Somewhere between the commencement speech app from NPR and plans for an upcoming milestone reunion, I actually found myself feeling a little nostalgic for my days as a student. That doesn’t happen all that often, so I decided to explore the feeling and drag you all along with me. You’re welcome.
I found the current summer reading list for seniors at my alma mater and was surprised to find only three books on it. In my day, when I had to drag an armful of stone tablets uphill in the snow, we had six books. At least.
I was surprised by how much assigned reading is still on my keeper shelf. Fahrenheit 451, which started my relationship with Ray Bradbury, is still with me. Civilization and Its Discontents, from my high school philosophy class, summoned a powerful memory of my philosophy teacher. A signed copy of A Wrinkle In Time reminded me of the afternoon I told Madeleine L’Engle I wanted to be a writer. Two books I promised I’d read again as an adult: The Scarlet Letter and Wuthering Heights. My heavily marked up copy of Vergil’s Aeneid.
Assigned reading’s gotten more diverse since my last assignment, just after the sunrise of time, but I think the mission is still the same. The summer reading list teaches us to read outside our comfort zones. For some people, just the act of reading lies outside the comfort zone (that’s one of the reasons I think the assignment should remain mandatory). For others, it’s the gateway to authors and subject matter that might otherwise remain unknown (that’s one of the reasons I think the assignment should exclude popular fiction). In any event, I’m proud to be a survivor of six summer reading assignments — I started with Bradbury in seventh grade — and I’m thinking of going back for more this year.
On this walk down Memory Lane, I found a copy of Nineteen Eighty Four and a copy of Native Son, both of which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet. I’m thinking of building my own summer reading list this year — six books, because that’s how we rolled back in the day. But how will I choose just six books?
Isn’t that the eternal question?
**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style every month. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.