The crisp opening and binding crack of a never before read book reminds me of biting into a juicy piece of fruit. It’s absolutely delicious. It is why I haven’t transitioned all my reading to an E-Reader. I would miss that smell of the paper too much. I have to say, I was a complete booknerd and had the same feeling about a school textbook…but only when I received the brand new textbook, because it had so much possibility! No one else had smudged their dirty fingers on the pages or written their name on the inside cover. It was all mine, even if I didn’t really enjoy the content inside.
There is a great quote from one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail” in which Tom Hanks is writing an email to his then unknown love, Meg Ryan about the start of fall in New York City. He says, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” Yes! I love school supplies! I want to buy that newly sharpened bouquet of pencils every time the end of summer comes around. It reminds me of those brand new books I can’t wait to read. It also reminds me of the books I didn’t get around to reading that were on the summer reading list.
Working in youth services at a public library means there are tons of requests for books on the summer reading list. I love to scour these different lists to check off what I’ve read and to also see what unusual titles make the lists. The best this year I found was The Crucible by Arthur Miller on a junior high/middle school list. Yes, you heard right, a college level book usually found in American Literature classes Freshman year was found on a middle school list. I have a BA degree in English and I didn’t read Arthur Miller until college. I was very surprised.
I also thought it would be fun to take an informal poll amongst friends to find out what books they enjoyed most that were on their summer reading lists. Have you read all of these books? Did any of these books stick with you even today as an adult? Perhaps there was one you dredged through but ended up appreciating later on?
I have two books that make my all-time favorites and strangely, I was assigned to read them sophomore year in high school English; The Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea. I love the wit and dry humor of The Catcher in the Rye and I think Salinger is one of the great American authors in modern times. It’s definitely a character driven novel, and I love how he captures this young boy’s whining, his torments, and his anguish. The Old Man and the Sea introduced me to the greatness of Hemingway. Such a simple tale told in such carefully crafted simple prose, makes this a truly remarkable book. Interestingly, both are male authors telling the story of one male figure, which is not a typical story I would be able to relate to. However, when you look deeper at the symbolism and depth of human nature written about, it makes sense why I would love these books.
I did some digging to find the most assigned summer reading books and came up with so many choices, there could have been a list of 100 books. I thought this was an interesting list from the Illinois State Library’s Read for a Lifetime program which appears to cover mostly contemporary literature. Although now a bit old, this list from the Washington Post is a great mix of classics and contemporary authors.
Here are my top choices for summer reading catch-up ideas (aside from Salinger and Hemingway, which yes, you MUST read!). I also included a list of the books that came about from the poll I took. What would be your top books?
If you must give someone Charles Dickens, then give them A Tale of Two Cities. War, love, Paris, nothing but the essentials of a great novel. One of my favorites of all time and a great book for British Lit lovers. Learn more about Dickens at Victorian Web. Another fantastic family and semi-suedo-historical saga is East of Eden by John Steinbeck which has great scandal and family squabbles. If I ever make it to Monterey Bay area, I will definitely put the National Steinbeck Center on my tour.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, or Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. You can also try The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Even if you are not a science fiction/fantasy fan, read one of these fantastic books and you will be transformed. They will make you think more about the world in which we live and how we as humans react and interact. Check out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s of America website for even more ideas.
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse will provide a beautiful read into the lives of women in literature. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is another great insight into women’s literature. While these are not necessarily happy-ending books, they will definitely have you think about and explore how emotions and struggles were once experiences and shared. For more interesting women writers and topics try the National Archives.
Read a memoir or biography, even if it’s fiction. A book like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is one example of a fictional story told from the perspective of a young boy who lost his father on September 11th. Even though it’s not true, you are instantly in this boy’s world. You realize his story could be anyone’s in search of understanding an influential person in life. Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos is a great read along with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, all three a bit of coming of age combined with overcoming struggles stories with a bit of a fictional twist thrown in there. All are highly engrossing and entertaining. For more biographies and memories, try this page on the Barnes and Noble website.
Other popular books that made the “Favorite High School Required Reading” from my informal pool were:
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
- The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Jungle by John Updike
I hope these ideas have brought back some great reading memories or inspired a new interest in your reading tastes! If you have more ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments.