Top Ten Tuesday: Required Reading for Teens

I have a streak of libertarianism that makes me dislike the idea of required reading in general. There are really only one or two books that I think absolutely ought to be read and taught in schools.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Beyond the first couple, there's a whole broad world of great reading material. I won't presume to be able to state the best, though I might be able to state what I'd have my own hypothetical kids read in high school. Here goes.

1. The Holy Bible. The idea of teaching Western civilization without this book is preposterous. And I hope it doesn't have to be said, but every young American, no matter their background, should learn Western civ.

2. Shakespeare. If there were a second absolutely necessary book, a solid contingent of Shakespeare's plays would be the one.

3. Bulfinch's Mythology. Less necessary than the above, but helpful nonetheless. I wish I'd read it in high school, as the business of life nowadays makes me keep forgetting that I haven't finished it.

After that, the list can broaden and even be tailored according to interest and focus. Some of the more obvious choices include To Kill a Mockingbird, several of Mark Twain's works, Austen and Dickens, some of Lewis' works, The Lord of the Rings, Tolstoy and/or Dostoevsky, possibly the Qu'ran (considering how hard Islam is trying to spread into the Western world), the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Dante, Chaucer....

Oh, yeah... I still haven't read Chaucer. Or Tolstoy. Hmm. Or much of the Qu'ran, for that matter.

Current works can be selected according to taste, situation and whatever happens to be going on in society at the time. Hence, my failing to list any of those. We'll see if any of today's bestsellers merit required reading status when I have teenagers. :)

I wrote this list in half an hour, so tell me: what have I missed?


  1. Ooh, I should've put The Diary of Anne Frank in there, along with possibly Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place. I'm seeing Night by Elie Wiesel on a lot of lists, but haven't read it to know how it compares.

  2. I think you've listed some fabulous books here. I also think that certain poets are very important-- Emily Dickinson, Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Byron, Robert Frost, about a million others...take your pick. I think poetry is necessary for understanding the power of words in small increments for telling a story or making a statement. I think too often today we discount the value of poetry.

  3. Shallee, I totally agree! And knew I'd left off something important. :)

  4. +JMJ+

    Jenna, I love your post and wish I hadn't been so literal about a Top Ten, because then I would have stuck with the essentials as you do here.

    I also named the Bible, (Greek) mythology, and Shakespeare--but I threw in Homer and Dante as well. After that, I racked my brains for five other books to pad the list with. =P

    Yours is also the only list to mention the Koran. I once had a Muslim man offer to teach me how to read it, telling me that it's not the sort of book one can just pluck off a shelf and start reading as one normally would. Well, I never took him up on the offer, but I still sometimes wonder how a non-religious Koran reading group would tackle the text.

  5. Enbrethiliel, Homer and Dante are great inclusions! :) And I'm impressed that you made it to ten... I couldn't do it.

    I like what the Muslim man said about the Koran, and as for myself, I'd say the same thing about the Bible. Perhaps it is true of any central religious text.

  6. +JMJ+

    I made it to ten because I added about five more dispensable books! =P But really, if you think about it, all the things we really need to read can be counted on our ten fingers. It's all the things we want to read that spoil us for choice and completely distract us.

  7. I'm trying to remember what I read in high-school...I completely agree on the Bible, so many students today haven't read it, and so they miss all the allusions to it in all of western literature. Some of Hemingway's short stories would fall into my "essentials", as would Tolstoy's Divine and Human stories - easier to get through in high-school class time, and REALLY good. Some Shakespeare would be great, and lots of Good poems, but only if the teacher can actually teach poetry and not just pull each poem to pieces and destroy it's ability to affect the reader. Apart from that, I think it depends on the student, which is a problem in public education.


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