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Literary B-Sides: 5 of the Most Under-Rated Books from Famous Authors

It's time to get over the trauma of high school English class. These wonderful novels won't bite.

by
Hannah Sternberg

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October 1, 2011 - 12:00 am
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I don’t want to read that.

“School ruined Catcher in the Rye for me.”

We’ve all heard it. You can replace the title with any other seminal book that’s been assigned in high school or college. Did you think you’d like Jane Eyre more if you hadn’t been required to write a monograph on “Birds as semiotic systems of delineating boundaries by transgression and submission”? Or that you might have enjoyed A Passage to India if it hadn’t been your rude introduction to the five-paragraph essay? Maybe you would have got more out of Moby Dick if it weren’t for that smelly kid next to you who kept raising his hand every frickin’ time the teacher asked a question.

I’ve conducted my own experiments on whether school ruins books. (As a side note, there is a faction that contends that books ruin school.) My experiment took the form of never doing my homework in high school. After finishing (and mildly enjoying) Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, only to discover that my thoughts and observations on the book meant little in how I was graded, I resolved never to read another book assigned during advanced English class. Instead, I would just memorize what the teacher wanted us to write about the books in our five-paragraph essays, and I would regurgitate my way to the top. It worked, at least superficially – I passed the class with flying colors, and I think the teacher is still a little afraid of me. It wasn’t until I read Jane Eyre as a young adult that I realized I may have passed the class, but I hadn’t won anything.

Soon I started rediscovering the books I had skipped in high school, in all their beautiful complexity, grittiness, fervor, and enchantment. Perhaps skipping these books in high school saved them for me; perhaps my period of rebellion is what I needed to grow through to appreciate them fully.

Sometimes it takes a new perspective on an author to rehabilitate their famous works for a reader. “B-sides” by famous authors are more than hidden treasures that can prolong your enjoyment of that person’s writing; they are keys that can unlock their more famous works. I was missing something in my required-reading days. It wasn’t the books I was missing. It was the piece of me that could read and love those books. Some of these b-sides planted the seed for that part to grow. Keep reading to learn more about the five best literary b-sides to rehabilitate literature for any English class survivor.

First: Gay Dudes Are What It Took to Make Me Love Literature

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