TTT: Top Ten Books I Hated Reading For School

There was a part of me that really wanted this to be ten books that compliment a history class, but I’d feel a bit redundant. It would be essentially suggesting my entire list of suggested reading for new intersectional feminists. I almost wrote a list of complimentary literature, but everyone has enough to read during the school year and I would want to make that a pretty feminist list. Instead, these are the top ten books that I hated reading for school.

It’s not my most feminist list of books, but it had been pointed out by my brother that my reasons for not liking books or movies tend to be feminist. Not all the time, but a fair amount of the time it had to do with the portrayal of the women.

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

I read this for my ninth grade English class and hated every minute of it. I can’t even watch the movies or attempt to remember anything about it without cringing. It’s Estella, portrayed as a perpetual tease. I couldn’t understand in ninth grade that her character was simply the way the protagonist understood her. She couldn’t be three dimensional because he didn’t see her as whole person. Even if I had understood that, the literary appeal would have been lost on me. Her behavior was exactly the kind that I abhorred. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t lead people on. But then again, the misinterpretation could have been completely on Pip (until she eventually admitted it). It’s part of what still annoys me about the book. I’ve seen more recent media that do a better job of showing how delusional one person can be about others, try reading Paper Towns.

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

This was my twelfth grade torture. Oh yes, let us read about irresponsible girls starting a trend of falsely accusing people of things so that the whole town can go crazy. While it can be argued that it is about the way that lies can ruin lives, it’s impossible to sit down and write about this one without going on a rant that I have to go back and delete. I hated it way back then and continue to hate it now because it paints adolescent girls as instigators of widespread false accusations for fun or to save their own reputations. I don’t know girls like this, not one, and it was therefore, not entertaining at all to see us, as a group, portrayed this way. Nor did it seem educational beyond feeling like I was being told how despicable men really think we are. I can’t imagine  that there is anything that will ever be redeemable about this story.

Candide – Voltaire

I didn’t have an inherent content problem with this so much as it was just annoying and strange. I read it for college and it reminded me of the book Forrest Gump, which was surprisingly horrible considering the great and adorable movie that was based on it. There’s a man with some form of mental handicap who gets to do all kinds of cool stuff and meet all kinds of crazy people. It was fun sometimes and just strange at other times. This was definitely the better of the two, but it threw me off and everything was tied back together in strange ways. It probably would have made for an interesting television series where he goes from place to place, but I hope they would have made better sense of how he got out of situations and how people who knew were always miraculously there.

Beloved – Toni Morrison (spoiler, maybe)

If you haven’t read this one or aren’t familiar with the plot, I’d like to not spoil it. Suffice it to say that I had recently dealt with a delicate situation in my personal life and this was required reading for a college class and my teacher didn’t so much as offer a list of trigger warnings. It’s not the scenes, so much as part of the trauma that the protagonist is dealing with. This is not the book to read after you’ve lost a child and it would have at least been nice to get some sort of warning. It tainted the entire experience and I spent the whole book thinking about how much I didn’t want to know how this woman was dealing with her troubles because we all have troubles and that particular one of hers hit a little close to home, no matter how different the rest of it was.

I know it was insensitive and I’m normally better about wanting to understand people. I wasn’t in a good place to be reading it and I don’t think I ever will be, all things considered. I couldn’t even concentrate on it, I’d just get this awful flood of memories and have to put it down. It was the hardest book to get through and it technically wasn’t even the book’s fault. Maybe I would have enjoyed it had I read it earlier in life, but I’ll never know.

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

I read this for the same college class as Candide and hated it when I was reading it. I’ve grown to appreciate that this is an honest look at the life of an average, though beautiful, woman of the time. The author doesn’t pull any punches and it made me uncomfortable in that same way that watching Game of Thrones does. It’s uncomfortable because it’s honest, because it’s a bit raw. I appreciate that, but Madame Bovary was also neither a likable character nor entertainingly unlikable. She was just a woman caught in a situation and life that I was grateful to never be stuck in.

Paradise Lost – John Milton  (Spoilers)

The poem was beautiful, but again, the treatment of the female character bothered me. This one I’m going to spoil because this epic poem is based on the creation story of three major religions and a lot of people know what happens there. I’ve been reading the Christian Bible, which is one of the places the story comes from, for a few months now and this poem hinges on a giant misconception.

Actual Bible quote (Genesis 3:6):

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Yeah, Adam was right there and he just took the fruit of the tree of good and evil and ate. There was no long, philosophical debate about whether or not he’d be alone in the garden when God came to ask about it. There was no debate and there was absolutely no fear of loneliness or punishment at the time that he partook. There were no thoughts and he was RIGHT THERE. He wasn’t off doing something else and came home to a mess that he needed make some grand plea to God over, he was right there and neither intervened nor objected.

Therefore, this beautiful and epic poem irritated and upset me as I had to read it for a college literature class. The same one I read Candide and Madame Bovary for. It’s just bad enough that the Bible is used for misogynistic purposes all over the place and that this very story is used against women in parts of the world to this day, but to so grossly misinterpret it for literary convenience is irresponsible. Perpetuating this misinterpretation by having college students who may or may not even follow these religions and therefore not be exposed to the actual text will have this erroneous interpretation ringing in their ears instead. I did loved the class, though.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is one of those rare books I’ve had a change of heart over. I still don’t like any of the characters except Gatsby, okay maybe Nick too, but that doesn’t stand in the way anymore. When I first read it for some class in high school, I was expecting something different. I was expecting the likable characters with the good intentions and the suitable outcome that was typical of my reading up to that point, and mostly still is. I didn’t expect this and it put me off for a long time. Then I read an amazing blog post over a year ago about how not having a single truly likable character was part of what made the book amazing. Then I watched the Dicaprio movie which follows the book pretty closely with a fresh set of eyes and have been thinking about rereading it with a better appreciation ever since. I probably won’t because I’ve read it already and there are so many new books to read coming out everyday but I’ve thought about it. I definitely don’t remember the content poorly anymore.

Emma – Jane Austen

I know, I should love this. I took a Jane Austen focused literature class in college and read this one, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion. The other two I loved everything about. This one bothered me. It’s not that Emma is a bad protagonist, she’s just painfully naive. I think if I had read it younger, that wouldn’t have bothered me. When I did read it (at over 30 and having had some ups and downs in life), I had two other things that contributed to making her sweet naivete painful. One was the fact that these were people’s lives she was messing with so horribly and the other was this nagging dejavu-like feeling about it all being too familiar. I eventually realized that this book had been the basis of the movie Clueless, which I watched as a young teen and still love. A lot. It was the first time I watched a movie with Paul Rudd who was all adorable and goofy. It’s also different for people to be messing around with modern (by comparison only at this point) high school relationships and 18th century courtship for marriage and therefore effecting the entire rest of their lives. The characters could have ended up in horrible and mismatched marriages at a time when it was really forever instead of going on a few bad dates in high school. The prospect just made my skin crawl.

So that’s my list! I know, I love books generally, but I don’t continue something that bothers me as much as these did if I’m reading them for myself. And they’re classics! All of them, but I just can’t. You can’t love everything, and I certainly didn’t.

Have you ever just hated or been made truly uncomfortable by a book you read for school? What book was it? 

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for other blog posts for this Back to School Freebie!

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9 thoughts on “TTT: Top Ten Books I Hated Reading For School

  1. I haven’t seen a list like yours so congrats on that first.

    And I’m totally with you regarding triggers. They are so, so important and I just don’t understand why there is no warning in a book’s description. I even had to rant in a blog post about this.

    Not that it’s helping, but I’m very sorry this happened to you.

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    1. I know. My husband had said that he loved it back when we were in school but I don’t remember why. I’ll have to ask him. I remember wanting to rant but I don’t remember if I did. I think it appeals to the types of guys (and maybe girls) who have a tendency to put women (or men) on unrealistic pedestals and there’s a part of me that wants to believe it’s a cautionary tale against doing that, but it really isn’t. I don’t know, that would almost make me appreciate it.

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    2. So I asked, and he said it was two things. First was that he felt like it was about seeing the intrinsic value in people because the rich and high society characters were mean to Pip and the escaped convict was his benefactor. Second, the feeling of being treated badly by a pretty girl just because she could rang true. To the second, I had to argue that it robs her of whatever is going on in her life and assumes that she exists solely to torment him and if that’s a boy’s impression of women in his life it was one of the more depressing and offensive things I’ve ever heard.

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    1. My degree is in literature, so I had these that I hated and then there were several that I was indifferent to and then several that I loved. I’ll always remember A Wrinkle in Time was the first book I had ever enjoyed reading on my own and it was for school too. But yes, more books that I wouldn’t recommend than would.

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