One of the most quotable books, in my humble opinion, this collection is a journey that explores love, lust, heartache, infidelity and everything in between. So pervasive and enduring is its charm that this collection made a significant appearance in not one but two films. Be it Kat’s version of Sonnet 141, or Cher’s use of Sonnet 18 to play Cupid, there is no better way to capture the drama of being a high school teenager than with the words of the greatest dramatist.
A moody employer. An independent governess. A mysterious wife. A haunting secret. Set for the most part in the ominous Thornfield Hall, the tempestuous love shared between Jane and Mr. Rochester is the quintessential Victorian novel. Emotional and gut-wrenching, at its core, this Kat Stratford approved title is a feminist romance featuring a strong and brutally honest female protagonist and her struggle between following social norms and listening to her desires.
The Second Sex
Simone De Beauvoir
A reading list inspired by 10 Things I Hate About You would be incomplete without this feminist tome. As one might recall from the film, an impassioned Kat demands why they weren’t reading more books by women writers like Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Brontë, or Simone de Beauvoir in their English class. Published in 1949, this seminal masterpiece is a subversive exploration of what it means to be a woman, an analysis of inequality and otherness, and a practical social reform guide for gender equality.
The Taming of the Shrew
While this play technically wasn’t featured in the film, 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern adaptation of it. Set at Padua High School in Seattle, it’s chock full of teenage tropes. Like Katherine, her counterpart in the play, Kat Stratford doesn’t suffer fools, rejects conformity, is acutely self-aware, and refuses to live up to anyone’s expectations but her own. But unlike the Bard’s heroine, she isn’t “tamed” in the end. Instead, she gets exactly what she wants—a dishy Patrick Verona and a wicked Fender Strat.
The Portable Nietzsche
In an iconic scene from Clueless, this massive book makes an appearance in the hands of an all-black clad Josh, who is casually lounging by a pool in Beverly Hills and sporting a ghost of a goatee. While he is one beret away from being a coffee house cliché, I will give him props for attempting to understand one of the most fascinating and misunderstood minds in philosophy.
A Tale of Two Cities
As Cher is giving herself *snaps* for successfully pairing off Tai and Elton, she fondly remembers a book that she read in 9th grade that said: “’tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.” Alright, Dickens never actually used “stuff” in his historic novel that was set in London and Paris during the French Revolution and explored themes of sacrifice, class, and justice. But you get the gist of it.
After the tragic destruction of her Italian couture dress (“You don’t understand, this is an Alaïa!”) and being mugged, Cher enlists Josh’s help to get back home. This scene introduces Josh’s post-adolescent idealistic girlfriend who is anti-establishment, casually uses words like ‘fecund’, and (incorrectly) quotes Hamlet. As Cher remembers Mel Gibson accurately, it was Polonius and not Hamlet that said: “to thine own self be true.”
Most Clueless fans and Janeites will know that the movie was a modern-day retelling of Austen’s Emma. A naïve and privileged busybody (Emma/Cher) spends her days obsessing over her father’s health while taking up ‘projects’ that mostly involve matchmaking and makeovers to claim some karmic plus points. As she’s fretting about everyone else’s love life, she gradually falls for her former nemesis.
As You Like It
As you can probably tell by now, I’m always on the lookout for more Shakespeare in pop culture. In this instance, As You Like It was deconstructed in an English class taught by the foxy Mr. Coulson in Never Been Kissed (I wish my English teacher had a jaw that could cut cheese). Like in the play, the movie explores the idea of being in disguise and being better able to express your true identity. It is only when Josie goes undercover as a high school student and relives her horrific past, that she is finally able to love herself for who she truly is.
The dear old ’90s. A decade defined by mini buns, platform shoes, and questionable low rise pants (which are now making a comeback—please no). An era when punk rock was more mainstream than pop and Avril reigned the radio. A time which gave the world some of its best high school movies that featured teenage existential angst, satisfying makeovers, and underscored the insidious clique culture that persists to the present day. As a pop culture junkie, I take great joy in seeing different worlds of entertainment collide. And, for me, one of the biggest highlights of these cult high school films was the books that they featured—a resounding cry that books are and will remain rufus. Indulge your nostalgia and take a trip down memory lane with evergreen titles that were featured in 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, and Never Been Kissed.
Featured Image: Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)