Five Books You (Probably) Read in High School and Still Suck
High school was probably a time that you are looking to forget. You likely don’t want to remember that awkward phase you went through. Nor do you want to relive that terrible social faux pas you made with that person you had a huge crush on. (By the way, he/she still remembers and thinks about it too.) Or it could be because of the work, classes, or teachers you had to endure. And, if you’re like a lot of Americans, it’s possible that you dreaded your high school English classes. Not only because they were boring and tedious, but because of the literary classics you had to read. And whether you read them or not, I’m here to offer five books that you (probably) read in high school that still suck. Rest assured, it wasn’t just your high school perspective that made them awful — they are still awful today too.
1.) The Awakening by Kate Chopin
If I could make this entire post about just one book, it would be The Awakening by Kate Chopin. If you asked me one book to force upon my mortal enemy, it would be this one. I can’t stand this book and everything it supposedly stands for. The book is about “taking control” of your life without considering how it will affect others. Spoiler Alert: this isn’t a good idea and ends poorly for nearly everyone.
What I hate most about this book is the central conflict. The catalyst that gets the book moving is the fact that the main character is in a loveless marriage to man she doesn’t much care about. You might be thinking that she was forced to marry this man because of the patriarchy or against her will by family desire. NOPE. She married some clown to spite her father. So, in order to remedy the situation, she runs off and has an affair and abandons her children. Things are sorta okay at first. Then the guy she has her affair with ends up breaking her heart and the main character realizes she sucks.
You might think that there is going to be some lesson learned here. Maybe our “heroine” will discover that the grass is not greener on the other side. Or, maybe, she will learn that your actions have real-life consequences. You know, something along the lines of “this is your bed and now you have to lay in it sort of thing.” NOPE. Instead of seeing some sort of emotional growth by the main character, she whines a shit down. Chopin makes her out to be some sort of victim of society. In reality, the main character pretty much brought all her sadness on herself. She is the one who screwed up not only her life, but everyone else’s lives around her. So, she does the only logical thing when you don’t get your way and have made a terrible mistake. She drowns herself in the ocean.
The moral of this story is literally live your life for yourself, despite the damage it will cause to your friends and family. Also, if it doesn’t work out, just kill yourself and you’ll be regarded as a martyr or some shit. Martyr to what, however, I’m not really sure. Chopin tried to make The Awakening about feminism, but the story turned out more as a manual for being an ass-hat.
2.) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby remains a central figure in many high-school reading lists. And it isn’t hard to see why. It is basically the “American Dream” played out on the pages of a novel. It is about self-made success and going for obscurity to fulfilling your dreams. It also has untethered love triangles and the roaring-20’s. So what’s not to love? The story itself.
The story aims to tackle the ideas of idealism, decadence, and resistance to change. Yet, the book fails to do so in the type of manner you’d expect it to. Even at the time of it’s publication, it was received as just a nostalgic period piece. In fact, for the first twenty-five or so years of it’s existence it was mostly a non-player in the literary world. Critics recognized it’s existence but it was hardly discussed.
To his credit, Fitzgerald does offer some good social commentary. Mainly, he harps on the fact that people never actually mature. All of the characters act like immature drama-queens who are constantly trying to relive the past. It’s a little heavy-handed and it becomes taxing. Fitzgerald does make some good points on the shallowness of the human condition and social structures. However, it gets drowned out by everything else in the narrative. Plus, The Great Gatsby falls on the old trope of the murder-suicide as a way of wrapping up the novel.
3.) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This is one of the few books where, as an adult, I have tried to reread and failed on multiple occasions. I have struggled to slog through the pages of this hefty narrative. To be honest, I think I’ve only finished it once, which might discredit my opinion of it a bit. However, it’s not hard to find people who are puzzle by it being heralded so highly still. On the other side of that, it’s not hard to see why it is a classic—some people instantly fall in love with it. Yet, just like the story suggests, there is “a right way, a wrong way, and the army way.” People seem to accept this book despite its obvious flaws. Sure, it’s an absurdist work of fiction that is absurdly ideal. So much so, that it would make other absurd philosophers (I’m looking at you Albert Camus) proud, but it is still tough to get through. And it goes on for way too long, ruining it for many people.
Ultimately, what frustrates the hell out of me is the difficulty of the book. It isn’t difficult in the sense that it has an intense vocabulary. It’s difficult in the sense that you will struggle to understand what the hell Heller is getting at. The book isn’t all that well organized and reading it feels like a chore. And this is exactly why the book sucks beyond anything else. Reading should never feel like a chore. Especially, if you’re in high school and on the fence whether you should be spending your time reading or trying to get lucky with your classmates.
4.) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’m a male, so my opinion may not matter when it comes to Jane Austen. However, I was raised by a feminist mother and was constantly reminded of the plights of the modern women. Yet, no matter what, I can’t seem to find any interest in the struggles that Austen’s characters face. Pride and Prejudice offers insight into the struggles of an upper-middle class woman. And they are not real problems.
I even tried Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Graham-Smith. Even this updated, ridiculous version was still mostly non-enjoyable. The zombie parts were good, but no matter what Seth Graham-Smith did to spruce up the narrative, too much of the dullness of Austen remained.
Pride and Prejudice does offer some redeemable commentary though. Mostly, the social commentary is about being superficial and being too quick to make a harsh or caustic judgement. However, most of the book is drowned out by the failed commentary about marriage and social struggle. The main theme it tries to portray is that women should marry for love rather than for money. The only problem with this argument is how Austen does it. She does it in a way that eliminates approximately half of the world population. And she addresses the subject in a tone that causes it to become quickly outdated in most aspects.
5.) Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The plot and themes of Shakespeare’s most famous tale has had profound influences on our culture. And it’s easy to see the appeal that Romeo and Juliet offers. There is violence and drama, betrayal and deceit. But, at the end of the day you realize that it’s two teenagers acting like idiots. And they are pretty much ruining everything for two prominent families. So, anyway you slice it, Juliet is a spoiled brat and Romeo is a horny instigator. In fact, the only way that Romeo and Juliet actually works is as an absurdist romantic comedy. And when you look at it that way, it is more slapstick than it is witty. And slapstick is often the lowest form of comedy.
Some Shakespeare scholars argue that Romeo and Julietwas meant to be satirical. Its purpose it so provide commentary on how absurd love and hate becomes for some people. Other Shakespeare haters will note that it isn’t Shakespeare’s strongest work. And compared to other plays and works, it is actually fairly weak in the grand scheme of things.
The worst thing about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is that it just won’t go away. It lingers forever and always. It is constantly being remade in various forms with various adaptations. But no matter how they spin it, Romeo and Juliet still sucks.
HM-1.) Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick sucked when it first came out. Melville only sold a handful of copies during his life. And it still sucks now. Melville’s prose is unreasonably difficult to read and unnecessarily verbose. Plus, the whole book fails deliver on an unreasonably long build-up.
HM-2.) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is an important text, and I won’t deny that. But… it still sucks as a story. The reason so many high schools make students read it isn’t because of anything you might expect. It’s rammed down student’s throats not because of some profound social commentary or fantastic prose, but rather something more simple. It often is used as a way to show problems away from traditional and contemporary first-world problems.