What books should be on every teacher’s American literature reading list for gifted students?
I would like as comprehensive a list as possible of what is currently being required or supplied on reading lists in American literature. Variety is encouraged:
A Prayer for Owen Meaney
This list will be used in designing an outside reading curriculum for a single student. She does not generally enjoy reading, but she is very bright and emotionally mature. I think that she can be “lured” into loving literature with the right exposure and guidance.
Your comments and elaboration on your choices are welcome.
I prefer books that you yourself have found listed on a teacher’s reading list. (Or, if you are a teacher, ones that you would include.)
Here are some of the books I had to read during my junior year in high school:
**The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Scarlet Letter
The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest**
I recall generally liking all these books with the exception of The Scarlet Letter which I was only lukewarm about. Maybe it had to do with the fact I didn’t care much for Hawthorne’s prose style at the time.
In my AP Language and Comp/American lit survey class, we read:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Fun intro, has the unreliable narrator(s), ironic use of archtypes, and is wonderful for teaching syntactical analysis. This is my summer reading. After that, I start a chronological sequence:
Puritans: Various excerpts, especially from Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative. Most of this is in the Norton.
Rationalists: Short selections. Plenty int he Norton!
Romanticism: The Scarlet Letter I teach this mostly as allegory, and to contrast Romantic ideals with the Puritan ideals Hawthorne is rejecting.
Realism: Huck Finn, with Harriet Jacob’s Narrative of the Life of a Slave Girl to contrast (I highly recommend this–much more interesting/less political than Fredrick Douglass)
Naturalism: Maggie. One of my favorites; short, but teaches everything you need to know about naturalism and raises some good issues for discussion.
Modernism: Gatsby Everyone does it for a reason.
After that I do essays and such. As you can tell, I take a pretty heavily historical approach.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, if only as an introduction to the rest of his writing. (And yes, he does claim to be American.) I don’t list this here for the controversy, but simply because it’s the book that got me into literature so long ago.
The Princess Bride has already been covered, so I’ll throw in The Natural by Bernard Malamud. It’s an excellent example of the life of a tragic hero, and is full of easily recognized symbolism (e.g., ‘Roy Hobbs’), and symbolism on a more subtle level (an example of which I don’t have handy 'cause I can’t find the book).
I am a gifted high school student studying American lit. So far, we’ve had to read The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Huck Finn, The Jungle, Fast Food Nation, and assorted poetry. I don’t have my Lit folder with me, but after school gets back in session I could give you all of the books we’re supposed to read.
1984 and Animal Farm are British literature, not American.
Since you’re looking for something quasi-official…
When I was in high school (early 80’s), my sophomore English class was American Lit, and we had to read Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and Babbitt. (I think Sinclair Lewis is somewhat out of fashion nowadays, though.) If you’re counting plays, we also read Our Town, Of Mice and Men, and The Glass Menagerie.
Junior year was English Lit, but senior year was a mixture. The American books we read included The Scarlet Letter, East of Eden, and a fair sampling of short stories by Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
Is the idea to interest her in reading books, or only boring pedantic books?
Sorry, I know I’m a philistine. A quick scan of my favorites:
Blackburn by Bradley Denton, a creepily sympathetic look at the life of a (fictional) serial killer Blind Voices by Tom Reamy, a dark carnival fantasy by a too-soon-dead writer To Reign In Hell by Steven Brust, a pre-Bible story The Years Of Rice And Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, a what-if history of the world Skinny Legs And All (or maybe others) by Tom Robbins, every high school should teach Tom Robbins
Some school districts will have a problem with most of these, but they are wrong. You don’t really want to teach in such a repressive environment, anyway, do you?
Posted for my own amusement. Handle with care. Contents fragile.
I doubt any teacher would approve my selections, but teachers are so hogtied by so many forces that it’s hard to get anything really interesting in. The only books we read in class that I, a voracious reader, could stand was And Their Eyes Were Watching God, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
I whole heartedly second Lolita. It’s infinitely complex, but reads as smoothly as pulp. It’s got plenty of room for discussion and analysis- it’s not a book that she’ll feel “blah” about. And deals with a lot of themes (like desperate, hopeless, love/lust) that are relevent to teenagers.
A Tom Robbins book is also a good bet. My high school favorite was Another Roadside Attraction. I didn’t quite get all the stuff about the 60s at the time, but I loved the language.
1984 was one of my favorites and much beloved in my paranoid punk rocker years. Walden inspired a rather comical luddite phase.
Another book that was passed from friend to friend and read at night under the covers until it was dog eared was Youth in Revolt. I won’t be coy, the book is entirely about teenage sex and troublemaking. But it’s really a fantastic romp, laugh-out-loud funny and for intellectual kids it’s good to read a book about someone like you that isn’t also about being perfect, chaste and unpopular. As a bonus, there are a lot of allusions and references to fine arts, film, literature etc. that certainly inspired me to check them out. I would have never picked up Camus as a teen if it wern’t for “Kamoo the Wonder Dog.”
It’s a little dense, not for everyone, and not American, but as a young teenager I couldn’t get enough of Les Miserables. I started out listening to the musical and decided to check out the book. I was surprised to find something so old and so long could be so interesting, and it’s themes are well suited for the idealism and romanticism that teenagers feel. I also wish I could go back and give myself a copy of Gogol’s Short Stories. Russian literature can be so damn funny and so damn sad at the same time, and The Overcoat would have been a better introduction than trying to slog through Anna Karenina like I did.
Thus far in my junior year at a gifted school, I’ve read[ul]
[li]The Scarlet Letter[/li][li]One of Douglass’ autobigraphies[/li][li]Walden (actually, we’re reading it right now)[/li][li]My Antonia[/li][li]Various Puritan essays[/li][li]Some of Common Sense[/li][li]A few other Founding Father documents[/li][/ul]
Later, we’re doing Huck Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and a few others.