I was looking through old school things and came across my English literature notes about these books. I think I am not the only one that was asked to read some of these but as the years go on we don’t necessarily go back to read them as adults because we know we have already read them. I thought it would be interesting for me to highlight some of the books I was made to read that I think are worth a re-read. This is quite a list, my English teacher made us read a new book for every piece of controlled assessment and some of these are from my English literature AS-Level.
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The story focuses on a group of school boys who have essentially been stranded on a desert island. At night the boys dream of the terrifying creature they name the beast. As the days go on their governance and order becomes fragile and war breaks out.
If you weren’t made to read this one at school you will definitely have heard of this. I really believe that this book has great relevance even outside of the classroom. Golding shows the varying forms of human nature through the boys and is a story focusing civilisation and children losing innocence. It is a novel that some would argue has been over analysed but give it a re-read and see what you think.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Based in Alabama in the mid-1930s. this story is told through the point of view of Scout who is a child throughout the novel. The town is riddled with prejudice, violence and hypocrisy which is highlighted by one man’s struggle for justice. There are themes of race and discrimination as the novel focuses on adult attitudes towards this in the 1930s.
Although set in the 1930s I still believe that this novel holds great relevance today. We may have come a long way from the prejudice and discrimination of 1930 but recent events show that we still have not come far enough. This is a novel that is still very much of its time (originally written in 1960) but is well worth re-reading with an adult perspective on it.
As a side note I have not read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee and have been advised against it even though it is a novel with the same characters.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A novel set in the “roaring twenties”, it explores the life of Nick Carraway as he tries to fit in with the illustrious Mr Gatsby. Nick learns of the difference between the “old” and “new” money in Long Island and the mystery that surrounds them all.
I know there are mixed opinions of this book but I honestly love it. Maybe I had to analyse it so much that the book makes so much sense and seems a lot deeper than it first may seem. It shows the facade that we all put on in the name of saving face and the lengths that we will go to for love. This novel is only short but really packs a punch.
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Macbeth is brave soldier who is plagued by the supernatural, his proud wife and his own ambition. He embarks on a murderous course to ensure that he gains the crown of Scotland. The play shows the vast psychological and emotional effects of such acts on Macbeth and his wife.
In school I read Macbeth, King Lear and Othello but of the three Macbeth was my favourite. The depth of the characters and the outlandish displays to gain power were enthralling to me, and still are. Lady Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare character and reading her rise and decline along with the poetic metaphors makes this a powerful read.
A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
This play’s protagonist is southern belle Blanche, who is adrift in the modern world. When she arrives to stay with her sister Stella in boisterous New Orleans, her delusions of grandeur bring her into conflict with Stella’s cruel husband Stanley. Eventually, their collision course causes Blanche’s fragile sense of identity to crumble and threatens to destroy her sanity.
This play is quite a heavy one to be read at a young age and would probably be appreciated more by adults. Nonetheless I really enjoyed this play and it has stuck with me, it is not one to easily forget. It deals with alcohol abuse, domestic violence, gambling and mental illness which shocked audiences when it was first performed. The characters are beautifully flawed and, even when reading it, the plot and storyline is crystal clear. I appreciate that not many people will have been made to read this at school but I would recommend reading it, whether you are reading it for the first time or re-reading it.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – R. L. Stevenson
In the process of trying to uncover his inner self Dr Jekyll discovers a monster. The story revolves around the mystery of the evil Mr Hyde and the good Dr Jekyll.
I honestly forgot how short this story is. At school I didn’t have to read the other stories so I can’t comment on them as I only had to read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It shows the struggles of the duality of man and displays both the good and bad sides of human nature. There are great juxtapositions between class and privilege displayed with the stark contrast between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As I mentioned, it is only short and a great read to be transported back into Gothic literature, with morals that are still relevant today.
I hope you enjoyed this list and it perhaps persuades you to re-read some of the books you were made to at school. For me personally, I loved re-reading them and all the analysing and understanding for the author’s intentions came flooding back. None of these books are recent and have helped me to appreciate other literature that we see as ‘classics’.
There are other more beautiful covers to all of these books, in particular the Great Gatsby but these are the versions I have and took the above pictures of. If you are looking at buying any of these the Wordsworth Classics versions are the cheapest for all of these books.
Were you made to read any of these at school or have you read them recently? Let me know your thoughts and experiences with them in the comments.