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Mandatory reading!


Allie at A Literary Odyssey ran a mini-challenge earlier today (as part of the readathon running today) asking what one book from the Penguin English Library should be on every secondary school’s English syllabus, and why.

There are a number of interesting and unsurprising suggestions on Allie’s blog, including: To Kill A Mockingbird (also a title that seems to be recurring in the Terrible Books You Had To Read In School meme); Jane Eyre (a book I failed to love when I was a teenager but now really appreciate); and Pride and Prejudice (debatable, as it reinforces some stereotypes, rather than challenging them). I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of people speaking up in support of The Picture of Dorian Gray, though, which would get my vote.

Dorian Gray manages to be both creepy and funny, thought-provoking and sensuous, and has huge relevance for social issues without being preachy. I love the book, have six copies, and have been reading it over and over again for over a decade. I first read it when I was fourteen or so, and I loved it then. I think with a good teacher, it would go over well with most students.

A few of my other favourites would be:

  1. The Five Orange Pips, Arthur Conan Doyle or Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe – I’m pretty sure most students would enjoy the short story format and seeing the very origins of the crime fiction many of us know and love today.
  2. Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  3. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
  4. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  5. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery
  6. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Sadly, I couldn’t quite make it to a ‘top ten’, as I find the Penguin set a bit limiting.

Any other suggestions, either on or off Penguin’s list?



  1. You're right the Penguin list is limiting, but I like what you have down.

    I would say the Conan Doyle stuff could really be interesting to high school students. I know a lot of people in high school loved when we read And Then There Were None. I'd assign them the Dupon mysteries of Poe as well to complement these – except for the middle one which has the weird ending.

    I have not read Dorian Gray sadly… so I cannot comment on that.

    I hated Far From the Maddening Crowd, but it taught me a lot.

    I think High School Students should read Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut. A bunch of other ones too, but I am not going to get to into it.

  2. La Graciada says:

    I've never read either Far From the Madding Crowd or Cat's Cradle, although I really should eventually. I quite like Hardy, but haven't read any Vonnegut. In fact, I have a horrible blind spot when it comes to C20 work, so I rely on things like the PEL (and kind commenters) to tip me off!

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