The Best and Worst

As my sophomore year of high school is approaching, I thought I’d look back at all the wonderful literature I’ve had to read for school the past three years, which happens to be 26 books.  I know that is way too many to discuss in a normal blog post, so I’ll pick my top 5 favorites and 5 I absolutely couldn’t stand.

The Best:

#1: The Iliad by Homer
Quote: “Why so much grief for me? No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate. And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you – it’s born with us the day that we are born.” 

Originally, I would’ve put this on my “hated books” list, but I recently realized that if I hadn’t read it, I wouldn’t love Greek mythology as much as I do now.  Reading the tale of Achilles, Hektor, Paris, and the gods of Olympus was long and drawn out, but it amazes me that people used to have this whole this memorized!  Even though reading pages and pages of warriors doing seemingly nothing was boring in 7th grade, it opened up the door to all kinds of things, and mythology can be a great inspiration for writing!

#2: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Quote: “It does seem simple, doesn’t it?’ she said, with a final bitter attempt at flippancy, ‘when you want to kill a chicken…you take hold of it…then you wring its neck…it’s only the chicken who does not find it quite so simple. Now you hold a knife at my throat, and a hostage for my obedience…You find it simple…I don’t.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel was probably my favorite book we read in 7th grade.  It’s fast-paced, well-written, and for a novel set during the French Revolution, there’s a good bit of action.  The characters were likable, and the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, savior of the French Aristocrats, adds wonderful flavor to the story.  Marguerite, the protagonist, wasn’t a character I related to, but she was a strong female lead.

#3: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Quote: “Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.”

This is one of my all-time favorites!  I was introduced to the world of sci-fi in 8th grade when I read Fahrenheit 451, and in 9th I read 1984 and Ender’s Game.  The themes of survival, power, and youth vs. adults are so prevalent in this work, and it’s impossible to put down.  Ender, the protagonist, is only six years old when the book starts, yet he’s a genius.  His journey and fight through Battle School is a compelling tale, and it’s a book I would recommend to anyone.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but I’ve heard they’re all amazing.

#4: 1984 by George Orwell
Quote: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” 

This book was absolutely freaky.  As in scary.  The tyrannical rule of Big Brother and how people could be so blinded in the society blew my mind.  The main character, Winston, struggles to find the truth and why everything wrong is erased to make Oceania seem like a utopia.  1984 gave me chills, and as creepy as it was, I couldn’t put it down.  I recommend not reading it at night, unless you love reading scary political novels in the dead of night…

#5: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Quote: “See there?” Jem was scowling triumphantly. “Nothin’ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl its mortifyin’.” 

One of the American classics, TKAM explores the racial tension of a small town in Alabama.  Told through the eyes of the young protagonist, Scout, the innocence she has is one of the most charming things about the novel.  I loved how Scout would tell the story as she saw it as a young girl, adding in comments like, “I didn’t know until later that…”.  With story elements like the children’s ploys to catch a glimpse of the reclusive Boo Radley to the court case that draws in the whole town, Harper Lee’s only novel is a masterpiece.  I always forget how good it is, and I can really relate to Scout, as I grew up playing with boys, just like she did.

The Worst:

#1: The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
Quote: “..that all-seeing eye which reads the heart, could not fail to discriminate between the living and the dead, and the gentle soul of the unfortunate girl was already far removed beyond the errors, or deceptions, of any human ritual.”

This is probably the worst book I’ve ever had to read.  Hands down.  The plot doesn’t accomplish anything, in my opinion, and the characters don’t have much depth.  I know “The Last of the Mohicans” is supposed to be a good movie, but this book, the first in the series and the last one Cooper wrote is a bit of a misfire.  One of the funniest things I can remember from our class discussions was that in one scene, the characters’ raft was almost as wide as the river, about a foot of room on each side.  They’re “ambushed” by Indians and the Indians try to jump on the gigantic raft, emphasis on the word try.  Firstly, about five or six Indians are all perched on a young tree.  Secondly, they all miss the raft and land in the water.  Does that make sense to anyone?

#2: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Quote: “At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.”

It took me forever to get through this book, and it’s only about 100 pages.  Set during the Civil War, it follows the journey of Henry Fleming, who runs away from a battle.  He later feels ashamed and thinks that if he could only get wounded, it would counteract his cowardice. (can you guess what the title means now?)  The tone of the novel was very boring, at least in my opinion, for a war novel, but not everything can be as good as The Hunger Games, right?  I’m not going to lie–I fell asleep while reading RBoC.

#3: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Quote: “This isn’t a war,” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.” 

Continuing on the subject of war novels, War of the Worlds was better than RBoC, but not by much.  I know a bunch of the guys in my class liked it, but I guess I like modern sci-fi novels better.  The narrator, also the protagonist, is never named and seems to always be in the worst place possible.  It’s the original alien invasion story: Earth (or maybe just England) is invaded by Martians and the aliens quickly begin annihilating the humans with death rays and magic smoke.  It seems the humans can do nothing to stop them.  I know I’m probably making this more interesting than it really is, but if you’ve read it, or at least attempted to read it, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

#4: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Quote: “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” 

I could sum this novel up in three sentences.  But in case you want to read it, I won’t.  The protag, an old man named Santiago, hasn’t caught a fish in months, and finally hooks a gigantic marlin.  The fish pulls him out to sea, and the old man starts relating to the fish.  It’s a very short book, and gets monotonous after a while.  But if you like stories where a man talks to himself and a fish for a whole book, you’ll like this one.  I will say one good thing about the novel—Hemingway is an amazing writer, and the prose flows wonderfully.

#5: “Richard II” by Shakespeare
Quote: “Discharge my followers; let them hence away,/From Richard’s night to Bolingbrooke’s fair day.”

I thought about adding Robinson Crusoe to the list, but “Richard II” won out.  Technically, it’s a play and not a book, but it was long and grueling and deserves to be on this list.  The play deals with murder, banishment, duels, and a coup against the king (Richard).  It’s not that I don’t like Shakespeare (there are many plays I do like), but this one was dry and long and too political.  If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t love politics.  It’s a sort of complicated plot line, at least, too complicated for me to explain the first part, so here’s a link to the synopsis.

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I have to talk about Moby Dick (by Herman Melville) too, because I have a love/hate relationship with it.  It was so long and boring and talked too much about whales, but the themes in it were amazing, the characters were strong, and the symbolism very clear.  I’ve used examples in every term paper I’ve written since I’ve read it, and I bet I’ll use it in even more.  The characters of Ishmael, Starbuck, and Captain Ahab are very well developed, and Ahab is sort of like an anti-hero.  I’ll probably never read MD again, but the quotes are very powerful: “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!”

My literature teacher (I’ve had her since 7th grade) is awesome, and even though I didn’t love all the books she taught our class, she had great insight on them, and made class discussions a little more interesting by bringing up elements we hadn’t considered before.  So thanks, Dr. W, for 26 books and counting! 🙂


3 thoughts on “The Best and Worst

  1. I greatly enjoyed The Iliad, even though I didn’t much care for it when we started it. I too love The Scarlet Pimpernel. Did you know that TSP is actually part of a series? I have heard that the other two books are very good. ( and To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books! When I’m not in the mood for the Redwall series, I usually pick up TKaM. 🙂 I actually never finished The Red Badge of Courage I disliked that book so much. I was so confused when I read it, and it was quite boring. I kind of enjoyed War of the Worlds, but I don’t think I’ll beaver read it again. It’s one of those books that I read and forget about- it didn’t make a big enough impression on me, I guess. I never finished Robinson Crusoe and fell asleep while reading it… And Moby Dick? Dislike! Did you have to read The Great Gatsby? I have a like/hate relationship with that book.

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