As promised, here’s the list of books we read in our 9th grade homeschool this year. (You can read more about our curriculum and schedule for 9th grade here; this is just the book list.) We read a lot, so this looks like a long list, but we didn’t read every book in its entirety. And while I tried to break this down into sections, we don’t really compartmentalize, so there’s definitely overlap. I didn't include books she read on her own for fun.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
I am always recommending this book to people who want to do more academic reading, and high school felt like the perfect time to put it on my daughter’s list.
A People’s History of the United States
I’m pretty sure this would have made a good U.S. History spine, too, but I went the more traditional route and assigned this for summer reading.
The Partly Cloud Patriot
I wanted to my daughter to jump into U.S. History thinking about who is telling the story and why and what it all means, and this collection of essays was a fun way to introduce the power of perspective in history.
The Tao of Pooh
Recommended by my philosopher friend as a surprisingly good introduction to Taoism, which I wanted to explore before jumping into our comparative lit class.
U.S. History/American Literature
Spine: The American Pageant (AP edition)
I don’t usually go for traditional textbooks, but this one was helpful for pacing ourselves so that we covered everything we needed to get to before the AP test.
Spine: Norton Anthology of American Literature
We read this almost straight through—it was great for sampling a lot of different nonfiction, stories, and poems.
The Letters of John and Abigail Adams
I love that these letters capture a dramatic period of U.S. history and what life was like for ordinary people during the Revolutionary period. We really enjoyed them.
The Witches: Salem 1692
How can you study U.S. history and skip the Salem witch trials? I thought this book was fascinating (and a great read alongside The Crucible) because it really ties into ideas about religious provocation and crowd-sourced accusations that feel pretty relevant right now.
The Scarlet Letter
For literature, we really wanted to look at the qualities/themes that make a work "American," and The Scarlet Letter was a good place to start. Hawthorne is writing as a descendant of the Puritans he skewers in his story, establishing the complicated relationship between the past and present, the old and the new, that's still such a big part of American thinking. (I always get the Norton critical editions when I can because the essays at the back are great supplemental material.)
An obvious choice but a really good read.
An obvious but essential read. (But seriously WHAT IS WRONG WITH TOM SAWYER? Is he a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the South or just a terrible, terrible person?)
The Killer Angels
We all know what happens at the Battle of Gettysburg, but this scrupulously researched novel really brings it to life. My daughter hated it, though, so she didn't finish it.
Mothers of Invention: Women in the Slaveholding South in the Civil War Era
We talk a lot about how WWI changed women's lives, but the Civil War had a similar effect on the "ladies" who had to go from pampered, protected, fragile flowers to strong, capable caregivers, workers, and providers.
The Red Badge of Courage
Not my daughter's favorite—a little too violent and unhappy, but since that's kind of the point, we worked through it.
Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity
Great biography. My daughter loved this one.
We really enjoyed this collection of short biographies of people who don't always make it into traditional history textbooks.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
This is an excellent and often heartbreaking book about the Native American genocide during the 19th century.
Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation
Another sad but excellent book about Native American history.
Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian
This book wants to sort of give Jackson's side of the story, to explain why he'd commit so enthusiastically to wiping out entire nations of people. And maybe it kind of succeeds? But Jackson's position is just so terrible and wrong and misguided and the results of his actions so catastrophic that I think we kind of didn't care why he might have felt that way. Sometimes it's fun to read a book that you can totally disagree with, but we'd been reading a lot about the Native American genocide, and this just made us sadder.
Nothing Like it in the World: The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad
The railroad transformed the United States, and its completion was a massive undertaking for a still-young country. The whole project is fascinating, and this book did a great job capturing both its scope and some of the individual personalities involved.
Portrait of a Lady
Always a delight!
An American Tragedy
I loved this book in high school, so I was happy that it held up on reread and that my daughter enjoyed it—two things that are never guaranteed!
Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt
We will pretty much never stop being amazed by the sheer coolness of Teddy Roosevelt.
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America
Really interesting read about how Roosevelt brought the idea of conservation and public lands to the United States.
The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age
Corporate culture is such a part of modern life, it was really interesting to read the history of its roots.
American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900
When did capitalism become the American Dream? Sometime between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, the democratic dream started to become the capitalist dream, and this book captures some of the people and moments that contributed to that transition. This was so interesting to read.
A classic novel of the pioneer experience—plus interesting to read while immigration is such a controversial topic.
Southern Horrors and other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida Wells, 1892-1900
OK, so Ida B. Wells is awesome in pretty much every way, but this book—about racism and sexism in the post-Civil War South—is so depressing. Totally worth reading depressing, but be prepared.
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
Also depressing, also worth reading. Lots of sexual violence (which is probably obvious from the title), though, so be aware.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow
How could we not read a book that Martin Luther King, Jr., called "the historical Bible of the civil rights movement?"
The Great Gatsby
Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story
The Murphys knew EVERYBODY (Picasso! Hemingway! Fitzgerald! Cole Porter!) in 1920s Paris, and their lives read like a good novel. (Which I guess isn't that surprising since Fitzgerald also based the Divers in Tender Is the Night on them.)
East of Eden
I really think this is the great American novel.
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
My daughter didn't love this group biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey, but I read it twice.
Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882
A really detailed examination of the history of immigration in the United States.
How the Other Half Lives
A first-hand look at the lives of new immigrants in 1880s New York City.
Black Like Me
This book is amazing: A man passes as black on a road trip through the 1950s South, and his experiences and their effect on him are pretty unforgettable.
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
More cool Roosevelts.
Band of Brothers
It's not that this is a bad book—it's a very good book—but wars are not our favorite part of history.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
You've probably heard about how great this book (which explores the intersection of science, race, and ethics) is, so I'll just chime in and add, yep, it is great.
All the King’s Men
A classic. (And, oh my gosh, incredibly relevant)
The Final Days
This is a richly detailed chronology of Nixon's last months in office.
Everyone should read this book, so I'm happy it fit so neatly into our high school reading list.
Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata
This book was fine—some very interesting bits and some less interesting bits—but it was awesome to find a book about Studio Ghibli.
Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence
A readable approach to a slice of Japanese philosophy that resonates through the adaptations we watched.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Another philosophical idea that we wanted to understand in a more nuanced way.
Allegory of the Cave
I think this is the essential text for understanding the Western mind/body dichotomy, which is also an important part of Western literature.
Being able to recognize allusions and motifs is an important part of comparative literature. (Plus these fairy and folk tales were really fun to read!)
Spine: Holt Science Spectrum: Physical Science with Earth and Space Science
I wasn't over-the-moon thrilled with this textbook, but of the limited options for homeschooling high school science, this one felt like the best fit for this year. If you use it, be prepared to supplement a lot. I think this is a good option if you have a kid who's interested in physics but doesn't really have the math yet to be successful at physics.
Spine: Hands-On Physics Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8 - 12
Because you can't do high school science without labs! (This was actually a pretty good resource—it didn't match up with the book exactly, so I still had to put in some Google fu time to find labs to go with some concepts, but the labs we did were well organized and mostly successful.)
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Everything feels more accessible and more interesting when Bill Bryson explains it to you.
Thinking Physics: Understandable Practical Reality
One of my favorite intro to physics books. We read this in bits and pieces as it related to things we were studying.
Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher
Another good book that we read in bits and pieces as topics in it came up in our studies.
The Norton History of Astronomy and Cosmology
Again, we read this as it felt relevant to what we were studying. It's a history of astronomy, so it gave good background info, but what I really like about this book (as opposed to the many other histories of astronomy out there) is that it includes the contributions of non-Western thinkers. Actually, you could probably use this as a spine for a middle school history of astronomy class and have a great time.
Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems: Pre-university Physics and Maths Puzzles with Solutions
Sometimes she'd figure out the right answer, often she wouldn't, but my daughter loved the explanations of how to approach physics and math problems. I think it really helped her expand her thinking about scientific problem-solving, which is awesome. I picked it up on a whim, but it was definitely one of our science highlights.
The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
When experiments don't work and hypotheses fail, you're still learning something.
Another good readaloud—this one's focused on how to recognize bad science (skewed test results, medical quackery, etc.) when you run into it.
Earth: An Intimate History
Interesting overview of the history of earth science.
Reading the Rocks: An Autobiography of the Earth
Pop-geology! (That sounds like an insult, but I promise I don't mean it that way.)
The Bean Trees
My pick—I loved this novel, and I was excited to share it with my girl.
Letters from Iceland
Such a delightful surprise!
Part of our "read more plays" initiative.
Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science
A little dated now but still totally worth reading.
The Importance of Being Earnest
So funny! (Plus it inspired our dog's name, so there's that.)
Cry, the Beloved Country
Beautiful and heartbreaking.
The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet
This one had been on my daughter's TBR list for too long.
A History of Reading
A lovely little collection of essays on the magic of reading.
The Nine Tailors
Still trying, still failing, to get my daughter hooked on the Lord Peter mysteries.
The Best Short Stories of O. Henry
Because when you're trying to write more focused short stories, you turn to a master.
The Portable Dorothy Parker
ESSENTIAL. Don't leave home without it.