When I was in high school, I read a lot; I just didn’t read assigned books. I thought I was bored by their contents (an invalid claim—I never gave them a chance in the first place), and reading them took up time I thought I didn’t have (because high school students have such hard lives).
But I obviously wanted the best grades possible without doing any work, so I devised a complicated system that involved multi-colored highlighters. Yellow highlighter meant it was something we talked about in class, pink meant I had actually read the portion on my own, and orange meant “this is a random passage I’ve highlighted to make it look like I’ve read this book.”
The only assigned books I read in full were The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, because it’s, like, 20 pages and there are pictures; Goodbye To All That, because I liked the teacher who assigned it; and Mrs. Dalloway, because the aforementioned teacher recommended it to me. And actually, from Mrs. Dalloway on, I loved books passionately. And I still do. I just needed a little extra time to find that out on my own.
Here are five books I totally fake-highlighted my way through, thus missing important milestones in my literary development.
1. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
I was a Religion major in college, so I think I would have really enjoyed this book—I know it’s packed with religious allegory. I’ve also been told that after reading it, you will be armed with enough knowledge to catch, kill, and disembowel a whale. Not that I’m going to do that, but it’d be nice to know I could. And I must admit, every time I hear someone say “Call me Ishmael,” I feel like I’m being left out of a really good inside joke. I’ve actually purchased this book on my NOOK, only to ignore it when Caitlin Moran comes out with a new book or I remember how badly I’ve been wanting to read Lean In, or I pick up Helter Skelter for the thirtieth time. “Moby Dick will always be there,” I tell myself. And so there it waits, getting pushed further and further into the depths of my NOOK library.
2. Lord Of The Flies, by William Golding
“A nightmare of panic and death,” says the blurb on the back of this 1954 classic. Why did I not read this when I was told to? I love panic and death! I suppose I wasn’t mature enough to take in a story about English schoolboys stranded on an uninhibited island. But I’m a big girl now. I think I can handle it. And reading about it right now has inspired me to put it on my NOOK list (a few slots above Moby Dick.)
3. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
It isn’t that I haven’t tried to read this book; it’s that I literally cannot get through it. Approximately once a year, a friend says it’s her favorite novel, and I give it another chance. But I never end up finishing it. It sounds interesting and important, but the fact is, I just don’t enjoy moving my eyes through the words. I was supposed to read it in high school. I was also supposed to take Bio in high school. But I’m an adult now, which means that I’ll never take another Bio class again if I can help it, and that I don’t have to read Lolita if I don’t wanna. Adulthood is freedom!
4. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
You wouldn’t believe how often Hamlet comes up in pop culture. My ignorance of its themes, plot, and characters shames me almost every day. So I wish I had read it in the 90s, just like I wish I had worn sunscreen when I was a teenager. But I don’t feel there is anything I can do about it now. That ship has sailed. I will die without ever reading Hamlet. William Shakespeare was the bane of my existence in high school, and I’m ashamed to say that at certain points in my life, I’ve wished he’d never been born. I would have gotten much better grades, been left out of fewer conversations, and carried around a lot less guilt for failing to participate in the world of literary criticism. William Shakespeare prevented me from being an English major. And I know you’re supposed to face your demons and conquer your fears, but I’m really not convinced it’d be worth it at this point. Especially when there is a whole trove of Ann Rule books I haven’t read.
5. Ulysses, by James Joyce
I know why I haven’t read this book. I don’t think I’m smart enough to read this book. Or, at the very least, I do not have the attention span.
I love the idea of Ulysses, and have read reviews and comparisons and essays about how it relates to pop culture. But I am not man enough to read those sentences. Those long, long sentences.
6. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
This one was never assigned to me in high school, but even if it had been—especially if it had been—I would not have read it. When the Harry Potter books first came out, I refused to enter the world of Hogwarts because it seemed so trendy it made my skin crawl. “I’ll read Harry Potter when the hype dies down,” I told myself. I’m still waiting. People often tell me “you would love Harry Potter.” I love fantasy books and The Lord of the Rings, and I’m obsessed with Disney storytelling. And the writing is basically the opposite of Ulysses. But I’m waiting for someone to convince me—really convince me—that I’m missing something.
Which classic books have you never read? Which on this list should Lauren really, really read?