What a great forum board. I love how enthusiastic you sound about reading, Ben! I think the reason we read many of the books that we do in English is because they have themes that transcend time, and actually CAN be related to by others later. The issue is that most students don't really care enough, or have enough time, to actually unearth the symbolism and whatnot. I don't really like most of the books we have to read for class either though, I'll give you that.
I think the books we deem as "awful" are usually just old books that us modern folk can't seem to appreciate. That being said, i wouldn't complain about reading something more modern just to switch it up.
Well, in the teachers' defense, students do need to be pushed out of their comfort zones sometimes. Otherwise you don't learn anything. This is especially true with English, where often old books actually have profound wisdom and insights. I've found that if you take the time to understand old works (Shakespeare, A Tale of Two Cities, etc), the plots are not that unlike what we read and enjoy today. I think the strange wording can cause people to get frustrated with these kinds of books early on and not give them a fair chance.
I agree with certain books being terrible. For example, A Raisin In The Sun was a terrible choice. But, I felt that Sophomore year, the books they chose were much much better.