Heading back to school is always a bit of a drag, especially when you factor in all that dry assigned reading. Need some motivation to get through AP English Lit this semester? Look no further! Sarah Darer Littman, author of Want To Go Private, a chilling novel about a high school freshman seduced by an Internet predator, tells us about a few books she read in English class that changed her for the better.
Do you ever feel like the required reading in high school is a never-ending snoozefest by dead white guys? Books like Jude the Obscure (couldn’t it have stayed obscure?) and Silas Marner (oops, dead white woman pretending to be a guy) made even a bookaholic like me hate reading. But two required books in 10th grade had deep and lasting impacts. The first was Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Its depiction of the very real brutality of kids towards one another tore the veil off the fantasy of idyllic childhood that adults seem so fond of propagating. When I read it, I’d just survived the social jungle of junior high and was struggling to figure out high school. Life had already taught me that reality isn’t Anne of Green Gables or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Golding’s book is harsh, and I mourn Piggy to this very day, but it is truth. It is real. It didn’t lie to me or sugarcoat things or pretend that things were okay when they weren’t. That was immeasurably powerful for a mixed-up 15-year-old looking to make sense of the world—like breathing a sigh of relief—and it informs my own writing of contemporary realistic fiction.
The other book was Animal Farm, by George Orwell, which remains one of my favorite books of all time. Reading Orwell’s brilliant satire in the post-Watergate ’70s brought politics to life for me, after having been bored to tears when my parents made me spend hours listen to the hearings. When Orwell finished Animal Farm in 1943, he had a hard time finding a publisher because his book is such an obvious critique of Stalin, who was holding the Eastern front against the Nazis. In the rarely published preface to the novel, Orwell wrote:
“If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face . . . Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.”
Politicians lie. They “repaint” the rules to suit their ends. We have to watch out for Napoleons who try to maintain their power by uniting us in fear of “the Enemy”—be it Senator Joe McCarthy with “the Reds,” Reagan with “the Evil Empire,” or George W. Bush with “the Axis of Evil.” And just as Orwell said in his preface, “intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.” When people try to ban books, or remove them from libraries because they don’t agree with the ideas or the language on the pages, it is dangerous to free thought and speech.
I learned this in 10th grade, thanks to an assortment of farmyard animals and a brilliant writer named George Orwell.
Writing this post inspired Sarah to make a video thanking the teacher who opened her mind to all these fantastic books:
Other authors heading back to school on Figment include:
Back to school with Kate DiCamillo!
Back to school with Kim Culbertson!
Back to school with Claire LaZebnik!
Back to school with Kimberly Derting!
Back to school with P.J. Hoover!
Back to school with Bianca Turetsky!
Back to school with Adrienne Vrettos!
Back to school with Val Patterson!
Back to school with Kathy McCullough!
Back to school with Alecia Whitaker!