May 7, 2008

Failure is always an option

The California Department of Education offers a potentially rather nifty service to parents on its official website: It provides recommended reading lists customized based on the kid's grade level (K-12) and test score on the California Reading Arts exam, with 13 progressively harder lists at each grade level:
"Based on your child's score on the California English-Language Arts Standards Test, a specific list has been designated as appropriate for him or her in terms of reading difficulty and interest level."

These lists are much less driven by multiculturalist quotas than you'd expect. They're heavy on The Classics of Western Civilization, including ones that nobody reads anymore, like Vergil's Aeneid. And the multiculti stuff is pretty good, like Fences by August Wilson.

Unfortunately, educators are living in a dreamland about what kind of books are suitable for their lowest-scoring students. Let's take a look at the recommended reading list for high school students (grades 9-12) who rank lowest out of the 13 levels of scores on the test. So, that's like youths in the bottom decile in reading ability, right?

Here are five of the 57 recommendations from the bottom of the barrel list:

Collected Poems by W.H. Auden
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
Paradise Lost by John Milton

Right ...

Look, at this level, you just want these kids to read something, so you should be recommending, I don't know, 32-page sports hero biographies in big type with lots of pictures. The Da Vinci Code is way too hard for these poor bastards.

This seems to be a general pattern, pushing public school kids toward books that are way over their heads.

Let's now talk about average public high school students, rather than the bottom 1/13th. For example, Shakespeare is frequently introduced to students via Romeo and Juliet, which is the young Shakespeare at his most show-offy and incomprehensible. You should start instead with Julius Caesar, which is written in Shakespeare's simplest style in imitation of Latin. And it's about war and politics, which boys like, and boys are the problem these days. Most of them probably won't get it, but at least they have a fighting chance with Julius Caesar.

For those high school students who go on to a second Shakespeare play, Henry IV, Part I has perhaps the most entertainment value, with war, politics, honor, and some humor that's still kind of funny in Falstaff. Avoid Shakespeare comedies that are based upon transvestism but aren't actually funny, like Twelfth Night. They appeal to a certain type of English teacher, but not to most students. In general, tragedy endures better than comedy.

And avoid "problem plays" like Measure for Measure, which are problem plays because they have problems (i.e., aren't very good).

If you are building a public high school reading list of classics, you should look for 1) simple, 2) short, and 3) appealing to boys, which means you'd start with The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.


My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I'd rather they just give the kids the daily newspaper, at least just the news and biz. sections...I think that would accomplish 2 things - (1)improve their reading and (2) make less ignorant about the world or at least where they live.

Tino said...

When Marge Simpson has to homeschool Bart Simpson:

"-Marge: Bart, I'd like you to read this copy of ``Johnny Tremaine''. It's a book I read as a girl.

Bart: A book!? Pfffft.

-Marge: I think you might like this. It's about a boy who goes to war. His hand is deformed in an accident.

-Bart: Deformed? Why didn't you say so! They should call this book ``Johnny Deformed''?"

(Bart reads the book and likes it)

Anonymous said...

A Hero Of Our Time by Lermontov wasn't written in English but it can capture the interest of your typical high school boy, guaranteed.

Anonymous said...

The Dolphin Crossing, by Jill Paton Walsh.

Anonymous said...

The Princess Bride. I read it in grade 8 and thought it was really good and it appeals to both sexes, with an adventure story for the boys and a love story for the girls.

Anonymous said...

"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck should serve.

Unknown said...

As with your art history post, I would have to agree. Students need to learn how to follow a narrative, and most English lit. lessons consist of a teacher explaining the plot. There isn't much time for nuances. Actually, Heinemann and other publishers offer simplified classics, which are 30-60 pp. There are even simplified Shakespeare plays, with little exercises between the acts. These days, reading a simplified classic to grasp its plot is a necessary step to reading the original, unabridged version--alas.

Anonymous said...

About anything by Nevil Shute EXCEPT "On The Beach" is good, as are the light fiction in DIY and technical magazines in the 30s-70s. I like Lucian Cary's J.M. Pyne stories a lot also.

And don't laugh-Tektronix oscilloscope service manuals. They were humorously texted with little cute drawings by the schematics. Guy Lautard's books for hobby machinists and steam foamers contain a lot of this readable male stuff.

Boys' magazines for nearly a century-1865-1955-knew all this and complied.

Here is one good commentary:

Thursday said...

Twelfth Night is actually quite funny, if done right. Malvolio's delusions of grandeur are wonderful, especially on stage. There is a fantastic TV version directed by Kenneth Branagh, if you want to check it out. But you're right, it isn't something that would appeal to kids.

Problems plays like Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida aren't thought of as problem plays because they are any less well put together or insightful, but because their plots are pretty sordid. You are right though that they would leave a bad taste in most students' mouth.

As for short readable boys books I'd go with a lot of R.L. Stevenson. Kipling's Kim might do. H.G. Wells.

Thursday said...

The Hobbit is pretty good too. And some of the Norse Saga's might work.

Steve Sailer said...

"Kim" is too verbally dazzling. Heinlein's "Citizen of the Galaxy," which was inspired by "Kim," is more comprehensible to average kids.

"Johnny Tremaine" is terrific.

Darayvus said...

Hamlet works pretty well for adolescents but they should be introduced to it through the stage. It's hard work for boys to read a play, which is necessarily all dialogue. On stage they get to see some action.

Paradise Lost is long too, and famously "Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God"; but the kids will like the energy of Lucifer and the thrill of an actual War In Heaven.

The Aeneid is lousy. Really, really awful. We had to read it in college. Books 1-6 are bearable, but only because Virgil had lifted the stories from the Epic Cycle and Odyssey.

Anonymous said...

I think the average teenage boy would enjoy "To Hell and Back" by Audie Murphy or "The Red Baron" by Manfred von Richthofen. Both are easy reading adventure books with lots of action, but the reader will get some sense of what was going on in the world at the time. "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Solzhenitsyn is not too challenging and a great book. Two of my kids who are not inclined to read enjoyed "1984" a lot. My daughter couldn't get through "Jane Eyre," and, frankly, I don't understand why she should have to. I would have no desire to read that myself. I'm all for tradition but it's a waste of time to push some of these old classics on school kids.

Steve Sailer said...

The WWII non-fiction book "The Great Escape" is a good one, too.

The last surviving escapee just died a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Crane was a good suggestion; his poetry is also under-appreciated and a lot of it would be suitable for high school.

- Fred

Thursday said...

Shakespeare shouldn't be forced on non-academic kids. You can get them to appreciate the plots, but the poetry is just too complex for all but the very best students.

Why anyone would suggest Paradise Lost for high schoolers of any ability I do not know. Its one of the most learned, off-putting books you could imagine. Wonderful stuff, but tough going even for most intelligent adults.

Anonymous said...

In 10th grade, I had a class where I read "Once and Future King" by T.H. White, "The Gods Themselves" by Isaac Asimov, "Battle Cry" by Leon Uris, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot. I guess they decided "this is the year boys are smart enough to read whole books finally. Let's give the good stuff."

Anonymous said...


Anything Dashiell Hammett. Both simple and GOOD. Plus, crime and detectives. Boy friendly. Simple vocabulary. A decent 7th grader could read it. Great for problem readers. Red Harvest, Continental Op, and Dain Curse are particularly good, also Maltese Falcon.

Also, anything Eric Ambler. Particularly Coffin for Dimitrios. A thriller that will teach them some history.

I would not call Measure for Measure a "problem play" more one that requires mature understanding -- neither sexual license nor tryannical prudery are wise.

Also great: Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, or Jules Verne Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Twain's Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Easy and again, a bit of history that's well, fun.

I wouldn't call Kim verbally dazzling. I read it at age 11 and found it pretty straightforward.

You're quite right though, boys need different reading material than girls.

Steve Sailer said...

Here are the first two paragraphs of Kipling's "Kim:"

He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire-breathing dragon', hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot.

There was some justification for Kim - he had kicked Lala Dinanath's boy off the trunnions - since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white - a poor white of the very poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the missionaries that she was Kim's mother's sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a Colonel's family and had married Kimball O'Hara, a young colour- sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi Railway, and his Regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in Ferozepore, and O'Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains, anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but O'Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three papers - one he called his 'ne varietur' because those words were written below his signature thereon, and another his 'clearance-certificate'. The third was Kim's birth-certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium-hours, would yet make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged to a great piece of magic - such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum, in the big blue-and-white Jadoo-Gher - the Magic House, as we name the Masonic Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim's horn would be exalted between pillars - monstrous pillars - of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding on a horse, at the head of the finest Regiment in the world, would attend to Kim - little Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not forgotten O'Hara - poor O'Hara that was gang- foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the veranda. So it came about after his death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth- certificate into a leather amulet-case which she strung round Kim's neck.

Anonymous said...

Julius Caesar is certainly a better play for boys than Romeo and Juliet. MacBeth would be even better (lots a killin'), but the references are more obscure and the language more difficult.

I've found the best way to appreciate Shakespeare is to listen to the plays in books-on-tape fashion (over and over - they're not boring). Either Penguin or Harper Collins used to sell recordings of classic performances by RADA with the likes of Anthony Quayle, John Mills, Alan Bates, Cyril Cusac, and Ian Holm. I'd listen a few times, then read the play, then listen a few more times.

As to books for boys: I agree with Testing99 - Dashiel Hammett is great stuff. I'd also suggest (in no particular order):

1.) "1984" - George Orwell (as they get older, any of Orwells non-fiction as well)
2.) "The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far" - Cornelius Ryan
3.) "I Claudius" - Robert Graves
4.) "The Guns of August" and "A Distant Mirror" - Barbara Tuchman
5.) "Day of the Jackal" and "The Odessa File" - Frederick Forsythe
6.) "Nine Princes in Amber" - Roger Zelazny

If I were being subversive, I'd also suggest the "Flashman" novels by George MacDonald Frazier.

Anonymous said...

Steve, a few survivors of Stalag Luft III were reported alive in April 2008:

Brickhill's book is a good suggestion though (I've got a copy right here).

I agree about Citizen of The Galaxy, and would suggest all of the Heinlein juveniles for boy readers.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books are excellent (and his other works too).

The "Tripods Trilogy" by John Christopher (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire) can be recommended to boys.

Today's (very) young girls seem to like "Magic Treehouse" books (they seem rather insipid to me, and the authors keep churning them out despite having run out of good ideas quite a ways back, but still, better than another hour of TV).

For slightly more advanced readers Frank Yerby's historicals are great-- well researched, full of action, well written...

Anonymous said...

Earth Abides, by George Stewart;
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.
These are both books I read as an adult because my kids in 6th or 7th grade recommended them.

Anonymous said...

Huckleberry Finn.

Also, for poor readers, how about Charles and Mary Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare" rather than the actual plays?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Board of Education wants these kids to drop out of school so they can be cheap-homemade-labor for the Chamber of Commerce, thus they are doing all they can to facilitate that. I mean hell,they are already identified as the losers by the ninth grade right?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's nothing quite like war and violence to interest boys in reading..

Michael Shaara's Killer Angels
Mario Puzo The Godfather
Mark Helprin's Soldier Of the Great War

as for nonfiction--
Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter
Margaret Ann Barnes's Murder in Coweta County

Helprin's book (damn, what a great story) is the best of those five and the only one that hasn't been turned into a movie yet. Edward Norton has been trying to get it produced for years. If this summer's Hulk is a big hit, hopefully he'll finally get to make it.

Anonymous said...

Translate Shakespeare, I say. I've seen some good toned-down Shax texts that still sound pretty good but are more comprehensible. We read just such a version of Julius Caesar when I was in 5th grade, and it's probably appropriate for the weaker high school readers. I've got an 11th grade class that gets into Macbeth reasonably well because of its appealing subject matter, but they're really not getting much out of the actual reading and require constant translation before they realize they like it. So I say give them a translated text in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Vonnegut is easy to read and lots of stimulating ideas that are suitable for adolescent minds. (I'm thinking esp of the Monkey House collection)

Anonymous said...

The US Marine Corps and US Army have great reading lists ideal for engaging boys' interest in reading. As I recall the Army one starts with Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers'. Other books I'd recommend include Mark Twain; his stuff is way more accessible than 'Red Badge of Courage' - heck, Shakespeare is way more accessible! Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' is good for younger children, as is CS Lewis' 'The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe' - the latter has the advantage of gender-balanced protagonists.

Anonymous said...

I'll second martin's recommendations for "1984" and "I, Claudius", ideal for reasonably competent teenagers. Although I don't think the neocons would like 1984's anti-war message and I know the Gramscian Marxists (who control teacher training) hate 1984's anti-thought-control message.

Jason said...

I just picked up a copy of "Two Years Before the Mast". Decent adventure story.

War and crime and adventure are always good bets. Jack London. I don't remember which Al Capone biography I read, but I'm sure there are some at each reading level.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is fun; but is a love of list-making normal? Any studies on that, Steve?
I think Steinbeck is the most accessible great writer (or the greatest populist writer) of all time. I'd recommend Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday (with warnings on the view of prostitution)followed by The Grapes of Wrath.Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls is the one to go for - I think Old Man and the Sea is verging on self-parody - always a danger with EH.
I think 1984 is rather dreary - Animal Farm is far better.
I don't think The Red Badge of Courage is inaccessible. (Incidentally, does anyone else think Audie Murphy was more convincing as the protagonist of RB of C than as himself in To Hell and Back?).
A short war novel that I actually studied in school is The Ship by C.S. Forester. Not part of the canon, tho.
Robinson Crusoe is too long. From the early 17th C, how about Gulliver's Travels?
Most important: avoid mid 19th C wordbloats. Dickens and that lot were being paid by the word, and it shows.

Anonymous said...

The Old Man and the Sea was one of the most mind numbing books I've ever read. I would say anything by Hemingway is terrible, as his books are about characterization, with literally no plot no whatsoever. Boys like things that are plot driven.

When I was in high school, I thought the best book by far that they had us read was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Anonymous said...

You can never go wrong with C.S. Forster.

Unknown said...

I would recommend Alfred Lansing's "Endurance." Lansing was a newspaperman in the '50s, and thus knew how to tell a story using clear, direct sentences. And the story he tells--that of Shackleton and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914--is a great one.

True, the book is non-fiction, but it is well suited to the goal of getting boys to read.

Anonymous said...

Looking back, I almost stopped reading fiction after around age 12 or so. By then I was digging into non-fiction. Far too much knowledge of real things out there to waste too much time with stories. Some novels and short stories, but it always seemed like an effort to get through to the end.

Was I alone in this?

Thursday said...

Tolstoy goes out of his way to be readable and his short novels are every bit as good as monsters like W&P and AK. Boys would especially like his novella about Chechnya, Hadji Murad. It's a great little war story.

LemmusLemmus said...

When you search for the "easiest" list for high school students, what you get is pretty similar to the "hardest" list. Somebody did some serious bollixing up, but I don't think anyone in the Department of Education is so stupid as to think that Hamlet is appropriate for the weakest readers.

As for reading recommendations, Twelve by Nick McDonell is a fast and easy read. It contains drugs and violence. On the one hand, that may get you into trouble with the parents, on the other, it's something the boys with the biggest problems can probably relate to. In terms of vocabulary, anything by Nick Hornby is ridiculously easy. The only novels I personally enjoyed in school were To Kill a Mockingbird and The Outsiders. (The latter one's pretty short, too.)

Xenophon Hendrix said...

I have to be careful here; by sixth grade I was reading anything that I felt like, so I don't want to bias the list with things that are too hard.

For a general reader in ninth grade:

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George--it has lots of adventure.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss (with the boring parts abridged)
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
I agree that Heinlein's juveniles are wonderful.
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths by Bernard Evslin
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds H. G. Wells
The Hobbit by Tolkien
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Caesar and Cleopatra by G. Bernard Shaw--funny and thought inspiring
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Robert Louis Stevenson
Raphael Sabatini
Selected scenes from James Herriot

For kids who actually like to read:

The Once and Future King by T. H. White
The Iliad (this and the next only for established, good readers)
The Odyssey
Assorted Sherlock Holmes stories
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (in a contemporary translation)
Dracula by Bram Stoker

I specifically disagree with:

Huckleberry Finn--I could read it as a kid; I couldn't appreciate it until I was an adult.
I, Claudius--too long and boring unless the kid has a record of liking such stuff
Shakespeare is too hard for someone in ninth grade. For weak readers, he is an insane choice.
The Godfather--the sex scenes make it inappropriate for school

For general upperclassmen:

The Old Man and the Sea
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck--wonderful and not a downer like Mice
G. B. Shaw in general
The Battles That Changed History by Fletcher Pratt
The mythology book above would be good here, too.

For upperclassmen who are good readers:

This is the place where some Shakespeare becomes appropriate.
Maybe Huckleberry Finn here (I'd prefer to leave it for college.)
Ernest Hemingway's short stories (selected)
The more bummer Steinbeck
Selected Edgar Allan Poe
Some Frost, Yeats, Dickinson, Shelly, Keats

Boring classics should be avoided for everyone. We want people to become lifetime readers, not avoid books because they believe they are painful. (Hawthorne should have been shot. Dickens should have been drawn and quartered.)

Whenever possible kids should be given a choice between books.

Unfortunately, I'm drawing a blank on good books for genuinely poor readers. Comics, maybe, and I'm not joking.

Anonymous said...

The Tomorrow series, starting with "Tomorrow when the war began", by John Mardsen. Mardsen is an Australian English teacher who set out to write a book that his uninterested students would read. I can't imagine a teen being unmoved by these books- all the adults I've pushed them on have finished the series.

"Two Years Before The Mast", "Kim"... Amazing stuff, but why did it take me on my own finding these books in my 30s?

And why did it take me many years on my own before I found the poetry of Dorothy Parker, much less Kipling....

Anonymous said...

Technically, the 5 examples you cited aren't from the bottom of the barrel list--they're uncategorized (reading list column is NP), so they show up on all lists. The 13+ books are the ones with 13+ in the reading list column. It's probably a web developer's error.

The 13+ list is fairly strange in its own right though.

Unknown said...

Especially where the boys are concerned, skip the classics and just get them reading. I marvel that schools don't make more use of Joseph Wambaugh, "Semi-Tough," and "North Dallas 40." I like testing99's "Red Harvest" suggestion too -- basic but sophisticated, suspenseful and violent. That's an easy to read good book with real impact.

Hunsdon said...

I'm siding with testing99? Has the world ended?

Hammett. The shorter Continental Op stories serve as a nice gateway drug to the novels.

Burroughs. Slight problems with portrayals of Africans aside, Tarzan should work fine. Or the egg-laying Martians of John Carter.

I'll echo Goldman's The Princess Bride, like it says right on the cover it's a "good parts" version of your standard fairy tale. And "Hello my name is Inigo Montoya" is guaranteed to light a fire in any boy's enthusiasm.

Kim is indisputably dazzling in language, but such a ripping good yarn that it ought to be on the list. Sell it as the story of an alienated teen who doesn't do angst.

I think a lot of these are also appropriate for much younger readers, but if we're dealing with someone who simply doesn't read, it doesn't really matter how old they are, and short flashes of brilliance (i.e., the short story) might, as mentioned above, work as a gateway drug.

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, too.

Anonymous said...

What is this nonsense about the Aeneid being no good? Go read Harry Potter, then, or better yet, watch the movie.

Anonymous said...

Romeo and Juliet seems to be a good introduction just because the story itself is very clear and easy to understand. I think that's why it is chosen to start kids on Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

Once of the greatest crimes of American education is the belief that serious writers spent years crafting their masterworks to be read by a bunch of pimply-faced adolescents with little ability, even less knowledge, and almost no self-discipline or patience.

Most of the books assigned in grammer and high school, most of the books recomended by the people on this blog, were never intended for teenagers. They were intended for literate, educated adults. There are some exceptions, of course, but as a general rule this is undeniable.

Frankly, average and below-average students (i.e., the vast majority of students) should be reading books on par with the Hardy Boys and Sports Illustrated. Plus an occasional short story or novella by more accessible writers like Hemingway and Steinbeck. Reading and understanding this level of material would be an enormous achievement for these kids.

American Patriot

Anonymous said...

Why does a reading list automatically need to be comprised of fiction, a relatively recent and in my opinon destructive addition to the human oeuvre?

Hell, had you stuck me in front of Wikipedia when I was seven I'd never get enough of it. I read a lot as a kid, but it was always world almanacs, atlases, Guiness Book of World Records, Sports Illustrated, and the odd biography.

When asked what he read Sun CEO Scott McNealy once replied "I don't read novels. I don't have time to enter other peoples' imaginary worlds." I feel the same way.

Unknown said...

"I, Claudius" is a great book, but I don't think a book that contains brother-sister incest, senators' wives whoring themselves, a pedophilic emperor, patricide, and adultery is going to pass muster with most modern school boards.

Anonymous said...


I think you may be a little off here. CA has idiots in charge of this list, but it is partly that their interface/explanation is insanely bad. I think the "NP" (non-prose) works don't get filtered out by the list level AT ALL. If we assume this, then the bottom grade lists are pretty much empty, and finally at list #3 we get "The Tale of One Bad Rat" and "The Woman Who Walked
into Doors"

That makes much more sense. They need someone with some kind of clue as to how to present information, though.

Anonymous said...

The Sea Wolf by Jack London
Call Of The Wild by Jack London
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The following two might be a bit too dense but I liked them as a teenager:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Anonymous said...

1984 is too boring, in my opinion. Go with Animal Farm instead.


The Hobbit
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - more exciting than TLTWATW and just as short and readable.
Actually, while we're on Lewis - his Space Trilogy is pretty good, especially the first: Out of the Silent Planet
Also, a nod to Sherlock Holmes.

Others that aren't necessarily classics - the Fletch books. The Mote in God's Eye. I'd steer clear of Hammett's books, perhaps, depending on your sensibilities - I found them overly bloody and alcohol-soaked. Chandler's are better.
Kim might be too dense (I haven't read it) but Kipling's The Jungle Books is fantastic.

For younger (or crappier) readers, Roald Dahl wrote some terrific stuff, especially Danny, The Champion of the World.

Also: Treasure Island, of course.

Anonymous said...

[any Nevil Shute story except On the Beach]

Shute's one of my favorite writers, so I'm happy to see this recommendation. But why not On the Beach? It seems like the sort of story that would appeal to boys, with strong, honorable male characters and a degree of suspense. While there's quite a bit of talk about emotions, the talk is presented mainly from a stoic male perspective rather than from a woman's weepy point of view.


[Fredrick Forsythe's Day of the Jackal]

Another excellent novel, but possibly too controversial even for high schoolers given some rather explicit sexual scenes.


[Two Years Before the Mast]

A classic, but awfully long.

Anonymous said...

"The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" contains adventure and an example of the rewards of good character.

Anonymous said...

The California eduction department website did not rate poetry and plays and included them in all the lists. They are labelled NP. The items labelled 1 are presumedly more appropriate for poor readers.

Anonymous said...

I second Jack London. Old Man and the Sea is a deeply sorrowful book about the futility of man's struggle. The simplicity of the language Hemingway uses in the book gives it a clarity that reveals the profundity of its message, which might not be comprehensible to most high school boys.

A few recommendations:

-Tom Sawyer

-White Fang


-Three Musketeers

-Last of the Mohicans

In addition to being quality literature, these stories appeal to a boy's love of action and adventure.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there's Hardy anywhere on the list. To this day I despise my 12th grade English teacher for making us read Tess. What a flippin' utter waste of time! Where were the adults to tell her WTF!?!

As for the boys, can't go wrong with London, Twain, Heinlien.

Anonymous said...

"American Patriot said....

Most of the books assigned in grammer and high school, most of the books recomended by the people on this blog, were never intended for teenagers. They were intended for literate, educated adults."

That is true of course, but the occasional stretch in sophistication can occasionally be good for teenagers, at least.

You are right that most teenagers won't get a lot out of serious literature, as they haven't yet lived enough of life. I read "Heart of Darkness" when I was in high school, and found the writing impenetrable, let alone the meaning. I read it again twenty years later, and boy was it an eye opener.

To the poster who said that "I, Claudius" is probably inappropriate for children, I guess I would have to concede that you are right. But the poster who said it's boring.....Huh? War, murder, intrigue, incest, prostitution.....what's boring about that?

Darayvus said...

kevin k's list is the best of the lot, although an 8th grader would do just as well with most of those listed (excepting Once And Future King, which becomes sharply adult after the first book; and Uris whom I hadn't heard of).

TH White's Once And Future King, FYI, evolved into an antiwar book - which its author tried to publish in the UK during the Second (not First) World War. It also influenced the Kennedy mystique. I am not sure how to deal with literature so tied to a specific time; I am sure I wouldn't assign it in a humanities course. I'd probably use it in social studies and/or history, like Byron's poems about Greece or any work of satire (like Juvenal, Pope, Dryden, etc etc).

The Heart of Darkness is for fans of Dante's Inferno and vice versa. And 1984 is indeed dreary. But de gustibus non disputandum est. Some kids like that stuff.

Tuchman's "Distant Mirror" is nonfiction but we are agreed that it is good. (And as for recommending it for boys - wouldn't females like a good history book about the Middle Ages too? Especially a book written by a "Barbara"?)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, what you guys wrote about some classic books being "bloated" and havinginppropriate sex scene for kids reminded me of what I liked about Readers Digest Condensed books (I guess its now called RD "Select Editions").

Every few months, RD would edit 4 or 5 popular novels for length and content and sell it in one volume. They really were very well edited, I can remember reading Day of The Jackal as a kid (must have been 11 or so) and it really held my attention and I don't remember any sex scenes at all.

Condensed book versions of classic novels isn't such a bad idea. It gets kids reading material they'd otherwise never slog through, and you don't have parents up in arms about a graphic sex scenes.

Steve Sailer said...

How about carving out from "The Right Stuff" a 150 page book just about Chuck Yeager? That would be a good boys' high school book.

I'm not ashamed to say I own shortened versions of "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," "Wealth of Nations," and "Life of Samuel Johnson."

Anonymous said...

Steve -- what's so hard about Kim? It uses alliteration (which kids love) and right away starts talking about a poor white boy in the East acting like a Native.

It'll get boys interested in a Flash. Heck if they can enjoy comic book alliteration (and they did when comics were for kids, they're not now, but that's another story) they'll enjoy Kim.

I'd also say, Arthur Conan Doyle's "Study in Scarlett" and "Sigh of Four." Both are short, feature revenge killings, strange clues, outlandish heroes, the idea of science and rationality triumphing when allied to will over chaos and violence, with a very picturesque and fun first person narration. Some words kids won't get but the general excitement will keep them going.

Both of these stories, since they were syndicated in the Strand Magazine as general fiction, are easy and short to read. While being evocative enough to enjoy.

Girls often enjoy mysteries, and the violence is off-page enough, that it could work for both sexes.

Xenophon Hendrix said...

>"To the poster who said that "I, Claudius" is probably inappropriate for children, I guess I would have to concede that you are right. But the poster who said it's boring.....Huh? War, murder, intrigue, incest, prostitution.....what's boring about that?"

Those are the good parts of a long novel. I read I, Claudius and enjoyed it, but I'm trying to put myself in the head of a typical high-school student.

Anonymous said...

Ive just finished reading Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. This is the blurb on the back.

"London is hunting its prey. For too long, London has been hiding in the hills, safe from bigger, faster, hungrier cities. Now London must feed."

I read that and I had to buy it.

Its aimed at teenagers and reads like its a condensed version of a grown up book. More for boys than girls I feel.

Among other things it introduces the concept of 'Municipal Darwinism'.

I recommend it, three more complete the set.

Anonymous said...

As far as books kids will actually read try Steven King. Gory. Readable. Relatively recent.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the material (eg Hamlet) is repeated across all the reading levels.;jsessionid=OKXFR31ULCP10HHMTT34CVA

Doesn't seem like a lot of thought went into this list at all.