October 24, 2012

My Re-Education Reading Challenge

Faithful few readers, I'd like to tell you a little story, and ask you how you all think it should end.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was raised as the daughter of a fundamentalist Southern Indiana Pentecostal preacher, who spent at least as much time in scary little fundamentalist schools as she did in public school--actually, a fair bit more, come to add it up.  She was assigned lots of readings describing an Earth that is only 6,000 years old, "proving" that dinosaurs and human beings once co-existed, and discussing how Noah's Ark is still stranded on a mountain in Turkey, but the mean Turkish government won't let a bunch of Americans climb around all over their mountain and prove it.  Curiously absent from the girl's reading were books written for children throughout the history of the English-speaking world, as well as classics not written for children that are usually assigned in school to teach students to stretch their minds and their critical thinking skills.  Not a single Shakespearean play, narry a mention of modern authors like Kafka or Virginia Woolf, none of the childhood favorites by Frances Hodgson Burnett managed to slip through the net of censorship cast around the girl's plastic young mind.

Some of these gaps were filled in when the young woman finally decided to attend a state-sponsored, liberal arts university.  By the time she finished her BA and three MAs, she'd read more Poe, more "Norton Anthologies," more about Yellow Wallpaper than she ever wanted to, really.  Nevertheless, the now 35-year-old book blogger is still finding books all the time about which her peers say, "Oh, yeah, I read that in high school!"  And in this season when a book blogger's fancy turns to thoughts of next year's reading challenges, this particular blogger is hoping to form a cooperative challenge with the help of her loyal readers.  Are you willing to help me in a "Re-Education Challenge"?

You guys are basically the bosses on this challenge, but I think we should set out a few basic ground rules, just to keep things running well and make sure I live up to the spirit of the thing.  So, here we go:

1.  You don't have to have a blog to challenge me; you just need to visit this blog and leave comments relating to my "Re-Education."

2.  Since this is supposed to be about exposing me to ideas that I should have encountered a long time ago, let's please restrict this to books that any well-educated American should have read before graduating high school.  In other words, if you cannot imagine HOW I've survived this long without reading 50 Shades of Grey, I'm sorry, but you still can't recommend it.  Any teacher who required his or her students to read a book about S&M would get quickly fired, and we all know it.  Still, I think this leaves you with a lot of leeway, anything from standard YA to Dickensian favorites.

3.  If by some miracle I already managed to read the book you suggest somewhere along the way, I won't be adding it to the challenge, because that would basically be me cheating, now wouldn't it?

4.  Limit 5 suggestions per contributor, please.  I'm setting the cut-off at 100 books, as I know I could never get through more than that in 2013.

5.  I reserve the right to reject anything that would simply give me too many nightmares, like Stephen King's It, which I have always known myself too well to ever try to read.  (Surely that wouldn't really fit the qualifications, anyway.)

So, come help out a poor, deprived, recovering fundamentalist and add your suggestions.  The suggestion box is open through December 31, 2012, after which I will gather the titles, weed through duplicates and ones I've already read, and announce the master list in a post.  You're welcome to read along, if you like, and leave us links to your own posts!  Meanwhile, I will update the list periodically, with reviews, as I plow my way through.


  1. Oh wow, what a cool idea! I will be heading over there. I had a pretty bad school education myself so I'm not sure what I could recommend, unless I'm allowed to post 'books every child should read.'

    1. "Books every child should read" is EXACTLY what I'm after, because somehow, I missed a bunch of those when I was a kid. However, I'll just say that all the Anne of Green Gables books are beloved favorites of mine, and I did finally discover Madeleine L'Engle, so those two are ineligible.

  2. What a fun idea! I listed 5 here, 3 more modern ones and 2 classics. I know the first two have been required reading in some schools but are challenged in others.

    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
    A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Good luck with your challenge!

    1. Thank you, Amanda! Perfect--exactly what I was looking for. I got to A Midsummer Night's Dream and 1984 in college, but all three of the others just became the first additions to the Master List. Tell your friends! Keep those suggestions coming! <3

  3. This list comes from both Bruce & me, so there are 10 items, in no particular order.

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
    2. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
    3. Our Town - Thornton Wilder
    4. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
    5. Isaac Asimov's Robot trilogy
    6. 1984 - George Orwell
    7. Roots - Alex Haley
    8. A Separate Peace - John Knowles
    9. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
    10. Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen

  4. EXCELLENT! And quite a few there that I haven't gotten around to, though I've long meant to. I had to do The Scarlet Letter in a college literature course until I felt that we'd picked it over and left its dessicated skeleton in the desert sun, :), and I'm an old fan of both Jane Austen and Issac Asimov. However, I am now heading over to add the others promptly to the Master List. Thanks!

  5. What a great challenge!I suggest poetry by Langston Hughes and any other Harlem Renaissance writer, short stories by John Cheever "The Swimmer", Raymond Carver "Cathedral", Bernard Malamud, and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    1. Langston Hughes I discovered in college, along with Sonny's Blues and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Each was an utter revelation in its own way, especially Malcolm--one of the greatest, least-understood figures of an explosive era.

    2. Which particular work by Malamud would you suggest?

  6. What a very cool idea! Here are a few suggestions to start. I will probably end up with more & I'll try to remember to post them.

    1. Dracula, Bram Stoker
    2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
    3. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
    4. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
    5. Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns
    6. Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
    7. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
    8. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
    9. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
    10. A Room with a View, E.M. Forster

    I'm excited to see your final list!

    1. My goodness, that's an ambitious list! Thank you so much! I'll set your mind at ease by telling you that I did get a few of these in college--I did a whole semester on Dante!--but I will now march several of these straight onto the list. Keep checking in on my progress, as I'll try to review each one as I finish it.

      P.S. Cold Sassy Tree is a mind-blowing, hell of a thing, isn't it? I stumbled upon it on my own at our public library when I was about 14. I think my mom considered confiscating it a couple of times. :D

    2. If you get Canterbury tales read all the way through I want to know.. I think that well be hard to chew... even for you!

    3. Ah, gentle readers, the Voice That Knows Where the Bodies are Buried, my older brother, John, chimes in! :D It's true--I did an ENTIRE SEMESTER on Chaucer and STILL haven't read all of The Canterbury Tales. Although, what all is included in that volume differs depending on whose edition you buy, yeah? Anyway, for you, I'm adding it to the Master List, and we'll see if I get to add it to my Victory Garden--FINALLY!--or not by the end of 2013.

    4. Ooooh, I was thinking "Cold Sassy Tree!" I had to read it in high school and really enjoyed it!

  7. I listened to "Cry the Beloved Country" while I was driving the long back roads of Montana. A incredible book.

    1. I watched it on tv once, years ago, but I don't really remember much about it except James Earl Jones' amazing voice (that's all I usually do remember about most films he's in, to be honest!), so I'm looking forward to reading the book.

    2. The audiobook version I listened to was recorded by a woman, who did an excellent job with a variety of SA accents. Really added to the texture of the text. I learned when I was listening to a lot of books (and putting too many miles on my car) what a difference the skill of the reader can make. That one was a particularly memorable experience, in a good way.

    3. Oh, absolutely! I don't know if you're a Harry Potter fan, but have you heard Jim Dale perform those? The man got a Grammy for one of them, and is in the Guinness Book of Records for one man creating the most vocal characters in one series. It's amazing!

  8. We studied Bruce Springsteen as poetry in high school (really!) so my high school reading left a lot to be desired as well; though we did go through Shakespeare and I fell in love with Macbeth. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is another "classic" that I remember from high school.
    If you haven't already read Anne Frank:Diary of a Young Girl I think you should put that on your list immediately. And though I doubt if it's any curriculum, I'd also recommend reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

    1. Yes! I'm SO glad you put The Handmaid's Tale on the list! I was hoping someone would. I've been meaning to read it for years, and just hadn't gotten around to it because I didn't have some impetus to nudge me into it, you know?

    2. I've been meaning to re-read it for the longest time as well, so perhaps I'll read it along with you!

  9. Catcher in the rye, farhenheit 450, mrs dalloway, pride and prejudice, jane eyre

  10. Not being a deep intellectual reader as your self Jennifer, I don't know if you would be interested in these, but I really enjoyed reading them:
    1. Walk Across America by Peter Jinkins
    2. Christy by Catherine Marshall

    1. Sarah,
      I read Christie in college, and absolutely loved it, as did my mother before me. So much of it reminded us of my grandmother's stories of her childhood! I am adding Walk Across America to the Master List right now--thank you!

  11. 1. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
    2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    4. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
    5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

    1. This is a seriously awesome list. I can nearly quote the entire "Anne" series, of course, but all the others go straight on the Master List.

    2. Oops, except Daddy Long Legs, which is also a beloved old friend.

    3. Darn it! I was going to say The Outsiders! I'll have to think of more now... This is such a great idea!

  12. Hmm. An intriguing concept, Campbell, and I've been thinking about it for a while. Howver, mine may not qualify under the "should have read in high school" motif.

    1. Rebecca--Daphne du Maurier
    2. And The Band Played On--Randy Shilts
    3. The Golden Notebook--Doris Lessing
    4. Anna Karenina--Leo Tolstoy
    5. Valley of the Dolls--Jacqueline Susann

    I'm cool with the first four not making the list, but I expect you to read and comment profusely on the last one.

    1. Valley of the friggin' DOLLS?! You're too funny for words, Paul, and on the Master List it shall duly go, though I will stick out my tongue at you and make horrifying faces all the while. Meanwhile, I've owed you And the Band Played On for 10 years--you even bought me a copy!--so feel free to add one more, and I'll do that one for free. I've been meaning to do that very thing for months now.

    2. I did see the movie And the Band Played On years ago, though, & only Keegan can truly testify to you the reaction it brought from me--abhorence for my own former views, and a great desire to shake those who taught them to me!

  13. I LOVE this idea! I can't wait to see what your final list will be. Hmm... if I have to limit it to 5, I'll go with:

    1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    3. The Odyssey by Homer
    4. The BFG by Roald Dahl
    5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    1. Oooo, this is a REALLY intriguing list! I discovered Lois Lowry on my own in the public library as a kid--though I didn't find The Giver until I'd finished my MA and was teaching, and used it in a class. I'm VERY glad to be able to put The Odyssey on the list, as I did a bit of it in a college lit class, but never got all the way through it. And I've been meaning to try Roald Dahl for years (other than the few of his poems I've read). I'm getting so excited to start this challenge!

  14. This is such a great idea! I can't think of any books that haven't been mentioned already. I've been thinking about re-reading some of the books I read in high school, and as well as some that I should have read but I didn't. Good luck on your list!

  15. Harry Potter series (as narrated by Jim Dale)
    Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
    Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman
    The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
    Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

    I don't know if you've read the Harry Potter series, but I recommend it because I grew up in a church much like yours, and they preached all the time about how the HP books were a gateway to Satanism. I didn't read them until I was in my twenties and I remember feeling so guilty even then about checking them out from the library. Then I read them and I was astonished - first of all that they were awesomely entertaining, and secondly because they are in no way Satanic as I had been taught by the church. Now every time I read them (usually listening to the audiobooks) I feel like I'm thumbing my nose at that childhood church. Some things that they taught and objected to were just silly and weird.

    Thankfully I went to public school and had parents that let me read anything I wanted, so that acted as a pretty good balance to what the church was teaching. I don't think faith is a bad thing, but as an adult I also don't think that critical thinking and faith are automatically at odds. I also don't happen to think that science and religion have to be enemies (as was so often drummed into my head during creation seminars).

    Sorry to go on and on here - this is a topic I am still sensitive about, and since I have many relatives who still believe these things deeply, I don't get into it at all on my blog which they read sometimes

    There were many others that I wanted to suggest, but they were already listed here by others, so I went with those I didn't see in the comments.

  16. Regarding my last comment, I just saw that you have a Harry Potter icon on the top of the page - I guess I can assume that you have read those! :)

    So I will suggest something else - do you mind if it's nonfiction? How about Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt? Or another fiction suggestion - Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

    1. Very insightful, well thought out choices, and I'm grateful for them. It sounds like you and I have a great deal in common in our pasts. I also didn't read Harry Potter until I was in college for those very same reasons, and when I finally did, what an eye-opening experience it was! I often fall asleep listening to some of Jim Dale's amazing characterizations. And yes, non-fiction is definitely also welcome here!

  17. Hi! You asked on Twitter, a couple of days ago. Sorry I haven't been by before now. It looks like a great place!

    The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, if you haven't read that already.

    anything by Robin McKinley (but especially The Blue Sword and Hero and the Crown. Oh, and Beauty)

    A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson

    The Penderwicks series, by Jeanne Birdsall

    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (if you're familiar with Kipling, this will be even better. Also: I really enjoyed Neverwhere as well)

    Hope you enjoy (some of them anyway)!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! I have read the first two Penderwicks, and I just LOVE them! I haven't read any of these others, and am adding them to the Master List post haste.

  18. I loved CRIME & PUNISHMENT! Check out the book SHELF DISCOVERY for some more ideas.

  19. How about:

    Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
    The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
    Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    The Crucible by Arthur Miller

    I think this is a wonderful challenge. Good luck!

    1. Thank you so much! I knew you'd come up with a good list, and you certainly didn't disappoint! I'm getting really excited about this challenge--I've got some awesome reading ahead of me, I think.

  20. I was going to suggest Anne of Green Gables, as my favorite childhood book, but I see you've already read it. Have you read any more of Montgomery's series? I particularly like Pat of Silver Bush.

    So, another childhood classic: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

    My favorite book and a fantasy classic: The Lord of the Rings.

    Beowulf (everyone usually recommends the Seamus Heaney translation because he includes the original Anglo-Saxon, too)

    The Chosen by Chaim Potok.

    Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I like it better than Jane Eyre.

    Good luck!

    1. Yes, I've read all of LMM's series. Once I discovered her (through my older brother), I couldn't stop until I'd read ALL of them! Narnia & Tolkien I discovered in college, as well as The Chosen. THAT started a continuing love affair with Chaim Potok, I can tell you! Have you read My Name is Asher Lev? SO awesome! Anyway, there are still several here I haven't read; thank you for bringing the list over 70!

  21. The Iliad
    Moby Dick

  22. This is a fantastic idea, and you're creating a wonderful list!

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew #1) by Carolyn Keene
    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

    1. Thanks so much for your recommendations! You put me over 90 books! I hope you'll visit often in 2013 and follow my progress.

    2. Oops, miscount! Well, almost TO 90, anyway. I'm really looking forward to starting this challenge.

  23. Thanks for linking up on Twitter. What a great idea.

    Okay so mine is going to be a real mix. There's a few teen classics:

    The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
    Diary of Anne Frank
    Harry Potter
    The Princess Bride
    The Golden Compass

    A few generic classics:

    The Book Thief
    The Woman in White
    The Great Gatsby
    The Hobbit
    THe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    And just because I can a couple of children's too:

    BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach - who am I kidding just anything and all by Roald Dahl.
    Green Eggs and Ham, Dr Seuss (oh yeah!)

    1. My goodness, it IS an eclectic list, isn't it? PERFECT for me! Thank you so much! I've read several of these, but certainly not all of them. Hope you'll check back often as the project progresses!

  24. I was going to recommend Frank McCourt, but I see someone has already beaten me to it. Confession: I have as yet to read his books as well. My mother has always strongly recommended them to me! :D

    My list of five for for you:
    1. The Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen R Lawhead (it's wholly Celtic and beautiful! I can never recommend it enough!)
    2. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
    3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (if you would just like to sample this writer first I would highly suggest The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories -- it's all about the native Irish concept of faerie)
    4. The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
    5. Shadow of the Moon by M M Kaye

    1. Well, this is one challenging list! Thanks so much for joining in. I'm especially excited that you included something by M.M. Kaye; I've only ever read one book of hers--The Ordinary Princess--but it is one of my all-time favorite books, so I'll be glad to read more of her.

    2. If I'm not wrong, I think The Ordinary Princess was the only children's book MM Kaye wrote. She is most known for her epic, The Far Pavillions. Shadow of the Moon is another epic that I liked better than the first. :) She's also written quite a few murder mysteries that are very interesting.

  25. Great idea! I am going to leave my list before I read the other suggestions because I know I'll just say, "Oh, yeah! I like that one too!"

    So my five suggestions would be:

    Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (a must read)

    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (books, religion, and mystery)

    Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (my favorite high school book)

    Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (it shaped so many minds for so many years)

    Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (diabolically clever -- I wish it had existed when I was in high school)

    And if you really want to be overwhelmed, here is the College Board's list of 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers.

    Good luck! I'll follow your blog to see your progress.

    1. Thank you so much for joining in. You've got some excellent choices here (at least, based on everything I've heard about them, they are)! I'm really looking forward to starting this challenge.

  26. Hi, sorry to not get over here sooner, I have been so out of the social media world I just now saw your tweet to me!
    Some of my favorites have already been listed - I think THE single most impacting book for me in high school was The Giver. Crazy, that one. Lord of the Flies was also required reading, but I'm not sure I can recommend it, I hated it!
    I haven't read much "classic" stuff since college since I usually choose to read what most would consider "fluff" in my spare time! But from earlier I would recommend:
    A Girl of the Limberlost
    The Screwtape Letters - Lewis
    A Little Princess
    The Secret Garden (and really on this one you must look at the cover that is hand drawn with a girl peering through a garden gate - that is the one I grew up with - the rest are almost sacrilegious! ;)

    That's about all my brain can come up with right now... if I think of anymore I'll try to let you know! And I still have my copies of the Norton Anthologies as does my mother still have HER copies!


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