I’m back with another Top Ten Tuesday! Every Tuesday, The Broke and the Bookish blog posts a new Top Ten list and invites its users to participate. This week’s Top Ten is “Top Ten Books I Was Forced To Read,” either by teachers, friends, other bloggers, reviews, etc. These are titles that were either required reading for school or that were recommended to me by family, friends, etc. that I ended up really enjoying.
[When possible, I included book descriptions from NoveList , an excellent resource for finding new books to read.]
1. The Works of William Shakespeare
I didn’t always love the Bard. There was a time in my life (early adolescence) when I was largely indifferent to Shakespeare, although I do remember several long, painful nights of struggling through Julius Caesar (a No Fear edition, mind you, with a “plain English” translation placed alongside the Shakespearean/Early Modern English) that might have cultivated just a little animosity. It wasn’t until my sophomore or junior year ofhigh school, when reading Hamlet and Macbeth, that I began to appreciate and admire Shakespeare’s genius in earnest. I have since taken undergraduate and graduate college-level courses, where I have studied and read more of his works, and even read him now and then in my leisure time (without the side-by-side “plain English” translation, thank you).
2. Sideway’s Stories from Wayside School – Louis Sachar
If memory serves me correct–which, let’s face it, hardly ever does–everyone was required to read this outrageous, silly book sometime in grade school. This is one of those novels that made me fall in love with reading at an early age.
Novelist Book Description: “Humorous episodes from the classroom on the thirtieth floor of Wayside School, which was accidentally built sideways with one classroom on each story.”
3. Looking for Alaska — John Green
My foray into John Green’s masterfully written young adult novels began when I was in library school. Looking for Alaska is nothing short of brilliant, and served me as a gateway to his other works and his hilarious and informative video blog channel on YouTube, VlogBrothers, which he records with his brother, Hank. If you are a fan of John Green, you should definitely check out his video blog.
Novelist Book Description: “Sixteen-year-old Miles’ first year at Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama includes good friends and great pranks, but is defined by the search for answers about life and death after a fatal car crash.”
4. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I was first introduced to Garcia Marquez’s fabulous writing in a college post-colonial literature course where the class read Love in the Time of Cholera. While not everyone liked it and some took issue with the exaggerated promiscuity of the male protagonist, Florentino Ariza, I absolutely loved the book. I have since read a great number of his novels (One Hundred Years of Solitude perhaps being my favorite), novellas, and short stories.
Novelist Book Description: “Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza consummate their passion at the beginning of the 20th century after having waited over 50 years.”
5. Frankenstein — Mary Shelley
I was very skeptical about this book when my high school English teacher distributed it to the class, my only point of reference being Boris Karloff’s classic representation of the monster as a flat-headed, imbecilic, lumbering green colossus with an anger management problem. If I had to read pages upon pages about some zombiefied version of the Jolly Green Giant with a taste for violence instead of canned asparagus spears and frozen broccoli with cheese sauce, I was not going to be happy. To my utter amazement, I found that the iconic depiction of Frankenstein’s monster–the slow, green, moron with bolts in his neck–is nothing like the one of Shelley’s vision: an agile, highly intelligent abomination whose acts of violence are meticulously calculated and planned.
Novelist Book Description: “A monster assembled by a scientist from parts of dead bodies develops a mind of his own as he learns to loathe himself and hate his creator.”
6. The Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
I honestly can’t remember when I first read this book. Several years ago, one of my wife’s good friends (who happens to be a big fan of fantasy and science fiction) recommended that I check out Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. Soon after beginning A Wizard of Earthsea, I started getting a strong feeling that I may have read it many, many years ago for a grade school book report. As it became more and more likely that this was indeed that book, I couldn’t have been happier to rediscover this beloved series.
Novelist Book Description: “During a spell recalling the dead, the boy Sparrowhawk, a sorcerer’s apprentice, unwittingly unleashes evil on the land. He grows to manhood while attempting to subdue the evil he unleashed on the world.”
7. Les Liasons Dangereuses – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Laclos’s Les Liasons Dangereuses came to me highly recommended by one of my bosses, a former English teacher with whom I happen to share many similar reading interests. And while I normally don’t enjoy epistolary novels – Bram Stoker’s Dracula immediately comes to mind as one I particularly don’t like all that well – Le Liasons Dangereuses is a surprisingly gripping read filled with enough libertinism, treacherous seduction, cunning, and revenge to rival the hedonism and scheming of Gossip Girl‘s Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf.
Novelist Book Description: “The Vicomte de Valmont and his former lover, the beautiful Marquise de Merteuil, enter into a personal competition to seduce and betray the innocent in pre-Revolutionary France.”
8. The Phantom Tollbooth — Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my all-time favorite children’s novels, and one that I was forced to read a long, long time ago when I was in grade school. I liked the book so much that I had my parents rent the 1970 movie version staring Butch Patrick (aka Eddie Munster) as Milo, which I also enjoyed a great deal. My father, on the other hand, hated it. Oh well, we can’t all like the same things now, can we? Anyway, Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, like Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, was one of those formative books from my childhood that made me into a lifelong reader.
NoveList Book Description: “A bored young boy, Milo, drives his small electric car through a toy tollbooth and finds himself in the Land Beyond. A journey through a land where Milo learns the importance of words and numbers provides a cure for his boredom.”
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
When I was in middle school, my mother – who was very much the reader in the family – suggested that I read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray for a book report assignment. I knew nothing about the book and even less about Wilde, but I followed her advice nonetheless if only to appease her. I distinctly remember struggling through this book, so much so that my mother had me watch Albert Lewin’s 1945 movie adaptation to aid my comprehension. I also vividly remember how shocked I was by the film, particularly by one of the movie’s last shots where Ivan Albright’s portrait of Dorian Gray is revealed in all its colorful, horrific, and gory detail, a ghastly image that has been indelibly burned into my brain. (If you haven’t seen the movie and you are a fan of old, classic horror films, I highly suggest you watch it sometime). Now normally I frown upon watching a movie as a substitute for reading a book, but in this instance the movie drove me back into the book’s text with renewed enthusiasm. The Picture of Dorian Gray is novel I will never forget.
NoveList Book Description: “An exquisitely beautiful young man in Victorian England retains his youthful and innocent appearance over the years while his portrait reflects both his age and evil soul as he pursues a life of decadence and corruption.”
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J. K. Rowling
“What?” you may rightly be asking yourself, “is Harry Potter doing on this list?” The reason why is, well… OK, I have a confession to make: I was not an immediate convert into Harry Potter fandom when The Sorcerer’s Stone first debuted in 1997. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that back in those days I was highly skeptical of anything that was hugely and widely popular. I read The Sorcerer’s Stone eventually sometime in high school and enjoyed it well enough, but didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until much later when my then girlfriend/soon-to-be wife, an avid and fervent Harry Potter fan, encouraged me to keep reading though the series. And thank goodness she did! By the time I became a full-fledged member of the Harry Potter phenomenon, there was only one more book in the series left to be released. In July 2007, I became something I never thought I would become: One of those people who dresses up as Harry Potter to attend a midnight release of The Deathly Hallows.
NoveList Book Description: “Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”