My thoughts on reading the classics in high school & the one classic I’m most looking forward to reading

When I think back to high school, I wasn’t the biggest reader. I read, but I didn’t read a lot. I hate to say it, but I was obsessed with finding a boyfriend and having friends — at least until I had an argument with my main group of friends who were doing something I disagreed with, and then I was focusing on music. I wasn’t a person who really enjoyed high school, which is sad because I feel like I could’ve done better. Now, nearly 20 years later, I wish I could have a do over and actually focus on my studies more and not be so obsessed with things that weren’t overly important.

Anyway, this post isn’t about my social life and hating high school, but about reading the classics in high school. Honestly, I can’t remember reading a lot of classics – or reading a lot of books at all. I remember reading a lot out of those giant collections of classics; books that had poetry and short stories and the like but gave you a backache when you tried to read anything in it. I didn’t understand the poetry, I didn’t understand the Shakespeare, and I got bored with the classics.

The only classic I remember actually reading (besides some Shakespeare and The Outsiders) was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and even with that, I never actually read it. I got bored within the first 5 pages and couldn’t get past his descriptions and I instead wrote my paper by winging it and failed miserably. So I don’t really have fond memories of reading in high school. After high school I read more, though not as much as I do now, but even with the amount I was reading it interested me in reading more in university and I signed up for so many courses that had me reading the classics (though I was scared away by any course that had a classic that was overly long).

I had always read, whether it be the The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High of my teens; or attempting to read Stephen King or Danielle Steele, the books my mom enjoyed; or classic chick lit by Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin, the books I enjoyed after university. I loved reading in university but even that didn’t make me want to read more than I already did.

Now, 20 years later, I really enjoy reading the classics and I have so many on my shelf that I’m legitimately looking forward to reading, but I wonder if I hadn’t been a voracious reader before this (my reading kickstarted by reading Twilight back in 2008 – don’t judge) would I be interested in reading at all?

I think back to high school and how I didn’t want to read. I would fall asleep reading a text book and couldn’t get through a few pages of a book without getting bored. I rejoiced when another English teacher showed us the movie for Lord of the Flies rather than having us read the book. It makes me wonder if reading the classics in high school is detrimental to reading later in life. I know of some teenagers who are amazing readers, who already read the classics (one reason I love Lucy the Reader so much) but not all teens are like this. Reading the classics is scary! It’s reading in a voice that is very much unlike our own and written about a time a hundred years or so before ours.

When I think about the themes of some of the classics I read 15-20 years ago, I am reminded of Ethan Frome, a book by Edith Wharton that I recently finished. The story deals with very adult themes and maybe I was a really naive and ignorant teenager and young adult, but I can guarantee I would have no idea what that book was even about had I read it in high school or university. Do we need to experience life more before attempting the classics? Can we just dive into them without knowing about themes of adulthood?

More importantly, why do we continue to have many of the same classics in the high school curriculum now that we had 20 years ago (or longer), when there are so many actual young adult books available to teach teenagers about themes relevant to what they’re actually going through in high school? Is it just laziness on the teacher’s part?

After thinking all these thoughts, my mind then wandered over to think about The Grapes of Wrath again, the book that I couldn’t get into at all 20 years ago. When I think about it now, I realize that this is the book I’m most excited about reading when it comes to my classics reading. Now, reading its synopsis, I really want to read the story! I loved Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and have loved many of the classics I’ve been reading during this latter part of the year, and now I feel like I’m ready to read the book that may have turned me off of reading, had I not already found a bit of the joy of reading in my youth.

I bought this gorgeous centennial edition of the book and it’s just so gorgeous and it sounds so so great. In case you’re not sure what the story is about, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression follows the western movement of one family & a nation in search of work & human dignity. Perhaps the most American of American classics. The novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, & changes in financial & agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, & in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity & a future. When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression & its effects].” The book won Steinbeck a large following among the working class, perhaps due to the book’s sympathy to the workers’ movement & its accessible prose style.

The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school & college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda & directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me and maybe I really wasn’t a reader like other kids in high school, and other times I still think that the curriculum should be changing to include more books written specifically for young adults and maybe leaving these classics for when teenagers choose to specialize come university. But even still, I have that little niggling in the back of my head that makes me want to go back and just redo high school without thinking that boys and friends were the most important thing ever. Maybe had I gone that route, I would’ve been a voracious reader in the years between high school and discovering Twilight in 2008. At any rate, I’m glad that now, in my 30s, I’m discovering the joy of reading the classics and coming into my own when it comes to reading, finding the styles I like and being my own reading person rather than following what everyone else is reading.

What do you think when it comes to reading the classics in high school? Were you a fan of them then, or did you discover that you appreciated them more later in life? Do you agree that more current young adult books should be relevant in high school reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 


Taking a (Long) Break from Audiobooks!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE audiobooks. I find they’re a great way to listen to a story you might not otherwise be able to focus on via the physical format, and they’re also a great way to fit in reading during times where you can’t physically read, like when you’re gardening, driving, or doing housework.

This year I’ve listened to a LOT of audiobooks – I think around 60 or so – but since the end of May it’s been pretty sporadic. I listened to one in September, one in October, and another one during a long car drive on my way to and from vacation. Otherwise, I haven’t really had the time to listen to an audiobook!

How can that be, when I used to listen to audiobooks when cleaning, making dinner, making breakfast, doing the laundry, gardening, driving, etc., etc.? Well, kids. Literally. KIDS. I adore my kids and when I could listen to audiobooks a lot, they weren’t talking a lot. Now they talk all the time and they talk to ME all the time and I want to give them my focus when they do since they’re both learning their words. When we drive we point out birds and trees and see if the moon is still up or see if it’s raining or snowing or cloudy, and at home, they help me with cleaning and follow me around the house while I get things done. So it’s not really a great time to throw on my headphones and listen!

But as much as I miss the time to listen to an audiobook, I’ve been loving that I’ve had the time to actually read physical books and have been taking my time to focus on them. I find that with audiobooks, I’m usually doing something else and not giving the audiobook my full attention so I’ll miss certain things and by the end I might not like a book as much as I could have. I’ve loved that I can really focus on reading a book now and take my time reading it – like I’ve said, it’s about quality, not quantity, and during the first part of the year I was definitely focusing on quantity.

This isn’t to say that I’m giving up on audiobooks for good, but I think I might just have to wait until my kids are in school until I have the time to listen again. I expect I’ll have many lazy days of reading all day, but then reality will kick in and I’ll have to do housework and errands and things and that will be the perfect time to ease back into audiobooks!

I think my highest reading month this year had me reading 36 books, but this month I might finish 12, which is still pretty awesome. During this latter part of the year I’m realizing the benefits with slooooowing down in my reading and not spending every second I can reading. I find I take in the books more, remember what I’m reading, and just enjoy it more! (Ironically, as I write this, my daughter is watching Daniel Tiger and the theme is that sometimes when you go slow, things work better.)

So, thank you audiobooks, for being such a great part of my reading life! I’ll see you again in the fall of 2018!

Have you found that you go through cycles when listening to audiobooks? If you’re a parent, did you find that it was harder to fit them into your day? Have you ever gone from listening to a lot of audiobooks to not listening to them at all? 

What I’ve Learned Reading My TBR

One of the things I’ve loved about my reading this year is that I’ve been reading a LOT of books from my TBR pile. I know we all have a TBR pile, but for me, when I say my TBR, I mean all the books that I’ve bought previously to this year. I’ve gone through two big book culls and have gotten rid of hundreds of books (mostly donated to libraries and the local jail) but the ones that are still in a pile by my shelves (because no book goes on the shelf unless it’s read) are the ones that I’ve deemed best to keep. These are the books that I tell myself, again and again, that I’m going to read.

So this year I’ve been trying to actually READ those books. It’s so easy to BUY books, but it’s harder to keep up with reading what I’ve bought, and maintaining the excitement about a purchase. Ultimately, my reading goal for the end of the year is to have a reasonable-sized pile of books that doesn’t overwhelm me. Next year, I’d like to be able to buy books that interest me, READ THEM, and then shelve them, but keep my pile of unread books to maybe 30-40. That would be a HUGE thing for me but we’ll see … I also LOVE buying books. 

I’ve learned so much this year when it comes to my TBR that I thought it’d be fun to reflect on everything I’ve learned, from buying books to reading books, and everything in between.

Thoughts On Buying Books

1. I had to remember: the excitement doesn’t last. 

It’s so easy to buy a book. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. But when you’re on social media a lot, checking out book blogs and BookTube, you see a LOT of recommendations, a lot of excitement. When you see someone else who’s super excited about a book, your excitement is piqued. When you see another person or two raving about a book with excitement, chances are, if you’re like me, you’re going to buy that book when you see it on the shelf at the bookstore. I’ve noticed that I’ve done this with a few books this year and now that some of these books have sat in a pile for a few months, the excitement has died down. It’s almost like a high, buying a book that someone else loved, knowing that I’ll love it. But then I actually have to READ IT and when I have over a hundred books to read already, not to mention access to thousands at the library, if I don’t get to it right away, the excitement fades and it might seem like a chore to get to that book.

2. I don’t need to buy that book new. 

As we’re heading into the last quarter of the year, I’m trying to remind myself that I have a reading pile of nearly 150 books and that I want to read them before buying anything new. The problem is there’s that Shiny New Book on the shelf at the bookstore and I want to buy it. I have to remember that that book could also show up at a book sale later in the year or early next year, or that the paperback will come out and be cheaper than the hardback. Do I really need to buy that book right away? If I know I’m going to buy it and not get to it in months, WHY BUY IT RIGHT NOW? This is a hard one for me because I love a Shiny New Book and love adding to my pile. But what I’m trying to teach myself is to maybe make a wishlist online and see in a few months if I still want that book. ESPECIALLY if it’s not an auto-buy author.

3. Don’t rely on reviews! 

I am TERRIBLE for this. But I’ve bought a lot of books in the past and have read raving reviews on Amazon, only to realize the book sucks, or I’ll read reviews on Goodreads and not buy the book because the reviews weren’t great. Prior to this, I’d just BUY THE DAMN BOOK. I think this is one of the reasons I’d like to get my TBR down, so that I can just browse bookstores – used or new – and just buy what interests me. I feel like I’ve relied too much on reading what other people have thought of a book when I should just buy what looks good. It’s what I did before the internet!

Thoughts On Reading Books

4. Don’t read the synopsis – just dive in! 

When I go into reading these books that have been on my shelves (or, floor) for anywhere from one month to 8 years, I’ve learned to just START READING THE BOOK. Don’t read the synopsis and see what it’s about, just dive in. I find that if I read the synopsis I’m more likely to procrastinate and maybe put it down again, whereas if I just start reading, I’m more likely to just get sucked in. In the same sense:

5. Don’t read reviews before reading the book! 

I like to mark on Goodreads when I start reading a book so I know how long it took me to read, but what I’ve learned is to NOT scroll past where I mark a book as ‘currently reading’ and see what my fellow readers thought of the book I’m about to read. If someone loved it, then I might get my hopes up, or if they hated it, I might lean towards hating it as I read when if I had gone in without reading any reviews, I might have loved it. I can’t seem to escape the overall rating of a book on Goodreads, but I just want to steer clear of what others have to say.

6. Take advantage of audiobooks! 

When you have a TBR pile that’s in the hundreds, it’ll take some time to read everything. What can help, though, is audiobooks! I’m not saying you need to actually BUY the audiobook for a physical book you already own, but check and see if your library has the audiobook. Audiobooks are great to listen to when you can’t actually read a book. I particularly love listening to books of short stories on audiobook because it’s easy to just take it in a piece at a time. Doing the dishes? Listen to one story. Watering the garden? Listen to another. If you commute a lot, then download the audiobook of a book you’ve owned for ages and listen over the week as you drive. If you get even just a couple audiobooks in during a month, that’s still 2 books off your TBR.

7. Read multiple books at a time. I learned I can do it! 

The majority of the time, I have at least 2 books on the go. Sometimes I have 6 on the go. I LOVE reading multiple books and I find that it helps keep my interest piqued when reading. I could read one book in a couple days, but I’m not taking advantage of all the time I can be reading. What I usually do it figure out how much time I can read. If I have three hours to read during the day, I’ll read three books, one hour at a time for each. When I’m having a reading month (which is what I’ll be doing for a few months before the end of the year), I’ll get up early in the morning to read, then read when the kids nap and have quiet time, and read again before bed. That’s at least 5 hours of reading time I can get in a day. I read pretty fast and can usually read 100 pages in an hour, so if I’m reading 5 books, and I try really hard I can get those books read in 3-4 days. And when I finish one book, I’ll start another one. If I always have a book on the go, chances are I won’t go through a reading slump because there’s no time to be spent in between books.

How do you read multiple books at a time?

  • Pick different genres. Currently I have three books on the go, one is a historical fiction during wartime, another is a contemporary fiction, and another is a non-fiction.
  • Pick different ways to read. I usually like to have a book on my ereader, a physical book, and an audiobook on the go. These days I’ll have a few physical books, an audiobook or two (one might be short stories and another a novel), and maybe one on my ereader.
  • Schedule your reading. For me, I like to try and read either 33% of a book in a day, or 25% if it’s a longer book. I’ll also try to reach certain marks in a book each day – if a book is broken into parts, maybe I’ll read a part a day, or if I got to 33% of a book one day, I’ll aim for either 50% or 66% the next day. I’m weird like that.
  • Make sure you’re reading each book a little each day. If you put that book off for a few days to read others, your interest will wain. Even if you just read it for a half hour, get that reading in!
  • Always take a book with you! Or two! Even if I’m driving the kids to school or we’re just running to the store, I’ll take a book. You never know what’s going to happen where you might need a book.

For me, also, I like to have my “8:30 book” for days where I’m going up to shower and go to bed early after the kids go to bed. This happens a lot when my husband is watching sports and I just don’t care to watch. The kids are in bed by 7:30 and then I take a shower and read my “8:30 book” – a book I’ll read until 8:30. I’m up really early in the morning so I might reserve a non-fiction book for that time, or somethings a little heavier, then at 8:30 I go to bed and read something I’m really enjoying, or maybe start a new fun book until I fall asleep. That way I’m still getting my reading of a couple books in.

Final Thoughts

8. I’m not going to beat myself up if I can’t get the TBR down.

Like I’ve said, I’ve gone through two big book culls. I’ve bought books like CRAZY in the past. I felt that, as a book blogger, I had to buy lots of books. But now, while I love having lots of books in my library, I’ve realized that if I can’t keep up, maybe I should slow down with buying. I’ve also told myself that I should NOT buy books until Christmas, hopefully when my TBR is around 50, BUT if I buy a book or two (or more) before that, I’m not going to beat myself up. Reading should be fun and not a chore so if you want to buy and read something new, do that! Just try to work in an old book here and there. Really, I don’t think anyone’s TBR will ever be at zero, so don’t kill yourself trying to get there.

9. Don’t be afraid to GET RID OF THE BOOK.

If you start reading a book that you’ve had on your TBR from before you can remember and start reading it but you’re not enjoying it, don’t keep reading it! Like I said, life’s too short to read something that you’re not enjoying and if you honestly think you’re not going to enjoy that book you were so excited to buy 5 years ago, put it in a donate pile. I have a donate box and put books I don’t think I’ll read in it. If I start reading something and it sucks, I put it in the box. I keep the box for a while just in case I change my mind, but I am not afraid to get rid of a book!

10. Have fun reading my TBR! 

One thing I’ve loved about reading my TBR is finding books that were genuinely amazing, books that had me wondering why the heck I hadn’t read them sooner. I’ve also had books I haven’t really enjoyed. But the fun in reading these old books is that I can see why I bought them and why I saved them for so long. And since I don’t put books on my shelves that haven’t been read, it’s so much fun to read something and then put it on the damn shelf! My TBR piles are getting smaller and smaller and I’m loving it. I’m feeling accomplished and having fun reading and that’s what matters.

This year has been a lot of fun, reading-wise, and I honestly don’t think that I’ll keep up my reading pace next year but that’s okay with me. It’s been fun to push myself to read more and to get my TBR down and to read those books that have been on my shelf forever. I feel like I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to buying and overbuying books and I’m eager to see what 2018 brings!