Best and worst books you've ever had as assigned reading?

Talking about childhood books in my other thread got me thinking about books we had to read in high school (or any other kind of school, really.) Did you ever find yourself surprised to like a book that you were forced to read by a teacher? Or any that you’re still mad that they made you read?

Books I liked:

  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond (in middle school. we did a salem witch trial unit afterward lol)
  • Huck Finn
  • An abridged original language version of The Count of Monte Cristo, in french class

Books I was not into:

  • A Separate Peace
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Frankenstein (sorry world)
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Nice, also enjoyed Huck Finn. I think I actually kind of liked Heart of Darkness, though not exactly a super exciting read…

Books I enjoyed a lot:

  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Siddhartha
  • Things Fall Apart
  • The Things They Carried [I’d like to re-read this one!]

Not so much

  • The Scarlet Letter (agree, pretty boring)
  • I feel like in high school I did not adequately appreciate Shakespeare…I mean I knew the writing was good and hugely influential but I did not love reading e.g. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth; probably should re-read these at some point as well

Pretty sure I read this one in a school-related capacity at some point, lots of fun:

  • The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage

This was assigned reading for incoming college freshmen; didn’t fully get it at the time but interesting and in hindsight I wish I’d been exposed to more discussion of race and class earlier in life:

  • “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity

I remember having a class discussion about Heart of Darkness where we discussed how the book is based on a racist worldview, and should we read it anyway? What kind of value did it have? My teacher was a white dude who went to Howard and was always trying to get us to talk more about race. At the time I was like “IDK Mr Robb, I’m just a teen, you told me to read this book so I guess I’m going to read it” but now thinking back, it was cool to have that as a classroom discussion.



Best: brave New world, flowers for algernon

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Crime and Punishment is one of those books I read in AP English but have almost no memory of the actual plot / details. I don’t think I hated it, and maybe recognized it as “good literature” but also don’t remember it being particularly enjoyable, and kind of confusing / tedious. But I did have a good teacher for that class; that probably makes a huge difference in how these sorts of books impress themselves upon our young minds haha.

+1 for both Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon! I think I read both as a teenager though pretty sure not for school. Haha I think there was one summer toward the end of high school or beginning of college when I tried to catch up on some “classics” I hadn’t read yet and read like 1984, Brave New World, some Kafka, and a few others. Takeaway: reading is almost always more fun when it’s by choice!

@tarngerine one might say… Crime and Punishment… is both a crime… and a punishment…

Worst was Catcher in the Rye which I know is controversial but there it is. I hated it! I also never enjoyed Shakespeare because I couldn’t understand it (but I enjoy it now).

Best… really hard to say, but I’ll go obscure for this one. I took a medieval French literature class in college (had to learn Old French and everything), and reading some of the original Arthurian legends was surprisingly delightful. They have a lot more humor and levity than I expected for medieval texts. Definitely not something I would’ve ever read otherwise, so I appreciated having a class centered around it.


Wow, I’d love to read those Arthurian legends! I wonder if there’s a more accessible version of them that’s not in Medieval French?

I had a similar reaction to Shakespeare, I did not understand the language back in high school when it was assigned. I did enjoy the plots and all the drama, but the actual poetry of it went totally over my head. Now reading it, the language is the best part. I wonder why it’s such a different experience now, is it because my vocabulary has improved or because of life experience? There are certain turns of phrase that may have went past me in the past, but now I can feel that yeah, he really nailed that feeling/phenomenon/whatever.

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At last for me, I had to read Shakespeare many times (and often aloud) for the language to click. I think it may also be one of the first times you’re introduced to a more “creative” English in school, so you’re not prepared to make sense of it – gotta ease into it.

Also, @jinjin, it may be possible to find those legends in a decent English translation. The funniest ones were by Chrétien de Troyes; the story of Lancelot is especially comical (or at least that’s how I remember it…). Anything about the Holy Grail tends to suddenly be very religious and dull, so I wouldn’t read those necessarily.


I absolutely hated Balzac and Hugo in high-school. I’m now re-reading them twenty years later and really appreciating them now.

My absolute favorite assigned reading was Dino Buzzati, which I carried with me and still re-read from time to time.


I’m still really bitter they made us read “Justin and best biscuits in the world” TWICE!!
I was always an advanced reader, and they made us read this book out loud in class for both 4th & 5th grade. It was super boring and felt really juvenile. I’m not sure if it was bc I grew up in the south, but i felt we were always forced to read these boy in nature/farm books a lot which i found really boring.


Oh on a more positive note, “Things They Carried” & “Flowers for Algernon” were also ones I liked more! But I think my fav was “The Awakening”, bc the protagonist talked about not liking motherhood and challenging the ideas of femininity.


@morgane Wow, makes me wish there was an illustrated collection of stories…like D’aulaire’s book of greek myths (which I was obsessed with as a kid) but for Chretien de Troyes.

@motdiem I don’t know Dino Buzzati, but just looked him up on wikipedia–his stuff looks great! Is there a particular book or translation you’d recommend starting with?

@saraha I always wonder about the regional differences in books you’re assigned as a kid! I’m from near Baltimore, and Edgar Allen Poe lived there for a while and died there too (the Ravens football team is named after his poem!), so we always had really in-depth units on him in English class.

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@jinjin My recomendation would be to go with the short stories - I enjoyed those much more than his novels. I read Buzzati in French, where he was extensively translated, so I can’t comment on the English translations unfortunately. “The Colomber” is the one I read in high school and set me on a path to seek the rest of his work, so that’s the one I’d recommend to start with - I think there are English translations available online.