Rediscovering the Pillars of Literature: A High School Reading Journey
Let’s walk down to our memory halls and revisit the echoes of your teenage years.
Do you recall that sense of wonder, frustration, perhaps even rebellion?
Much of that emotion, for many of us, was shaped by the literature we consumed during those formative high school years.
These books, aside from being mentioned and are requirements, are the books that led me to love literature and reading in a whole sense of it.
I listed down these things for you so you can have easy navigation of it.
And btw, it’s never too late to read them!
Let’s dive deep into those pages and uncover the essence of these classics, the ones that made us ponder, argue, and, above all, grow.
Classics: The Foundations of Our Literary Heritage
These are the giants upon whose shoulders contemporary literature stands.
- “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Set in the racially charged South during the Depression era, this novel paints an evocative portrait of societal prejudice. Through the innocent eyes of Scout Finch, we witness the injustice that ensues when her father, Atticus, defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. The book isn’t just about racism; it delves deep into the heart of morality, empathy, and the loss of innocence.
- “1984” by George Orwell
Ever heard of “Big Brother is watching you”? This dystopian novel introduces us to a world where individuality is criminal and thoughts are policed. A chilling prophecy or a sharp critique on totalitarian regimes, George Orwell’s masterpiece is an alarm bell about the perils of absolute power.
- “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Romance, wit, and societal critique blend seamlessly in this timeless tale. Elizabeth Bennet, an independent and sharp-witted woman, navigates her way through class prejudices, familial expectations, and her own heart’s desires. Through her interactions with the proud Mr. Darcy, we’re reminded that first impressions can be misleading.
- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ah, the roaring twenties. A time of jazz, flapper dresses, and clandestine parties. But beyond this glitz lies the tale of Jay Gatsby, a man of immense wealth and even greater mystery. His lavish parties and undeniable charisma mask a profound loneliness and an insatiable desire for a past love, Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald’s prose paints a vivid picture of the American Dream’s allure and the hollow emptiness that often lurks beneath its gilded surface. It’s a story of love lost, dreams shattered, and the unrelenting march of time.
- “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
The open sea, the thrill of the chase, and an obsession that borders on madness. Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of the elusive white whale, Moby Dick, is the centerpiece of this epic. But it’s more than just a tale of a man and a whale. Melville dives deep into the human psyche, exploring themes of destiny, free will, and the dangerous depths of obsession. The vast ocean is but a backdrop to the even more vast expanse of the human soul, full of turmoil, hope, and introspection.
- “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Teenage angst, disillusionment, and the search for meaning. Holden Caulfield, with his distinctive voice, takes us through the streets of New York City, offering a raw, unfiltered view of the world as he sees it. Alienated from a society he finds phony, Holden grapples with the painful realities of growing up. Salinger’s novel, controversial and groundbreaking, gives voice to the universal feelings of confusion, loneliness, and the desperate need to find one’s place in the world.
- “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
Gothic romance meets profound introspection in this tale of love, betrayal, and redemption. Jane Eyre, an orphan mistreated by her relatives, finds employment as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall. Here, she meets the brooding Mr. Rochester, and their lives become irrevocably intertwined. Bronte’s novel delves into themes of social class, morality, and the transformative power of love. Jane, with her fierce independence and unwavering moral compass, emerges as a beacon of female strength in an era that often sought to silence them.
- “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
A future society where happiness is just a pill away, where people are conditioned for their roles in life, and individuality is a thing of the past. Sounds perfect, right? Huxley’s dystopia presents a world where true emotions, desires, and connections are traded for societal stability and homogeny. But what is the cost of this manufactured happiness? This thought-provoking novel questions the very nature of freedom, happiness, and the human spirit’s indomitable need for genuine connections.
Dystopian: Glimpses into Alternate Realities
These narratives warn, reflect, and prod us to question.
- “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
In a world where books are banned and ‘firemen’ burn them, we journey with Guy Montag, a fireman who starts questioning the system. Bradbury’s cautionary tale reminds us of the importance of questioning, challenging norms, and the indispensable value of books.
- “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
Children stranded on an uninhabited island after a plane crash. It sounds like an adventure until societal norms erode, and the dark underbelly of human nature surfaces. This novel starkly presents the tussle between civilization and savagery.
- “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
Journey across time and space with Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin. As they search for Meg’s missing father, they encounter celestial beings, tesseract travel, and the looming darkness of the Black Thing. L’Engle’s narrative is not merely a science fantasy adventure but an exploration of love, individuality, and the age-old battle between light and darkness.
- “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
In a future world where children are trained as soldiers to fight off an alien threat, Ender Wiggin stands out as a tactical genius. But the pressures of training, isolation, and the moral implications of war weigh heavily on young Ender. Card delves into the ethics of warfare, the cost of genius, and the sometimes blurry line between games and reality.
Plays: Stories that Spring to Life Off the Page
Drama! Not just a genre, but an emotion.
- “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
A prince, a ghost, a vengeful quest – this play is Shakespeare at his best. Through Hamlet’s soliloquies, we grapple with questions of life, death, betrayal, and madness. “To be or not to be,” that remains the question.
- “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
Willy Loman, an aging salesman, confronts his dreams and disappointments. Miller’s poignant critique of the American Dream delves into themes of ambition, reality, and the human cost of relentless capitalism.
- “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
In the sultry streets of New Orleans, we meet Blanche DuBois, a woman clinging desperately to a bygone era of Southern gentility. As she collides with her sister Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski, the play unveils themes of illusion vs. reality, the brutal force of desire, and the decay of the Southern belle. Williams’ evocative dialogue and raw character interactions lay bare the fragility of human existence and the lengths one goes to preserve one’s self-worth.
- “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
“Star-crossed lovers” — two young souls from feuding families in Verona. Through the poetry of Shakespeare, we experience the ecstasy of first love and the tragedy of youthful impulsiveness. While often hailed as the quintessential romance, it’s also a stark reminder of the consequences of blind hatred and societal division.
American Literature: The Stories that Shaped a Nation
Rooted in the vast landscapes and diverse stories of America.
- “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adultery, sin, and redemption – these are the pillars of this evocative tale. When Hester Prynne is branded with a scarlet ‘A’ for adultery, she navigates the puritanical societal judgments of 17th-century Boston. Hawthorne’s narrative prompts reflections on public shaming, personal resilience, and redemption.
- “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
Amidst the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, the Joad family embarks on a journey westward to California. Steinbeck captures the essence of human perseverance, societal inequities, and the indomitable human spirit.
- “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this is a tale of friendship, dreams, and the cruel realities of life. George and Lennie, itinerant workers, dream of owning land together. Yet, their journey is marked by poverty, prejudice, and the inescapable truth that not all dreams are meant to be. Steinbeck’s prose is a poignant reflection on human connection and the sacrifices one makes for love.
- “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
Through the eyes of young Huck Finn, we navigate the Mississippi River and confront the moral complexities of a pre-Civil War America. While often humorous, the narrative tackles profound themes — racism, morality, and the tumultuous journey to adulthood. Twain’s wit offers a scathing critique of societal hypocrisy and the moral compass of a young boy.
Identity and Cultural Literature
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
A haunting exploration of the African-American experience post-Civil War. Sethe, a former slave, is haunted by the ghost of her daughter and the traumas of her past. Morrison delves deep into the wounds of slavery, the weight of memory, and the need for redemption. It’s a narrative about love, its complexities, and the lengths a mother would go for her child.
- “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan
Eight women, four mothers, and their daughters, recount tales of love, loss, and identity. Navigating the cultural chasm between China and America, these women grapple with generational expectations, cultural heritage, and the intricate bond between mothers and daughters. Tan’s tapestry of stories illuminates the universal themes of family, identity, and the pursuit of happiness.
- “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya
In the New Mexican landscape, young Antonio Márez grapples with questions of faith, identity, and destiny. Guided by the wise curandera, Ultima, Antonio embarks on a spiritual journey, delving into the syncretic nature of culture and religion in the Hispanic American landscape. Anaya’s prose is a celebration of heritage, spirituality, and the transition from innocence to understanding.
World Literature: A Window into Global Narratives
Transcending borders, these tales are universally human.
- “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe
Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, this novel tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud Igbo warrior. As European colonizers arrive, the fabric of the local cultures unravels. Achebe offers a poignant perspective on colonization, cultural erosion, and the dichotomies of tradition versus change.
- “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
A heartbreaking tale of friendship, betrayal, and redemption, set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s tumultuous history. Through Amir’s journey, Hosseini paints a vivid canvas of love, guilt, and the lengths one might go for redemption.
Non-fiction: Tales of True Life Events
- “Night” by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing memoir of Wiesel’s experience in Nazi concentration camps, this narrative is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit amidst unimaginable horrors. It’s not just a recounting of events but a profound reflection on faith, humanity, and the depths of darkness one can endure while holding onto a glimmer of hope.
- “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
Through the eyes of young Anne, we witness the daily life in hiding during the Holocaust. Her diary, poignant and profound, is a beacon of hope, resilience, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. It’s not just a testament to the horrors of war but also a celebration of life, love, and the small joys amidst adversity.
Poetry: Wonders of Words
- “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot
A monumental work of modernist poetry, Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a fragmented, multifaceted exploration of post-World War I disillusionment. Drenched in literary and cultural references, the poem winds through the desolation of a spiritually barren society. Eliot invokes a world where ancient myths intersect with contemporary despair. The poem beckons readers to grapple with the profound question: “What are the roots that clutch?”
- “The Road Not Taken and Other Poems” by Robert Frost
While many recognize the title poem’s famous lines about the path less traveled, the entire collection showcases Frost’s mastery in depicting the New England landscape, human choice, and the quiet moments of introspection that define our lives. His poetry, both profound and accessible, reveals the complex interplay between nature, destiny, and the human heart.
Modern and Contemporary
- “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, this novel is set in Nazi Germany and centers around Liesel, a young girl finding solace in stolen books and the power of words. With a backdrop of war, Zusak paints a story of friendship, loss, and the profound impact of stories in our lives. The narrative reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of the most harrowing circumstances.
- “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi
An autobiographical graphic novel, Satrapi’s work chronicles her childhood and early adulthood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Through stark black-and-white illustrations, she portrays the struggles of daily life, the clash of Western and Iranian cultures, and her personal journey of understanding her identity. It’s a poignant reflection on the interplay of politics, religion, and personal freedom.
- “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
Stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, Pi Patel embarks on a surreal journey of survival, faith, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction. Martel’s narrative is an exploration of spirituality, the tales we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, and the enduring human spirit.
These books, these monumental tales, shaped not just our literary comprehension but our very ethos. They acted as mirrors, reflecting society’s virtues and vices, and windows, offering us glimpses into worlds far from our own.
As we leaf through their pages, we are reminded that literature is, above all, a celebration of the human spirit.
It’s not just about words; it’s about the tales they weave and the souls they touch.
So, I urge you, dive back into these classics. You might just discover a piece of yourself you’d forgotten.
Frequently Asked Questions/FAQs
What genres are good for a high school classroom library?
Historical fiction, classics, young adult fiction, non-fiction (biographies, science, history), graphic novels, poetry, fantasy, mystery, and multicultural literature.
What books do you read sophomore year of high school?
This varies by school and curriculum, but common choices include: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.
Why do we read books in high school?
Reading books in high school enhances critical thinking, exposes students to diverse perspectives and cultures, improves language and vocabulary skills, fosters empathy, and provides knowledge on various subjects.
What types of books should students read?
Students should read a mix of classics and contemporary literature, non-fiction for broadened knowledge, diverse authors to gain varied perspectives, and both challenging texts for growth and enjoyable texts for leisure.
What genre is good for studying?
Non-fiction (such as textbooks, essays, scientific articles) is primarily used for academic studying. However, other genres like historical fiction or biographies can also provide insights into specific time periods or individuals’ lives.