Authors Answer 96 – Required Reading in English Class

Welcome to September. Last month, we had an interesting month for Authors Answer, and the final story was The Personality Dealer. The winner was a tie! Gregory S. Close and Eric Wood won that one.

This month, we’re focusing on education. Not only that, we have three new contributors to welcome! So, say hello to Cyrus Keith, C E Aylett, and Beth Aman. We’ll begin with their answers.

This week, we’re looking at English class in school. There are a lot of novels that are required reading in class, but we don’t always see what we really want to read. So, what do we think should be read?

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 96 – What modern novel do you think should be included in high school English class?

Cyrus Keith

Define “Modern.” For me, that could include anything written since 1916. So, with that definition in mind, I’m thinking the book in question should not be one that lectures or sermonizes, but demonstrates solid examples of literary tools and story-telling technique, something that could be broken down and analyzed mechanically, like dissecting a frog in science class. Because kids today don’t need to be told what to think, as long as they are being taught to think on their own. It should also be short enough to cover in a single grading period, and exciting to read. Lord, how mind-numbingly dull some of those books we covered were! With all those points in mind, I would recommend Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler.

C E Aylett

Well, I think that depends on what you’re trying to teach, but one novel I go back to time and again is Girl With a Pearl Earring (which I think is taught in schools already). That’s if you want to learn about writing tight characters and how relationships create tension and grow plot. If you wanted to teach more action orientated plotting, I’d probably chose something more commercial. I have no idea what they teach for high school English lit these days, so not sure what gap might need filling.

Beth Aman

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Because not only is it amazingly enjoyable and funny, but it deals with issues of death and life and legacy.  And also the characters are brilliant and hilarious.

Linda G. Hill

This is a tough call for me, because so many of my favourites aren’t necessarily fit for consumption by younger teens. Out of all of the ones I can pick, I’d have to say Harry Potter. The depth of the characters and the trials and tribulations they go through are easy to relate to, whether the students are wizards or not. Having chosen it though, who wouldn’t already have read it?

H. Anthe Davis

I’m really not a literature reader; my roots are in pulp fantasy and sci-fi and mostly I’m happy to stay there!  However, I think that you can pull a book or two from those genres that will have both high school appeal and be teachable material.  The ones that come to mind immediately are Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (for discussion of consumerism, modern values vs. ancient ones, racism, religion, etc) and Terry Pratchett’s Nation (culture clash, mortality, nationhood, faith and tradition).

Jean Davis

I’d love to see something a bit off the wall like Watership Down by Richard Adams. Something that young people would enjoy but still includes a lot of obvious issues to talk about without having to rip the story into tiny miserable bits that suck the enjoyment out of reading.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

This is honestly a bit of a difficult question for me for a couple of reasons. For one, I hardly ever find time to read these days, so I can’t even really think of that many “modern” novels I’ve read. For another thing, I mostly read genres like horror and supernatural, which aren’t ones that are steeped with the kind of content you really associate with the educational, you know what I mean?

I suppose if I’m going to pick something, I’m going to go with Harry Potter. It’s not exactly MODERN modern, but I’m picking it because it excellent, it’s fun as hell, it brightens the imagination, and also I’d love to see the looks on a bunch of bible thumpers’ faces when they find out it’s on the class syllabus. 😛

Gregory S. Close

TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay.  This is literary fantasy fiction with wonderful prose, a compelling story, and it’s packed with enough layers to keep any English teacher happily delving into deeper meanings, symbolisms and parallels to the real world.  Also, it’s a stand-alone novel, which is tough to find in the genre these days.  Honorable Mention to FOUNDATION by Asimov.

Eric Wood

I think “The Book Thief” should be included. It gives a great view every day life in Germany during the days leading up to and during WWII. Although the story is told by Death, it shows us life from a child’s perspective as he follows Liesel Meminger.

Elizabeth Rhodes

I’m going to vote for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Not only does it give parallels to the fall of the Roman Empire (bonus ties to history class), there’s an interesting theme surrounding the decline in education and independent thought. A minor character insists that the scientific method consists of reading enough studies and not doing any independent study of his own. There are good lessons here that can apply to many area of students’ learning.

D. T. Nova

The whole His Dark Materials trilogy.

Not quite as modern (it’s older than I am), but I also think that Judy Blume’s Forever… should be required reading…whether in literature class or health class I’m not sure. Though I imagine there would be a lot of opposition to that.

Paul B. Spence

Er. Not sure I would. I guess you need to define modern.

Jay Dee Archer

I read a lot of long books, but I don’t think that would be appropriate for a high school English class. However, I would like to suggest a lighthearted novel filled with well-known themes and cultural references. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett would not only keep students entertained, but would give them a lot of research to do.

How about you?

What do you think should be included in the high school English curriculum? Let us know which book you’d like to see in the comments below.

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21 thoughts on “Authors Answer 96 – Required Reading in English Class”

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    School is starting! Today the Authors and I are talking about school reading; specifically, we’re giving suggestions for books that we believe should be read in school these days!

  2. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. The first five books especially. It is a classic science fiction/fantasy work by a master science fiction author. It also is extremely well written and descriptive while getting to the point and includes a host of different literary themes that could make for interesting discussion in English class.

    1. In 11th-grade English class, I had to write a paper on a modern novel (one published within the last 20 years — this was in the 1980s) that I felt would someday be considered a classic. I chose Nine Princes in Amber, partly to protest the teacher’s insistence that NO sci-fi/fantasy novel would EVER be considered a classic. (Got a perfect grade on the paper… Mrs. L. was biased about a lot of things, but she was always fair when it came to academic stuff.)

      “A host of literary themes that could make interesting discussion” is an understatement!

  3. I’m a Tolkien fanboy so I would go with The Hobbit. I could easily switch to his buddy C.S. Lewis and go with the Out of the Silent Planet trilogy. I love how he merges so many different mythologies in this book and I feel it’s one of his underrated titles.

    In a perfect world (a world where teachers had oodles of time and resources), I would recommend a couple selections from popular genres. Then the students could pick a book to study from a genre they enjoyed. In this way the student would actually care and engage with the book instead of shouldering a burden.

    But this isn’t a perfect world and teachers in the U.S. are under appreciated, payed, and denied resources because the football team needs new jock straps. (Sorry to be bleak.)

    I loved reading everyone’s perspective on this. Thanks for sharing this gem.

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