RTW – Required Reading

YA Highway this week wonders what books I might recommend as required reading in a high school English/Literature class. You gotta figure that the first title that springs to mind is Tankborn, because a girl’s gotta promote. But actually, if I say so myself, Tankborn would be an excellent choice for a high school reading program with its themes of class, race, and what it means to be human. Okay, shameless plug over.

The first non-Tankborn book I thought of is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This is a mind-blowing book in terms of gender identity, but also a fascinating piece of worldbuilding. I can imagine long discussions about what might be different about earth’s societies if we truly lacked separate genders, if we were only sexual beings a few days a month.

Even more intriguing is the main character Ai Genly, a male-gendered person through whose eyes we see the people of Gethen. They consider him “the pervert” because he’s stuck in his male body. The students could imagine themselves as either the single-gendered person or an androgyn. Or that androgyn in his/her monthly “kemmer” when their body chooses a specific gender. One more possible discussion topic is the fact that the Gethens are living in an Ice Age. The students might be asked to consider how a people could survive in that kind of environment.

A second book that comes to mind is Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. This is a post-apocalyptic story, set on earth a few hundred years after a catastrophic war. In the particular community of Women’s Country, the women live a largely agrarian life within a walled city with a few male servants. The remaining men are warriors who live outside the city.

The men who live with the women are gentle beta types, while the warriors, as you might imagine, are fierce alphas. The women only interact with the warrior men once a year, when they are brought in to father the next generation. However there’s more to the relationship between the warrior men and dominant women than it seems on the surface.

There’s plenty to discuss here–the impact of a feminist-dominant society, the usefulness of aggressiveness in this world, what it truly means to be a man. The roles we play in the world, and which of those we choose ourselves and which we let society place upon us. On top of this, it’s a beautifully written book.

You might see a common element in these two books. They’re both written by women. So many (nearly all) of what are considered the classics were written by men. Yes, there are the Bronte sisters’ books and Austen’s. But while those offer an intriguing look into the society of the time, they don’t give as much meaty food for thought as the two SF books that I mention.

So that would be my final recommendation: Add more women-authored books to the required reading list. There are many out there besides Ursula K. Le Guin and Sheri S. Tepper. Octavia Butler, Julian May, Nancy Kress to name a few. It’s time for school districts to seek them out.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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4 Responses to RTW – Required Reading

  1. Interesting picks…and very discreet self-promotion 🙂

  2. Angelica says:

    I thought of The Gate to Women’s Country also–it’s one of my all-time favorite books. But I have to say that when I recommend it, it’s very hit-or-miss. Some people really have a hard time getting through it; if they do, it’s kind of mind-blowing. But because of that slog in the beginning, I wasn’t sure if it would work as well for a high school list. Still a really worthwhile read though.

    • karensandler says:

      I think that a lot of the older SF is challenging reading. It’s not action-action-action from page one. There’s a lot of interior dialogue, and it’s more of a mental exercise for the reader. The style and voice of modern SF (and YA in general) is more fast-paced, but I think the more thought provoking stuff can be lost in that kind of read.

      • Angelica says:

        Gene Wolfe is the master of having all those seemingly unrelated threads woven into a world, and then coming together in surprising and fulfilling ways. Except when he doesn’t–sometimes he’ll devote pages of character-building and description to characters that never appear again. But what’s masterful is that they stay with you just the same.

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