during these times a respectable white man should never represent a black man accused of rape. Despite what the town says, Jem and Scout are always by their father’s side, and they learn important lessons about discrimination, judgement, and prejudice throughout the book.
2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara King Solver
This was a difficult read during my senior year of high school, but it was worth powering through. This book follows a missionary family, the Prices, after they have moved from Georgia to the Congo. The book is narrating from the perspectives of the mother and the four daughters, showing a different side of life for each member of the family. It follows them as they deal with all the unexpected struggles they encountered when faced with a new culture. As with most stories about missionaries, The Poisonwood Bible is more so about what the Price family learned from the people around them than what the people learned from them.
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I read “Beloved” in high school and was not nearly as appreciative of it as I should have been. When I re-read it during an introduction to literature course during my senior year of college, it was like I was reading it from an entirely different person’s brain. It’s an eye-opening piece of literature that sheds light one of the biggest blemishes on our nation’s history — slavery. Beloved is actually based off of the true story of Margaret Garner. Garner, like the stories main character Sethe, escaped from slavery into a free state. Sethe escaped Sweet Home with her daughter, and Beloved tells the tale of what it’s really like to escape to a free state. The novel depicts slavery as something one can never truly escape, and readers are forced to swallow a very big pill about what African Americans were forced to endure during the early part of American history.
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’m going to make a confession — I didn’t read The Great Gatsby until I was a senior in college. I read it in the same class I re-read Beloved in. If you don’t know, The Great Gatsby is set during the roaring ’20s, and it’s a story all about fulfilling the “American dream.” It features all the classics like a rags-to-riches tale and an epic love story. Gatsby works his whole life to impress Daisy. He hopes she’ll notice his big house across from hers and his grand parties, but it’s not until her cousin, Nick, moves in near Gatsby that they meet again. Despite her marriage, Daisy and Gatsby start a secret love affair, and the story unfolds. Fitzgerald tackles themes like the American dream, social classes, and feminism. It’s an easy book to get lost in or the story, but it’s equally as easy to sit and analyze for hours on end.
5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
I’m cheating a little bit because technically I never read Animal Farm for a class, but most people do, so I’m keeping it on the list. Animal Farm is fairly quick read that tackles the class structure, socialism, and abuse of power. It takes place on a farm with talking animals that band together to overtake the humans that run the farm. That’s a vastly oversimplified explanation of the book, but I promise you won’t regret picking it up.
There are a handful of other books I enjoyed reading while in school including The Power of One and Blankets, but these are definitely my top five recommendations. What are your favorite books that you were required to read in school? Let me know in the comments below.