Why I Dislike Required Reading And That’s Okay || A High Schooler’s Perspective

Hey loves! I’ve seen so many posts about assigned reading in school, and whether it’s good or bad, and I’ve always thought about it, but never written a post of my own. But instead of arguing whether of not it’s good, I wanted to just be honest and share why I dislike it, and why I’ve come to terms that that’s okay.

At first when I joined the online bookish community I felt obligated to pretend to like school reading when in reality I don’t. In fact, one of my very first posts was my top ten favorite books of 2018, and that post was a total lie because I pretended Pride and Prejudice and Gatsby were some of my favorites in order to seem cool because everyone likes Pride and Prejudice right and who would I be if it wasn’t one of my favorites I’ll seem so educated and cool! In reality, I did like those books, but they were nowhere near my top ten favorites. So now I’m going to list a few reasons why I, as a current high schooler who is subjected to daily required reading, dislike it.

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It’s Not Relatable

In my free time I read almost exclusively Young Adult, and I love it because it’s so relatable. I am the same age as and share many experiences with these teenagers. Most required reading books are classics that take place in the far past and with adults, and I really can’t relate to the lives of French aristocrats during the revolution as in A Tale of Two Cities. Even some of the books with teenagers can feel outdated and I personally think they wouldn’t be beloved if they were released today: for example, Juliet was only 12 and she and Romeo met and then killed themselves for love in the course of three days (instalove anyone?)

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Dense Writing Style

Young adult books are really easy to read. The characters think and speak in the way that we do today and the writing is clear. I think I’m not alone when I say that I don’t really like fluffy, extremely descriptive purple prose, but that’s basically what the writing style for classics is. I am really not down to read Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment describe socks for five pages straight, and I’m sick of people speaking in a way that I have to reread the passage five times to understand what the heck they’re actually saying.

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Poor Teaching

So nobody I know understood The Sound and the Fury. I read the entire book, understood nothing, then looked it up on Sparknotes and wrote my entire essay on that, and got the same score as a classmate who didn’t read the book. The classics taught in advanced high school classes have a very high reading level, and combining complex themes with dense style, they can be very hard to understand. We need guidance and teachers to explain the books to us, and having a bad English teacher can make anyone frustrated or hate reading..

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Infuriating Tests

This might just be my school, or it may be a lot of other schools as well–if you’re a teen, let me know in the comments below! At my school, we have these infuriatingly hard “quote quizzes,” which basically just test our ability to memorize the text. When we read Pride and Prejudice last year, we didn’t write an essay on it nor did we take any tests on content and themes or any of that; instead, we had fill in the blank quote quizzes where we were given a quote from the book and asked to identify the speaker, who they are speaking to, who they are speaking about, and who their parents were.

In other words, we aren’t reading the books for enjoyment of the themes. We’re reading them to memorize the text, which is stupid and impossible. It makes everyone hate reading and the books. When the education system is set up like this, reading books becomes a frustrating chore and can quickly turn someone who read and understood and loved a book…but missed a quote and got a C on a quiz…against it.

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Procrastination… Makes It Overwhelming

Procrastination. The thing is, everyone procrastinates reading. You can blame the students and say if we just didn’t procrastinate we would enjoy the books more or whatever, but there’s no use pretending it isn’t a thing; last week, my AP Lit teacher asked who was caught up with the reading…3 people out of 40 (I was not one of those 3). If we’re assigned 100 pages a week, but won’t be tested until the essay at the end of five weeks, we’re suddenly trying to read 500 pages the night before the essay, which becomes overwhelming and impossible. Yeah, I can read a 300 page contemporary in a day, but trying to read just 200 pages of dense Hamlet in one night basically made me have a mental breakdown.

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I’ve always felt like there was a sort of pressure to support required reading as a book blogger. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by adult bloggers, and the older you are the more appreciation you get for classics. Maybe it’s because there are so many people here with (or studying to get) English degrees, who are teachers or librarians. Whatever the reason, I felt surrounded by people praising the literary merit of classics and didn’t want to come across as a shallow teenager with no “respect” for classics or whatever. 

Is required reading necessary for school? Sure, probably, and I’ll suffer through English class the way I suffer through calculus; I’m not trying to argue yes or no. Instead, I’m accepting that I dislike required reading, but I still love YA and reading in general, and that doesn’t make me a bad book nerd.

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Let’s Chat

Do you enjoy reading classics? Do/did you enjoy required reading in high school? I’d love to chat in the comments below ❤

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50 thoughts on “Why I Dislike Required Reading And That’s Okay || A High Schooler’s Perspective

  1. I totally agree with you on this. I think required reading is OK for university, because if you’ve signed up for a Literature degree, you know what to expect, but definitely for high school, I think it just makes a lot of people hate reading because it’s seen as a chore, or as homework. Especially as it’s always really dense classics, rather than anything a class of teenagers is going to enjoy!
    I personally think if they’re going to make High School age kids read books for school they should maybe pick a YA book that’s aimed at their age group. Plenty of YA books deal with topical issues that would make for good discussions in class, and it might get more people into reading if they enjoy the book and decide to look out for similar books to read in their own time.

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    1. I’m so glad you agree 🙂 I definitely think that required reading can be really excessive in high school. Personally, all of my close friends are applying to college for STEM, yet we’re all forced to read these dense tomes that we honestly aren’t even remotely interested in! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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      1. Mine was Great Expectations 🤣🤣. I never wanted to burn those books though. The book that got that harsh a reaction from me was In Search of the Indo-Europeans. It was req reading for anthropology. It’s a book on linguistics, which I do find fascinating. But it was so bloody dry and boring. I was so done with it that I did want to torch it. Ended up giving it to my bond-brother who wanted to read it. Don’t know if he even did it not. I did warn him it was mind-numbing…

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  2. I only enjoyed some of the required reading that I had in school. I will admit that I am one of those people who does love Pride and Prejudice, but I also hated some of the classics I read (including The Catcher in the Rye, The Red Badge of Courage, etc.) I do think required reading is a good thing, because it gets kids reading when they might not otherwise pick up a book. But I certainly don’t think that you are required to enjoy all of the books you are required to read either. 🙂 Great post Kay!!

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    1. To be honest, I kind of think that required reading ruins reading and makes kids stop reading, but that my hot take that I didn’t want to stuff in this post that’s already so long haha. I was recently trying to recommend some of my favorite YA books to my friends, and they all refused because they said they already had too much terrible reading from English class and never want to pick up a book if they can help it… But yeah, I students definitely aren’t required to enjoy all school books considering nobody ever complains when people don’t enjoy calculus lol

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  3. I was very fortunate, I was only made to read one book throughout high school and that was Of Mice And Men. I’m not even going to lie, that book set with me wrong. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean. I think having to read that book set me off on classics. I haven’t picked one up since and I don’t think I ever will.

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  4. Interesting post! I actually don’t think required reading is necessary. For my Dutch class (I live in the Netherlands), I was expected to read Dutch literature. Not a genre I usually read. The fact that I could choose the books myself, helped me to like them more.

    For English class I did need to read certain books (but no classics). One of them was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I liked it when I read the book for class. But when I later re-read it by myself, I enjoyed the book far more.

    So I think it would be better if students could decide themselves which books they want to read. Maybe teachers could make a list of classics and let everyone choose a certain number of books.

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  5. I actually really enjoyed most of my required reading books in school. I found that my teachers did a good job of breaking down the complicated prose of classics I would have never read. They did what they were supposed to do by encouraging us to seek meaning in the text and make connections between the old literature and our present lives. The only required book I never finished reading was The Call of the Wild. I can’t remember much about it except that even the teacher seemed bored of the story 😅. So, I guess I’m fine with required reading as long as it’s taught right (and with some passion, I guess?)

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  6. Oh my goodness, I felt this post so much. It was amazing!💘
    Also as a high school student, I agree with you. Required reading doesn’t usually teach us to love books, it makes them seem like, well, homework. I feel sad for all the kids out there who might have loved to read if they hadn’t been forced into reading a book they didn’t like that turned them off reading.
    I hate tests like the one you had over Pride & Prejudice! Right now we’re reading Animal Farm and just had a reading check much like that- like, yes, I read the book and understood it, but did I memorize the thoughts of a certain character in chapter 2? Sadly, no.
    While I have enjoyed some books I read for school, it hasn’t been overall a great experience. Thanks for this relatable post!

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    1. I know, right? I’ve been trying to talk some friends into reading To All The Boys for months and they keep refusing even though they love the movie because they say after English class they never want to read another book again they hate reading so much. Ugh those tests are just the absolute worst! I’m glad you could relate (even though I’m not necessarily glad that you have to suffer like me lol)

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  7. English teacher here. I didn’t think I would agree with your points, but I do. It’s hard for me to relate to classic literature even as an adult. But a lot of schools are starting to see the benefit of bringing young adult literature into the classroom, so hopefully this something that will start to happen nationwide. Granted, it would still be required reading, but that’s necessary in school.

    That said, in AP lit, you have to read and be familiar with classic literature. It’s just the way the test is designed. College Board expects you to have read a ridiculous amount of classic literature, so often teachers feel like they have to rush through books just to expose you to as much as possible.

    Anyway, I’m sorry that your teachers aren’t explaining things to you or giving you pointless tests. I remember finding that so frustrating as a student, so I try not to put my students in the same position.

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    1. I feel like having YA lit in classes would be so helpful because I know so many people who literally never read because thanks to English classes and required classics, they think all books and reading in general sucks, and reading some easier fun books would really show people that reading can be fun 🙂

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  8. I hated reading when I was a kid. When I am being made to read it’s not enjoyable to me. I’ve started trying to read some classics last year and I have actually found some that I really love but I’ve also found some that I dint like at all.

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  9. Yes yes yes. The only two (out of dozens) I remember enjoying where Poisonwood Bible and Les Mis. I am a big believer in kids reading, but I definitely agree with your points. I wish for their to one day be a balance of classics that should be read (and well explained) AND allowing students to choose their own book to read. As long as reading is involved!

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  10. Those tests sound absolutely preposterous!

    As a teacher and future librarian, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to required reading lately. As a teen I liked a lot of the books we read in school, but I disliked a lot of them too. While I see value in reading the classics, I also see a lot of value in reading new literature and introducing teens to books they might like. I wonder if there’s not a better way we could be doing required reading.

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    1. They’re terrible! Supposedly it’s to make sure we actually read instead of just looking up a plot summary on Sparknotes, but it’s really unfair because there are so many people who read but can’t remember a quote and do really poorly, and also people who don’t read but are good at guessing and do better 😦

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  11. Great discussion, Kay! Wow those quote quizzes sound appalling. I can’t even recall most quotes from books I love. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be to memorize passages from a lengthy required read!

    For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of required reading, since I often feel that the assignments and discussions that accompany it are tedious and boring. I like the *idea* of required reading, and do think that it can be executed well in certain courses. I once took a British Lit class and adored the reading and assignments! Unfortunately I don’t think this is the case for most high school classes though.

    Wonderful post as always! 🤗

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! They’re terrible, especially in some of the older books like Shakespeare where everyone kind of sounds the same anyways… I agree that the idea of required reading is good, but the way it’s executed can definitely make students hate it, especially with poor teaching.

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  12. Yes, I definitely had the same experiences in high school. Being a reader, you feel kind of obligated to like required reading, but really those books are so different than the kinds of books we would pick out for ourselves. And I definitely agree on the lack of teaching while reading these books. The books are so hard to get through to begin with, and not having someone help explain what is going on or what you should be getting out of it is not very helpful. There are so many more modern books that have excellent, relevant themes that would be so much more appealing students.

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  13. Required school reading isn’t my favorite. Yes, some of the books are good reads. And I do have a few favorites. But I don’t think the way schools force you to read particular books that are sometimes very outdated is right. I feel like this is why a lot of people don’t learn to love reading because of all the boring classics that you’re forced to read in school. There is no choice and not everyone enjoys the same types of books.

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    1. I definitely agree that a lot of people don’t like reading because of required reading! I keep trying to talk my friends into reading some of my favorites, like To All The Boys, which is obviously very different from, say, Hamlet, but they refuse since English class has taught them to hate reading

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  14. I definitely agree with you! In my school, the humanities are treated as a joke (more so History than English, though) because my school is focused more on STEM. We’ve read Romeo and Juliet and our teacher let us read the modern English version. We’re not actually going to focus on themes, but about adolescent brain development and reasoning. I’m glad it wasn’t horrible to try to understand the original version, but I also think I would’ve liked it if we analyzed Shakespeare’s meaning behind the book.

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  15. So I’m weird in that I’m majoring in English, but hate most classics. I agree that a lot of required reading is not applicable to modern audiences. If we’re going to make kids and teens read these texts, they should at least contain something relatable to/ useful to modern students. We shouldn’t make people read something just because some old white men decided it was great years ago. The literary canon and high school curriculum greatly needs to be reevaluated.

    As a sort of side note, I think Canadian schools make you read fewer books than American schools do. In high school the most I had to read was two books (not necessarily classics) and a Shakespeare play.

    I’m sorry you felt pressure to say you liked classics more than you do, but this was a really well thought out post!

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  16. Here comes unreadable blabbling about required reading:

    I’m 100% agreeing with everything you said in this post. It’s not relatable, the writing is so dense and feels so old and it makes teens not wanna read books.
    A big problem I have with the required reading I have in highschool is that we have to pretend and think what the teachers and critics think. For example, I read Romanian classics and everyone pretends like those classics are masterpieces – when they’re actually smokin’ garbage. Or, with Romeo and Juliet, people tell us that it is this great forbbiden love story – when it’s actually pure trash. We actually took an hour of our class to talk about why we didn’t like Romeo and Juliet’s story.
    And, can we just look at all those classics and admit they weren’t written for teens?! And that they have nothing to do with our times!!

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  17. Classics can be great if you have a good teacher but otherwise, for teenagers, they’re basically impossible to read. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. I had a great English teacher and enjoyed Macbeth especially, but even then, the novels we read were so dry. I don’t understand the fascination with classics at all.

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  18. YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! EVERYTHING YOU SAID. I MEAN THESE NOVELS CAN BE SOOOO BORING AND DENSE AND ITS LIKE MOST OF THE TEACHERS WANT TO COME UP WITH A MEANING FOR WHY THE CHARACTER IS BLINKING. I do like pride and prejudice myself but who doesn’t like to torture themselves a little. I loved this post and I can’t wait to see what else you post later on. Have a great day!

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  19. This is such a great post! It’s so nuanced and well thought out! I think that what you said rings so true. I got very lucky in the sense that most of what I read in high school was actually entertaining and I had teachers who were willing to take the time to explain and discuss everything before testing or assigning essays.

    But even so, if you son’t like a book or don’t understand it and are forced to slog through and dissect every piece, it can be tortuous. I also don’t think all classics are created equal, and have read some classics for fun with varied results. Some I’ve enjoyed, some I haven’t, and some I haven’t bothered to finish.

    I think it’s great that you know what you want to read and don’t let assigned reading get in the way of your reading for pleasure!

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