Required Reading, A Muse on Monday

musingmondayHow did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/university/college/etc.? How do you think on these books now? What book were you ‘forced’ to read when you where in school that you’ve since reread and loved?

This question called to mind my first day of kindergarten, a day that still ranks as one of the most disappointing days of my school experience.  You see, I was all primed and ready for a desk of my own, with a nice stack of books.  I fully expected to have a homework assignment, and was fiercely hoping that homework would involve reading something.

Imagine my surprise and disdain to learn that kindergarten (at least in the early 1960’s) was going to consist entirely of playing games, drawing pictures, and sitting in a circle while someone read picture books to us!  Horror!

So you can see I’ve never minded being assigned books to read- in fact, I still get a bit of a thrill when some required reading comes my way.  I had a delightful time perusing the reading lists for the World Citizen Challenge, and even more fun ordering the books from various libraries throughout my county. 

Of course, actually reading the assigned books is sometimes another matter entirely.  I suffered quite a bit through Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Ever the good student, I completed the assignments without resorting to Cliff Notes, and though I sincerely doubt I’ll ever read those books again, I’m at least glad to know they’re in my literary canon.

Now tell me, how do you get on with required reading?

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13 thoughts on “Required Reading, A Muse on Monday

  1. Yes, suffering is the word I would use for Sir Gawain as well as Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales:) I agree kindergarten was a bit of a let down but all the playtime made up for it. First grade made me crazy about books especially when our teacher introduced us to Shel Silverstein.

  2. I can’t really remembering any “suffering” during my high school or college reading. I think I enjoyed most things we read, or I’ve blocked the bad ones from my memory.

  3. Hi Becca,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. You have a lovely one here, full of great reads & inspiration. 🙂

    This post really got me thinking. I went to a very srtict religious school. We were not allowed to read anything outside of religious texts. I hungered to read the classics (Shakespeare, Poe, Whitman, etc.) But I also longed to read truly forbidden books. I began with “The Catcher in the Rye” (at 17) and have gone on to read a slew of banned books over the last 20+ years.

    So, I guess you could say that the “required reading” in my high school spawned an unquenchable thirst for literary freedom.

    Feels good to think about this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Searching my memories from high school and college, I suffered stagnancy from reading Moby Dick and Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver’s Travels wasn’t too bad except I wasn’t in the right mood for it. For William Faulkner’s books, I just want them to end soon!

    Books that impressed me but were not necessarily annoying were Ulysses, Beloved, and China Men. I plan to re-read Beloved for the black history month, before I tackle A Mercy.

  5. I totally understand what you mean! I was always one of those students who asked for extra homework, and would often be the first one done, or at least the first one willing to get a head start on reading assignments! To this day, syllabus day remains one of my favorite days of each semester and, even when the books are a total pain, there is still a pretty cool feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing them!

  6. There are a few books I wished I had never had to open, but those were mostly textbooks (bleh!). I had one professor who wrote a book that we had to read for class… it was a ridiculous book that was unrelated to the course! Super-annoying.

    Does it count that I sometimes assign myself books for challenges I don’t end up wanting to read after all? I have to force myself to get through those at times.

  7. Loved assignments, all the way through school: Important subjects, no choices to agonize over, and definite deadlines. Sir Gawain is one of my favoites, though. Getting the right translation is very important.

    After lurking a bit, I’ve nominated you for the Premios Dardo Award. Please visit for the details, and keep up the wonderful posting!

  8. It always surprises me that English O level (the exam we used to sit at 16) contained all the books I most disliked. I hated Dickens and, I’m sorry to say, felt very little for The Merchant of Venice. We also read something ghastly called ‘Short Stories For Our Time’. But I adored my set texts in French and German ‘A’ Level (exams at 18 pre-university), that included Camus’s L’etranger, Brecht’s play about Galileo and Theodore Storm’s Immensee (gorgeous, romantic, nostalgic). Thank you for the trip down memory lane, Becca!

  9. I never really minded reading assigned books for school. Actually, I only had very few specific titles assigned, usually it was something like “read a book from the xth century” or a book from a certain literary period. I saw these assignments as an opportunity to read books I would otherwise not pick up for fun.

  10. You know, I was the same way: I didn’t resort to cliffs notes to take the place of actually reading the books, but I did find myself needing a little help understanding them now and then. I found this resource that’s perfect for that which you might find interesting. It’s called Shmoop. (

    Their fun, unique style really helped me stay engaged, even with those books that were tough to read all the way through. Check them out, if you’re interested.s

  11. My high school required reading wasn’t very demanding. Aside from Romeo & Juliet and a few Poe tales, I can barely remember what else we read in high school! I feel like most of the classics I’ve read have been because I want to.

  12. I was overjoyed to leave high school and get rid of reading lists. My university had few requirements, so I could pick and choose interesting courses. I particularly remember taking African-American Lit as a freshman and being bowled over by Ellison, Wright and others. When I read The White Tiger, last year’s Booker prize winner, those classics came back in a rush.

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