Besides the annotation.
Legend has it that sometime in the mid-1970s, the High Council of English Teachers huddled together beneath their infinity scarves and enormous cardigans to anoint the sacred scripture of the 9th-12th-grade lexicon. It doesn't matter if you took AP, IB, or just plain ol' "Freshman English". You read, conservatively, every single one of the books on this list.
Maybe you plan on naming your future children "Jem" and "Scout". Maybe you have no idea who Jem and Scout even are. Whether you loved or hated English class, there were some major issues with your assigned reading even Sparknotes couldn't save you from.
*Please know that the author is a noted fan of most of the works on this list, but even she admits it definitely got a little tedious there....*
1. "The Great Gatsby"
You actually really liked this one. There were wild parties, mysterious pasts, even a little bit of action! Not to mention, it was less than 250 pages long. Unfortunately, the novel's brevity turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. As far as teachable content went, there wasn't much to go on. See, you can only fit so many symbols and themes into 50,000 words.
This lead to wild speculation among your English class. Was it all a dream? Is Gatsby secretly a woman? Why was "the green light" green? Was it because of the Buchanan's wealth? Gatsby's jealousy? Or maybe, just maybe (and this is a long shot here), the light was just… green.
2. "Jane Eyre"/"Wuthering Heights"
These two go hand in hand. Convention breaking female character? Check. Hopeless romantics roaming the moors? Check. The love interest is a total asshole? BIG. FAT. CHECK.
We get it! Rochester and Heathcliff are Byronic Heroes or whatever. Still, Jane could have done so much better. If hiding a crazy wife in your attic counts as baggage, then Rochester came with some serious baggage. And Cathy, sweetie, sure "whatever souls are made of" yours and Heathcliff's are the same, but after everything he did to your family, was it even worth it to come back from the dead?
3. "The Scarlet Letter"
Being the inspiration for Easy A is enough to make this book a classic. "The Scarlet Letter" is noteworthy for being one of the first novels to be mass produced in America—but boy, it's anything but riveting. You understand that it's an important commentary on shame culture in society, and you can't help but marvel in the beautiful word choice, but after reading something so dull, part of you wonders why they ever let America publish again.
4. "To Kill A Mockingbird"
The problem lies not with the novel therein, but with its sequel "Go Set A Watchman". After becoming our pillar of moral righteousness and the inspiration for every defense attorney after 1960, who could have guessed Atticus Finch would turn out to be a racist?
5. "The Old Man and the Sea"
Clocking in at 127 pages, they really only teach this one because it's short and, well, they have to get Hemingway in there somehow, don't they? The real tragedy here is all the other stuff you were missing out on. Do you really want to read gloomy, old man Hemingway?
The Hemingway we know and love is living it up in Paris, drinking wine by the barrel and throwing up in the Seine. Check out "The Sun Also Rises", or his posthumously published memoir "A Movable Feast" for all the crazy nonsense those ex-patriots were getting up to at the turn of the 20th century.
6. Of Mice and Men
You didn't exactly anticipate a rip-roaring comedy from a novella about two traveling farm hands, but that ending… That ending hurt you in a place you've never been hurt before. Is it embarrassing to cry in front of your entire English class?
God forbid "Frankenstein" turn out to be a horror novel. Instead, say hello to the world's most annoying protagonist, Victor "I couldn't possibly be more miserable" Frankenstein, the whiniest mad scientist in Europe. Don't forget about his accursed progeny, The Creature, a French speaking collection of reanimated dead body parts, who doesn't really do a whole lot of killing until the third act, but frequently talks in length about Paradise Lost.
8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
This Great American Novel has something it needs to get rid of.
Two words. Tom. Sawyer.
At a certain point you realized that this all could have been over in one act if Hamlet could only make a single goddamned decision.
10. Romeo and Juliet
Let's be honest, it's not Romeo OR Juliet we're interested in: it's literally everything else. The feuding families! The sword fights! Without the titular lovebirds weighing everything down, it's almost like a gangster movie!
Quick! Somebody call Martin Scorsese so I can pitch him my movie: GOODFELLAS 2: VERONA.