Earlier today, I was reflecting on my primary education, and came to the realization that I only read three books that were not authored by men in the duration of my time in public school. (To Kill A Mockingbird, Frankenstein, The Outsiders) That’s pretty upsetting, especially for a feminist. The result: my knowledge of woman writers is… patchy. The worst part is that I didn’t realize how heavily male the literary canon sways until I got to college. So here’s a list of books I wish I had been taught in high school, some of which I still haven’t read, some of which may be quite a departure from the norm.
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
If I had a dollar every time somebody in one of my classes has expressed their shock that I haven’t read this book. Hell, I’ve even read Jean Rhys’s Wide Saragasso Sea, which is an expansion of the story. But no, I’ve never read it, and I wish so much that I would have had that opportunity when I was in high school. Honestly, I’m still shocked that it never came up at some point. I feel so out of the loop because I haven’t read it, but I do hope to read it someday – just don’t have the time right now.
- Middlemarch – George Eliot
Did you know that George Eliot was a woman? I didn’t until… about a month ago probably. I’ve heard that this book is a great masterpiece of its time. I haven’t read it. (Yet)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
This one I HAVE read, and I enjoyed it. Whenever I think of this book, I think of the moment my mom found out I’d never read it and she basically forced it on me, which I’m grateful for.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
What an incredibly interesting author. Reading about her life was enthralling, as was Their Eyes Were Watching God. I’m pretty sure this one is questionably “appropriate” for HS students, but to be honest I can’t remember most of the plot. It’s a beautifully crafted novel, though, and I hope I will always remember that.
- Jane Austen
I’m just putting Austen in general on the list because she has several works that are worthy of being taught in schools. Like all the others on this list, I was never required to read anything by Jane Austen at any time in my high school education. That is quite frankly, ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.
(a.k.a. authors/books I thought might be good to teach in high school but have never read and don’t know enough about to justify adding them to the list)
- Elizabeth Gaskell – I’ve never read North & South but it’s been on my radar for a long time.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson – I had never even heard of this one until two weeks ago, but it sounds rad as hell.
- To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis – because a little genre fiction never hurt anybody.
- Doris Lessing – The only book by her that I have read is Fifth Child, but she’s written so many things, there’s gotta be something that deals with coming of age, right?
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – I can’t believe I never read this as a kid. What up with that? Would much rather have read this in elementary school than books about the (terribly racist) Wilder family.
And one more that is vastly different from all these others:
The Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales
I put this here because I know the stories are age appropriate and I also know they are some of the most misogynistic and twisted things I’ve ever read. It’s hard to miss the blatant sexism in Grimm Brothers, and I feel like reading their takes on classic stories would give students some perspective on how badly women have been portrayed for all these years. Like I said, the sexism is hard to miss, and if anything is going to convince kids that literature actually has meaning, it might be these stories, which are still culturally relevant.
What about you, book lovers? Did your primary education have the same failings?