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Musing Mondays: Assigned reading

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How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/university/college/etc? How do you think on these books now? What book were you ‘forced’ to read when you where in school that you’ve since reread and loved?

I still blame/credit high school English for the fact I can’t tolerate Shakespeare. Of course, at that age who really wanted to read that stuff? Yet even briefly revisiting his work in college reinforced my dislike of it. The assigned reading I recall liking in high school were literary classics, such as Mark Twain and Dickens (even though he could be a bit of a struggle).

When it comes to college, there’s a interesting dichotomy. With the exception of the science fiction class I took, the only book I still have that was assigned in an English class is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. I wasn’t a big fan but have meant to go back and read it over the last 30 years. With most of the assigned reading in English, I think I struggled with the concept that there’s some deeper meaning or intent behind every so-called “literary” works. My illiterati status still leaves me thinking that maybe it was just a story the writer wanted to tell.

In contrast, a variety of the assigned reading from my history courses remains on my bookshelves. I think that’s because the instructor in my first college history course was so good he became one of my two favorite college professors. Not only did I end up with a history minor with probably 90 percent of the credits coming from classes he taught, I actually took a full year of History of American Foreign Policy from him — and absolutely loved it. The assigned reading in most of the history classes was sufficiently well written that, in addition to giving insight to the time periods, they were actually interesting reads.

As far as I can recall, there aren’t any assigned books I disliked that I’ve gone back and read. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention that one of the books on my list of desert island books — Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon — was assigned reading in a political science class. I have read probably two or three times since.


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

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2 comments to Musing Mondays: Assigned reading

  • In my high school English classes, my classmates and I were constantly bombarding our sweet-natured teacher with questions like, “Did the author REALLY put all this ‘important’ stuff in the book on purpose?” and “How do we know that’s REALLY what he/she meant?” We struggled with the idea that the author had a real “intention” behind everything we were analyzing in these texts. I still struggle with that, honestly, but after emerging from college with a degree in English, I guess I understand it a tiny bit more. But maybe not. 🙂

    High school killed Shakespeare for me, too — though not “Romeo & Juliet.” Definitely “Julius Caesar,” though. Nothing like droning, monotone and giggling fifteen-year-olds trying to act out Shakespearean scenes and dialogue. Good times!

  • I was exposed to Arthur Koestler in an undergraduate class — loved him from the start!