Top 5 Best and Worst Required Reading

Liana Boulles, Copy Editor

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In March, the Panther Press launched two polls: one asking students to choose their favorite books that they were assigned to read in school, and another with their least favorite books. Students could vote for the required reading they loved and loathed the most and see their peers’ overall results. Here is the countdown of the top five best and worst required reading.

Best Five Pieces of Required Reading

1. Night by Elie Wiesel (24%)

Night is the powerful, frighteningly true story of Elie Wiesel, a Hungarian Jewish teenager put into Auschwitz with his father. Wiesel remembers the horrific genocide his people endured, including the murders of countless friends and fellow prisoners, and the loss of his father. The memoir’s chilling, final message calls for the world to act when evil strikes and not remain silent as the powerful Ally countries did when six million Jewish people and millions of other oppressed groups were slaughtered in concentration camps. “It was interesting, learning what happened in concentration camps from a prisoner’s point of view,” said junior Carleigh Linders. “How they all felt, losing faith in God when they all had been so faithful.”

2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (19%)

To Kill A Mockingbird relays the trial of a black man accused of raping a white girl from the perspective of eight year old Scout, the daughter of the defendant’s lawyer and literary hero Atticus Finch. Scout, a voice of innocence and protest, observes the impact racism has on her Alabama town where whites want to put their black neighbors down and condemn Atticus for defending a black man while the black community is fighting for their lives. To Kill A Mockingbird is often considered the greatest American novel and a testament to the impact of racism and the loss of innocence has on the country. “It takes us all back to a time not too long ago, where people in our own country suffered horrible injustices and racial discrimination,” said junior Connor Begeske. “It reminds us today of just how far we have come, even if today’s culture isn’t perfect.”

 

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (18%)

 

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, set in a world where owning books is illegal. Guy Montag, a fireman, is tasked with burning books at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the title, but after a conversation with his neighbor Clarisse, he finds himself questioning his job. Students liked the dystopian setting, which is extremely popular in young adult novels, and related to how screen time and censorship affected the characters’ daily life, not unlike their own. “It gave them a lot of ponder on,” said English teacher Kay Orzechowicz. “They could think and wonder, ‘How true could this be?’”

4. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (10%)

Julius Caesar is a five-act play by the famous William Shakespeare, chronicling how tragic hero Brutus was tricked by his friend Cassius into killing the beloved Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar in the name of liberty and ended up starting a war. Students cited the intriguing plot and characters as the main reasons for liking it.

5. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (8%)

Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger and a staple of American teenage literature. Holden Caulfield, a troubled teenager who’s been kicked out of boarding school, runs away to spend winter break in New York City. However, despite his attempts to socialize, Holden cannot shake his feelings of annoyance and alienation from his peers and takes solace imagining himself as a “catcher in the rye” who protects children’s innocence. A testament to teenage angst and the loss of innocence, it appealed to the feelings of confusion, loneliness, and anxiety every high schooler feels at some point.

 

Worst Five Pieces of Required Reading

1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (20%)

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and, according to the poll, one of high school’s most detested. It relays the forbidden love of two young people, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, who fall for each other at first sight but come from warring families. Their families’ feud disrupts their secret marriage, ending in a tragic double suicide for the star-crossed lovers. Students did not care for the play for a variety of reasons. “There were a lot of things wrong with it,” said junior Sarah Thomas. “Their ages, the fact that it took place over the course of several days. It didn’t click with me. It was really hard to understand [Early Modern English], and there’s a lot of better love stories out there.”

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (19%)

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, follows the life of Heathcliff, a weathered anti-hero living on an English moor farm called Wuthering Heights, from his harsh childhood to his death. He is adopted by a rich family only to be made a servant; he gains ownership of Wuthering Heights but only gets a nosy tenant and the narrator, Mr Lockwood, for his pains. He loses his love, Catherine, to a richer man named Edgar. He eventually has enough and seeks vengeance for the wrongs done to him. “The drama is boring, not a lot of depth,” said sophomore Elizabeth Lapointe. “The love stories aren’t interesting. They’re the same thing you hear over and over. Heathcliff was a dark, brooding character; I did not like him. There were a lot of outdated English words; it’s just a bunch of boring.”

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell (12%)

Animal Farm, by George Orwell, is an allegorical novella parodying the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the communist regime that followed using farm animals as a metaphor. Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, lead a rebellion against their human farmers and drive them off the farm, but as they establish their own regime, the animals become oppressive tyrants just like the humans. “They had a hard time understanding the allegory,” said Orzechowicz. ‘They didn’t have a good background on Russian history, even though we encouraged them to look it up, but it was really hard getting [students] into it. They just didn’t understand allegories.”

4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (10%)

The Scarlet Letter is a historical fiction novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which he wrote to mock his Puritan society’s hypocrisy. Hester Prynne, a young woman living in Puritan Massachusetts, has a baby girl out of wedlock and is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest for the rest of her life. The scarlet letter earns her the hatred of the town, but Hester views the letter as a sign to repent of her sins while raising her daughter alone. Meanwhile, the town’s golden boy, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, suffers from severe guilt and physical pain for strange reasons while under the care of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s vengeful long-lost husband. “I liked the story, but I didn’t like having to understand and analyze it,” said senior Josh Peterson. “The language was hard to understand, and you had to analyze everything in order to know what was going on.”

5. Othello by William Shakespeare (9%)

Othello is another Shakespearean play, this time about a Moorish general named Othello who is tricked by his friend Iago into believing that his beloved wife is cheating on him. His jealousy and Iago’s manipulations cause a good man to turn evil and go to extreme ends for revenge. “The whole story was really hard to follow in Shakespeare’s English,” said senior Stephanie Lester. “I don’t like Othello and anything by Shakespeare. Without Mr. Dunlap, I would have been clueless.”

 

Regardless of what literature one prefers, everyone has to deal with required reading, whether it’s a cheesy short story or a boring novel. Some books deeply resonate with students and change their outlook on life, while others earns kids’ eternal hatred, ruining English for them. Whatever books people prefer, hopefully educators will choose more superior, relevant, and exciting books that earn their depth and prestige than obsolete, tedious, overrated volumes to slog through.