Wednesday, January 18, 2012

High School Literature

Dear friends,

Oh my, it's been nine months since I last posted on this blog!  I guess I've stayed busy enough on my other ones, though.

What prompted this post, after my long hiatus, is reading an article by Glynn Young called: The Business Case for Reading Fiction.  He writes about an article that he read recently in the Harvard Business Review called "The Business Case for Reading Novels."   Apparently reading fiction can improve social skills, which in turn translates into more effective communication for business.  Columnist Ann Kreamer writes, "Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness."  Mr. Young, an author and professional speechwriter, reflects on this article and adds his own thoughts about the effect that great classic fiction has had on his own life.  He writes even more about his high school literature experience here: Miss Roark and Louisa May Alcott

I enjoy reading fiction, but don't read too much of it at the adult level just for lack of time.  Most notably, I read half of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy last year. I teach middle school English, so I'm more "up" on that level.

As I look back on my high school English classes, I don't remember a lot of specific titles.  For the first two years of high school, we read mainly shorter selections from literature anthologies.  We moved the summer before my junior year, and started at a new high school with a bazillion choices for English classes, and not all of them were heavy on the literature.  I don't think we read anything notable the semester I took a Mass Media class from Mr. Yiasemedes.  I know that when we read a play by Oscar Wilde in my Critical Reading and Writing class, I impressed with my classmates with a British accent while we were reading out the script in class.  That's also the year that we read poetry, and I wrote an essay which you can see here: "Christ Came Down" poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- and a High School Poetry Critique and Analysis Essay.
I also took a Bible as Literature class (even in public school) and we read The Chosen by Chaim Potok.  It was about two Orthodox (maybe Hasidic?) Jews in New York, and the concept I recall was that one read the Scriptures very deeply to extract as much meaning as possible, while the other read as much of it as he could, so he could catch the breadth.  There is a time for each.  I'm glad for that lesson in literature.

My sixth child (and first son) started high school this year.  In his co-op English class, Mr. Lang is having them read a lot of classic fiction, some of it on-line and some not.  My son asked me to get him a copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell for his homework assignment.  My favorite used bookstore, Brightlight, had several in stock for a good price, so I decided to buy one instead of going to the library. He read five chapters last night and says it's pretty good so far.  On hearing this, his older sister, who is a junior in public school, asked me to take her to the library to get Orwell's 1984 just so she could read it, not because it was assigned.  She grabbed another copy of Animal Farm while she was there so she wouldn't have to compete with her brother for it.  

My older girls all like a variety of fiction, some of them more into Brit Lit than others.  I wasn't really the one teaching them literature in high school, since they were mostly enrolled in home school co-op classes, dual enrolled at the community college, or taking classes on-line with Florida Virtual School. They are quite proficient in writing essays on literature, and continue to read good books on their own, so I guess we didn't go too far wrong with our educational choices.  Sad to say, though, I'm not exactly the expert on high school literature.  However, my friend Cheryl Bastian has links to book lists on her web site's high school page: 

Cheryl also has an extensive list of links in her sidebar for Glencoe free study guides for books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, Julius Caesar, Animal Farm, 1984, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Canterbury Tales, The Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet, Frankenstein, and so many more.  Check them out in the sidebar on this page: Cheryl's high school page.   If you have younger kids, Cheryl has a lot of other goodies on her web site,, and her blog,

What are your favorite high school level fiction books?

Virginia Knowles

P.S. FYI, I found Glynn Young's blog via My Eavesdropping Eyes at Godspotting with Sheila which I subscribe to in my Google Reader.  I'd say it was quite a profitable bunny trail I took today!