Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Illiterate? Or Just Immature?

I was thinking this evening about a reading list that my 12th grade Advanced Placement English instructor handed out to us at the beginning of the 1996 school year. She said that it was a list of all the books that our college professors would expect us to have read, or at least be familiar with, when we began our freshman year. I remember panicking because I had only read a couple---even though I considered myself very well-read at the time.

Now that I've had a good 11 or 12 years to work on the list, I find that I've still only read a few. However, I am now familiar with many of these...and, after thinking it through a little, have decided that this reading list is ridiculous for the average teenager. Even though I was a very good student and had a high understanding at 17 years old, there was a lot that I still hadn't experienced. I've read a few of these books just in the last couple of years and can honestly say that had I tried them at any younger of a maturity, I just wouldn't have "gotten it". There is a reason that they remain timeless classics---but it's not because these titles make a college freshman successful. It's because they speak to a higher level of understanding that only an adult who has been out there in the "real world" can really possess.

The list below looks very similar to the list I was handed 12 years ago in AP English. I've highlighted in red the books I've read. I wonder, how many on the list have you read? What is your response to the idea that these stories require more maturity than the average highschooler possesses?

The Three Musketeers (1844) Alexandre Dumas
Ivanhoe (1820) Sir Walter Scott
The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) Alexandre Dumas

Last of the Mohicans (1826) James Fenimore Cooper

Moby Dick (1851) Herman Melville

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens

Robin Hood (1883) Howard Pyle

Arabian Nights (1704) Antony Galland

Les Miserables (1862) Victor Hugo

Robinson Crusoe (1719) Daniel Defoe

Don Quixote (1605) Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Washington Irving: Rip Van Winkle (1819), The Headless Horseman (1819)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1883) Robert Louis Stevenson

Westward Ho! (1855) Charles Kingsley

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) Harriet Beecher Stowe

Gulliver's Travels (1726) Jonathan Swift

The Deerslayer (1841) James Fenimore Cooper

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) Victor Hugo

Huckleberry Finn (1884) Mark Twain
The Corsican Brothers (1845) Alexandre Dumas

3 Famous Mysteries: The Sign of the Four (1890) Arthur Conan Doyle, The Flayed Hand (1880) Guy de Maupassant, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) Edgar Allen Poe

The Pathfinder (1840) James Fenimore Cooper

Oliver Twist (1838) Charles Dickens

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) Mark Twain

Two Years Before the Mast (1840) Richard Henry Dana Jr.

Frankenstein (1818) Mary Shelley

Marco Polo (1921) Donn Byrne

Michael Strogoff (1876) Jules Verne

The Prince and the Pauper (1882) Mark Twain

The Moonstone (1868) William Wilkie Collins

The Black Arrow (1888) Robert Louis Stevenson

Lorna Doone (1869) Richard Doddridge Blackmore

Sherlock Holmes Stories: A Study in Scarlet (1887) Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) Arthur Conan Doyle

Mysterious Island (1874) Jules Verne

Last Days of Pompeii (1834) Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Typee (1846) Herman Melville

The Pioneers (1822) James Fenimore Cooper

The Adventures of Cellini (1562) Benvenuto Cellini

Jane Eyre (1847) Charlotte Bronte

Edgar Allen Poe Mysteries: Pit and the Pendulum (1845), Adventures of Hans Pfall (1845), The Fall of the House of Usher (1838)
Twenty Years After (1845) Alexandre Dumas

Swiss Family Robinson (1813) Johann Wyss

Great Expectations (1861) Charles Dickens

Mysteries of Paris (1842) Eugene Sue

Tom Brown's School Days (1856) Thomas Hughes

Kidnapped (1886) Robert Louis Stevenson

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) Jules Verne

David Copperfield (1850) Charles Dickens

Alice in Wonderland (1865) Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) Mark Twain

The Spy (1821) James Fenimore Cooper

The House of the Seven Gables (1851) Nathaniel Hawthorne

A Christmas Carol (1843) Charles Dickens
The Man in the Iron Mask (1850) Alexandre Dumas

Silas Marner (1861) George Eliot (Marian Evans)

Toilers of the Sea (1866) Victor Hugo

The Song of Hiawatha (1855) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Prairie (1827) James Fenimore Cooper

Wuthering Heights (1847) Emily Bronte....currently reading
Black Beauty (1860) Anna Sewell

The Woman in White (1860) William Wilkie Collins

Western Stories: The Luck of Roaring Camp (1870) Bret Harte, The Outcasts of Poker Flats (1870) Bret Harte

Man Without a Country (1863) Edward Everett Hale

Treasure Island (1883) Robert Louis Stevenson

Benjamin Franklin (1817) Benjamin Franklin

The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) Charles Reade

The Scottish Chiefs (1809) Jane Porter

Julius Caesar (1607) William Shakespeare

Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) Jules Verne

The Pilot (1823) James Fenimore Cooper

The Man Who Laughs (1869) Victor Hugo

The Oregon Trail (1849) Francis Parkman
The Black Tulip (1850) Alexandre Dumas

Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836) Captain Frederick Marryat

The Lady of the Lake (1810) Sir Walter Scott

The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) Anthony Hope (Hawkins)

The Iliad (962 B.C.) Homer

Joan of Arc (1801) Frederick Schiller

Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) Edmond Rostand

White Fang (1906) Jack London

The Odyssey (927 B.C.) Homer

The Master of Ballantrae (1889) Robert Louis Stevenson

The Jungle Book (1894) Rudyard Kipling

Edgar Allen Poe: The Gold Bug (1843), The Tell-Tale Heart (1845), A Cask of Amontillado (1845)
The Sea Wolf (1904) Jack London

Under Two Flags (1868) Ouida (Louisa de la Rame)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1855) William Shakespeare

Men of Iron (1891) Howard Pyle

Crime and Punishment (1866) Feodor Dostoevsky

Green Mansions (1904) William Henry Hudson

The Call of the Wild (1903) Jack London

Henry W. Longfellow: Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), Evangeline (1847)

Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) Mark Twain

David Balfour (1893) Robert Louis Stevenson

All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) Erich Maria Remarque

Daniel Boone (1939) John Bakeless

King Solomon's Mines (1885) H. Rider Heggard

The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Stephen Crane

Hamlet (1603) William Shakespeare
Mutiny on the Bounty (1932) Charles Nordhoff & James Hall

William Tell (1804) Frederick Schiller

The White Company (1891) Arthur Conan Doyle

Men Against the Sea (1933) Charles Nordhoff & James Hall

Bring 'em Back Alive (1930) Frank Buck & Edward Anthony
From the Earth to the Moon (1870) Jules Verne

Buffalo Bill (1920) William F. Cody

King of the Khyber Rifles (1916) Talbot Mundy

Knights of the Round Table (1903) Howard Pyle

Pitcairn's Island (1939) Charles Nordhoff & James Hall

The Speckled Band (1892) Arthur Conan Doyle

The Talisman (1825) Sir Walter Scott

Kit Carson (1873) John S.C. Abbott
The Forty-Five Guardsmen (1848) Alexandre Dumas

The Red Rover (1827) James Fenimore Cooper

How I Found Livingstone (1872) Henry M. Stanley

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp (1891), The Beach at Falesa (1892)

Captains Courageous (1897) Rudyard Kipling

Rob Roy (1818) Sir Walter Scott

Soldiers of Fortune (1897) Richard Harding Davis

The Hurricane (1936) Charles Nordhoff & James Hall

Wild Bill Hickok (no author listed)

The Mutineers (1920) Charles Boardman Hawes

Fang and Claw (1935) Frank Buck

War of the Worlds (1898) H.G. Wells

The Oxbow Incident (1940) Walter Van Tilburg Clark

The Downfall (1892) Emile Zola

The King of the Mountains (1857) Edmond About

Macbeth (1606) William Shakespeare

Davy Crockett (no author listed)

Caesar's Conquests (51 B.C.) Julius Caesar

The Covered Wagon (1922) Emerson Hough

The Dark Frigate (1923) Charles Boardman Hawes

The Time Machine (1895) H.G. Wells

Romeo and Juliet (1597) William Shakespeare

Waterloo (1868) Emile Erckmann & Alexandre Chatrian

Lord Jim (1900) Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski)

The Little Savage (1848) Captain Frederick Marryat

A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) Jules Verne

In the Reign of Terror (1890) G.A. Henty

On Jungle Trails (1936) Frank Bucks

Castle Dangerous (1831) Sir Walter Scott

Abraham Lincoln (1952) Benjamin Thomas

Kim (1901) Rudyard Kipling

The First Men in the Moon (1901) H.G. Wells

The Crisis (1901) Winston Churchill

With Fire and Sword (1890) Henry Sienkiewicz

Ben Hur (1880) Lew Wallace

Lafitte the Pirate (1930) Lyle Saxon

Off on a Comet (1878) Jules Verne

The Virginian (1902) Owen Wister

Won by the Sword (1899) G.A. Henty

Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) Ernest Thompson Seton

The Invisible Man (1897) H.G. Wells

The Conspiracy of the Pontiac (1851) Francis Parkman

The Lion of the North (1890) G.A. Henty

Conquest of Mexico (1632) Bernal Diez Del Castillo

Lives of the Hunted (1902) Ernest Thompson Seton

The Conspirators (1843) Alexandre Dumas

The Octopus (1901) Frank Norris

The Food of the Gods (1904) H.G. Wells

Cleopatra (1889) H. Rider Haggard

Robur the Conqueror (1886) Jules Verne

Master of the World (1904) Jules Verne

The Cossack Chief (1839) Nikotai Gogol

The Queen's Necklace (1849) Alexandre Dumas

Tigers and Traitors (1880) Jules Verne

Faust (1808/1832) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  1. i just graduated college with a degree in English Lit and i have only read 18 of those books so i think your HS teacher is crazy!

  2. Erika made me feel better. I've read only 22 books on the list and was feeling like I was not well-read.

    I agree that it's unrealistic to expect highschoolers to read, much less comprehend all of these books.

  3. I've read a few of them- I didn't bother to count. I've seen some Shakespeare plays but haven't read them. Does that count? But you are right that even though I haven't read most of them I could tell you something about many of them just from hearing about them from other sources. Or seeing a movie. (sheepish grin). I've seen this list (or one like it) many times- the library had one out not too long ago. I remember getting one in high school too and feeling very discouraged.
    Many of them are on the Ambleside reading list so I will get the chance to read more of them!


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Mrs. Sarah Coller

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