A Good Foundation for High School English

Today I was reading an article on Lifehacker listing books that should be dropped from reading lists for high schoolers and some that should take their place. I definitely disagree about Dante’s Divine Comedy being dropped—I first read it when I was in junior high, myself. At the same time, I was surprised to see Foundation on the list (or at least the first two sections).

After I finished jumping up and down, I stopped to think. That’s really a rather odd choice. It’s not the best of the original Foundation  “novels,” although it makes sense not to read the other two until you’ve read it. (Personally, I read Foundation and Empire first and am none the worse for the experience.) Still, not my first choice.

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers decided to have a student-taught module on science fiction. I was among the students who got to run the show. We had a reading list, and the one Asimov piece we put on it was “Reason.” On the whole, I still think it’s a reasonable choice, although now I’d more likely be lazy and put “The Last Question” in its place.

What would my choice be for a book by Asimov to put on a reading list for modern high schoolers? One of the chief things to keep in mind is that you need something that a modern high schooler could reasonably get a copy of, which leaves out Nine Tomorrows or Chemistry and Human Health.

On the whole, I’d have to go with one of three: I, Robot, The Caves of Steel, or The End of Eternity. All three are still in print. I, Robot is probably the most influential of the three and is probably the best choice to pique a high schooler’s interest. The other two, on the other hand, are (I believe) Asimov’s best novels.

Any other suggestions?

4 thoughts on “A Good Foundation for High School English”

  1. This comment *technically* isn’t in direct response to this particular blog-posting, but I was just perusing John’s (excellent) “Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov” website, and noticed an error while reading the “An Early Asimov Timeline” page (which reprints the pre-1982 Foundation-universe chronology Asimov wrote for the Winter, 1955 issue of “Thrilling Wonder Stories” magazine.

    In subsection B (“The Exploration of the Galaxy”), the proper listing should go something like:

    5500 AD – “The Portable Star”
    6500 AD – “Green Patches” (listed in the original article as “Misbegotten Missionary,” misspelled as “Misbeforgotten Missionary”)
    8500 AD – “Sucker Bait”

    The timeline-chart on the website accidentally lists “The Recipe” (a tale first published in 1990, in the book “Puzzles of the Black Widowers”) in the place of “The Portable Star,” it looks like.

    Was looking for a contact-link over on the Spoiler website, but couldn’t find one, so I figured this would be the next-best way to get in touch. Keep up the great work with the blog!

    – Josh Ehrnwald

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Josh. Since the issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories in question is now online at archive.org, I can confirm that you’re correct and my notes from when I was visiting the Asimov collection at Boston University are wrong. I’ll make the corrections as soon as I can.

      I do rather like the title “Misbeforgotten Missionary,” though.

  2. Hello! This is probably not the best place to post this but I just recently read “The Kite that Won the Revolution” and, even though it is a juvenile book, I was enthralled with is combination of science, history, politics, and everything else combined. Can you recommend any other books from Asimov of a similar ilk (multiple branches of knowledge combining to tell the story of a singular subject). “The Wellsprings of Life” review makes it seem like that could be, but I have not read it yet so I don’t know if that is what I am looking for or not!

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