The 5 Worst Books We Force High Schoolers to Read

Written by on October 23, 2012 in Career - No comments | Print this page


We can all remember that time in high school English class when we were forced to read a book that didn’t appeal to us. Many of these books stay on the school’s reading lists for years and years, even though they’re dated, no longer popular, or hard for students to relate to. Here are some of the worst books that many schools force their students to read:

1. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sure, the plot for this story is actually somewhat interesting when you hear it explained. When you’re reading this book, however, Hawthorne manages to make the story unbelievably boring. Very little action occurs and the rest of the text consists of long descriptions or information that doesn’t much to the plot. To make matters worse, the story wasn’t long enough to be published when Hawthorne originally wrote it, so he added in about 30 pages of non-related content and tacked it on to the beginning of the novel. Some schools may allow students to skip this beginning section, but many have them read it – and to those students, we’re sorry.

2. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Another one that could be quite entertaining given the subject matter, but falls short. You think you’ve getting an exciting adventure tale? Instead, read about Conrad describing the jungle and the trees for about eleven pages. And hopefully you like metaphors, because everyone other sentence seems to be one that you have to analyze. On the bright side, it’s a short novella, barely clocking in at 100 pages.

3. The Stranger, by Albert Camus

Consider a book that has a main character that you don’t like, and no other characters that you can relate to. The main character, Meursault, feels no emotions, even when he commits murder and goes through a trial, ultimately being sentenced to death. Throughout all of this the man feels nothing and cares about nothing, so why should you care? To make things worse, this book is usually taught as being part of the existentialist philosophy, though that’s not actually what the book is about or how Camus intended it.

4. The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare

Really, Shakespeare wrote some brilliant stuff. Most of his comedies and tragedies are fantastic. The Taming of the Shrew, however, is not really the best of the best. Like any Shakespeare play you’ll deal with the challenge of wading through the difficult writing, but more than that this play is seriously anti-feminist. You can just tell by the title. The plot consists of a man trying to whip his woman into shape so she can be a good wife. He humiliates her and plays with her mind so by the end of the play she is obedient and no longer an independent, strong willed woman. Is this really the message we want to send to young females today?

5. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

Sorry, Hemingway – most of the world may worship you as a great author, but high school students feel differently. The entire plot of the book is about an old man struggling with trying to catch a giant fish. It’s a story that should be told in just a few pages. Instead Hemingway drags it out into a novel. It also comes off as way too unrealistic to be plausible, which is a definite distraction when you’re reading a book and trying to get into it. An old man sitting at the sea for 84 days without catching a fish – not exactly the kind of thing high school students can relate to.

This is a guest post.  Paul Rouse is a high school principal and guest author at, a site with guides to top-rated online education degree programs.


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