Favorite reading assignments

Now that we’re though with a lifetime of schooling I thought it’d be nice to look back at what we’ve gained from it all and near the top is lots and lots of reading. Reading is the main chore of education–reading literature, poetry, history, science and math text books. But not all reading is a chore and I’ve enjoyed many of my reading assignments and the books, short stories or essays have remained important to me long after the assignments and quizzes were through.

When I suggested this topic of “favorite reading assignments” as a series to help revive our activity on this blog Alex joked, “Oh, that’s too personal,” and he’s right. Reading a book is a very personal experience which often goes unshared with other people. That’s what has me interested in hearing about others’ positive experiences with school reading assignments. We’ve all read hundreds of books for school and probably many of the same books. I’d like to hear which your favorites. (Also, I’m always on the look out for good book to read.)

So this doesn’t come off as prying and totally self-serving, I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Ray Bradbury

My love for Ray Bradbury’s science-fiction and short stories began with an English class’s “Final Paper” assignment. The teacher provided a list of topics and students took turns choosing their assignments. The assignment I chose was to read and compare Bradbury’s fictional nuclear apocalypse in “There Will Come Soft Rains” with the historical atomic destruction in John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.”

I have been history buff, especially World War II, since very young and John Hersey’s Hiroshima is what drew me to the assignment, but it was “There Will Come Soft Rains” that I enjoyed most.

I remember being captivated by Bradbury’s depiction of a future that was both fascinating and horrifically tragic. I remember being struck by Bradbury’s personification of the fully automated house and all its wares and machines because that is all there was left “living” in that future world; that the burnt shadows of the children lost. It made me painfully aware of the complete absence of human life; only a house is left, mimicking what used to be.

While Hersey’s Hiroshima was quite impactful “There Will Come Soft Rains” had a further reaching and longer lasting influence because it spurred my reading and loving so many more of Bradbury’s stories; a chain of experiences that will be forever with me.

After the assignment was completed I renewed The Martian Chronicles, the book containing “Soft Rains,” from the school library and read the rest of it. I was hooked on Bradbury from then on.

I still believe science-fiction doesn’t get any better that Bradbury in literature and The Twilight Zone in theater. (Read my earlier post “Science-fiction at its best.”)

Later, I chose R is for Rocket for a book report. I really enjoyed that read too. It contains many of my favorite Bradbury stories.

A few of my favorites from Bradbury are: “Ylla,” “The Earth Men,” “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “The Long Rain,” “The Exiles,” “The Strawberry Window,” “Frost and Fire,” and “The Time Machine” (check out my earlier post “The Time Machine Abandoned”).

Heart of Darkness

One of my favorite books is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Hearts of Darkness was another book report. In my ninth grade English class we were given a list of authors to read from. I remembered my dad telling me about Conrad and how he was a Polish adventurer turned English author so I read Heart of Darkness. (It was The Secret Agent and Almayer’s Folly that my dad had read, and I later read those too.)

I liked the idea of reading an adventure story written by a true adventurer. Once I began reading it I loved the story-telling narration provided by the double frame structure. It’s the story of a man telling a story he heard and is still struggling to understand. (These elements are shared by another favorite Moby-Dick, which I am grateful to have never had as a class assignment.)

The fascinating language, dark themes, imagery and mystery make it a complete package in a short, if not easy, read.

I read it the second time in 12th grade when it was a class reading assignment which delighted me.  I was disappointed to learn none of my classmates enjoyed it as much as I, and our time spent on it was limited. “The horror! The horror!”

(Another repeated reading of the book inspired this earlier post.)

Crime and Punishment

I enjoyed this 11th grade class reading assignment for many of the same reasons I liked Heart of Darkness. Fyodor Dostoyevshy’s Crime and Punishment plows into the depths of inner turmoil experienced by the main character’s dirty dealings and shady ethics. This crime novel is more a character study than a mystery. We read through all the thoughts, rationalizations, regrets and self-torture the main character goes through leading up to, during and following his committing a violent and senseless murder.

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2 Responses to Favorite reading assignments

  1. lmeadows13 says:

    I too enjoy Ray Bradbury’s take on the futuristic. I remember reading Farenheit 451 in sophomore English (hs) as my first Bradbury experience. There’s a great short story of his that I read in one of my college English courses that I’ve re-read a few times since…I believe its called “The Pedestrian”.

    Off the top of my head (I’m terrible at recalling my “favorite” things when prompted), a few of my favorite reading assignments during the school days were, albeit stereotypical, such classics as Steinbeck’s “Of Mice & Men”, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”, and other literary staples. But my favorite literary course was probably one I took my 3rd year at APU, called Literary California. It was an English elective that covered a spectrum of authors from California, over various time frames, and stories taking place in and covering various themes that could be deemed “California-specific”. I was exposed to several excellent authors that I otherwise probably never would have known, and I still have a handful of anthologies from that course that contain some stories I still haven’t (and want to eventually) read. The Bradbury story I mentioned before, was set in LA back in the mid-century, and gave an excellent feeling of how such an expansive, populated metropolis can become so isolating. Some other short stories from this course I would recommend from this course were Joan Didion’s “Fire Season”, Pico Eyer’s “Where Worlds Collide”, and Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”. Although I’m from California, I don’t always identify myself as a “typical” Californian – maybe it’s because the Central Valley is much more mid-western in culturue and politics, maybe it’s because I hate shopping. Either way, I was pleased to see the various layers of history, culture, struggle, and pop culture that are woven throughout the history of California literature. There’s much more to the eye than the Golden Gate and the Hollywood sign, as we all know. But even comparing Southern California from the 1st half of the 1900’s to what I see it as today, it was such a different world.

    On that note, one of my favorite authors from the Literary California course was William Saroyan, who also happens to hail from Fresno (yes, I’m biased). Born of Armenian immigrants who grew up in the early 1900’s, he writes with such simplicity, yet with such insight into the highs and lows of humanity. Some of his critics deemed his works as “escapist” at the time, since certain “dark” or “complicated” enough to be widely considered as literary genius. Surely you have to go through some serious darkness and twisted characters to discover the secret to humanity, right? But in several of his works that I read, the narrative aptly shows that the joys and rewards in life are often found in the little things. I recall this concept quite well in Saroyan’s play, “My Heart’s in the Highlands”. But I thoroughly enjoy Saroyan’s works – If you’re ever wandering around a library with time to kill, see if you can find “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” – its one of my favorite Saroyan stories.

  2. I remember you telling me of that course. I should have taken it too. I’ve long wanted to read some Chandler. Now that you’ve reminded me I;ll have to get on that. I’ll look into the Flying Trapeze too.

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