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What One Book?

by Miriam Downey 24. August 2012 07:06

I begin this blog posting with a fair amount of fear and trepidation. I recently watched my 13-year-old grandson struggle through his 8th grade summer reading list, which included Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Watership Down was his favorite. My other teenage grandson is reading a book about Malcolm X for his summer reading. He is visiting this week and is supposed to be reading two chapters every day. He rebels against it every day, but when he gets into it, he becomes totally engrossed. He did tell me, however, that the best book he had to read was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Unless your kids are voracious readers, there can be a fair amount of coaxing needed to get them to read the things they need to read to be well educated. And in the age of increased visual stimulation, sitting down and reading is a difficult task for jittery teenagers.

Why then require a student to read a book? My feeling is that there is a group of books that every well-educated person should be exposed to . . . whether they like it or not! I generally am an advocate of readers choosing what they want to read, but there are a few books that readers will always remember, and these are the books that will come up again and again in reading, discussions, sermons, and lectures for the rest of their lives. Knowing about these books is called cultural literacy.


I polled my friend Gayle, a high school English teacher, about what she considered the most important books for high school students to read. She suggested: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare for 9th grade; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for 10th grade; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for 11th grade; and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for 12th grade. I thought her advice was sound.

I might suggest that one of the good things about reading a book is talking about it. My daughter-in-law is reading the summer reading books along with her son and then having discussions with him about the books. This is a wonderful way to help young people relate to the books they are reading.

The following is a list of books that are discussed in FWU's English and Language Arts curriculum for high school. These are some of the books that I would include on my list of the books that everyone should read. Remember, please, that these are only recommendations. Please share your ideas about books that every teenager should read in the comments section along with the reason why you think your book should be included.

I have also included movie versions of the books. It is fun to compare the movie to the book after you have read the book.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. (Many feel that the best and most faithful version was made in 1968).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Movie version 1974 is faithful to the book. There is a new movie version coming out in 2013.)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. (There are two films--1963 and 1990. Many think the 1963 version is the best.)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. (Movie version 1998. The musical version of the story is coming out as a movie at the end of 2012.)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. (The classic film version is 1946. There is a new film version soon to be released.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (The 2011 film version is a good one.)

To this list: I would include as necessary reading:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (There is only one. It was made in 1962. It is a must-see movie.)

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. (1951 movie version.)

1984 by George Orwell. (There is a version made in 1984, but a new version is coming out next year.)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. (Film 1973.)

The Odyssey by Homer. (Classic film version 1997. The 1955 move Ulysses is a literate version as well. For fun you might watch O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), which is a comedy retelling of the Odyssey story.)

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. (Salinger never gave permission for a movie to be made.)

Add your opinions to this discussion.


Comments (1) -

Chester United States
5/25/2014 12:12:57 AM #

Having read this I believed it was rather informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!|


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