Welcome back to class, F1GB0TS! Last week, we threw down some knowledge on the freshman class, and now they’re all guaranteed A’s on their first English class assignments of high school.** But we wouldn’t leave the rest of you out! Future sophomores – this questionably educational post is for you. Read it. And then, if you really do need to read these books for school this summer, go to SparkNotes to actually learn something.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This is a sweet and touching love story about a Puritan woman, Hester Prynne, who gets a little lonely while her husband is presumably lost at sea and ends up having an affair with the world’s most cowardly minister, Dimmesdale. And then she has his baby, but won’t tell anyone that it was the town minister who knocked her up. Which, in 17th century Boston, is cause for shunning. So poor Hester wiles away her time quietly raising a demon child and drooping under the weight of society’s scorn while Dimmesdale wallows in yellow-bellied guilt and Hester’s husband (surprise! NOT lost at sea, actually kind of a sociopath) figures out Dimmesdale’s role in the whole mess and unleashes waves of psychological torment upon him. I’m actually making this sound more exciting than it is – I wouldn’t wish this book on my worst enemy. Sorry, Nat!
“There was witchcraft in little Pearl’s eyes, and her face, as she glanced upward at the minister, wore that naughty smile which made its expression frequently so elvish.” – Girl puts Samara from The Ring to shame.
And of course, the SparkNotes are here to help you for real.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
I’ve heard that this book has been banned in some schools because administrators are worried that high school kids will take the story to heart and bounce into murder-suicide pacts just like their heroes, Rom and Jules. So if anyone out there is thinking about doing that, consider this a PSA and DON’T. If you don’t already know their tragic tale, here it is in a nutshell: their families’ insane rivalry drives them to run off together. Unfortunately, the young lovers choose a bumbler of a monk to help them in their escape, and he gets everyone’s signals all crossed. So Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and kills himself, and then Juliet thinks Romeo is dead and kills herself and then basically everyone important is dead. Despite all the acts of desperation, this is an awfully fun one to read.
“O Romeo, Romeo,
wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
The Stranger by Albert Camus
I read this novel in my AP French class, in the original French, during the second semester of my senior year of high school. And I know you’re thinking that makes me le expert français, but I had already been accepted into college at the time and French literature wasn’t all that high on my priority list. So I’m a little sketchy on les details. Something about le young man, tormented by existential apathy, who feels rien at his mother’s funeral, hangs around la plage, coucher avec un former coworker, commits le murder, and eventually decides that la vie is meaningless. Pretty depressing, actually, but all the rage after WWII when l’existentialisme was the order du jour. Go ahead and lire it in French, even if you don’t speak French as expertly as moi. You always have the SparkNotes to turn to.
“A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.” So romantic! You know what they say, français is la langue of luuurve.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
If you are unlucky enough to be reading Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych this summer, follow my sage advice: imagine that Ivan works at the Ministry of Magic. Just do it. He’s a European government employee anyway, so it’s not such a stretch, and it’ll just make the whole affair more bearable. Because this book is slow. Ivan takes like half the book to die, and you will feel every page of his physical and spiritual torment. And in the end, Ivan’s conclusions can essentially be summed up in the immortal words of Notorious B.I.G.: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
“‘What are you working on?’ said Harry
‘A report for the Department of International Magical Co-operation,’ said Percy smugly. ‘We’re trying to standardize cauldron thickness. Some of these foreign imports are just a shade too thin – leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three per cent a year -‘” See what I did there?
I would skip this one and go straight to the SparkNotes. Unless you want your summer to move at a glacial pace in which case, by all means, suffer.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
This book is so good! It’s a love story and a treatise on human cruelty, lust, and the hypocrisy of religion all in one. The best thing about The Hunchback of Notre Dame is that it is so juicy for a classic – it’s full of heartache, torture, magic, and murder. Definitely one of the best books you’ll ever read for school. And if you don’t have to read it for school, just read it for fun and then watch the Disney movie. Which, by the way, severely downplays Quasi’s ugliness – in the book, he’s got a disgusting protrusion coming out of his chest, a wart covering one eye, and an enormous hunched back.
“He discovered that…love, the source of every virtue in man, turned to things horrible in the heart of a priest – and that a man constituted as he was, by making himself a priest, made himself a demon.”
These SparkNotes come with quizzes!