Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
For this week’s freebie topic, I decided to do a bit of a throwback and figure out which were my favorite “required reads” from my school days. I’ve tagged each book below with my approximate age while reading it – primary school is years 1-6 of schooling; middle is years 7-8, and high school is 9-12. Since I studied STEM subjects in university, high school was the last time I had required reading that could be counted as literature, so I stopped there. *glares Hamlet down* See any that remind you of projects and essays and sleepless nights?
Bridge to Terabithia (Primary School)
Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.
That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.
• • •
What do I remember about this book? Oh, only that it made me sob like crazy.
Where the Red Fern Grows (Primary School)
A loving threesome, they ranged the dark hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country. Old Dan had the brawn. Little Ann had the brains, and Billy had the will to make them into the finest hunting team in the valley. Glory and victory were coming to them, but sadness waited too. Where the Red Fern Grows is an exciting tale of love and adventure you’ll never forget.
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Speaking of books that made me sob for days on end … Clearly the only books that really stuck with me from elementary school were those that emotionally scarred me.
Twelfth Night (Middle School)
Set in a topsy-turvy world like a holiday revel, this comedy devises a romantic plot around separated twins, misplaced passions, and mistaken identity. Juxtaposed to it is the satirical story of a self-deluded steward who dreams of becoming “Count Malvolio” only to receive his comeuppance at the hands of the merrymakers he wishes to suppress. The two plots combine to create a farce touched with melancholy, mixed throughout with seductively beautiful explorations on the themes of love and time, and the play ends, not with laughter, but with a clown’s sad song.
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It took me much longer than it should have to make the connection between Shakespeare’s play and the She’s the Man movie. Even though the only time I read this play was in middle school, I recently saw a college production of it and fell in love with the chaos all over again.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Middle School)
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.
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I don’t think I need to explain my love for this one!
A Tale of Two Cities (High School)
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
• • •
It’s been long enough that I sadly don’t remember much of this classic beyond its unforgettable opening lines, but I know I really enjoyed it.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (High School)
Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged; petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral; while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years.
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I’m fairly certain this is the first Oscar Wilde book I ever read, and it stuck with me. My laptop case actually has a print of a The Picture of Dorian Gray book cover, and “The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.” is a quote I’m particularly fond of.
Hamlet (High School)
Hamlet is the story of the Prince of Denmark who learns of the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, Claudius. Claudius murders Hamlet’s father, his own brother, to take the throne of Denmark and to marry Hamlet’s widowed mother. Hamlet is sunk into a state of great despair as a result of discovering the murder of his father and the infidelity of his mother. Hamlet is torn between his great sadness and his desire for the revenge of his father’s murder.
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I’m 90% sure this is my favorite Shakespeare play to read (King Lear is my favorite that I’ve seen performed so far). Surprisingly, the giant paper I had to write about Hamlet’s soliloquys only made me love the play even more. And speaking of my undying love for Hamlet …
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (High School)
Hamlet told from the worm’s-eye view of two minor characters, bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, reality and illusion mix, and where fate leads heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.
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I flat-out adore this book. It’s quirky and hilarious and subtly brilliant — Hamlet from the off-stage perspective of the minor characters? Sign me up. Just writing this made me need to read it again!
The Things They Carried (High School)
In 1979, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato – a novel about the Vietnam War – won the National Book Award. In this, his second work of fiction about Vietnam, O’Brien’s unique artistic vision is again clearly demonstrated. Neither a novel nor a short story collection, it is an arc of fictional episodes, taking place in the childhoods of its characters, in the jungles of Vietnam and back home in America two decades later.
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The only words I can think to sum up this one: phenomenal and powerful.
Things Fall Apart (High School)
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
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Another book I don’t remember much of the details of, but I know I was surprised by how moved I felt by it.
That was a fun one! Especially the primary school finds. Apparently, I remember very little about the plots of literature I’m required to read, but all of these left very distinct emotional impressions. If I had to do any re-reads, I’d probably start with The Picture of Dorian Gray, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and The Things They Carried.
What’s your favorite book that you were required to read for school?
Feel free to link your posts this week – I’d love to see all your picks. Check out That Artsy Reader Girl’s host post, who focused on “Top Ten Books My Mom Loves”, for even more inspiration!