"For what is the use of a golden key if it cannot open what we want it to?" --St. Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine"
Getting students who are not intellectually curious (at least not when it comes to school) to read and write about books is difficult, especially when your goal is to not just give them reading and writing material but to also get them to appreciate the literature. You must give them a book that won’t provide them a reason to not do it.
When I taught A Christmas Carol, I was surprised at the number of students who used the language as an excuse to not work hard. I think it was that particular class more than the book itself, but that semester taught me a lesson about students: any excuse not to read allows them to justify their laziness. If a book has obtuse language, a quirky narrative, or an intimidating length (even if the print is big and the chapters short), students will find a way to talk themselves out of doing the work.
Of Mice and Men has worked well for me. It has around 100 pages, accessible language, straightforward narrative, and easy to follow themes. The story does not rely upon a great deal of historical context. Because of all this, students generally enjoy it. I would love to find several novels that adhere to those standards.
A great source is high school booklists, but even some of those don’t fit the criteria I’ve set up. If I’m going to teach literature in a writing class, I don’t want to spend a lot of class time providing context. I want to jump into the text and simply provide the necessary background as we encounter it within the story.
Of course, I must still teach it well. I just want the teaching to be as downhill as possible. I’ve recently read Remains of the Day and Slaughterhouse Five. The former may be too psychological to keep most students’ interest, and the latter has an obtuse narrative. I’m also considering Heart of Darkness, The King and I, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Wit.