Whether or not you decide to attend your high school reunion, a harrowing prospect depending on the current status of your high school ex, you should consider having a “reunion” with a few of the works you were forced to read at age 15.
Why, you may ask, shuddering as you recall a monotone voice reading aloud scenes from Moby Dick to your junior year English class?
Well, it’s hard to fully appreciate some of the world’s greatest literature at 16, and it’s rare that we enjoy something we “have” to read more than something we “opt” to read. So pick up dusty copies of these classics or snag them back from your teens:
1) The Great Gatsby- As an English PhD student, I have not been formally taught The Great Gatsby since high school, mostly because professors assume everyone has already read it. While this may be true, there is much to be appreciated in this novel as an adult. Also, consider that there is a current obsession with literary figures in the jazz age, seen with Midnight in Paris and the current production of The Great Gatsby being made with Leonardo Dicaprio!
2) Any Jane Austen novel- I have a soft spot for Jane Austen fiction, as it remains some of the only literature I read that has a consistently happy ending. There is something in Austen’s novels that transcends her times, even as it immerses you in her world, and it is both this relatability and escapism that continues to capture reader’s imaginations, and certainly allows it to transcend the confines of your high school lit class.
3) Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God- Whether you read this in high school or not, this moving read about a young black woman who attempts to find her voice in a post-slavery, rural Southern landscape deserves attention. It is also entrancing for how Hurston, an ethnographer in her own right, captures the voices of a community. Read it, reread it, and enjoy one of the best novels in American literature!
4) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley- This has got to be one of my favorite all time novels, because it not only tells a tale that has been implanted in our popular culture, but because it speaks to some of the most classic ethical debates in our society. Not to mention it’s really fun to read this novel and immediately follow that reading by watching Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein.
5) John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath- This is a novel that I was supposed to read in high school, but in actuality I skimmed through the novel, losing interest and finding it difficult to get through. Yet upon revisiting this novel recently I have to say it was worth the effort and the wait. Steinbeck’s vivid and wrenching depiction of the Great Depression is both a literary and historical masterpiece and speaks to how society comes together and struggles in times of economic hardship, something that continues to resonate with readers to this day.
6) Shakespeare- So I have to include the famous bard because he is one of the best storytellers of all time, and his works deserve to be enjoyed past their mandatory readings in classroom settings. I’d also add that they are best enjoyed in the form they were intended for, on the stage! It isn’t too hard to find Shakespeare productions out there, just waiting to be enjoyed. As for what plays to revisit, I’d say you really can’t go wrong, but my favorites usually found on school curriculums are King Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet!
This is of course just a partial list and based on my opinion only, so I would love to hear your thoughts as well! What would you like to reread from high school….or not? Respond by commenting below!
Lindsay Kelly is a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Maryland. She studies Caribbean literature and literature of the black diaspora, and some of her favorite authors include Amitav Ghosh, Edwidge Danticat, Michelle Cliff, Pauline Melville, and Gabriel García Márquez.