English Tier List- Ranking Every Assigned Book

English Tier List- Ranking Every Assigned Book

Though I might not be the most social person compared to some, I’ve learned two common and important characteristics about people: they love arguing and they love validation. That’s why I’ve created this fantastic (and objectively correct) tier list, where I will organize all of the important titles analyzed in English classes from freshman year to senior year, including autobiographies, epics, novels, tragedies, and more, and put them into categories based on how enjoyable they were to read as well as how enjoyable it was to analyze. What better way to feel validated than by agreeing with me, and what better way to start an unnecessarily heated argument than by disagreeing with me?

F Tier –
Romeo & Juliet -It shouldn’t be necessary to have to explain the concept of Romeo & Juliet, but just in case: it follows the romance and tragedy between a 14-year-old Juliet and a Romeo of dubious age. Being a Shakespearan play, the structure and language are interesting, to say the least, and while this made it a chore to read, it certainly made Romeo + Juliet (1996) the silliest movie known to man. But since we are discussing the play and not a film with characters brandishing guns speaking in old-modern English, it becomes a lot more of a chore to read, even more so if you have to act it out with the class. From the perspective of a masochist who wants to analyze symbols and themes, Romeo & Juliet is remarkably bland and banal, which might be a result of it being so ingrained in this culture. From the perspective of someone who wants to read an interesting story, Romeo & Juliet is uninteresting for the overwhelming majority of the play, bar maybe one or two scenes focusing more on the direct conflict between Romeo and Tybalt and the ending of the tragedy as well. The rest of it is an incredibly slow build-up to little action, and since Romeo & Juliet is such a well-known tragedy, it ends up building up to what everyone expected anyway.  

D Tier –
Julius Caesar – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a play written by Shakespeare (again) with a romanticized interpretation of the events following up to and succeeding the assassination of Julius Caesar from many perspectives, including Brutus and the conspirators, Caesar’s successor Mark Antony, and Julius Caesar himself. The differing perspectives almost create a justification for the actions of the conspirators, who wished to depose Caesar, and the dictator himself, who wished to help his people. While the insight provided from the other perspectives adds a bit of moral complexity to the situation, the actual bit read only proceeds up to the part where Caesar dies and where Brutus and Antony give their speeches for the sole purpose of introducing the concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos, only to immediately discard them and never use them outside of Greek playwrights again. It ends up being shallow since the biggest part of the fragment read is the death of Caesar which isn’t a surprise anyway, which makes the actual scene pretty boring.  


C Tier –
The Great Gatsby – The Great Gatsby is likely to be the first introduction to an unreliable narrator—that is, a narrator who introduces their own biases and thoughts in their telling of the story—for English students. In this regard, The Great Gatsby is a good introductory novel to the concept. It’s relatively simple in its themes and symbolism while being a decently short book. As far as analyzing symbols and motifs go, it’s a solid novel. From the perspective of a poor junior who has to sit through over 150 pages of not a whole lot happening, it’s pretty miserable. On the other hand, reading it through again with the foresight and knowledge of how the plot unwinds and what causes Nick’s point of view to stand where it is makes it slightly more interesting to read, as it becomes less about the plot and more about dissecting symbols, themes, and Nick as a narrator.

The Odyssey – The eponymous epic of The Odyssey follows the Greek hero Odysseus and his ten-year journey home to Ithaca, 70% of which is spent being trapped on an island which thankfully is not represented in the actual length of the epic. Unlike other titles in this list, The Odyssey doesn’t have many themes or symbols to analyze which, admittedly, might make it better for some. However, I found this to result in an epic that was a little shallow to read which dragged on for quite a bit. That being said, the epic being shallow to read didn’t necessarily make it boring. The concept of the plot, at the very least, was engaging, though the execution of it in English is a little mundane. Instead of being dramatic through grandiose battles with mythical creatures, it largely relies on Odysseus’ cunning tricks and schemes to bring him victory, with the exception of being bailed out by Zeus himself after being trapped on the aforementioned island. Odysseus’ more human characteristics, reflected not just in his abilities but also his personality, such as his greed, make it more engaging to read about as it follows the success of a flawed hero. 

B Tier  –
Lord of the Flies – The Lord of the Flies is a dark novel focusing on the natural evils of humanity as it follows a group of elementary to middle-school children as they are stranded on an island amidst a plane crash. The Lord of the Flies serves as almost a satirical antithesis to The Coral Island in which, instead of following a small group of boys who try to make peace with native inhabitants, and pirates while spreading the word of God, the troupe of The Lord of the Flies face division as a result of discontent formed from distrust and egomania. The violent nature of the novel is quite a step above the rest of the major titles read throughout high school, making it more engaging in a way with how quickly the plot itself develops. The characters being symbols themselves also made it interesting to analyze with all the religious themes and allusions in mind. However, the novelty of the violence wore off after a bit and became a little too pessimistic, even if it is for the purpose of political satire.

Antigone – While Antigone is yet another ancient Greek story (in this case, a play rather than an epic), it differs from The Odyssey in that the underlying message of it is clear and quick to the point. Unlike The Odyssey, which, while entertaining through all the mythological beings and conflicts, Antigone stays more on the realistic side of story-telling in a quick manner. Unlike other tragedies in this list, Antigone truly succeeds in its mission to make the ending as miserable as possible for everyone involved while also developing major themes presented in the play, such as ignorance to warnings, conflicts between loyalty to family and state, and as typical for Greek playwrights, the dangers of the hubris of man.

Animal Farm – Animal Farm is a political satire following the life of various talking farm animals and their attempts at establishing their own system of governance mocking the ideas of totalitarianism. The odd choice of representation of such a topic adds a bit of humor to contrast the serious concerns of Orwell following World War Two. While the symbols are mostly limited to real-life events and political developments, as the novel is a political allegory for the Russian and Bolshevik Revolution, the execution of the symbols are easy to understand as to how they tie into their real-life counterparts. Admittedly, Animal Farm was written during a time when the Soviet Union was beginning to aggressively expand its influence and power across Europe, which is reflected through the antagonization of characters representing this totalitarianism. The novel has a comfortable level of depth, not requiring rigorous analysis to understand the meaning, but also having a clear message told throughout the story.

The Scarlet Letter – If The Odyssey was characterized by an interesting plot with boring symbols and themes, The Scarlet Letter is the obverse of it. Instead, The Scarlet Letter has the most mind-numbingly boring plot known to man but compensates by having almost every single sentence in the entire 270-page book have some thematic or symbolic significance. Regardless of personal opinions about the novel, it’s hard to not appreciate in some way how the word choice fits so perfectly together like a mosaic. The age of the book shows though, with quite a few unfamiliar words and a sentence structure that can be difficult to follow. The combination of the two only adds to the depth though, as it allows for more implicit interpretations to be formed.

Just Mercy – In contrast to the epics, tragedies, and novels thus far, Just Mercy is a memoir by Bryan Stevenson who recalls his time struggling with the American justice system as he fought for the rights of various African Americans who had been wrongly convicted. Because it’s a memoir, there aren’t exactly any symbols to analyze. However, Just Mercy compensates for this by including Stevenson’s own emotions and frustrations in the memoir by including details about the cases he has worked on. Just Mercy provides shocking insight into how backward the American justice system has been in recent years, seeing how most of the developments within the memoir are as late as the 1980s and as early as 2013. The disturbing account of the treatment of African Americans, both within the court and outside of it, provides valuable insight into the history of the United States and its legal system along with how little it has seemingly changed.

A Tier –
Frankenstein – Frankenstein manages to strike the perfect balance between a good story concept like The Odyssey and excellent themes and symbols like The Scarlet Letter. The novel follows the tragedy of Victor Frankenstein, which may or may not be a direct result of his own doings after he somehow grants life to a creature born from scraps of bones and flesh. Like The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein was written during the Romantic era of literature, focusing on Romantic themes such as the glorification of nature and natural emotions, but in an ironic way by demonstrating the tragedy of the rejection of nature rather than the beauty of its acceptance. The book itself is framed by an outsider, Walton, who meets Frankenstein towards the end of his tale in the Arctic Circle, where Frankenstein reveals all that has happened to him thus far. Because Frankenstein himself is just a tad bit insane, his own recollection of the events becomes questionable at best, especially when combined with bizarre Walton’s admiration for him. The unreliable narrator, “antagonist” who can be sympathized with, and loads of Romantic symbols and themes leave not only a novel with engaging characters and plot but also considerable depth to all the aspects of it. 

S Tier –
Frederick Douglass – Unlike (almost) every other title in this list, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass has no plot or symbols because, as the name implies, it’s an autobiography by Frederick Douglass himself, documenting his life as a slave to his escape and “freedom.” However, the lack of a fictional plot or symbols doesn’t make this a bad book in the slightest, especially when it’s written by one of the most powerful speakers in history. Douglass manages to pile so much emotion into the way he describes his own experience as a slave in disturbingly vivid detail. However, it’s not just the anger expressed solely towards the slave owners, but also the indignance towards the complicit. Douglass offers not just scathing remarks towards those who justify the existence and continuity of slavery, but also the United States as a whole. It is difficult to describe just how much emotion is laced in each and every word written on every page of the book without simply telling you to read an autobiography by one of the greatest speakers of all time about one of the greatest injustices of all time.