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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, July 19, 2004

Summer reading list

Each year, our local high school-- along with most of the schools in the area-- sends its students home with a list of three or four books over the summer. They're serious about it too. Students are tested over the material during the first week back after vacation, and their scores comprise a significant chunk of their grade for the term.

This may be the easiest assignment of the year. Carolyn's a bookworm, so telling her she has to read is rather like standing on our driveway in July and telling ice to melt. We picked up the last of her books today.

What are the incoming Juniors reading this year? Glad you asked!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
A Lesson Before Dying
The Piano Lesson
Cold Sassy Tree

I haven't read a couple of them, so I'll be snagging those when she's done. I find it interesting-- in a good way-- that they don't exclusively focus on the "standard classics." Usually one or two will be, but not all four. The rules seem to be that the books are recognized as quality literature, Pulitzer prize winners and such; and that at least one will be a play. Over the years, they have run heavily to fiction, but not exclusively.

So, here's the natural question: if you were the teacher, what would you be assigning?


Blogger Benedict Seraphim said...

Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
George Orwell, 1984
Shakespeare, King Lear
Jean-Paul Sarter, No Exit

July 19, 2004 12:51 PM  

Blogger BrotherBeal said...

Were I the teacher, in the abscence of any other syllabus requirements, I would assign three books and then allow a fourth to be left up to the student and defended by an essay.

1.) How to Read a Book, Charles Van Doren
2.) Job, Old Testament.
3.) Oedipus Rex, Sophocles (bonus points for having read Oedipus at Colonus - to be explained below)

In my experiences both as a teacher and as a student, I've found that summer reading is an all too often underused tool in education these days (not to judge Indiana schools in any way - never been either there). Perhaps the most inventive (and hence most interesting) assignment a teacher ever gave me was to read Job and then the Oedipus cycle (one gains a much fuller appreciation for the character of Oedipus by reading the entire trilogy) and discuss the various approaches both authors took towards morality, the human experience, the role (if any) of God - but the one fault I had was that we began discussion before the books were completed. That's like trying to analyze a piece of art one brush stroke at a time - you cannot put literature under a microscope until you have looked at the bigger picture first (hence the first book in the list). Assigning these works over the summer and demanding that they be read by the first day of class gives students time to adequately prepare for a serious discussion and a chance to get the ball rolling early rather than in October as is generally the case.

One hopes that ideas such as these get the kind of results which get noticed by the people on the other side of the paychecks...

July 19, 2004 1:15 PM  

Blogger Ryan said...

Cold Sassy Tree is an underestimated book and I am pleased to see it on that list. What would my choices be? I always appreciated choices when I was a student, so I would offer the following list:

Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises -OR- For Whom the Bell Tolls

Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice -OR- Othello (extra credit for seeing the play too)

Jack London's "White Fang" -OR- Mark Twain: "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" -OR- "Letters to the Earth"

I like Beal's idea of choosing a fourth and then defending your choice in an essay.


July 19, 2004 1:53 PM  

Blogger Don said...

Give them something that is pleasurable:

Howard's End orA Room With a View by E.M. Forester.

Emma or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

I was thinking the other day about what books I read as a child. We had a series (junior classics illustrated?) and I read over and over Black Beauty, Heidi, Little Women and Little Men and the wonderfully titled The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. I have fond memories of reading these when I was in the upper end of elementary school.

July 19, 2004 3:06 PM  

Blogger Ryan said...

Ok, now that I am home and walked past my bookshelf a few times, I'd like to add a few more combos. First though, I see an inherent fallacy in the above comment made by Don. He very rightly posits that something pleasurable should be assigned, but then he lists books by Jane Austen. Hmmmm?

Anyway, more combos:

Frank Herbert's Dune -or- Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (I fully assert the literary validity of good science fiction/fantasy novels)

Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible -or- Abdelrahman Munif's Cities of Salt

Mary Shelley's Frankenstien -or- Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (unabridged)

Ok, I think that's all, for real this time.


July 19, 2004 5:01 PM  

Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas
Moby Dick, Melville...yes that long arse book about whales. If ya wanna understand the roots of the American novel, read Melville.
Oliver Twist, Dickens
Cannery Row, Sallinger

No one I teach will ever read John Irving or Barbara Kinsolver. Why the American novel is in the hands of these two people is beyond me.

July 20, 2004 5:37 AM  

Blogger Don said...

Hmm ... when Jane casts her eye on the world around her, she draws it with a great sense of humor and truth. She was also a bit of an economist, noting the finely graded values of marriage in early 19th Century England. I find reading her books a great pleasure. It's easy to imagine that this might not be someone else's cup of tea -- reading Henry James or William Faulkner are other examples of tastes that may need be acquired -- but I do not withdraw the recommendation.

July 20, 2004 9:15 AM  

Blogger Susie said...

I love Beal's suggestion for choosing a book and defending it with an essay too. When I was in high school, we had to read an extra book each term and do some kind of essay or report on it... the list to choose from was about six pages long and it was always my favorite part. Some other books that haven't been suggested: The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Hamlet by Shakespeare, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Odyssey, Diary of Anne Frank, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - I don't remember who wrote that one. It may be a bit young for high school but its really good.

July 20, 2004 10:59 AM  

Blogger avril said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

July 20, 2004 10:06 PM  

Blogger avril said...

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
I could go on and on....how about the Madeline L'Engle series that include A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet? Or anything by E.M. Forster or Michael Ondaajte?

July 20, 2004 10:08 PM  

Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

I want to take a class on William Faulkner. I want to read all of his stuff. Wow.

July 21, 2004 6:22 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Hey, good stuff, folks! I love the list I'm accumulating.

I will note that many of the suggestions here have been part of the educational process to date. If memory serves, previous years' summer reading has included To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Lord of the Flies. As part of the regular curriculum, they've read one or two of Shakespeare's plays each year (I recall Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet, thus far), as well as Hemmingway, Twain and Dickens.

Several of the others are simply resident on our bookshelves (including a sizeable science fiction section, Ryan), and are thus being absorbed over time. Yes, this is one addiction we actively encourage.

Some things I haven't seen mentioned? Let's see... maybe Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, or Thorton Wilder's Our Town.

July 21, 2004 8:13 AM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...

This list was going around a while back. I has a lot of good books, but there's some junk there too.

July 27, 2004 7:24 AM  

Blogger Jimmy said...

I'd include either Main Street or Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, and I'd probably choose To Kill a Mockingbird, too. Or something by John Steinbeck. Or...or...or...or....

July 30, 2004 8:41 PM  

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