The Wall Street Journal had an editorial piece today about how weak and biased summer reading lists for high school students are these days. He relates the story of a friend who was dismayed to see contemporary writers such as David Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Barbara Ehrenreich on his daughter’s reading list, with Tobias Wolff’s 1989 autobiography “This Boy’s Life, as the oldest book assigned.
I must admit I have not read anything by Eggers, but I have heard great things about his bestselling book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”. I am a big fan of Gladwell’s work, and I have enjoyed, and learned a lot, from reading a couple of Ehrenrich’s books. So while I am certainly no literary critic, I don’t see a problem with any of these three authors. I am not familiar with “This Boy’s Life”, and so I can’t really comment on that one.
The father asked the author of the editorial, Gilbert Sewall, to come up with a better summer reading list. Here is that list:
- “The Eruption of Vesuvius” (79 A.D.), Pliny the Younger.
- Declaration of Independence (1776), Thomas Jefferson.
- “Self-Reliance” (1841), Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), W.E.B. DuBois.
- “The Odyssey” (c. 750 B.C.), Homer.
- “Aesop’s Fables” (c. 600 B.C.).
- “Georgics” (c. 30 B.C.), Virgil.
- “Metamorphoses” (c. 8 A.D.), Ovid. Icarus
- “Canticle of the Sun” (1224), St. Francis.
- “Romeo and Juliet” (1594), William Shakespeare.
- “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), Jonathan Swift.
- “Candide” (1759), Voltaire.
- “The Fountains” (1766), Samuel Johnson.
- “Ozymandias” (1819), Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834), Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
- “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), Edgar Allan Poe.
- “Animal Farm” (1945), George Orwell
First off, that’s a really ambitious list for one summer! Second, I have not heard of most of the books on the list, so once again it seems like I’ve got to up my game. The book by Emerson is the one that seems most appealing to me, so I think I will put it on my summer reading list. Third, it’s interesting to read the comments to the article since there are several other books suggested.
The article got me thinking what books I might include on a summer reading list for high school students. So here is my list, a baker’s dozen, in no particular order, but separated by fiction and non-fiction. I’m guessing that most high school summer reading lists are almost all books of literature, but I wanted to include some non-fiction books on the list as well. The non-fiction books I’ve chosen are on topics that are not likely taught in high school, but I think the information contained in the books is quite useful, and the earlier that individuals are exposed to such information, the better.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
- The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
- Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
- Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
- The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
- A Separate Peace, John Knowles
- The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
- Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
- The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
- The Food Revolution, John Robbins
- The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin
- Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky are two books I hope to read in the near future, since I have heard that each is a classic. It may be that once I finish those books, I will need to revise my list.
I also know that there are several other classic works of literature that I have not yet read, but I view that as a good thing.
In the meantime, I’d be curious as to what books you would include on a high school summer reading list.