I asked people the other night for the books they read in American Lit classes. Did they remember anything other than The Great Gatsby? Eighty-four comments later, it was clear: they did.
Two things emerged for me: 1) American literature and British literature is all mashed up in our minds, which tells me the books are all too similar, and 2) High school readings lists haven't changed much over the decades. Millennials to baby-boomers answered me, and we all read the same books and authors. Dickens and Steinbeck, Animal Farm and The Scarlett Letter. Books about war and honor. I like a lot of these books — The Crucible! It sent me on a years-long reading list about the Salem witch trials. — but, like my friend Rachael, I'd argue we should update these lists to include a wider range of American experiences. Yes, let's read Willa Cather — O! Pioneers — but let's read Louise Erdrich, too, and consider what happened once the pioneers settled the west.
Rachael suggested replacing Red Badge of Courage with Cold Mountain. I'm here for that. I also like the idea of reading old and new books together — The Scarlett Letter alongside Their Eyes Were Watching God, discussing the restrictions put on women throughout American history, maybe.
What books would you suggest to update the traditional high school reading list?
We can't redo our high school reading. But we can think about the gaps and use our library cards to fill them. Some booklists I've been using to fill my gaps:
Books we should stop making high-schoolers read — and what to replace them with
Books for every state
A booklist from Twitter, inspired by a bad book recommendation from our president
My point, as always, is simple: Let's all be promiscuous readers. Let's read more, more widely. Let's read more books by more authors, from more genres.