Summer required reading lists have begun arriving in Friday folders and email inboxes. Students will certainly sigh in exasperation, but parents might recognize old favorites on that list. Adults tend to recognize that many books on required reading lists are seminal to Western culture; there is a good reason they are required. It’s no surprise then, that sometimes a required book ends up being particularly influential, or a favorite.
We asked members of Team OverDrive if they’d ever had a required reading experience turn OMG amazing. Yes, yes we have.
Fantasy becomes a fast favorite
“I think it was 3rd or 4th grade when the teacher told us we’d all be reading David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd. As soon as I knew we were required to read it, I tuned out. Call it that old “don’t you tell ME what to read!” attitude. But when I grudgingly sat down and started reading the book, I was drawn right into the world of a boy protecting a mythical bird from a prying scientist, all the while adventuring with other fabled creatures. I was pleasantly surprised that a book I had to read to maintain my grade average could be so enjoyable because most of the required books were so dry and boring to my young mind. David and the Phoenix awoke in me an interest in mythological creatures and led me to consume many books about Greek, Norse, and African mythology.”
-Justin, Integration Support Specialist
Ringer or Potter Head?
“The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I know, I know how could I have been upset about that? I think it was because in my mind I separated Potter Heads and Ringers. One could NOT possibly be both. I pledged my love and affection to all things Harry Potter, to an embarrassing degree, and The Hobbit put me too close to Ringer territory, by extension. But I, of course, fell in love with the world Tolkien created and devoured The Hobbit in a single day. The Lord of the Rings shortly after. We were required to read it to understand the quest motif in literature. I read it because as it turns out, I just love adventure. I’m a Ringer and a Potter Head and that’s okay.”
-Christina, Marketing Specialist
Despite the odd substitute
“This happened to me with Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. I had to read this in my sophomore year of high school, when my English teacher was out on a long medical leave and we had the strangest substitute in the interim. When we started reading Cold Sassy Tree, the substitute would overemphasize the character’s names, as if we were all hard of hearing or didn’t understand how to pronounce words. He always referred to the main character to as “Willllllll Tweeeeeeeeeedy,” baring his teeth with all those E’s, which really turned me off to the book.
Once I started reading it, my mom told me that it was one of my gramma’s favorite books, and since she passed away when I was 6 I liked the idea of getting to know something she liked. The story ended up really grabbing me, and when I finished I was in tears. Regardless of the teaching methods applied for this book, I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how much it touched me. To this day I consider it as one of my favorite books, even though I can also hear that silly substitute’s voice when saying Will’s name.”
-Shannon, Account Specialist
Gatsby in wider context
“I was required to read The Great Gatsby in high school and I was pleasantly surprised how much I loved it! I was not expecting the love story and all of Gatsby’s efforts for Daisy and as a hopeless romantic, I really rooted for him. Of course, as we further analyzed the book, I loved it even more because of the historical context of the Roaring Twenties, themes about the American dream, etc. I most likely would not have realized all of the symbolisms and other details if we didn’t discuss it in class. It still is my favorite book to this day!”
-Katie, Marketing and Events Specialist
Third time’s a charm
“In college, I took a Charles Dickens course. It was brutal – by far the most intense and sufferable course I took for my English major. We began with Little Dorrit (which, at 876 pages, there was nothing LITTLE about) and Our Mutual Friend (hardly…) so I didn’t have many expectations at all for the third novel we read, much less great ones. It didn’t completely win Dickens over for me, but compared to the first two that trailed on and on with endless exposition that didn’t seem to ever make sense, I found Great Expectations to be much more streamlined and narrative, and therefore a welcome refresher.”
-Adam, Advertising Specialist
Nutshell? Jane Eyre is bonkers.
“While I grudgingly admired Elizabeth Bennett’s snarky wit and Jo March’s misfit charm, I still gave my Honors English teacher some wicked side-eye when she assigned us Jane Eyre. I couldn’t help but think, “Awesome – another dead white lady is going to talk to me about manners and family.”
I am beyond thrilled to admit that I was wrong and that Jane Eyre remains one of my favorite books of all time. Mainly because it’s absolutely bonkers.
Locking up a small, impressionable child with the spectre of a long-dead relative? Check! A BFF dying consumptively while the heroine is wrapped around her damp, tragic little body? That happens! (170 year old spoiler alert) A fire-starting, certifiably insane wife locked in a secret attic room? Oh, yes. A brooding, condescending man-baby love interest who tries to commit bigamy, cross-dresses to deceive the heroine, AND mansplains eeeeeeeeverything? Sign. Me. Up.
Seriously – if you passed this up or blew this off in high school, be sure to give it (another) chance if you love crazy, epic, gothic romances with just a touch of the supernatural, and feisty, independent heroines who take absolutely no prisoners.”
-Sydney, Training Specialist
“For me this book was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I remember everybody liking The Great Gatsby in high school, but my favorite read ended up being this 500-page book about a governess in a creepy house. I guess that’s the time I started enjoying romance and mystery because that’s what kept me turning pages.”
-Briana, Training Specialist
Modern? Yes, unfortunately.
“The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I had to read this book in 11th grade. I really didn’t want to because I suspected the writing would be dense and hard to follow. I was absolutely correct about that! But I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the book. Hawthorne’s portrayal of the emotional transactions between men and women is actually very modern. And Hester is a great early example of a free-thinking woman dealing with her sexuality in a male-dominated society.”
-Melinda, Content Analyst
Pfft. No dragons?
“Around sixth grade I was assigned The Count of Monte Cristo. At the time, I thought, “How boring! It doesn’t seem like there will be any fantasy or adventure in this. Definitely no dragons.” After dragging my feet to get started, I dove into this book and did not come up for air until it was finished. It was amazing! I was quite misguided in my assumption that there would be no adventure (though I was correct about the dragons). I learned just how extraordinary the human spirit could be with a little ingenuity and a lot of perseverance. My reading horizons were forever expanded thanks to The Count of Monte Cristo.”
-Krista, User Experience Analyst
That time you fall for a book that (ahem) no one else likes
“10th grade Honors English (ahem) Jim had no time to read books about slaughterhouses, nor did he have time to read books by guys named Kurt. Who names their kid Kurt, anyway? Clearly, Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, would be a disaster, because anytime 10th grade Honors English (ahem) Jim mentioned it to his upper-class friends, he was met with wide eyes, or long sighs, or simple phrases like, “Oh yeah, that book. Hated every minute”, or, “Cliff Notes it, man.” Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, enjoyed this book. To add insult, it was a summer reading requirement, which is the worst kind of reading requirement for a kid who wanted to spend their entire summer on the baseball diamond.
But boy, did Jim love it. So much so that he read it twice (!) that summer, dissected every word, aced the beginning of year essay, and started a love of all things Vonnegut. It also changed 10th grade Honors English (ahem) Jim’s thoughts about reading. If it weren’t for Slaughterhouse-Five, Jim may not be as voracious of a reader as he is today.”
-Jim, Account Specialist