Johntaylor1973's Reviews > The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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did not like it
Recommended for: Marquis deSade

I found my old high school review of this book. Here's a little bit of my assessment. Apologiese in advance:

If there is a hell, Hawthorne is the devil's sidekick, and the first thing you're given (after the stark realization that you're in hell, on fire, and this is going to last forever) is this book. And you have to do a 10 page paper praising the wondrous virtues of this massive waste of time. And after you've finished writing (in your own blood, mind you) your stupid paper, you are given another essay topic dealing with this same insipid book. Congratulations, this is what you'll be doing for eternity.

Haha, I really DID NOT LIKE this book in HS, and it's part of the reason why I have always been apprehensive about US literature--especially the classics.

Now I'm a TEACHER and I'm going to revisit this monolith of high school trauma and I'll go into it with as much of an open mind as possible. I did the same thing with Old Man and the Sea (I remember loathing that book when I read it my freshmen year) and the second time around I LIKED IT!

I did not like either book because my teachers did not do a good job of selling it to me. There was little to no background, no setup, no explanation as to why we should read this--other than "ED Hirsch said you have to, so go read it."

Teaching 101: never have your students read a book that you yourself do not enjoy. I think my teachers disliked both books, and it rubbed off on their students.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1989 – Finished Reading
October 17, 2007 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)

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message 1: by Elizabeth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elizabeth Cace You have a good point in the teaching philosophy. My teacher last year didn't like Walden so she only had us read 4 chapters of it and only because she wanted to prepare us for the AP test. Though because I knew she hated Walden, I disliked the book very much too.

As for the Scarlet Letter, I thought it was good once you were reading it but if you stopped and started again the next day it would lose what was built up.

message 2: by Kimberly (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:18PM) (new)

Kimberly I'm not especially reverant of canonical American texts. And in high school, this book zipped by without any great fanfare, probably because it wasn't so difficult of a read. I didn't have to look up every other word or make a dossier of characters, like I was forced to do for Crime and Punishment. But in college, I was able to read this book under the tutelage (in the intimate setting of a 100+ student lecture hall) with Nina Baym and then I was able to realize that there was more to the evolution of how this book has been read.

If you want to merely quiz your students for comprehension and vocabulary, use whatever less "hell-like" book you manage to find. But if you want to embed within them the desire for critical reading and maybe even gender theory, try giving The Scarlett Letter another look.

message 3: by Shannon (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Shannon Great review! I can sympathize. I read it in high school and hated it. I can't imagine trying to teach it. Bad times.

Elias Alvarado Yeah? Well try living it. I am in HS right now and I have an eight page essay due on this evil work of literature in several days. I absolutely HATED this book, especially the mind-numbing details. I do appreciate the way in which he sets the mood and develops the characters, but this book overall was difficult to endure. I had the same problem with Flaubert's descriptive writing in Mme. Bovary, yet I liked the book very much once I read it ... and got an A+ on the final test and essay!

Johntaylor1973 Hey Elias! (cool name btw. That's part of my yahoo name, I based it on the movie Platoon:)

To be honest, I STILL haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I WILL. We have spring break coming up and I will grab it and take it with me.

I've been preoccupied with other books. Fun books. Like Zombie Survival Guide. Elias, check it out. It's really fun.

Good luck with your paper. I'll get to SL soon.

message 6: by Cen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cen Ha!
"Congratulations, this is what you'll be doing for eternity."

How prophetically fitting. You have my most sincere sympathy!

message 7: by Chelsea (last edited Aug 04, 2008 08:30PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Chelsea Wow! You pretty much summed it up for me right there. I had to read it in high school and absolutely hated it and thought of it as a huge waste of my time. Then again, my teacher and I had a hate-hate relationship to begin with, and he probably didn't properly back the story up either. Seriously, what your high school essay says basically was what I wanted to say, except for the fact that I didn't have the balls to say it. AMEN! I have recently vowed to re read many of the classics that I read in high school, this, however, will not be one of them! Thanks for the hilarious, yet truthful insight on this hellacious read.

message 8: by J-F (new)

J-F I couldn't agree more with the reviewer. Popping the audio version of this book in my mp3 player and listening to the INTRODUCTION almost made me want to slit my wrists. I can't imagine the main text. Oh well, I have to get through it though as it is on my reading list goals.

James I like many people here read the book in high school and hated it. In fact it is rare that I like an early American text.

Cherise Ha ha ha. I loved your review and I remember my high school paper on this book started off in the same tone. Of course your version was way more comical. ;) I think this book was long winded and boring. I remember opening the book and seeing that the forward/prologue/introduction was super fricken long and knowing I was in trouble and in for a snooze fest.

Anyway... thanks for the giggles. Great review.

message 11: by Mir (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mir I do not have a degree in education but am convinced it must include some courses in how to make books completely hateful to your students.

Jessica Gunn Hahaha! This just about sums up my feelings for this book. I was recently forced to read it in the hell I like to call AP English. :D

As a junior in high school, I loathe the book... But I have enough sense to know that it would most likely be a good read, if I didn't have to rhetorically analyze the life out of it.

Maybe I'll try again someday.

message 13: by Kate (last edited Jun 16, 2009 11:31AM) (new) - added it

Kate Hardy I read this book voluntarily because my grandma said I'd like it after spending fifteen minutes telling her how much I loved A Tale of Two Cities. Your description summarizes my pain. Thank you.

Jasmine honestly, I was forced to read this my sophmore year and I did not enjoy it. I could not fathom it so I didn't learn to appreciate it.

message 15: by Cyn (new) - rated it 1 star

Cyn I LOVE this review as I feel precisely the same way you did about Hawthorne. In fact, I hated nearly all of the supposedly 'great' classic lit crap that they forced us to read and analyze to death in high school and college.

Bethany Mustafa Personally, I absolutely adored this book(of course so did the woman who taught it to me), but this review cracked me up anyway! Hope you enjoyed it more the second time around.

Renie I liked this book, but I also had a good setup for it and am a bastard child born in the bible belt so I get it. Regardless your review is epic. I've had no joy in reading most of the books that would make me appear well read and as a student a good background helped me reap the most from works like these.

Elizabeth☮ i love this book and when i teach it, my students appreciate it as well. so i think you're right, if you don't like what you teach, that will definitely come across to your students.

Kellison I think your teaching philosophy is fine, but my high school teacher LOVED this book--really, really loved it so so much!--and I still hated this book. As a matter of fact, I read this book on my own before it was ever required reading and hated it, so I had no teacher or anyone else to base an opinion, just my own assessment. My enthusiastic high school teacher did not improve my own thoughts on this book, just got on my nerves a little that she kept hammering at me because I hadn't liked this book she loved. So, don't go too far in the other direction and choose only books you love, because that might make it difficult for you to take student criticisms.

Elizabeth☮ point taken kelly. i would never critize my students for not liking the book. on the contrary. i would welcome a discussion about why they didn't like it. and i would hope they could articulate their thoughts rather than say, "it's boring." which is what most of them want to say!

Elizabeth☮ and i've taught plenty of books i haven't been totally on board with, but had to teach them as they were chosen by teams.

message 22: by Seestars (new) - added it

Seestars Ha! Love your review. I hated a lot of books I was forced to read in HS (including the Old Man and the Sea). And ironically I hated them because my english teacher LOVED them. Nothing like having a great meal shoved down your throat by an over zealous cook with a high opinion of themselves. I'm going back to read those books again and see if my opinion changes.

Sarah Haha... Lovely review. I am currently reading this novel in my Pre Ap 11th grade English class. I think I definitely plays an important role on how the teacher teaches the book. I have been greatly fortunate to have an engaging teacher that explains and makes the book interesting beyond the text of the novel itself.

Brian JohnTaylor1973,
When I hear someone say that they do not like a book, I do not ask about what hyperbole they can pull off about their negative opinion--I ask them to explain what they found wrong with it, and then proceed from there to inquire further.
You spend most of your review in hyperbole--all of which I shall ignore in this comment--and then say that you did not like the book because "did not do a good job of selling it".
In my opinion, that is the most silly reason I have ever heard anyone give for hating a book--even worse than "It had no plot" or "The words were too hard for me" or even "This book has no hot members of the other sex for me to swoon over". The role of an English teacher is NOT to advertise the book to you--it is to allow you to further develop your own, unique sense of literary taste, and to bring you beyond the confines of what you otherwise would have preferred. Explanation, if it occurs, should be done only as needed to allow the student to do this.

By the way, as for your teaching philosophy regarding which books to teach, that is perfectly fine.

message 25: by Xiaohe (new) - added it

Xiaohe You're exactly right about teachers having to sell the book to students, especially the classics--which is what most of the books in high school curriculum are. I was fortunate enough to have English teachers who were wonderful and did excellent jobs of thoroughly explaining the background, symbolism etc. of the books they taught, and discussed them with much passion. I love almost everything I had to read in high school :3

Gregory Hughes I've started to realize, as time progresses, that many of the American classics that people despise are the ones forced upon them. I loved "Old Man and the Sea," but I was never required to read it. "The Scarlet Letter," however, I will forever remember as the largest waste of time of my formative years. Even looking back on the novel I fail to find the allure. His short stories were always where Hawthorne seemed to do his best work. "Young Goodman Brown" is an amazing short story and made better because it is, unlike his novels, short.

message 27: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber I'm reading this book in my honors 10th grade class. As far as teachers "selling" the book to the students, that doesn't work. All my teachers have seen me with the book in my hand and have mentioned what a good book it is....I hate it. Soooooo much. Same with the Old Man and the Sea. Most American literature, in my opinion, is horrible. Oh well. I can only hope my views will change as I get older :-/

Johntaylor1973 Amber, your post made me crawl back out of the dust and respond to you. I wrote the original post you responded to.

When I said SELL (holy cow, has it really been six years?) I didn't mean a tacit nod or grin from your other teachers. I meant the teacher who passed out the book to you needs to LIKE the novel. They needed to know it and understand it.

You can't sell ice cream to an Inuit unless you really believe and know that they will like the ice cream. The same goes for books.

Amber, there's another teacher at my school who LOVES this book. It is one of her favorite books (God bless her; she is a better teacher than I am). She has been teaching for three decades now and every kid in her class either loves The Scarlet Letter or at least tolerates it. Do you know why? Because her students see the passion and energy in her and it rubs off on them. They do their best to understand Hawthorne because they see a genuine and honest teacher who wants to help them understand this book. In other words, they read the book because they know their teacher loves the book and they trust him/her.

That said, I still have never found a way to "get into" this novel. I am pretty sure I never will. If only I had a different teacher...

message 29: by Al (new) - rated it 4 stars

Al Wow! Just wow! Your review is everything that's wrong with US high schools.... You loathed Old mam and the sea - give me a break, it's a 80-page novel full of maybe not so much suspense but great natural descriptions and emotions. Or is that just booooooring?

Andrew Hauff aren't all books hell though? at least to me, reading is torture and the only thing i would read voluntarily would be directions if after an hour i couldn't figure out how to put something together by myself. Teachers believe that reading is something that everyone likes, they just have to find the right genre or something... no, maybe for some people that is true, but not for all.

message 31: by Zelda (new) - rated it 1 star

Zelda of Unapologetic Reviews I hated Old Man and the Sea, and I had to read it twice, in two languages. I even tried watching the movie. Hated that too. I always thought that it sums up a lot of males though. Cling to something until your last days, when a lot of people would have just cut the rope and tried again.

Tiffany My English teacher piled six of her best students in a car and drove us to Salem, where we got a private tour through the witch house and the old courthouse. Later she drove us out to a place in the forest near a little brook. We all laid down on the pine-covered forest floor and stared at the sun through the trees. Then she said, "imagine if there were no tv, and no telephones and no cars and this was what you had to do to entertain yourself. What would you do?" Someone said, "Start makin' shit up about the devil." Teacher, also lying on the ground staring up at the sun, said, "Just so, Mr. Connelly, minus the bad language."

That's how a good teacher makes you understand that good books talk across the centuries.

Aleta Read The Scarlet Letter in graphic form; finally got it! Did the same thing with Moby Dick, another must read in eleventh grade English!

message 34: by Harmonie (new) - added it

Harmonie Siup

Denise I think we ruin good adult books, like The Scarlet Letter, by asking teenagers to read them- or rather pretend to read them. As I’ve reread my high school syllabus, I’ve liked quite a few I didn’t understand as a 15 year old.

message 36: by Oksana (new) - added it

Oksana Marhitych Denise I completely agree with you. Some of the books require maturity and level of understanding that is not yet possible being a teenager (for most). I did not like most of the books I’ve read in school, liked some ... but as I re-read them being an adult I’ve found that I simply couldn’t grasp the deeper meaning when I was younger. Couldn’t quite relate the way I now can.

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