Read Harder 2018

Read Harder: An Assigned Book You Hated (Or Never Finished)

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Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

This list covering an assigned book you hated (or never finished) is sponsored by Libby. The one-tap reading app from OverDrive.

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It’s time for the last Read Harder task! Feeling good about your picks so far? Well, that may be about to change, because today’s task is to read an assigned book you hated (or never finished).

On the one hand, it’s easy to pick out a book: just think back to your school days (or earlier in your school days, if you’re still a student) and choose a book to give another chance. On the other, you have to, you know…read a book you hated.

Your list will (probably) be different than mine, of course, but to get you started, here’s a list of my most loathed literary encounters from my misspent youth. (And to any of my former English teachers reading this: sorry I lied about reading some of these, and thank you for passing me anyway!)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Freshman year of high school, and I’m having one of my first bouts of feminist indignation. As much as I like the mental image of Miss Havisham ghosting around her mansion in her decaying wedding dress, I’m troubled by what our teacher tells us of Dickens’s mistreatment of his wife and his creepy relationship with his sister-in-law. Plus, the book is boring and Pip is a pill. Why do we only read books by male jerks about male jerks? I’m going back to sneaking Piers Anthony books under my desk. (The irony was lost on me at the time.)

I’ve actually reread Great Expectations as an adult and enjoyed it much more, although Bleak House remains my favorite Dickens. That doesn’t make him less of a jerk, though.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’d like to say that I refused to read The Scarlet Letter because I didn’t want to read a book about slut-shaming, but honestly I read a few pages and became comatose with boredom. I’m not even sure I really knew what it was about? Honestly, I have no idea how I got an A in that class. Flagrant lying, probably. Sorry, Mr. White!



Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Okay, this is a play and not a book, but we read it junior year so it counts. It’s not that I didn’t know before reading it that I have no patience for stories about Existential Man Angst, but I guess it’s nice to have additional evidence to buttress your conclusions? Give me The Crucible any day; not only does it have actual stuff happen, but we performed it the same year and it gave me the chance to dress up as a murderous Puritan teen and see Goody Proctor with the Devil. #goals (Bonus points for that hilariously inappropriate cover to the left, though.)

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I didn’t even make it to the crime in this one, let alone the punishment. For a novel about committing gory murders, there sure is a lot of boring non-murder stuff for a distractible teenager to slog through. I don’t have time for this, I have NSYNC albums to listen to!



The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Technically, this one wasn’t specifically assigned, just included on a list of summer reading—all we had to do was pick one of the listed books to read. But it gets bonus points because I hated it so much that I apparently completely repressed the memory of reading it, and picked it again from a similar list two years later. About halfway through the book, probably during the world’s most boring fishing trip (and that’s saying something!), I dropped the book with a horrified “Oh no.” Damn you, Jake Barnes!

It feels like cheating to reread Great Expectations, since I like it now, and I’m not going anywhere near The Sun Also Rises or the Siberian iceberg that is Crime and Punishment, so it looks like I’ll be spending some time with Hester Prynne in the near future. Did you guys enjoy any of the books above? What books did you hate in school?