Five Books I Loved Reading in High School (That I Would Have Never Admitted at the Time)

Being a bibliophile with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) comes with a unique set of challenges. First, the books have to be the kind of book that grips me from the beginning and stimulates dopamine production in a big way. Second, if someone tells me I have to read a book, I have absolutely no desire to read it whatsoever. I’m sure you can see how reading assignments in high school were a challenge.

I’ve always had a desire to be well-read and I am for the most part. The struggle with ADHD, and trying to cope with the disorder while it isn’t being properly managed, is that people who aren’t aware of the affliction may think I was just a slacker. When getting a reading assignment, I wanted to devour the work, but executive dysfunction wouldn’t allow me. When you struggle with wanting to be something, and your body not allowing you to do so, you develop defense mechanisms. One of my biggest ones was aversion to authority. If I gave the impression that I was going to buck against authority, no one would be surprised when I did, and I wouldn’t let anyone down.

For this week’s blog, I wanted to share five books I loved reading in high school (or was told to, read them later in life, and kicked myself for not enjoying them at the time) that I would never admit when I was being assigned the reading — because I wanted people to see me as anti-authority.

“The Outsiders” – S.E. Hinton* – Seventh Grade English. For those of you outside of the area, Moshannon Valley Junior-Senior High School operated on a very simple basis: kindergarten through sixth grade was in one building, seventh through twelfth was in another. When you’re twelve, going on thirteen (and getting your ass kicked by puberty), you have no idea where you are in the world. S.E. Hinton’s tale of social division, overcoming circumstance, and the stark realities of doing what you have to do spoke volumes as a youth. At twelve and thirteen, we are vulnerable and exposed, and being able to relate to a literary figure on those terms meant a lot — the fact that everyone, regardless of their station, was exposed to those terms was a big deal for me.

“The Great Gatsby” – F. Scott Fitzgerald – Sophomore English. I’ve never said this outloud, but a lot of credit should go to Mr. Darin Riccioti (who is now the Vice Principal; congratulations!) for that year. Mr. Riccioti was educated and trained to be a Social Studies teacher, but the district had an emergency need for an English teacher. Mr. Riccioti stepped in, and I did learn literature that year even though Mr. Riccioti may not have been in his ideal element.

From my extremely amateur analysis of classic literature, the Great Gatsby really is an epic. The book starts off with a mundane beginning, gets wrapped up in a whirlwind of intrigue and excess, and ends in nuclear fashion. Gatsby’s story is a healthy mix of “rise and grind” meets classic Dickens. I really believe that if the book were translated into 2020’s American English, from 1920’s American English, the book would be a best-seller all over again.

“Lord of the Flies” – William Golding – Senior English. Mr. Webb didn’t tell us, but the book is an alt-history dystopian novel, and a brilliant study in social order. By the time I was a senior, I was really embracing my anti-authoriatarian stance, balls deep in punk rock, and I was absolutely fed up with the situation of small-town academia. When I sat down to really understand the book, it was a fascinating look at how a bunch of kids from a posh private school completely devolved into a baser social order. What’s even more intriguing, is that the kids in the choir — perhaps the most refined of everyone enrolled at the private school — became the most savage in that situation. Bonus points for giving me the golden goose of a phrase “sucks to your ass-mar!”

“Great Expectations” – Charles Dickens. Sophomore English — Mr. Riccioti strikes again! I really like reading Dickens and this book got me started off on it. When I used to think of Charles Dickens, I’d think of stuffy old libraries that smelled like old hymnals in a neglected church, which had nothing to stimulate the dopamine — I was wrong! The book starts off with an orphan being forced to spend time with a spinster so twisted from being left at the altar that she still wears her old wedding dress, and her massive wench of a daughter Estella. The orphan’s life starts to suck less because he comes into a boatload of money, and then goes off to live a different life. Sure, he winds up broke, but ends up getting the girl in the end. Don’t let guys fool you, we all like consuming stories about the protagonist getting the girl. We all see ourselves as the protagonist.

“The Glass Menagerie” – Tennessee Williams. Freshman English. While not technically a novel, the assignment from Ms. McCloskey still struck a chord with me. As an adult with his affliction managed, I can see the charm in the small town I lived in, and I’ve even made peace with it. Being fourteen, angry, and anxious about everything, the idea of leaving everything behind was heavenly. The idea that someone could, with consequences being damned, gave me hope that I could. At that age, for anyone, the idea of just letting go to embrace your passions is incredible. The Glass Menagerie was one of my first exposures to different framing devices to advance the plot, and that got me thinking about how literature is structured.

I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge that it can’t be easy being an educator, especially in this day and age. When I was young, if we were caught threatening a teacher with a fist fight, the police would be called and we’d become a statistic. That’s not a commentary on how children should be handled, but an acknowledgement that teachers are professionals who are putting themselves through a specific torment for the love of their profession. Knowing that, allow me to extend my gratitude and praise to educators everywhere: y’all are heroes.

Thank you for reading and I’ll see you on your next trip across the Millerverse!

*I caught the notice of S.E. Hinton on Twitter once, she re-tweeted one of my tweets. It was awesome!

Songs listened to while writing this blog:

  • “Great Expectations” – the Gaslight Anthem
  • “The ‘59 Sound” – the Gaslight Anthem
  • “Evil” – Interpol
  • “Mountain Sound” – Of Monsters and Men
  • “Longshot” – Catfish and the Bottlemen

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