Books I Hated in High School but Love Now


Ok, strictly speaking, I didn’t “hate” any of these books – but my classmates certainly did! It will come as a surprise to no one that I was a huge bookworm all through school. Even after I finished high school and studied journalism, I always packed a book with me on the train. 

Whether you were a big reader or not, we can all agree that reading books of your choice is different from being made to read one for school. Class book lists involve taking notes, analysing passages, writing essays, and very rarely, actually enjoying the book. I will always be an advocate for critical literacy skills – it’s essential to understand nuance in what you’re reading, be it fiction or not – but even I admit that the way schools treat reading can ruin the whole experience. 

Giving students research and a set of themes before they’ve even started reading limits their understanding of the book. They’re positioned to take the view of the coursework from the beginning, which makes them think there’s only one correct way to read a text. 

So, here are five books that I didn’t enjoy reading in high school, but have returned to since and loved! 

1. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was on my year 12 booklist for Literature, and my experience with it then was … not great. The teacher wanted us to read it three times during the holidays, taking a different set of notes each time. This made me see the book as a massive word search and stopped me from enjoying the story for what it was. 

Truth be told, I never actually re-read it outside of high school, but I came to appreciate the story and Charlotte Bronte’s writing a lot more. 

2. A Doll’s House 

A Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen is a play, not a book, but I had to read and analyse it. I was a major theatre nerd; I’d been in Production every year and I was obsessed with musicals. A Doll’s House was nothing like that. It’s in the theatrical style of naturalism, meaning it tries to be as close to reality as possible. The script isn’t overly dramatic, there’s no music except when a character is literally playing an instrument, and it can seem like you’re just eavesdropping on a married couple’s bickering. 

But like so many theatre pieces, watching the show is an entirely different experience than just reading the script. Seeing the play performed added a whole new layer of nuance and really helped me understand the importance of the protagonist’s decisions. The actress’s subtle changes in body language and voice made me feel sympathy for the character in a way that I hadn’t before. 

3. Macbeth

The thing with Shakespeare is that you either love his work or hate it. I love it, but in high school, Macbeth was rather intimidating. We only read it once during class, taking turns to read out loud. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d been able to take the script home and think about it in my own time. We were lucky enough to have a group come and perform the play at our school, and once again, the script changes entirely when there are people to act it out. 

I’ve studied Shakespeare a few times in my education. My theatre studies class was full of his plays, and I did an online course about him before online classes were the norm. It definitely helps to have a modern translation to read alongside any Shakespeare scripts. 

4. Frankenstein

Frankenstein is a book that I had the pleasure of reading in high school and university. In high school I found it confusing. A good portion of the book is about Victor Frankenstein’s life before the monster, and a smaller portion isn’t even about the doctor or his creation at all! I didn’t understand the need for the story-within-a-story device and I found Frankenstein’s biography pretty boring. 

But through reading it at uni, I came to appreciate the story on a deeper level and realised that the plot devices I hated before weren’t just thrown in as filler; they were integral to the plot. My re-read took me from a theoretical interest in Gothic literature to a practical one.

5. The Iliad

I took Classics in high school because I loved Greek mythology. What I didn’t realise was how much of that class would be focused on war tactics and politics. I was interested in the gods and monsters, but the chapters we read in class were all about soldiers in conflict, the political power plays between the different sides. 

At the start of this year, I read the Iliad front-to-back, and I enjoyed it immensely. Having the entire picture – and some of my own research – I understood better the motivations of the characters, and was able to see how the actions of the gods affected the lives of mortals. 

I think the main reason I didn’t enjoy these books in high school was a matter of maturity. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the themes or messages, I just didn’t find them compelling. For whatever reason, I’m much more open now to these kinds of readings. I have the time and patience to draw out my own meanings.

If you found this interesting, I’d highly recommend going back to your own high school books and giving them another read!

My Gothic Horror Pet Peeves


I’m a huge fan of Gothic literature, movies, aesthetics, etc., and even though I’ve just missed Halloween, it felt like a good time to talk about spooky things! Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit of a snob about the things I’m passionate about. Gothic horror is one of those things, and I feel like since I’ve done a course on it, I’ve got some credibility to back me up! There are a few old tropes and new takes that are perfectly fine, but I want to address why they bother me and why they’re not necessarily the best opinions out there.

The first thing I want to talk about is vampires and their reflections. I love vampires. I had a book called ‘How to be a Vampire’ that was a guide to the history, the fashion sense, and the lifestyle of my favourite undead creatures. I wrote an essay in my Gothic Literature class comparing Dracula to Twilight regarding the appeal of vampires in the modern day. Vampires have existed in many iterations throughout different cultures and times, so of course there are going to be some disputes over the supposed ‘facts’. The most recognisable vampire is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and most of the agreed-upon vampire lore comes from him. One of the traits we associate with vampires, besides drinking blood, is not having a reflection.

You might have heard that the reason for this is that ‘back in the day’, mirrors used to be backed with silver. More recently, people have taken that to mean that since mirrors are now backed with aluminium, a vampire’s reflection would be visible. The problem with this is that Stoker never attributed Dracula’s lack of a reflection to silver. Silver was never linked to the vampires in Dracula in a major way, despite it being a weakness for other monsters like werewolves, so there’s no reason to believe that modern mirrors would grant vampires any more of a reflection than silvered ones would. So why does this vampiric trait exist? I’ve seen a few interesting speculations; classic vampires were seen to represent the aristocracy, so their lack of a reflection could represent the elite’s inability to reflect on themselves. Others see it in a more sympathetic light, as the figure of the monster is unable to identify itself amongst its peers. More take it as simply a sign that the person is not quite human.

My second pet peeve is also related to vampires, and it’s also an attempt to ‘science away’ vampire lore. We all know that vampires don’t handle the sun too well (though this is another thing not mentioned by Stoker), but they have a connection with the moon and all things to do with the night. Something that I’ve seen brought up recently is that what we call ‘moonlight’ is actually a reflection of the sun’s light, so shouldn’t that also burn vampires? This one really bugs me, because 1) way to take the fun out of being a creature of the night, and 2) the amount of sunlight that is reflected by the moon is so minute that in the worst-case scenario, it would like burning your tongue on a slight-too-hot cup of tea. Yes, it hurts a little, but not for long, and it’s not going to ruin your day.

Moving on from vampires, I want to talk about Frankenstein, or more specifically, Frankenstein’s monster. Pop culture really took the story of reanimated life and ran with it, with Hollywood, in particular, sensationalizing quite a bit of it. The most recognizable images we have of Frankenstein’s monster are the bolts in his neck, and the lightning crackling over a Gothic mansion while a mad scientist yells, ‘it’s alive’! The thing is, none of that happened in Mary Shelley’s book. In fact, very little is mentioned about Victor Frankenstein’s method for bringing the creature to life. This plays into Shelley’s theme of the perils of playing god, and the absence of a scientific process really highlights that humans are not supposed to have this knowledge.

Another thing that Hollywood took away from Frankenstein‘s core themes is the creature’s intelligence. Frankenstein’s Monster in film is a stilted mass of flesh, unable to form coherent sentences and predisposed to violence. That is far from the case in the novel, where the creature teaches himself to speak and read by observing others from a distance, only resorting to violence after he had been shunned by humanity over and over. The creature is as much a protagonist of the story as Victor himself is, and his arc revolves around the questions of what makes someone human, and what makes someone conscious. Victor and the creature are narrative foils; Victor sees himself in his creature, and vice-versa. All of the creature’s violent actions are not impulses, but carefully planned steps to make Victor confront himself and pay for his mistakes. Having the monster not be able to recite the philosophical monologues that he does in the novel takes away a major part of the story, and does the character a disservice.

There are probably a lot of pet peeves that I could think of, but I think I’ll leave it here for now. There are so many parts of gothic horror and so many new twists on old ideas that I absolutely love, so one day I’ll take the chance to write about those!

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