You might remember that once upon a time I was a high school English teacher. And a damn good one at that.

I just ran across something I posted to Facebook five years ago (also the final year I was paid to stand in front of a classroom). It was a note to my students of my thoughts on the list their school (not me) sent for summer reading choices.

I got a chuckle out of it today and I think it is worth reposting here. Feel free to pass this nugget along to any high school student you know who still hasn’t thought about that summer reading assignment due August 24th, especially if that assignment came with a list of classics to choose from.

* * * * *

Ok. Enough of you have written looking for my summer reading suggestions – so here are my PERSONAL thoughts. These are by no means endorsed by anyone but me. My final word is read whatever you want, but read the actual book. Don’t just read a Google summary.

I have not read (or even heard of) all the authors on your list, but it should be noted these are not ALL classics (yay) and many of these authors are still alive (hooray). Not that I don’t support the classics (hell-o, I’m an English teacher.) However, I believe classics are best studied in a group, not read independently – as it is difficult to know exactly what is so great about them without the aid of someone smarter than you telling you what to look for. If you wish to tackle the classics, you are awesome but I encourage you to read one with a friend and discuss together. Just don’t get burned-out and cease to love reading because classics are dense and difficult.

Look at me, still using the public library like it’s my job.

Anyway, I’ll do my best to comment on those I know personally, those I recognize, and those which are popular enough that I should probably get to know them.

Three lists:

#1: Probably worth your time:
– Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street is pretty good. Short, easy read and good.)
– Toni Morrison (One of Oprah’s heroes, hah – she writes “out of oppression” type stuff, but she’s generally considered good.)
– Alice Walker (The Color Purple is fabulous and also easy to read. Deals with some tough subjects ie: rape and black oppression, but I think I read it in 8th grade so you can handle it. There’s a copy in my old classroom.)
– Willa Cather (I love O Pioneers, if you are into Little House on the Prairie her stuff is is similar.)
– Cormac McCarthy (The Road is currently on my to-read list. We’ll see. His stuff is often made into movies. I think he’s a little dark and somewhat heavy. Probably a good one for guys. But he has several books published that have all been fairly popular – and I figure, if the general public is reading it and liking it, it can’t be too hard to understand. Come on. Not everyone went to private school.)
– Ian McEwan (similar popularity to McCarthy – also lots of books made into movies – though I’ve never read him my sister loved Atonement and she and I might as well be intellectual twins.)
– Jane Austen (She isn’t as obvious as Nicholas Sparks, but her romance is as endearing, if you can get through the Elizabethan Language. You might try her now, and come back to her in college, because you’ll love her more with experience. Trust me.)
– Flannery O’Connor (I loved Moll Flanders the movie. The book is probably good.)

#2: LONG and DIFFICULT (and worth considering in college because) I loved them anyway:
– Dostoevsky (on a HS reading list this is nuts… he’s Russian and the translation of his books makes all the difference in the world on readability, but even then he’s a toughy. Crime and Punishment GOOD; The Brothers Karamazov. GOOD. The Idiot. GOOD. He is fabulous when you are ready to tackle him.)
– Richard Wright (well, Black Boy is easy to read, and good. The rest of his stuff is a little racy and again, probably better in college. I will say this – Native Son involves a man killing a woman and cutting her up and putting her in a furnace and I had to read it for three different college classes, if that entices anyone.)
– Dickens (better studied with others, but again, I love him)
– Melville (Moby Dick is LONG and much of it takes place at sea, which, ulgh… not for me, but I really liked Billy Budd in college.)

#3: Shorter does not necessarily equal better (in short, snoozes) (no pun intended but don’t I rule?):
– Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness. Painfully short.)
– Hemingway (he’s a hit or miss with me, and usually a miss – personally. Old Man and the Sea? 100 pages? You might never finish it. No I’m serious. It’s another fishing book. Shoot me.)

Anyway, feel free to let me know what you pick. I’m always interested to hear what you are reading.


Mrs. Wait

Summer Reading: Tips for High School Students
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