Friday, May 18, 2012

Teenager Friendly Classics.

I got into a conversation yesterday with a group of students about books. I think they meant to derail me away from hounding them about progress on their research project, but it was related to the class, so I caved in and talked to them...then I hounded them. :)

Anyway, one of the students was one who got a copy of The Book Thief from World Book Night. She already finished the book and was asking for more recommendations. I asked her what she usually liked and all she said was, "No vampires." That made me laugh.

I ended up recommending a mix of things to her. Some of the YA titles I recommended were by John Green, Sarah Dessen, Carrie Ryan (zombies were okay), as well as some standalone titles (I told her to read Zusak's I am the Messenger as well). There were a few other YA titles I pushed, including one of my favorites, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Ben Saenz.

Then she asked for "grown-up" books...which is a whole other post I could go into. But she specifically wanted classics. This led to other students chipping in about classics being boring, old, and not very exciting. So, I had to rack my brain for books I think she would like and that would be "teenager friendly."

Now, I'm not saying that teenagers can' read or understand classics. Because I'm definitely NOT saying that. All I am saying is that some books are more accessible than others. I think she would have run away had I recommended War and Peace as a serious option. But I offered up these 5 titles as options, and promised I would think of more (keep in mind I kept some obvious ones off the list because they are part of our curriculum, or she had read them already).
  1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: She had already read and loved Pride and Prejudice, so I pushed this one as being similar in theme. I also told her about the great BBC mini-series. ;)
  2. Silas Marner by George Eliot: She liked the sound of this one, and since it is a simpler story, I thought it might be a good bridge to some of Eliot's other works, as well as other Victorians (I also mentioned The Mill on the Floss because I love it so). 
  3. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather: Again, I thought this would be a good bridge into some other great work by the same author.
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: I firmly believe that this should be a book for a course. I think teens would really get into the story and the "horrid" part of Dorian.
  5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: She asked for a mystery (not Sherlock Holmes) and this was the first one that popped into my head. 
I know I could have recommended others in the moment (the Brontes, hello? What was I thinking?), but she caught me on the spot! Talk about pressure!

But I thought you all might help me think of other "teenager friendly" classics. What would you recommend to a 15 or 16 year old who wanted to get their feet wet in classic literature?

64 comments:

  1. Fahrenheit 451, Slaughterhouse 5 (debatably a classic, but it is in my head), Rebecca, To Kill a Mockingbird, and something by Steinbeck...he's got a lot of excellent, short works.

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    1. Slaughterhouse-Five is ABSOLUTELY a classic, Amanda. Look at us agreeing again. 2012 all up in this beesh.

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    2. To Kill a Mockingbird and anything by Steinbeck - Completely agree!

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    3. All great options. They read TKAM as freshmen....

      I love Fahrenheit 451! I should have definitely mentioned that one!

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    4. I agree with anything by Vonnegut...Player Piano is perhaps one of his less lauded but I think in some ways more accessible, because the relationships in it feel a little more natural.

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  2. I would pick anything Austen, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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    1. She liked Austen, which is why I suggested Gaskell. They have some similar themes, but Gaskell throws in some more "issues"

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  3. I think you made good recommendations! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Their Eyes Were Watching God are two I read at about that age and LOVED! Content-wise I would say Vanity Fair and Gone with the Wind, but the length might scare teenagers off. Maybe The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton - it's short and crazy and certainly not boring!

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    1. I was thinking about Their Eyes Were Watching God and/or Like Water for Chocolate - both have some sensitive content, though, so it would depend on the particular teenager in question, I think.

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    2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my FAVORITES. I'll definitely push that one on her. ;)

      Their Eyes Were Watching God is such a good one...they use it in the AP Lit course, which I always found to be an interesting choice...

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  4. I second Slaughterhouse 5, and The Grapes of Wrath. I wasn't a big reader in high school, but one of my favorites that I read for school was Catch 22. I thought it was hilarious. I'm not sure if it's technically a classic, but close enough. I would also add I Capture the Castle or A Room with a View. I read The Color Purple as a teen and loved it, but some parents might object to the subject matter.

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    1. I haven't read Catch-22 yet (I'm going to be reading it soon though!).

      Yeah, I read The Color Purple as a senior in high school...it was definitely shocking for me!

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    2. Catch-22 is totally a classic, and if your student is one with a quirky sense of humor, she'll never forget it.

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  5. Definitely Austen and the Brontës. Dickens is also pretty engaging, but as a teen I thought his books were children's literature, due to their popularity and Disney adaptations. Perhaps Wharton, The Age of Innocence?

    Modern classics: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms. Gone with the Wind might also be a good one, although it has some baggage that needs to be discussed.

    As an aside: you rock as a teacher. I only took one literature course in college. At the end the prof tried to be friendly and asked us what our favorite books were and a lot of people said Harry Potter, which made complete sense considering the average age there. He proceeded to tear the books apart and tell everyone that they had to grow up already etc. I loved that course, but that was an unpleasant moment, to say the least.

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    1. Yes!!!!! Gone With the Wind! I was sixteen the first time I read it, and it made me LOVE history, and is a great reason why I'm reading the classics now, I believe.

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    2. I can't believe I didn't tell her to read Wharton-she's my favorite!

      And yes, Gone with the Wind. I always had a stigma against it as a teen, so I need to change that!

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  6. Of mice an men (the original audience was supposed to be children), catcher in the rye, Frankenstein, a Christmas carol. Alice's adventures in wonderland, the red pony, Something by Jules Verne or h.g. Wells...

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    1. Of Mice and Men is one of the course requirements for tenth graders in our district-they all love it. :)

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    2. If the student is ready to think critically about coming of age and decide for herself what it means to erase all the "F-yous" and be a "catcher in the Rye," this one could be really defining. But some kids miss a lot and just see the protagonist as a jerky kid, which is too bad.

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  7. Animal Farm by Orwell
    Lord of the Flies by Golding
    A Study in Scarlet by Doyle
    Watership Down by Adams
    A Separate Peace by Knowles
    Ragtime by Doctorow
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Kesey
    Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy
    Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Stevenson

    And, depending on maturity and reading level, possibly:

    Brideshead Revisited by Waugh
    Day of the Locust by West
    Death of a Salesman by Miller
    The Blithedale Romance by Hawthorne

    I agree with Fahrenheit 451 as well, but not The Great Gatsby - I feel that one is more appreciated by folks with some life experience (but perhaps some of your teens do have that). :)

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    1. Buahaha...I love your ginormous list. :)

      A few of those are part of our curriculum (Golding, Knowles, Kesey). The school actually uses The Great Gatsby in the tenth grade curriculum, which I always thought was odd. I didn't get it as a tenth grader. It was only when I was older that I understood the magic of that book.

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    2. Watership Down is great. You can read it as a kid and just enjoy the adventure story, and then as an adult you think about it again and realize there's a lot there that goes deep. It was one of the first I made my wife read it when we got married, as she was almost exclusively a non-fiction reader.

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  8. Rebecca is fantastic, and a couple of my college freshmen read it for their final project and loved it.

    PS - LOVE your new look. It fits so well.

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    1. I think Rebecca would be right up her alley!

      And thank you!

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  9. I might get stabbed for this, but I think the abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo is great for teens. I read that edition in the 10th grade and absolutely loved it. It's so action-packed and devious. For people with more time on their hands and a lot of patience I'd recommend the full version, but for a teenager I'd definitely go with the abridged.

    I'd also like to add The Lord of the Rings to this list, because I'm pretty sure that counts as classic literature, and it's awesome.

    I'll also second a lot of the ones mentioned already, like Fahrenheit 451 (I's also recommend The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man by the same author), Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Brave New World, Frankenstein, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, the short Steinbeck works, etc. I haven't read Catcher in the Rye, but from what I understand it seems like a great book for teens too.

    Thank goodness you're making this list. I think a lot of times teens get turned off to the classics because they read the wrong ones for their age group or reading level. I know I liked 1984 much better at 18 than I did at 14. I wish I'd had such good recommendations when I was in high school. It would have helped me out a lot.

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    1. I love your choices here! Especially Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein and Dracula!

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    2. I second Jeremy's sentiment, and would also say ditto on Catcher in the Rye. That book is fantastic and I would highly recommend it.
      I'd also add Little Women and Wuthering Heights.

      Great post!

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    3. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, absolutely! I taught those to my Freshman/Sophomore reading classes.

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    4. All of these are great suggestions! Thank you!

      One of the teachers uses The Hobbit for her elective literature course. I would love to teach that one day... :)

      I read the adbridged Count of Monte Cristo as a ninth grader and fell in love with it (I went and bought the full edition to read shortly after).

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    5. The Count of Monte Cristo is a dream itself. I enjoined it as a teen.

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  10. A good classic to get started in is one my mother suggested I read while I was very early on in high school, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Another good one might be The Secret Garden.

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  11. Couldn't agree more with The Woman in White, cause it's the funnest!

    Let's see... I definitely recommend basically anything by Steinbeck (I think 16 was around when I started reading him, and that was a fairly awesome time), To Kill A Mockingbird, and maaaybe some Austen, although I didn't really 'get' her until I was a bit older. And also, more or less everything that everyone's said already!

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    1. I wish I would have discovered Steinbeck as a teenager...I'm jealous. :)

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  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Cry, the Beloved Country would be great picks. Maybe 1984, too.

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    1. Thank you! I haven't read Cry, the Beloved Country yet, but I will soon!

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  13. The Bell Jar would be the first thing I recommend.

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    1. I came thisclose to recommending that one (I love it so much), but held back. I kind of want to see what she chooses to read first before recommending that one.

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    2. *luahgs * Ironically, I came to this page to recommend the Bell Jar...

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  14. I loved Dorian Gray when I was in high school. I'd add I Capture the Castle to everyone else's excellent recommendations.

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    1. I haven't read that one yet either!

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  15. Being a teenage classics reader myself, I would recommend Jane Eyre, TKAMB, Oliver Twist and 1984. If they want a challenge, Catch-22 is a possibility, but going for Bronte, Austen or a shorter Dickens is always a safe bet, I reckon.

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    1. Thanks for all the suggestions. I'm definitely going to have to read Catch-22 sooner rather than later...

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  16. I couldn't get through Catch-22 or Brave New World as a teen (and I was in the "special" classes). But, then again, I was reading mostly fantasy and biographies at the time, I guess..

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    1. Haha. I read a lot of that as a teen too. I probably wouldn't have tried most of these titles-amazing how tastes change.

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  17. I immediately thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I see others have mentioned it. I talked a customer into buying it the other day. She had a teenager that hates reading, and asked me for a title that might make him start reading the classics. :-)

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    1. Awww, that's a good one. All of our kids love it (they read it in ninth grade).

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  18. Also, I didn't see anyone mention Jane Eyre. But, yeah. That. :)

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    1. I can't believe I didn't tell her that one. I'm ashamed. :(

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  19. That's a tough one! I'd probably recommend Frankenstein...I read it at 20 and couldn't believe I'd put it off in my teen years. That's too bad that she's not into vampires, because I'd also recommend Stoker's Dracula and Sheridan LeFanu's Camilla.

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  20. So many great people have offered such great suggestions, but I also loved Edith Wharton (wrote my AP English essay on her!). Depending on her humor, she might enjoy some of Oscar Wilde's plays too - I thought I was so sophisticated for reading that one in high school. Oh, and DuMaurier's Rebecca too!

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  21. Here's a few more thoughts: Alice in Wonderland, Around the World in 80 Days, The Call of the Wild, Great Expectations, A Farewell to Arms, Oliver Twist, Flowers for Algernon, The Good Earth, Gulliver's Travels, The Invisible Man, The Jungle, My Antonia, The Phantom of the Opera, maybe some short stories by Poe. Certainly some Shakespeare, though I bet a play or two is in the curriculum.

    I'm going back and forth on Don Quixote - to my mind it's hilarious, but I'm not sure if it would be to a 16-year-old.

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  22. A few options from my own teenage years:

    Gene Stratton-Porter--Girl of the Limberlost, Freckles
    Annemarie Selinko--Desiree
    Stendhal--The Red and the Black
    Dostoyevsky--Crime and Punishment
    T.H. White--The Once and Future King
    Beowulf
    The Nibelungenlied
    Sir Walter Scott--Ivanhoe, Waverley

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    1. The Once and Future King is a great one, and can be a good introduction to all of the Arthur stories that get thrown at you in an English Major. And, I better cut my comments now, since I'm a newcomer.

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  23. Oh fun topic!

    I'd recommend Catcher in the Rye (I read that in high school), Little Women, Grapes of Wrath (while it is Steinbeck, its a fairly easy read and really pretty interesting), To Kill a Mockingbird, (although I see they already read that). I haven't read Catch-22 or a lot of the other classics mentioned here. I um, need to get on that.

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  24. Pretty much all my choices have been said already, but we read Gabriel García Márquez in high school and everyone loved it. We didn't read One Hundred Years Of Solitude, but Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It was great. I also remember The Chosen by Chaim Potok being a favorite. Also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

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  25. When I was that age I really liked creepy/twisted lit. I was actually really surprised that "good" literature could be so nuts! Examples: Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, short stories); Huxley's Brave New World; and I quickly fell in love with all things Flannery O'Connor.

    GREAT post and a great discussion, Allie!

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  26. Have you ever seen the adaptation of "North and South"? The main reason I watched it was for Richard Armitage and I ended up really enjoying it.

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  27. I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award.

    Do check out http://logo-ligi.com/2012/05/21/sunshine-award/ for rules on accepting

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  28. I read Gone With the Wind 4 or 5 times before I found Dickens, so yeah, that's a great choice. My favorite reading of A Tale of Two Cities occurred when I was leading a book discussion on Sept. 13, 2001...that's right, two days after 9/11. Thinking about Madame Defarge and revenge at that time was most interesting. I didn't know there was an abridged edition of Monte Cristo, but that also would be a great choice. There's so much more to Frankenstein than Boris Karlov. You made some good recommendations.

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  29. Well, I was a little older, but the first classic I read on my own and really loved was Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. I was a freshman in college and it was forced on me by a boy who lived down the hall in my dorm (and on whom I had a massive crush). It never worked out between us but I really loved that book! I'm rereading it with my classics group in June so I'm very excited about it.

    Other favorites from my youth were Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and Animal Farm. I didn't read many classics in high school because my school wasn't that good. I read hardly any classics until I was an adult. I'm sure the ones I love now would have turned me off as a teenager.

    A Room with a View might be another good choice.

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  30. And Oliver Twist! How could I forget Dickens? He's just a little boy, they might relate to that. Also Great Expectations though most kids read it in high school anyway.

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  31. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins are one of my all time favorites.

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