During my time as a student there were many (many) books I never actually read cover to cover the first time around.
Now let's be clear: I did not skip those assignments. I read as much as I needed to in order to participate in discussions, write papers, and perform well on exams. There is a difference between getting through a book and reading it, the former taking a functional approach, versus attempting to appreciate a work in its entirety.
Of course, the ones I put off reading would pop back up, with another instructor insisting it was great literature and wanting a paper on it.
I was assigned The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald once in high school, and twice in college; I wrote all three papers without ever reading it all the way through.
The honest answer to why I finally picked up Gatsby is that I couldn't sleep. I was visiting my parents and in my old room. I scanned my bookshelf for something to read, and Gatsby stood out.
Oh yeah, I thought to myself, I remember that book was really boring when I tried to read it in high school. Maybe IT can help me fall asleep.
Instead I opened the first page, started reading, and kept reading, with an intensity I usually reserved for a new Harry Potter book. Two hours later I closed Gatsby, finally having read it cover to cover. And I was so sad it was over. Why had it taken me so long?
If we want to get philosophical, I might venture that the most obvious answer is that I wasn't old enough to appreciate Gatsby when I was younger, and my high school English teacher was a terrifying creature who did not like students asking questions. So I had it in my mind that it was a difficult book, and a dull one at that, putting me off from reading it for future classes as well.
Here's what I loved about Gatsby and two other books, once I finally got around to reading them:
1 . The Great Gatsby
Still, it's an infinitely likable book. If you like feeling melancholy.
2. Jane Eyre
Yes, there is an absurd plotline full of hackneyed scenarios: poor abused orphan girl is spurned by her meanie aunt and jerkface cousins and sent to live at an all-girls school. There, she is taken under the wing of a kindly headmistress, who sees to it that Jane is sent to an agreeable situation as a governess after her schooling is finished. At Thornfield, her creepy-but-supposedly-attractive employer, Mr. Rochester, walks around in a huff and alternates yelling at Jane and holding her hand in between tutoring lessons for his adopted daughter, a little French girl.
But Jane isn't some pushover. She doesn't just acquiesce to Rochester's insistence on getting married despite the fact that he, you know, HAS ANOTHER WIFE LOCKED IN HIS ATTIC.
Here is what I really appreciated about this book - most of the time, the works that end up being considered "great literature" are just tragic downers. But Jane manages to deliver both drama and a happy ending, without sacrificing any part of the strong character she develops over the course of the story.
3. Pride And Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet is great. Her father recognizes that she is not like her silly sisters. I'm going to even go ahead and include her older sister, Jane, as kind of simple-minded. Not in a bad way - Jane is nice to Elizabeth, calling her "my dear" and braiding her hair by firelight and stuff - but Jane doesn't seem to get too upset about anything. Ever. Jane is kind of boring.
But Elizabeth doesn't just let Mr. Darcy's negging win her over immediately. And he is baffled? How come his insults-turned-professions of love tactic is not working?? Doesn't she know he is super rich?!
Other Books Worth Noting
And for the books I wish I'd never read? Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, anything by Shakespeare, and Lord of the Flies. Thanks, William Golding, for the image of small boys dancing around a pig's head on a stick that seems to be permanently imprinted on my mind.
What was your favorite book you were assigned to read?
What books do you hate - or at least consider overrated?