The Books You Were Supposed to Read in High School

Ah...high school. There’s nothing like that evocative pang of cafeteria food, group projects, gym class, and last but not least--assigned readings. There is a frequently recycled list of novels, short stories, plays, and poetry that are commonly assigned to the average United States high school's English curriculum. Often, these selections are considered "classics”--but if you resisted completing your homework, like many high school students, then you probably have still yet to read them. Center for the Reader is featuring a batch of those classic high school reading assignments to give you a second chance; here is our list of books you were supposed to read in high school…but didn’t. Hint: There’s no need to consult GradeSaver, Shmoop, or SparksNotes; this time there isn’t a quiz. 

The Crucible by Arthur MillerThe Crucible book cover

One of the true masterpieces of twentieth-century American theater,The Crucible brilliantly explores the threshold between individual guilt and mass hysteria, personal spite and collective evil. It is a play that is not only relentlessly suspenseful and vastly moving, but compels readers to fathom their hearts and consciences in ways that only the greatest theatre can.

Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt VonnegutSlaughterhouse-five book cover

Vonnegut’s genre-bending novel combines historical fiction, science fiction, autobiography, and satire in an account of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a barber's son turned draftee turned optometrist turned alien abductee. As Vonnegut had, Billy experiences the destruction of Dresden as a POW. Unlike Vonnegut, he experiences time travel, or coming "unstuck in time."

The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby book cover

This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, and of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession," The Great Gatsby is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret MitchellGone with the Wind book cover

Widely considered The Great American Novel, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

Little Women is the heartwarming story of the March family that has thrilled generations of readers. It is the story of four sisters--Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth--and of the courage, humor, and ingenuity they display to survive poverty and the absence of their father during the Civil War.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written in 1876, is a novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The novel is set in the 1840s in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived as a boy. Originally a commercial failure, the book ended up being the bestselling of any of Twain's works during his lifetime.

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