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Thoughts on Required Reading

This blog post is brought to you by Pride and Prejudice and my AP Lit class.

I've been thinking a lot about required reading, probably because I'm having to do so much of it. School comes with many types of required reading. Today, I won't be talking about reading excerpts from textbooks on various subjects, because I think everyone agrees that unless the subject is of particular interest, those readings are boring at best and painful at worst. Instead, I'm talking about being required to read entire works of literature (or, less often, nonfiction).

During winter break this year, I was required to read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I thought that this would be one of my easiest assignments ever. I LOVE that book. I read it for fun two summers ago and could barely put it down! I was expecting wonderful days curled up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, enjoying the chance to revisit one of my favorite novels while still being productive. Best of all, since it was my one big assignment, I wouldn't have homework hanging over my head for the entire break because I'd actually be motivated to finish within the first few days.

Except...that didn't happen.

I practically had to drag myself through that reread. It took me all of winter break (and a little bit more) to finish. I was bored. Any non-vital conversations felt like they were just there to make things longer, though I know I loved them the first time I'd read it. I skimmed paragraphs of description that I'd previously found beautiful. All in all, I didn't care.

What happened? Well, one option is that my opinion of Pride and Prejudice changed dramatically, but I doubt that's the case; after we finished discussing it in class, I reread some of my all-time favorite passages. They were a bit sour from the forced reread, but I still liked them. And if we're including adaptations, I've since watched the entire 2005 movie and some episodes of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, both of which I adore.

The other option that I see is that I disliked it just because required. I also had to annotate, which didn't help matters (even though I may have written mostly about how much I hate a certain character). I hope that this is the case, because I really don't want one of my favorite classics ruined for me forever because of school. I'll just let time pass and go read it again on my own terms.

Then, I started thinking about all the other required reading that I've done this year. As it turns out...I haven't liked any of it. Did I hate anything? No, but I didn't actually enjoy the time I had to spend reading The Iliad, or Crime and Punishment, or the other things I've had to read. If I don't limit myself to this year, there are so many more books that I wasn't a fan of.

On the other hand, there's been required reading that I've really enjoyed. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Outsiders, and The Great Gatsby were all wonderful, and that's not even the full list. I would have probably read some of these on my own (eventually), but I know there were some that I'd never have otherwise picked up.

So, my final verdict?

I don't know. I may not like being required to read in general, but even when I don't like the book, there are worse homework assignments. And sometimes, the book selection works out in my favor! For now, I'm just staying optimistic and hoping that I won't be forcing myself through all of my required reading forever. And here's hoping that the rereading Hamlet in a few months won't be like this.

What are your thoughts on required reading? What's your favorite/least favorite book you've had to read for school? Tell me in the comments!


  1. Interesting - I remember loving lots of books that I read in school, and I don't know that I would have picked them up otherwise, so I still think required reading is a good thing. But it IS interesting that a book you loved lost it's luster for you when you were forced to read it. Very interesting, indeed!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I think there's lots of benefits to required reading, especially for people who don't do a lot of reading outside of school. When something like this happens, though, I tend to get VERY frustrated.

  2. I'm so sorry you've had bad experiences with required reading! :( I don't think I had too many negative experiences with required reading in high school, mainly because they were a direct part of my curriculum and so it didn't feel so much like school. I was homeschooled, and so it worked out well. I know there were a couple books I probably wouldn't have touched had I not been required to do so, and I know at least one reread wasn't all that fun because it felt rushed. But one of my courses also balanced things out because I was allowed to choose whatever classic I felt like tackling, so I was given more freedom in following my own interests.

    But I can totally understand feeling a bit trapped in a book because you have to read it and you're therefore not reading it solely for enjoyment. I do think I experience more fulfillment now from the classics I read on my own time than I did from the books I read in high school, chosen or not. But I do think I have a lot of positive memories from required reading? I'd really have to think about that before giving a solid opinion though.

    Great post! :) And thanks for commenting on Out of Coffee, Out of Mind. :)

    1. I love when you're allowed to pick a classic and have it count as schoolwork! I never got to pick ANY classic I wanted (lucky you!), but there have been times when my teacher gave everyone a list of half a dozen books and let us choose from those. I wish that happened more often!

  3. Well, I've had both positive and negative experiences with required reading. I hated any Shakespeare we did, but I'm not sure if it was because I couldn't connect with any of the characters or because of the assessment (both a monologue (I would rather give my resume to Darth Vader to work in the sewage department on the Death Star than do a monologue) and an essay exam). We read a few other books that I thought was stupid (one about lying, Looking for Alibrandi and a story story collection) but there were a few I loved too like Of Mice and Men and The Handmaid's Tale. I think required reading definitely makes you enjoy a book less because you know the assessment is coming but you get more out of it because you understand the themes and symbols better. That's really interesting that you didn't enjoy Pride and Prejudice as much. (I haven't read it yet (it's on my TBR) but I'll get there.) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Having to give a monologue would make ME hate Shakespeare, too. WHY do teachers do that?? I definitely get what you mean with understanding the themes and symbols, but sometimes, there's just too much of that for me. I really liked my sophomore year Lit teacher, but all he wanted to discuss about Macbeth were birds and bodily fluids. I thought they were important, but not THAT important.

  4. Super interesting! It makes sense the sometimes assigned books are books you wouldn't have read, and it can be a great introduction to them. And sometimes they are just books you don't like, and you have to suffer through in the interest of passing the class and/or increasing your cultural literacy. Like, I didn't enjoy Walden or The Stranger, but I'm okay with having read them. But to "have to" read a book that you have enjoyed, and to have class kill it for you--that would be lousy.

    As a classroom teacher, I have really mixed feelings about assigning books. There are times when I feel like "Suck it up, this book is important," but usually I believe in offering as much choice as possible. Still, having works in common makes discussion and direct teaching a lot more feasible.

    1. I definitely get the cultural literacy thing. Reading The Iliad took me forever, and I didn't really like it, but I'm glad I read it because I understand so many more mythology allusions. That's definitely one work that's important enough that I think everyone should at least be familiar with it.

      I also understand about having works in common. Once, I had a teacher who let us each pick a book from a list of 5. I liked that it gave some choice, but even with 5 discussions for 40 students, things got a bit chaotic. Having everyone just choose any book would probably end up as a bit of a mess!


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