Â My brilliant writing cohort Mark, sent his summer reading list, finally. Read the whole thing, it’s delightful, but first allow me to spoil the ending … my favorite.
“I will resist reading anything in Oprah’s Book Club, even if she returns to recommending classics that had previously done quite well for many years without being anointed, thank you very much (sorry, Elie).
But I’ll make an exception when she picks yours.”
(Okay, here’s the rest.)
My Summer Reading List
Considering how relentlessly literacy was pushed at me as a child, it’s surprising I am willing now to read anything more elaborate than the backs of cereal boxes. I was by nature an enthusiastic reader, but this was deemed insufficient. It started in fourth grade, with the book reports. I loved books; I hated book reports. I suppose that having kids write book reports was to engender a love of reading, to teach the skill of writing, and to develop critical thinking, but in my case it failed in all three.
The main objective was to encourage kids to read, or at least force them to. I didn’t need any prodding; I read for my own enjoyment. But the prospect that every book I read might require a flurry of follow-up paperwork was almost a disincentive.
As far as teaching writing and critical skills, forget it. There was a stupid formula you had to follow: “Did any of the characters change in some way?” “Explain how a character confronted and solved a problem.” “What lessons did you learn from the story?” Finally, you had to wrap the whole thing up with cheery dust-jacket-suitable copy and a cliffhanger: “I really liked this book. Will Huck find his father? Will slavery be abolished? Read the book and find out!”
This tidy format seemed to not apply to the books I read. In the stories I read, things tended to start out badly, and then get worse. The characters learn nothing. In the end some planet explodes or everybody dies and a million years later space travelers arrive and scratch their heads (or whatever) and try without success to figure out what happened.
With some of the more competitive kids and parents, a book-reports arms race was on. You were expected to turn in a minimum number of book reports each school year. I rigorously adhered to this limit. (The word “slacker” was not in widespread use in 1964, but you get the idea.) Other kids did not.
“You read lots of books, why don’t you write more book reports?” asked my mom. “Barbara Smith [her real name] turned in 40 book reports.”
“We only have to do eight.”
“But don’t you want your teachers to know about all the books you read?”
“If they’re so damn interested, they can read the books themselves,” I said. (I had started to read books in which characters talked this way.)
Barbara Smith ended up as high-school Valedictorian and went to Harvard Medical School. At college, I almost flunked out of English Literature and had to beg the professor to let me drop the course.
Thus I developed a simplistic, literal-minded approach to literature. I read mostly to be informed or entertained: what is a book, anyway, but TV without the sound and picture? But at least my education didn’t make me a complete illiterate.
Herewith, my Summer Reading List: (after the jump)