The SHHS English Experience by El Szalay

Well, folks. This is it. My final post on the Shaker Writing Center Blog. I’ve known since the year started that I wanted my final blog to be a reflection on high school, so I am giving you one final round of my controversial opinions. This time, about a subject any writing center intern and visitor is familiar with: High school English class.

In every English class I’ve ever taken at Shaker Heights High School, I’ve been required to read at least one book. And if you have ever had an English class with me in the past four years, you probably know that my opinions on the books I read for school can be strong. VERY strong. So I figured, why not make a tier list of all of the ones I read, based solely on my opinion? Whether you are a fellow senior looking back on your high school experience, an English teacher wondering what your students¬†actually¬†think about the curriculum, or an underclassmen curious about the books you’ll read throughout high school, I hope my opinions are valuable to you.

Snap girl I think you dropped something… my jaw

These are books I LOVED and will probably read again.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – One of the few books I’ve ever cried over. Very refreshing read after Great Expectations.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller – Would’ve placed this one a tier lower, but it holds a very special place in my heart since one of my college audition monologues is from this play.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – One of my dad’s favorite books of all time, and I totally understand why.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Super fun to analyze visuals instead of language! Fantastic art and story.

1984 by George Orwell – Read this whole book in one day. I wouldn’t rush through it like that again, but I would totally re-read it.

Good, waiting for you to be great

Something prevented me from putting these in the top tier, but I still liked them.

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare – Read this with my dad over the pandemic. Lots of fun, but Romeo and Juliet as characters make me very angry.

Fences by August Wilson – Read this aloud with my sophomore English class over Zoom. Great writing, but it didn’t stand out to me as much as some of the other books I read that year.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-ju – I own a copy of this book, so I’ll probably re-read this one soon.

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju and Ryan Estrada – Another graphic novel! Overall a fun read, though I found it slightly confusing at first. But maybe that was just my 2021 quarantine brain.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand – Would probably rank lower if I wasn’t in Shaker’s production of Cyrano. I had a lot of fun reading this in class, especially since we had hats and props.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – I hate to say it, but I think this book is a little overrated. It’s still good though.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende – …definitely a book! I would’ve hated this if I read it outside of class, but it made much more sense when we discussed it as a class.

I forgot

The equivalent of a neutral tier. I genuinely don’t remember enough about the book to properly rank it.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer – Why would I remember anything about my freshman year summer reading assignment?

The Odyssey by Homer – I had a conference about this book last month. The amount of times I had to ask the student to give me context for something I’ve read before was absurd.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – I sort of remember liking this book? I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it if I tried.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls – We only read excerpts of this book, which is not doing my memory any favors.


These books have some redeeming qualities, but not enough to make me enjoy them.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead – I really wanted to like this one, but I could not get myself interested in the story or characters at all. It was also the end of a fully-online school year, so I couldn’t bring myself to read if I tried.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – In all honesty, this book deserves to be a little higher. It actually pretty good, but I was in my great 2021 reading slump when we read this, which made it hard to enjoy. I did sort of re-read it at the end of junior year to write my final essay and I liked it better.

Antigone by Sophocles – Boooooring. I would’ve rather read any of the other plays in the Oedipus cycle than this one. The biggest redeeming quality of this book is that I did well on the in-class essay.

Welcome to Barnes and NOOOO

Absolutely not. Never again. I hated every second I spent reading these books.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I read 600 pages and nothing happened. Also, it’s Charles Dickens.

City of Thieves by David Benioff – Maybe I wouldn’t have hated this if Kolya wasn’t in it. I skipped a whole chapter because he made me too uncomfortable.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Better than Great Expectations, but that doesn’t say much. I will never like Charles Dickens. Maybe if someone else wrote this I wouldn’t hate it.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster – Thomas C. Foster should be grateful my tier maker website was not cooperating with me, because if it was this book would be in its very own tier at the very bottom. Words can’t describe how much I despise this book, but numbers can: -163651673478/10. Never again.

12 thoughts on “The SHHS English Experience by El Szalay

  1. Unpopular opinion…I actually LOVED City of Thieves. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, so I totally get why you don’t. But I really liked it.

  2. The House of the Spirits and The Kite Runner were hands down my favorite. Yes, I know I’m basic but I would have to disagree with your point of Kite Runner being slightly overrated — that book was freaking amazing!

  3. Wow… this is controversial. Personally, I LOVED Tale of Two Cities and did not like Of Mice and Men at all. I have to say one of my favorite books I read was Jane Eyre freshman year.

  4. I would almost fall asleep while reading Great Expectations, except for when my friend who was a class ahead told me the old woman fell into the fireplace in the next section, then I was glued to the page.

  5. love to see the how to read literature like a professor slander. those are hours i’ll never get back!

  6. I could write a whole paper (and I have) on why I hate the English curriculum at every school I’ve ever attended (all two of them). Things are definitely improving, but every school’s fixation on Charles Dickens will never make sense to me.

  7. The real question is how would this list be different if you added our IB HL Lit II books from this year…..

  8. Of Mice and Men makes me cry every time. Your comment about The House of the Spirits is so real.

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