What are the most assigned books in college and high school courses?

I heard a professor claim that Maus is the most frequently assigned reading material in American higher education.

Where would one go to get an estimate of, say, the top 10 most assigned titles in college? How about in high schools?

Guess I am old, I had never heard of that book so I certainly did not read it in school.

Somebody might track book sales at college bookstores , that could be a source of what is most read at least for college.

Your professor is a kook.

Personally, I read at least 8 of these in high school… and I’d wager that most American dopers would come up with a similar number. I doubt you’ll find a single poster who was assigned to read Maus, and the majority will not have even heard of it.

Your professor is a kook.

I’d barely even heard of Maus.

I thought it would be Catcher in the Rye.


I have never heard of Maus and read all the above except:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Two we read that are not on the above list are the Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) and A Separate Peace (John Knowles)

in College? well that’s probably really hard to answer as most departments have subject-specific literature

if i had to guess, Plato’s early dialogues would have to be up there in terms of broad-spectrum, multi-major appeal (English, Rhetoric, Political Science, History, Philosphy, Classical Studies)

this is obviously skewed towards social sciences/humanities, but then again i’m not entirely sure there are many “canonical” texts that span multiple science or engineering disciplines.

One thing that strikes me is that the above choices seem to be what gets assigned in Lit classes, not all classes. I’ve never assigned Maus, but I know a lot of history professors (and not a few teachers in other fields) who do. You wouldn’t find it in many lit courses.

For the record, I’ve also seen *Frankenstein *on a lot of “most assigned” lists, presumably because it is taught in Lit, History, Philosophy, and other fields–not *just *lit.

who the eff reads Frankenstein as part of a *history *course? I mean maybe it’s referred to in passing, but actually made a course text?

A History of the Romantic Movement, perhaps. Or maybe 19th Century Britain. Or in a segment of Womens Studies. Easy to see it in any number of courses, throughout the curriculum. It’s not like it’s that long a work.

The first post said higher education which means college, that list could be a lot different than a high school list.

Ok, I mean I’ll accept it as plausible. But I still think works of pure fiction are reaching at broad-spectrum appeal. There have to be far more useful and applicable secondary texts with which to fill a 14-week semester.

the first post also said high school.

Chiming in to agree; your professor needs a cite and/or additional restrictions. Maybe it’s the most assigned reading material in colleges in classes on the Holocaust or WWII? or the most assigned graphic novel?

Additional titles frequently taught in high school: The Crucible, The Diary of a Young Girl (the book) or The Diary of Anne Frank (the play), Night by Elie Wiesel, *Black Boy, Moby-Dick, *the Odyssey and the Iliad, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales (though usually only selections from those last few). Additional authors and poets: Emily Dickinson, Poe, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Yeats, E. E. Cummings, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, MLK, Naomi Shihab Nye, Julia Alvarez…

If had to guess, I’d bet my nickel on “I Have a Dream” being the single most assigned text of all.

I used to work for a textbook company in the Grades 6-12 Language Arts department. One of the last 11th grade literature books I worked on did indeed include about three pages reproduced from Maus… but after eight full pages from Night, and set up to compare & contrast with/further the ideas of it.

I find it interesting that every one of the works listed was assigned when I was in high school, 50 years ago. The most recent work, *To Kill a Mockingbird, *had just been published. It’s somewhat disappointing that teachers are assigning books they had read when they (or their parents) were in school.

The most assigned books are almost certainly going to come from a lit class, I’d think. In a math or science class there would typically be one or two texts. A history class might have a text and a few supplemental books. A lit class could easily have 10+ books so there’s much more possibility for overlap.

You’d need a very popular text in a large enrollment course to beat that – but, of course, large enrollment classes tend to attract alternative texts as that’s where the money is.

There are several reasons for this. Here are four of them.

  1. It’s really not easy to find contemporary fiction with no adult themes or language in it. It is not currently possible to assign reading containing adult themes or language to US high-school students. College doesn’t have this restriction, but it can be tough to spring adult material on students that have never dealt with it in an academic setting before (that is, most college freshmen and sophomores). Probably the majority of college lit is read by the majority of students in their required distribution classes in their first couple of years (no cite, just a well-educated, ahaha, guess).

  2. Copyright permission tends to be much more expensive and complicated for recent works than for 50-year-old works, and infinitely more so than works in the public domain, like Shakespeare. Therefore, textbook companies (and companies that sell classroom sets of individual novels) tend to favor older works. Therefore, older works are MUCH more available in schools.

  3. Good luck getting an entire school board to agree on any one piece of contemporary fiction! There are too many to choose from in too many diverse styles, and they haven’t yet been sufficiently winnowed down by the ages to a short list of “must reads”.

  4. Extending that idea, it becomes very difficult politically to “skip” any canonical works in order to make room for new material. If you were to, for instance, leave out Macbeth in order to slip in two or three contemporary novels, you can bet your sweet hiney you’d hear about it from irate parents and suffer the scorn of your traditionalist colleagues. A few of your students would be pissed off, too – a surprising number of high school students really enjoy doing Shakespeare in class; they see it as a rite of passage, maybe, or an interesting challenge; or maybe they’re just delighted to read the only adult material they’ll see in school (if it hasn’t been Bowlderized out of their class editions). In college, you have the luxury of segregating material from various eras, locations, themes, etc. into their own classes.

Heck, books like Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984, Catcher and the Rye, and Huck Finn are still frequently challenged. Those were old when I was young.

Here’s a source that lists the most frequently assigned books in college history courses. Maus didnt make the list.

?? I’ve taught middle, high, and college and have never bought a book the way you describe. If I assign a book from that list, I don’t buy it through a textbook company–I buy it through Penguin or Scholastic or whoever published it, even if it’s a classroom set. I suppose it’s possible.

The decision about curriculum is often not made by the instructor at middle/high level but by people replicating their oppression by assigning Middlemarch or Ethan Frome (both excellent novels, but better taught at the college level). When I was in high school, nobody taught Ender’s Game (genre fiction) or Catcher in the Rye (too racy/subversive). Now they’re taught in some systems because people in power read and liked them.

I’ve never used Maus at the college level, but have used the same author’s In the Shadow of No Towers. I’ve seen Maus in the textbook section, but I’ve never seen more than two instructors using it in the same term, whereas I sometimes see King Lear or Anne Frank assigned for a number of classes in different disciplines.

You were lucky. Many teachers don’t have that option. It depends on school/district/state policies and budgets. Myself, when I was in high school in the 80s, I had several classes with assigned novels that were normal paperbacks – I remember my copy of the Iliad had no covers left, for instance, so I made some out of an old notebook and taped them on. Individual novels sold for classroom use have textbook-style or school-library-style bindings, and so can be expected to last a lot longer.

The textbook company I used to work for also made classroom novels, and while we sold a lot of them, our salespeople gave even more of them away as deal-sweeteners to convince districts to buy our complete line of literature books. (They went along with things like vocabulary workbooks, text practice advice booklets, and remedial readers.)

The thing about staying away from adult stuff is indeed what stops most modern fiction all right. But what makes me mad is spending time reading nonsense, like Moby Dick, when we never study stuff that would be truly interesting and even prepare you for life and a career too. There is plenty of USEFUL nonsexual content out there, always overlooked too.

What would that be? Bios and history of how our big companies were founded, things like Babbage and his computer ideas, who created General Electric, who founded IBM, how television and movies were created, kids would love this, it has no sex scenes either, and it could even help them to work in those fields. Yet no one wants to teach THAT kind of history. Instead we memorized generals names in the war of 1812, totally useless info.

I would have loved to read the blog of people developing TV or the transistor, of of Goddard and the first rockets. Why not have our children read THIS kind of material that might help them later in life? All we ever studied like that was a little about Edison, but even though I asked, no one would tell us who invented the florescent light, or the mercury light either, which was every light we had in the school.

When I asked about radio I was told Marconi did it “somehow”. But I had to know every character in Moby Dick, White Fang, and similar nonsense. Have I ever used that or the war of 1812 generals for anything, no.