5 Required Reading Books I Loved

Hey guys! Welcome to another blog post, this one a continuation of last week’s back-to-school theme (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s last week’s post: http://wavesofpages.com/2018/08/21/3-tips-to-help-you-get-through-that-pesky-required-reading/ ). When you’re reading this, it will be the second day of the second week of my second year of college. Whew, that’s a lot of seconds. And so, since I and many other students around the world are getting back into the schooling groove, I decided to talk about something that is perhaps one of the most polarizing things about every high school English class: required reading.

It’s the kind of thing people either love or hate, and for good reason. Even I, a professed bibliophile who loves talking about books with people so much she started a blog about it, wasn’t always the biggest fan of being forced to read classics for school. If tasked to do an opposite list to this one, I could probably easily list five books I hated. (In fact, let me know in the comments if you’d like to see that post. I haven’t decided what next week’s post is going to be yet, so if you guys are interested, maybe I’ll do that next.)

In the interest of keeping things positive, though, I decided to talk about some of the required reading books that I loved (or at least liked). This list is in no particular order, but I’ve rambled enough already, so let’s just get into the post.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I read this book during my sophomore year of high school (which was 4 years ago now—wow, I feel old), and although I haven’t read it since then, I remember loving it. It’s sad, mind you, and it’s rampant with foul language, which, personally, makes me uncomfortable, but the story is incredible.

It’s set during the Great Depression, and follows two migrant workers, Lennie and George, who seem to have been traveling together for a long time. Lennie is a huge man who doesn’t know his own strength (something that gets him in trouble more than a few times during the book), and who apparently has some pretty serious mental disorder. George is his friend and caretaker, with a sharp mind and wit, and although he doesn’t show it often, he clearly cares very deeply for Lennie.

That relationship is the driving force behind the whole novel, and it’s what makes the book so impactful, especially toward the end. I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t read it and you want to. Fair warning, though, none of the characters are really nice people, and there is a lot of swearing and some violence, including a little animal cruelty. Also, it was originally published back in the 1930s, so some of the language might be considered offensive today. If I remember correctly, there were definitely some racial slurs in there, which I mostly tried to ignore. But if those sorts of things make you uncomfortable, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This is a nonfiction story, which is not usually my forte. Generally, I prefer my books to take me away from the real world, not pull me farther into it. This book was so atmospheric, and something about the fact that you knew how it would end before it even began gave everything in the book a much stronger impact.

This book tells the story of a man named Christopher McCandless as he runs away from home and becomes a traveler, living off the streets. Eventually, he makes his way to Alaska and walks alone into the Alaskan brush. Several months later, some hunters found his body there. This book is primarily a story about survival, and finding oneself. In it, the author attempts to understand why McCandless did what he did by telling us about the events that led up to his demise.

This book is not necessarily a happy book. You literally go into it knowing that the main character is going to be dead by the end, and also knowing that said main character was an actual person and not just the creation of someone’s imagination. However, I found that it was surprisingly easy not to think about that as I read this book. Yes, it is nonfiction, but a lot of the book reads very much like a fiction novel. It’s not nearly as dry and boring as I generally expect nonfiction to be.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

CW: suicide

I read this book for class during my senior year of high school. It is set in Nigeria, in a few small villages where Europeans are just beginning to come in and attempt to convert the people. We primarily follow an Ibo man named Okonkwo as he struggles to deal with all the changes coming from these Europeans’ arrival. The book deals with religion, culture, racial discrimination, and the question of tradition versus modernity. Okonkwo watches with despair as his whole world is turned upside down by his village’s conversion to Christianity. He watches as his own status in the community is torn down by this new ideology.

I think this book is a really important book because it shows European colonization from the perspective of the people being colonized. It also combats the Eurocentric idea that Africans were “uncivilized” before the Europeans came in. The book shows us very clearly that this is not the case. The Ibo people that are the main focus of this book have a very sophisticated hierarchical system, and a lot of traditions and rules that keep their society running. It’s just that those systems were based on different values than what the Europeans thought they should have been, and were thus “uncivilized.”

Anthem by Ayn Rand

This is a really short book, but it packs a punch. It’s set in a dystopian world where the word “I” doesn’t exist. Instead, everyone uses “we.” Of course, there is a philosophical reason for that. The author is trying to explore what a world without individuality would be like (the characters don’t even have real names, just numbers). But if you know me at all, you know that I love when a book uses an unusual point of view, so even without all of the deep, philosophical reasoning, I would have been down for the way this book is written. Exclusively first-person plural? Yeah, that’s not something I had ever read before, nor have I read something like it since.

I will admit that sometimes it was sort of confusing, because when the only word you have to describe yourself is “we,” it’s hard to tell when the main character is referring to just himself or to himself and another person. That’s kind of the whole point of the novel, though. It explores the idea of individuality, and whether such a thing can exist in a world where all you have is “we.”

This book is, quite literally, one man’s quest to find “I.” It’s fantastic.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

I read this book a long, long time ago. I think it was all the way back in elementary school, and I haven’t read it since, but even now, the story still sticks with me. This book is about a boy whose plane crash-lands in the wilderness, and he is left on his own to figure out how to survive. The main character not only has to deal with the life-threatening task of surviving in the Canadian wilderness, he also has to deal with his own internal struggles over his parents’ broken relationship. The fight to survive leads him to understand more about himself and the world around him, and to gain new perspective on his life.

I’ve heard that apparently this is the first book in a series, but I have never read the other books so I don’t know if they’re good. I just remember that I really liked this book as a kid, and I should probably reread it someday soon and see if I still like it as much now as I did then.

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There you have it! Five books I read for school that I ended up enjoying. Let me know if you guys have read any of these books, and what you thought of them, or whether you want to read them now that you have heard me talk about them.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time.

-Ariel

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