For us ASU students who are just starting to get used to the routine of this semester, here’s a list of six books that may have been on your school booklist in years past that it may be time to dust off again. Contrary to popular belief, most of the books we read in English class are chosen for a (very good) reason, so I thought it might be very good to revisit some of my favorites. But don’t worry, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (as valuable as it is for every sophomore in America to endure the agony of this reading assignment) didn’t make today’s list.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. First off on the list is Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, a favorite read from high school for many. As you likely remember, the narrator Scout’s refreshing tone provides a glimpse into the racially divisive setting of the 1930s American South as her father Atticus Finch defends a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. With Scout’s honest realizations about race, class, and individual responsibility, this book is especially timely for today’s climate. It’s time to pick To Kill a Mockingbird off your high school bookshelf and take a trip back to Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression for a reminder that our natural conceptions of innocence and responsibility are filtered through biases of class and race.
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank. Many of us haven’t opened a copy Anne Frank’s diary since junior high, but her painfully acute realizations about human nature through the harsh realities of years of hiding during World War II are well worth another look. Though undergoing intense danger, much of her account shows the day-to-day monotony of her situation, with a realistic portrayal of what it felt like to live in her environment. Her story is critically important as one of the few non-American narratives that has entered into popular culture in defining the experiences of Jews in the Holocaust, and provides an accessible lens for viewing genocide—including those that have occurred more recently.
The Giver – Lois Lowry. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is often taught as a children’s dystopian novel, read aloud in elementary school classrooms across the nation. But, Lowry’s work also contains themes vitally important to the modern adult, especially concerning memory, interpersonal relations, and the role of government in controlling people’s lives. When 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly utopian society, receives a unique career assignment, he begins to learn the real history of his world and ultimately makes a difficult choice to create his own destiny apart from the governmental system’s prescribed methods. His decisions, and their necessity in his world, provide great insight into our own challenges.
Things Fall Apart – China Achebe. It is wonderful that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is taught in high school classrooms, but sometimes this prevents us from seeing it holistically, instead treating his work as defining a particular, singular perspective on the world rather than illuminating possibilities for understanding colonialism. Achebe’s chronicle of how things fall apart when white colonizers arrive in a Nigerian village offers implicit commentary about the Nigerian culture and about the colonizing culture, as well as the complications of navigating the intersections of these conceptions.
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Expuéry. After reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince in high school English, I had a significantly different experience revisiting this work in college French. The somewhat biographical, somewhat fantastical, account of a pilot’s encounters and adventures with the Little Prince has a much less substantial plot compared to other books on this list, however, its themes are no less critical. The Little Prince teaches important lessons through the observations of a precocious child, suggesting paradigm shifts from traditional adult mindsets to a more dream-driven lifestyle. It’s a quick read, but a valuable one.