The Echo

All the books you will need to read for IB English HL, ranked

The curriculum’s good, bad, weird

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Mara Zapata

Mara Zapata

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The IB curriculum seeks diversity in its authors more than many other high school English classes in hopes of providing a stronger global, much more intellectually diverse education. Some books succeed in this more than others.

Year One

1.) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

It’s a weird one, but Perfume has it all. From origies, serial killers and references to the rise of fascism and Third Reich, while somehow managing to be hilarious and strangely relatable, making me wish I was German so I could better understand the ironic pastiche references. I’m sure there is much more advanced satire than I understand still in there yet. Might be time for a re-read

 

2.) Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Given that Sherman Alexie is now facing sexual harassment allegations according to NPR Book News, it may be time for another look at this one. Still, humor and heart are both here, ‘real’ stories and real insights into what it means to be Native American in America. Victor reminds you to watch the movie “Smoke Signals”, inspired mainly by the chapter “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” with screenplay also done by Alexie. Who knew the reservation basketball scene was so intense.

 

3.) Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Wholly depressing and an awesome exploration of liminal spaces and the darkness in a person torn apart by his own sexuality and destructive mindset. James Baldwin somehow achieved less mainstream popularity than other civil rights giants, which is a shame. Also France is in this one too, just takes place a few decades later than Perfume. Really makes you think.

 

4.) Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Once you get over the name, Balzac makes you realize the American education system isn’t as prisonlike and backward as it seems like sometimes. Fantastic descriptions of natural beauty of the countryside coupled with astoundingly witten viceral, emotional characters nearly make being sent to one of Mao’s reeducation work camps seem appealing. The power of education and free will leaves you with a memorably bittersweet ending.

 

5.) The Stranger by Albert Camus

Existentialism and ‘Absurdism’ 101 (Although ironically Camus adamantly denied he was an existentialist, you know that right?) Probably partially responsible for those annoying ‘edgy’ teenagers identifying as so called ‘optimistic nihilists’ who believe they have some sort of grasp on philosophy (not that I do). This is funny since Camus has other essays which could be a better read, like “On Music” or the big ones like “The Myth Of Sisyphus: An Absurd Reasoning, Absurdity and Suicide,” etc. Still, “The Stranger” is a pretty fun read.

 

6.) Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Might be an issue of lost in translation, but about half of this book reads like one giant run-on sentence. The actions and acumen of characters, like the psychiatrist, feel idiotic, hyperbolic, and flat. Another book which as a victory for it’s author and equality, Nawal El Saadawi being an amazing feminist figure, where unfortunately the circumstances from which the text was created overshadow are more important than the text itself.

 

7.) The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Utterly trite garage. There is no underlying characterization here, seriously. Did McCarthy just forget what static characters are 8th-grade English class? This really is “Tragedy porn” for your parents to enjoy. An exercise in pointlessness and lack of anything. An idiotic ending which undermines any impact the novel could have had. You liked this one because it was easy to read. And the movie sucks too. If you enjoyed either you’ve probably seen Moonrise Kingdom 17 times and believe it’s the best movie ever made. McCarthy seems to have peaked with “No Country for Old Men.”

 

Year Two

1.) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Falkner probably takes the award for biggest weirdly genius madman on this list, maybe closely followed by Süskind (Shakespeare doesn’t count). Anybody else randomly think of a girl with muddy undergarments in a tree and decide right then and there to write a book about it? Then tack on a massive appendix 12ish years later to explain it all? No? Quentin alone took me 3 days. Imagine how long scholars needed to take to analyze this thing.

 

2.) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

While I find it odd incest is such a prominent theme in almost all Morrison’s works, “Song of Solomon” is a brilliantly layered work and full of vivid insights into the back American experiences not often found elsewhere. Toni Morrison takes the rare position of a black writer who doesn’t necessarily have to write into their book, at least on the surface, about being a black writer. Much like Octavia E. Butler and science fiction. Hints of magical realism just for fun too.

 

3.) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

A classic chalked full of flowery, beautiful writing and horrible racism, to some extent ebbing from the 19th-century attitudes and Conrad himself. “Heart of Darkness” somehow manages to make 90 enthralling, dense pages feel like 900. Five minutes of reading will get you half a page on a first read. No better way to understand the mad hypocrisy of imperialism in the Congo. “Apocalypse Now” is truly a good watch also.

 

4.) Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Really, really boring for about the first third, especially if you go into it knowing the narrative is going to break down and you’re just falling asleep waiting for it to happen. On the other hand, you will learn a lot about being an English butler. As the narrative falls apart, you’re reminded of the dangers regret and unfulfillment can have on your own life.

 

5.) Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Yada yada whatever it’s Shakespeare, ambition has a dark side and fundamental human truths yada yada who really cares anymore am I right guys? Shakespeare is only important enough to humanity as to have scholars solely devote their entire lives to Shakespeare to this day. Enjoy trying to come up with something original for this one, moron. Who opts to just read plays anyway? My theory Lady Macbeth is the third witch is pretty much infallible.

 

6.) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Like “The Kite Runner,” this book feels like just enough of another culture to give a titillating excuse for the class to pretend to analyze new historicism and cultural significance without actually knowing anything about the culture or the history. The issue with using a familiar Western frame as proof your society is just as significantly sophisticated is the plot and characters are familiar, flat, predictable and boring. Writing this novel was a feat of triumph for Achebe and for history, one which unfortunately outshines the mediocrity of the text itself.

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All the books you will need to read for IB English HL, ranked