Saturday, August 05, 2006

High School Literature

Someone emailed me almost a month ago and asked:
What you recommend for a high school English/American literature reading list? I have my own ideas and I would definitely drop a few I had to read. I remember being assigned Truman Capote's In Cold Blood during my senior year English class. I just didn't even read it. I didn't think I could bear the violence of it. What would be your top 10 books for the high school list?

I hate to admit that I haven't responded to her query as of yet. Every time I try to come up with a top-ten list, I make additions or deletions. The thing is that I need to come up with some sort of list for my own homeschool.

Teen Son is heading into his Junior year and I can't have him graduating from high school without having read such greats as Plato's Apology, or Augustine's Confessions, or The Iliad. But then those aren't really American or English literature.

How important is it to read American and English authors? And what time period? I remember Anne Carroll once saying that there aren't any 20th-century authors worth reading. But that would include Flannery O'Connor and quite a few others that I'm partial to.

Would you include any of the popular school fare? Titles such as The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, East of Eden, etc.

So, help me out here. What are your thoughts? What titles should absolutely be on a list of American/English literature for high school?


Hillside Education said...

Hi Maureen,
Right off the top of my head I thought of these few.I will probably think of more as the evening goes on :)

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Hamlet, MacBeth, The Tempest by Shakespeare (or any others)

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn by Mark Twain (even if a student has read these in grade school, it is really good to read them from an older perspective)

Of the modern school fare, I would go for To Kill a Mockingbird and the Great Gatsby.

More later

love2learnmom said...

Are you sure that quote from Anne Carroll is right? I disagree. There's a lot I haven't read that might qualify, but these are some 20th century titles that are quite good:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Farenheit 451
Brideshead Revisited
Fr. Brown Mysteries
The Man Who Was Thursday
Space Trilogy - C.S. Lewis

and what about some P.G. Wodehouse?

Willa Cather and Rumer Godden have some good titles too.

I'm sure there are others, this is what jumps out at me.

Maureen said...

The Anne Carroll Comment came at a homeschool conference almost ten years ago. Someone asked what do you do about authors, such as Hemingway, who led less than moral lives. She responded that there weren't any 20th century authors worth reading. I assume that she was just generalizing and didn't mean to include C. S. Lewis, et al.

Anonymous said...

I would start with Beowolf and work my way through Shakespeare. I did like Nathaniel Hawthorne in high school. And 1984 might be interesting, as long as you discussed it thoroughly in a Catholic context. That's just off the top of my head.

love2learnmom said...

Of course Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot and Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton were also written in the 20th century. My husband seconds the Great Gatsby (I haven't read it).

love2learnmom said...

Aack. Keep thinking of more -

Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon
Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes
North to Freedom (I Am David) by Anne Holm
Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly

not exactly helping with a top ten, am I? :) I'm working on an American list for Ria right now, so this is on my mind.

electroblogster said...

20th Century? The Great Gatsby is a good one for teens choosing their direction. Good character development. Takes a little of the gleem off "being rich".

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
Brave New World
Lost Horizon
The Little Prince
Animal Farm

Most of them are as much philosophy as story if you reflect on them. Brave New World is the carrot story where 1984 is the stick story. But neither 1984 nor Animal farm is identical to Machiaveli. They have their own merit. Ivan is about dignity in a 20th century setting. Etc.

There are many more. And I have to echo some of the ones others have already mentioned.

And some of the authors too! C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, G.K.Chesterton - P.G. Wodehouse!

Maureen said...

We recently borrowed the movie version of I am David from the library. Very good!

Maureen said...

Gosh, all great suggestions so far! The trouble that I have coming up with a top-ten list is that my top-ten for Teen Son would be different than my top-ten for Teen Daughter.

I think that as homeschoolers, we can tailor the curriculum to the child's interests as well as maturity and academic abilities.

So, it's good to hear all your suggestions so that we all can pick and choose for each child.

I'd also love to hear WHY you pick a certain book or author.

This reminds me of an incident some years ago. I gave a niece a collection of Edgar Allen Poe's works. You see, she was into reading Goosebumps. Since she insisted on reading horror, I figured that she may as well read the good stuff instead of trash.

Anonymous said...

I'm just seeing this. I suggest going through everyone's suggestions and putting the repeats at the top of the list. You might end up with your 10 that way or you might have to draw the other suggestions out of a hat. LOL

I also suggest "To Kill a Mockingbird"

I ahd my graduate teen read Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". Also, Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation" is good for teens to read (I think).

"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" is excellent contemplation and stays with the reader for years.

I also had him read William Barrett's "The Lillies of the Field" and Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call my Name".

That's all I can think of right now. Can't wait to see the list weeded down to 10. :)

love2learnmom said...

Hi Cay - great points. :) I was ust today wondering about Bridge of San Luis Rey. Do you think that's okay for young teens or more mature?



Darwin said...

If short on other inspiration, pick up both volumes of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and basically read whatever appears -- starting at the beginning and working forward. As anthologies go, the Norton is really good (though I'd have to check to see if they've starting pulling odd stuff into the last few editions to be "inclusive") and its so complete that even if you're skipping hither and thither you'll get a pretty good idea of the history of English literature.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, there are so many that I can't begin to imagine which ones not to include.

For American lit.,
Moby Dick
The Crucible,Glass Menegrie, Our Town, or Raisin in the Sun (one selection of American playwrites.)
Great Gatsby,
To Kill a Mockingbird,
Scarlet Letter--I love this book. It is a great commentary on the effects sin, both visible and hidden.
Old Man and the Sea--Hemingway changed the way novels were written with this book. It was the introduction to less formal writing.
Fahrenheit 451--great commentary on censorship, not reading and being educated.
and many selections from Poe--many would probably disagree with Poe as a choice; however, he was the pioneer of the short story.

For British lit...
Mere Christianity
Screwtape Letters,
Tale of Two Cities,
Wuthering Heights,
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (a must in my mind since the albatross is a literary device in so many works since)
obviously Shakespeare

Anonymous said...

Here are my syllabi for American Lit, Brit Lit, and World Lit. I tried to gear it toward a boy's interests and tastes. Said boy would read the books, and we'd go out for coffee to discuss them. World Lit crashed in flames, though, when he went on a eurocentric strike, and I gave up....

American Literature
Course Outline

Edwards: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

Thomas Jefferson: The Declaration of Independence

Morris: Preamble to the Constitution

Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, selected shorter poems

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882): The Cross of Snow, Hiawatha's Childhood, Paul Revere's Ride

Thoreau: Walking, Civil Disobedience, A Plea for Captain John Brown

Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Young Goodman Brown”

Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural, Emancipation Proclamation

Whitman: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

Herman Melville
Bartleby the Scrivener

Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn

Bret Harte
The Luck of Roaring Camp

Ambrose Bierce

Stephen Crane
Stories and Poems

Poetry: The Road to Modernism
Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Langston Hughes,
Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, Gwendolyn Brooks

O. Henry
“The Ransom of Red Chief”

Ring Lardner

Ernest Hemingway
“The Killers”

Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon

Golden Age of the New Yorker: E.B. White
The Essays of E.B. White, The Lady Is Cold (poetry)

Golden Age of the New Yorker: James Thurber
The Thurber Carnival; My Life and Hard Times

Broadway and Tin Pan Alley
Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein
Essays by Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein

Science Fiction
Here Comes Civilization by William Tenn
The Quest for St. Aquin by Anthony Boucher

Flannery O’Connor
Collected Stories

This was Brit Lit...

Survey of British Literature — 2004-2005 School Year

Anonymous: Beowulf

Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

Poets, Elizabethan and Metaphysical: selected works by
John Donne
Richard Crashaw
Andrew Marvell
Henry Vaughan

William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Sonnets

Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe

Jonathan Swift: A Modest Proposal

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

Poets of the Romantic Movement: selected works by
William Blake
William Wordsworth
John Keats
Percy Shelley
S.T. Coleridge

Charles Dickens: David Copperfield

W.S. Gilbert: The Pirates of Penzance

G. K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday

Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

James Joyce: Dubliners

P.G. Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

Evelyn Waugh: The Loved One

Poets of the Wars:
W.B. Yeats
Siegfried Sassoon
Wilfrid Owen
Edith Sitwell

Due Date Reading

Sept. 9 Book of Job

Sept.16 Bhagavad Gita

Sept. 23 Gilgamesh, 1-4

Sept. 30 Gilgamesh, 5-7

Oct. 7 Iliad, Books 1-6

Oct. 14 Iliad, Books 7-13

Oct. 21 Iliad, Books 14-19

Oct. 22 Iliad, Books 20-24

Oct. 29 Plutarch, Life of Romulus, Life of Caesar

Nov. 4 Augustine, Confessions, Books 2 and 9.8-12

Nov. 11 Excerpts from A Thousand and One Nights, Rubaiyat

Nov. 18 Dante, Inferno, Cantos 1-6

Nov. 25 Dante, Inferno, Cantos 7-12

Dec. 1 Dante, Inferno, Cantos 13-18

Dec. 8 Dante, Inferno, Cantos 19-24

Dec. 15 Cervantes, Don Quixote, Book 1, Chapters 1-13

Dec. 22 Cervantes, Don Quixote, Book 1, Chapters 14-26

Jan. 6 Cervantes, Don Quixote, Book 1, Chapters 27-38

Jan. 13 Cervantes, Don Quixote, Book 1, Chapters 39-52

Jan. 20 Map, Quest of the Holy Grail, Chapters 1-5

Jan. 27 Map, Quest of the Holy Grail, Chapters 6-10

Feb. 3 Map, Quest of the Holy Grail, Chapters 11-15

Feb. 10 Goethe, Faust I-XIII

Feb. 17 Goethe, Faust XIV-XXV

Feb. 24 Dostoevsky, “A Little Hero”

Mar. 3 Tolstoi, Stories

Mar. 10 Sinkiewicz, Quo Vadis, 1-201

Mar. 17 Sinkiewicz, Quo Vadis, 202-398

Mar. 24 Sinkiewicz, Quo Vadis, 399-579

Mar. 31 Kafka, “Metamorphosis”

Apr. 7 Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Anonymous said...

I'm torn about what to advise on "Bridge of San Luis Rey". It's a great book. The age would depend, I think, on the mind of the teenager. Immautre teens would need to wait because there is a a love-triangle in the book. Then again, I have an immature 13 yr old and I think a careful reading of it with him and a very careful explanation and discussion might be a great tool to in having him contemplate God's will for his life and the paths he chooses to take.

I'm open to thoughts.

love2learnmom said...

Thanks, that's helpful Cay.

Anonymous said...

I read the Bridge of San Luis Rey and Brave New World this summer when I was trying to decide whether or not to have my son read them.

I decided against both for a couple of reasons. For BNW, it was an easy decision because I was shocked at just how sexually explicit it was. I did not remember any of that from when I read it in high school. I just remembered the genetic engineering and test tubes. However, that was not all there was. For BoSLR, I decided against it because I simply thought there were better choices. The monk is burnt at the stake. There is no example of any real redeeming human love...every love in the story is somehow warped.

BTW, I really just wanted to add Huckleberry Finn to my list of must reads for American lit. FWIW, one of my criteria in chosing the books I do is whether they changed writing somehow or whether an educated individual should be able to recognize allusions to it.

For example, anyone who has read Moby Dick will never question any reference to the definition of white. :)

Anonymous said...

You might think this weird. I read through everything by Fitzgerald
but couldn't find anything I'd use with one of my kids. It's all
about weird sex and blasphemy -- the two obsessions of a lapsed
Catholic. So I used Hammett instead. I didn't have a problem
including Hindu texts, because they could lead to good conversation about the truth of the Catholic faith. But the Fitzgerald material was difficult. Pity, because I liked him so when I was in high school and college. I remember Gatsby vividly.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add, concerning Gatsby, that I read it in high school and was not impressed. I've tried thrice to read it again and have failed. I also think there's too much "weird sex and blasphemy" in it. There are better things to read and why Gatsby stays at the top of the list is beyond me.

Off my soapbox and my apologies to any who loves the book (and author). :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you wrote but I still back "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

It has an timeless quest in it and leaves an impression on anyone who reads it, including teenagers. It's one of those books whose story you never forget.

Of course, I'm glad you shared your opinion. It nice to see how other people feel about certain books (especially before giving them to our young people). As you can see, I shared mine on "Gatsby". :)

Anonymous said...

And a note on some of the texts we used. I pulled most of them down from the Web -- Project Gutenberg and other places. For other texts, like Gilgamesh, scholars often post their own new translations for their university classes. So it's a buyer's market. (That one in particular is rough on adults, though the rest of the book makes it valuable for a number of reasons, not least that it shows the limits of paganism in its ability to deal with death.) I would email the excerpts to my son, who would load them onto his little handheld computer thingie. Warning: some texts, like Gilgamesh, have very explicit portions. I would take these out and present the final to him as "Excerpts from Such and Such." He was always happy to know he had less work to do than he might have had.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the input. I thought I would explain my perspective a little. I have never read anything by Fitzgerald other than Gatsby, so I can't compare. However, when we read it a couple of years ago (ds was in 10th grade), we had great conversations. Our interpretation was not that it is ok for sex and blasphemy, but that it was mocking--that society was shallow, self-indulgent, hypocritical, and self-destructive because they had lost moral grounding.

As for "Bridge," the only concept that left an impression with me from high school was "why those 5." That was what I was expecting (similar to what I had thought I remembered from BNW). After reading it again this summer (now I read it while on vacation at the beach with all our kids, so it did not have all my attention), I was left with no redeeming or consequence for their behaviors. However, the biggest problem I had was that the time lines for the story just did not add up and that frustrated me. The time described for passing for the Contessa did not match up with the time for Estaban, etc. I just couldn't figure out how that all resolved itself. It is possible that I misinterpreted the timeline since I wasn't paying close attention...but it seemed to me that weeks passed in one case, months in another, and years in another. Anyway, I don't think it is an awful book by any stretch. I thought about having him read it anyway. I decided to have him read "Heart of Darkness" instead. Not an uplifting book. Not one that I included on my list. However, does illustrate the hypocrisy of civilization and greed very well.

Darwin said...

I would tend to think that a 9-10th grader would be fine with reading Gilgamesh and other somewhat ancient explicit stuff like Aristophanes, Petroneus, etc. -- assuming that the child is getting a solid grounding in Catholic moral principles at the same time. Eventually, he or she is going to encounter similar themes and attitudes in the post-Christian context of modern society, and I think in some ways it helps to encounter them first in a setting which is explicitly pagan (not just implicitly) so that he will recognize them for what they are.

This also makes a chronological move through world lit desireable, since the student can see paganism waning and then waxing again through history.

Anonymous said...

Recommended Literature
A - The Bridge at San Luis Rey, Wilder, Thornton
A – Call of the Wild, London, Jack
A – The Coming Fury, (US Civil War) Catton, Bruce
A – Drums along the Mohawk, Edmonds, Walter D.
A –Love Poems, Dickinson, Emily
A - My Antonia, Cather, Willa
A - My Life and Hard Times, Thurber, James
A - Red Dawn at Lexington (American Revolution) Birnbaum, Louis
A - Ramona, Jackson, Helen Hunt
A – The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne, Nathaniel
A - Selected Short Stories, Henry, O.
A - Selected Tales and Poems, Poe, Edgar Allen
A - Shadows on the Rock, Cather, Willa
A - The Sketch Book, Irving, Washington
A - The Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh, Charles
A - The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, Trapp, Maria Augusta
A – Two Years Before the Mast, Dana, Richard Henry
A - Up from Slavery, Washington, Booker T.
A - White Fang, London, Jack
Recommended Literature
Eng – Captain Horatio Hornblower series, - Forester, CS
Eng – A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Churchill, Winston
Eng – Ivanhoe, Scott, Walter
Eng – Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare
Eng – Mutiny on the Bounty, Nordhoff, Hall, Charles & James
Eng – Emma, Austin, Jane
Eng – Pride and Prejudice, Austin, Jane
Eng – Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot, T. S.
Eng – Vanity Fair, Thackeray, William
Eng – Withering Heights, Bronte
Eng – As You Like It, Shakespeare
Eng – Mid Summer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare Eng – Kipling, Rudyard - any of his novels

Marcia Neill

Cindy said...

Great lists.. I am printing them out for my resource binder. (thanks for pointing me here, Willa!)

I agree about being careful about choosing lit for my highschooler- some of the messages/plots are a bit dark in American literature. I just think there is so much good, I don't need to go there.

Has anyone mentioned Lord of the Rings? Check out my blog for an item I just found out about it in a bio I read of JRRT....:)

Thanks for hosting this post, Maureen!

Maureen said...

You're welcomed Cindy.

I wonder if LOTR wasn't mentioned in every list, because it's just assumed that everyone reads it on their own. Know what I mean? Teen Son has read LOTR several times over.

Willa said...

I also made the judgement call not to have the kids read BNW. I read it for the first time two years ago. It was truly gripping and I had several discussions with my oldest where I talked about the prophetic elements in the book. But to have him actually read that -- wasn't comfortable during those high school years.

I have linked to my oldest son's 20th century reading list at my blog: