General Question

wildpotato's avatar

Which books are near-universally read for (non-religious) education purposes? Have you read them?

Asked by wildpotato (13931 points ) December 6th, 2012

Comparing notes among my friends, it seems that every one of us has read Oedipus Rex, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet. All the people I’ve asked who went to high school in America have also read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Surprisingly, Catcher in the Rye does not appear to be an across-the-board American curriculum book – because it used to be banned, maybe.

Have you read some or all of the books I listed? Were they required in school, or did you read them on your own? What books did I forget to mention? How have you noticed the curriculum change throughout your life? Were these required reading for those of you who were not raised/educated in a Westernocentric setting? Which books were you guys required to read?

An additional bit of info that might help to contextualize your answer is how old you are or when you went to high school or some other bit of temporal placement data, if you’re comfortable providing this.

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32 Answers

Seek's avatar

I either read or was supposed to read all of those.

Mockingbird and Catcher bored me to tears so I gave up. Not really into American literature, I guess. Gatsby was OK.

Other required reading included The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales (but not The Decameron, which angered me), and 1984.

gailcalled's avatar

Great Expectations
As You Like It
Silas Marner
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
(I never read Oedipus Rex)
MacBeth as an alternate to Hamlet

!950’s…progressive area in the NE US. Half of the class of 200 were college-bound.

Rarebear's avatar

I’m reading Moby Dick on audiobook right now through Moby Dick The Big Read
http://www.mobydickbigread.com/

gailcalled's avatar

^^^ I am going to listen to Moby Dick this winter when snowed-in but will use CD’s and my faithful Sony Walkman. I read it the old-fashioned way during a six-week intergenerational mini-course I took in 1985 with high school seniors, faculty members and some adult members of the community.

I don’t
think I could have read it in the entirely without the classroom stimulation.

burntbonez's avatar

Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, My Side of the Mountain, 1984, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Flowers for Algernon.

Never read To Kill a Mockingbird. Only read Oedipus and Hamlet in college as part of a independent reading class. Only read the Bible as literature in high school.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

In high school:
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (I’m only just now reading Huck Finn.)
Julius Caesar
Romeo & Juliet
Lord of the Flies
Moby Dick
(I honestly don’t remember everything we read. Those are the first to come to mind, and I won’t go into university or graduate school. The list would be too long.)

wildpotato's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I can’t believe I forgot The Odyssey. I bet that one’s very commonly read in Western curricula. I really hope 1984 is universal; probably is, mostly. I am so impressed that your teacher required Canterbury Tales. Wish mine had.

@gailcalled I don’t think any of those are required reading anymore, unfortunately. And I have never even heard of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I will add it to my list. Macbeth – yeah, most people do seem to have gotten it, but some I spoke with hadn’t. I really need to write my sixth grade teacher to thank her for getting that one to me so early. Not to mention the Lloyd Alexander books she got me into.

@burntbonez Right, I bet almost every American highschooler in the last 30 years got My Side of the Mountain and Lord of the Flies. Probably most Brits got Lord as well. Flowers would have been nice required reading.

One of my favorite required readings was Ender’s Game, a book that is unfortunately far from common on the lists. I’d read it years before, but it made me proud to be a Pennsylvanian that they put it on the curriculum.

Did anyone else get Willa Cather? “Paul’s Case” was such a great story, but I got the sense they were phasing her out as a required author.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

By ‘universally’ do you mean read in the West by those that are literate and educated in the West? 16% of the world is illiterate, most of the world is not the West and a lot of people in the West are illiterate or uneducated (using conventional education) and those that aren’t might be interested in things other than this ‘white man canon.’ So really I don’t think there are any such texts.

wildpotato's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Did you read my details? I am aware of the existence of the non-Western world. That’s why I addressed some of the sub questions to people who weren’t educated in Western settings. It should be evident that I am neither interested in nor querying the 16% of the world that is illiterate when I pose this question. Obviously, I was referring to required curricula books.

Edit: I can see how my use of the word “universal” may have been unclear. “Universal” does not mean “every person on the planet,” to me, anyway – if I failed to give it enough context in the title question, I apologize, but I think it was fleshed out sufficiently in the details.

wundayatta's avatar

I read Enders Game long after leaving school. I have a signed edition, having met Scott Card at a Con years ago. He was very kind, and must have signed ever single one of the dozen or so of his books I owned at the time.

However, my daughter had to read it twice, once in middle school and once in high school. Of course, she’s a Pennsylvanian, too, for what that’s worth.

It’s so funny to me that books I read for fun later become literature, especially since science fiction was thought of as genre fluff and not at all serious at the time I read it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@wildpotato I did read the details. And of course I know you’re aware of that. I was providing evidence as to why universal texts don’t exist. As for required curricula books? So you mean in the U.S.? I’m just trying to zero in some of this, that’s all.

ETpro's avatar

Ruling class white male US citizen here. My sincere apologies to those offended by my luck in the draw.

I was in the college prep curriculum in Virginia, class of ‘62. Add to the list @wildpotato provided Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness; Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers; Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm; and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick to name a few.

Take from the list The Great Gatsby. And I still haven’t read it.

PeppermintBiscuit's avatar

Hello from Canada!

In high school, I read: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, and A Christmas Carol. And probably others that I’ve forgotten.
As far as I know, To Kill A Mockingbird wasn’t on any school reading lists in my area. Some of the other titles I recognize, and some I don’t.

Unbroken's avatar

Hmm I read all of those listed in the question details. Have yet to read Moby Dick something about Herman Melville’s writing is a big turn off. 1984 but also Brave New World and Farenheit 451 and Illustrated Man. I did try to read a lot of Dicken’s Great Expectations is where I stopped mid book. Haven’t tried in years.

gailcalled's avatar

@wildpotato: Don’t bother reading “The
Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

zensky's avatar

@Rarebear Thanks for the link.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Huckleberry Finn
The Hobbit
Frankenstein
The Outsiders
The Scarlet Letter
The Crucible
Night
The Diary of Anne Frank
Julius Caesar
Death of a Salesman

…plus all the others mentioned. Damn, I didn’t realize how many books I read in school.

2004–2008, US

zensky's avatar

The Old Man and thre Sea.
Treasure Island
Sherlock Holmes
O Henry
Anything by Jules Verne

zenvelo's avatar

i think the “universal” reading list is much more tied to the age when in school. My kids read the classics like Gatsby and Old Man and the Sea, and Romeo and Juliet. But the also read a lot more “modern” Junior Adult stuff about feelings and suicide and bullying. The kids don’t like it that much and find it depressing.

I read a lot of the same books people have listed above:

Romeo and Juliet
Julius Caesar
Of Mice and Men
The Grapes of Wrath
Huckleberry Finn
Tom Sawyer (in grade school)
Billy Budd and Bartleby

We also read The Hobbit and The Once and Future King

Rarebear's avatar

I wouldn’t actually call Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caeser “books”. They’re plays, and really should be experienced with a live performance.

I think the best way to crush enjoyment of Shakespeare is to force a student to read it instead of seeing it.

zenvelo's avatar

@Rarebear I don’t disagree with you. Never-the-less, it was required reading.

Response moderated (Spam)
fremen_warrior's avatar

@wildpotato I support @Simone_De_Beauvoir here. You are being vague there and it’s understandable someone might want to get the details down before answering. You seem to assume that ”US stands for universal”, which is simply not the case, and would be even more apparent if more than 5% of Jellies were from outside the US of A.

@ETpro nobody is hating people here for who they are or where they were born, just the skewed perception of the world a lot of flutherites seem to assume seemingly without so much as a thought (at least nobody I am aware of that is). Peace ;-)

I’m almost 28. In high school we focused mostly on Polish, ancient Greek, and elements of German and Russian literatures, with only one or two titles taken from British lit. (not sure we read anything “made in the USA”). Now, when I went on to study English at Uni, we did spend a lot of time reading British literature with a small portion of the classes devoted to American authors.

All in all from the titles you mentioned we only read Sallinger’s disappointment of a banned book (bored me to tears). I am not sure what the purpose of your question is to tell you the truth. And here’s why:

Have you read some or all of the books I listed? Were they required in school, or did you read them on your own? What books did I forget to mention? How have you noticed the curriculum change throughout your life? Were these required reading for those of you who were not raised/educated in a Westernocentric setting? Which books were you guys required to read?

You seem to point towards a ‘universal list’, asking whether you forgot anything, then you go on to ask whether if someone here is not from “the West” they had the same list of titles to read. No idea why you would assume that. Either I am missing some key piece of info here or your question does not make sense / is disorganized, purposeless even.

Could you please clarify in one sentence what it really is you are asking?

wildpotato's avatar

@fremen_warrior Your and Simone’s confusion appears disingenuous to me, as I believe I made it evident through my use of words like “Westernocentric” and “American” that I was not asking the question in order to solicit such ethnocentric replies as you seem to posit. Why would I assume that people not from the West would have read the same books, you ask? ...I don’t…that’s why I asked the question… Seems like you are really grasping at straws here. There is nothing in my question or the details that indicates I was only interested in American books and experiences, and there are a few things there that directly oppose this hypothesis – such as my division (marked by my use of the word “American”) between books Americans read more than most people, like Gatsby and Mockingbird, and books that seem to be assigned more universally, like Oedipus. If you read such a sentiment into the q, I suggest that you examine the prejudices you bring to the table – maybe your reaction against my supposed ethnocentrism is your projection of your own feelings, which you imagine I share.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@wildpotato I didn’t want to do this, but if you insist:

I believe I made it evident through my use of words like “Westernocentric” and “American” that I was not asking the question in order to solicit such ethnocentric replies as you seem to posit.

If I put, amongst others, the following words: “prick”, “my”, and “suck” into a single paragraph it does not mean they will definitely be used to form one particularly nasty interjection. Similarly just because you put those two words in there does not mean you made them work together, to mean what you now claim you meant. Believe what you will, that is one ethno-centrically loaded question.

you say:

- All the people I’ve asked who went to high school in America
– does not appear to be an across-the-board American curriculum book
– Were they required in school, or did you read them on your own? What books did I forget to mention? How have you noticed the curriculum change throughout your life?

And the only time you mention the “worldwide” part is when you ask this:

- Were these required reading for those of you who were not raised/educated in a Westernocentric setting? Which books were you guys required to read?

Which books? Really? Tell me you expected a list of Polish authors and titles. Hungarian? German perhaps? Nope. You just assumed “great American/British lit.” is an absolute must. At least that is what it looks like to me.

Why would I assume that people not from the West would have read the same books, you ask? ...I don’t…

And yet you do:

-”Were these required reading for those of you who were not raised/educated in a Westernocentric setting?”

Like I said before, you seem to assume all the world has to offer to students of literature is either a plethora of English authors, or a mere few obscure foreign ones nobody really reads.

- There is nothing in my question or the details that indicates I was only interested in American books and experiences, and there are a few things there that directly oppose this hypothesis – such as my division (marked by my use of the word “American”) between books Americans read more than most people,

There is nothing in your question or the details that indicates otherwise.

And finally:

- If you read such a sentiment into the q, I suggest that you examine the prejudices you bring to the table – maybe your reaction against my supposed ethnocentrism is your projection of your own feelings, which you imagine I share.

Why are you getting so defensive over this? I struck a nerve there? Next thing you’ll be telling me a lot of your friends are foreigners from outside the US.

I am sorry but I cannot see what you see here. And I still do not see the purpose behind your question.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@wildpotato Just like an American, assuming nothing exists outside of your little bubble. :) But seriously, I thought it was pretty obvious what you were asking in your question (made evident by the numerous answers from people that don’t have a huge stick up their ass) and those pointing out semantics when they know damn well what you meant just sounds like an attempt to make you sound like a “typical” American, ignorant of the rest of the world, so they can appear more intelligent and superior.

Oh and telling someone they’re getting defensive is a typical way condescending people can feel like they won. I’d ignore such swill.

wildpotato's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Great advice, thanks. You know the discussion is getting silly when you find yourself typing out an explanation of the bare fact that words have context. I’m gonna leave to the side for now the argument about semantics, but I’d like to reply to the charge of ethnocentrism. Them’s fightin’ words in academia :)

@fremen_warrior You attribute certain assumptions to my questions that were simply not there. I was, in fact, hoping for responses from cazzie, whitenoise, tups, ucme, zensky, that girl in I think the Phillipines whose name I can’t recall at the moment, and other Flutherers who were raised or are raising children in countries that are not America. Our international membership is one of the coolest things about Fluther. Not sure why you have such a hard time with the idea that my solicitation of info from such folks was based on curiosity and not…well, I’m actually not clear on what motivation you are trying to attribute to my question. Why would I ask a yes or no question if I assumed beforehand that the answer is one or the other?

You ask my purpose. I have several. In the sub question about whether people who were not educated in a Western setting were required to read Western literature or not, I’m interested in finding out if the educational systems of non-Western cultures are themselves Westernized. In no way does that interest indicate that I have a personal feeling about whether that fact is the case or not.

Response moderated (Spam)
fremen_warrior's avatar

@wildpotato and @livelaughlove21 I’m tired of arguing this, so I’ll end this discussion with a final rebuke.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@fremen_warrior Real mature cop-out there. :)

wildpotato's avatar

@fremen_warrior lol, that dude’s got a major DSL face going on

Response moderated (Spam)

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