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You've Got to Read This!: More Submissions

(I didn't submit this for publication but to simply suggest books to read that did have an impact on me, and I believe would on others.)

KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE by Shirley Ann Grau

This is a Pulitzer Prize winner which has a wealth of issues that can easily be discussed and shared among readers. The discussion topics can range from racial issues, the historic South, familial relations, feminists issues, grief, betrayal, survival, abandonment, and the proverbial "get even" ending. It is a book you can learn from and at the same time when you are finished you get an uplifting, positive feeling of having taken a journey that at times has been dramatic, sad but encouraging and the heroine reigns supreme at the end.

This is the blurb from the publisher:

Entrenched on the Same Land Since the Early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howland, but not all of it. When shocking facts come to light about her late grandfather William's relationship with Margaret Carmichael, a black housekeeper, the community is outraged, and quickly gathers to vent its fury on Abigail. Alone in the house the Howlands built, she is at once shaken by those who have betrayed her, and determined to punish the town that has persecuted her and her kin. Morally intricate, graceful, and suspenseful, The Keepers of the House has become a modern classic.


by Jostein Gaarder

This book literally walks you through the history of thought and philosophy in a gentle, understanding way with a delightful, curious, young girl. The adventure of traveling through the development of philosophy and human understanding is precise and entertaining. It should be a text book for philosophy 101! This makes you think and the real and unreal intertwine to a thought provoking conclusion which prompts the reader to investigate into the history of thought on their own.

Why did I submit suggestions? I love to read and I love to share a good read; one that is not only entertaining but allows the reader to "grow" if they so choose.


Arlington, VA

I think all high school juniors and/or seniors should

"The Rise and Fall of Silas Lapham" by William Dean

Howells. For a book written ages ago, in this period

of mergers and losses and greed (Enron comes to mind!)

it's incredible how "old" writing is so appropiate


And when do they read Kerouac?

I also think we need to add poetry to these lists.

As a big reader myself, I had a difficult time encourageing my children when they were in school, to read for "fun" - there was just so much required reading and other subjects, etc. etc. But today, all my grown-up children read, and I know it's because a good foundation was laid for them many years ago -- and the process is continuing with the grandchildren.

Many bookstores sponsor readings and children in urban areas should take advantage of these occasions to interact with the authors. These people are real life

- just like your neighbors, not ogres adding to your daily school burdens!

We need to remember that while today there is required reading, when you reread these books (and you will in your forties, fifties, etc. etc!) by choice, you will get something different out of them and KNOW why they are "classics". Sorta like reinventing the wheel.

I personally wobndering what's wrong with people when they say " I hate to read"! I would rather buy a book than an article of clothing!


Arlington, VA

To Kill a Mockingbird provides opportunity to speak of first person narrators as Scout is; memories that we store and then recollect as Scout has, parent/child relationships as we witness in Scout and Jem and Atticus and Mayella and Bob Ewell and even Dill and his distant parents; skillful parenting as modeled by Atticus. A role model emerges who takes on a difficult job and does it well despite opposition and certain defeat. The novel is a regional piece which provides opportunity to speak of the comfort of food and community. It provides an opening to speak of other prejudices that a community holds and practices, and it also provides opportunity to speak of education and reading and the pleasure that the Finch family finds in the written and spoken word. It provides opportunity to speak of how far that the United States has come in race relations. Coupled with the film "The Scottsboro Trial: An American Tragedy," a reader today can leave with an understanding of a historical and cultural period in the United States, the progress that a country has made, and an appreciation for personal memories.


Springfield, VA

Each new generation learns about the Holocaust. How could it happen, how could ordinary people suddenly change and show suych cruelty toward their fellow human beings?

If you read Stones from the River, by Ursual Hegi (1994), you will see that the change that took place in Germany was nmot so sudden. The novel is set in the fictional town of Burgdorf, where Gentiles and Jews live amicably together in the 1920s and early 1930s. The life of the town is seen mostly through the eyes of the young girl Tudi Montag, a Gentile who is also "different" in her own way. Her father, Leo, runs a "pay library," where the townspeople gather daily for friendly chatter. But then, almost impercitibly, the insidious stirrings of Nazism begin to be felt. "Some days," Leo reflects, "I feel like I'm on a train that's hurling itself toward an unknown destination."

By now there is much unrest in the country. Young people, unemployed and restless, are drawn to the Nazi youth organizations. Enthused by Hitler's ideas they begin to view their former Jewish schoolmates and friends as enemies who have usurped work from the Gentiles. The transformation of a peaceful small town into a place divided by suspicious, hatred and fear has begun. The tragedy of the Holocaust is descending upon the country.

For a generation in America that may not know what happened in Germany during those years, Stones from the River is an engaging novel to enjoy and learn from.


Falls Church, VA

I believe that high school students should not be lulled into boredom by their summer required reading. The selections should be interesting and evoke emotion, reflection and discussion. Otherwise, what would be the point?

For the above reasons I recommend Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the summer reading list. It is short, suspenseful and never fails to have an emotional impact on the reader. It always leads to a good discussion of the quirks of human nature. It is a memorable read because in the end there are no easy answers to the questions it poses. It is an interesting novel. This was one of the books that I required my kids to read during the summer after 9th grade.

I would also recommend The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley. It is just excellent for its overall view of black American life at that time period and shows how different events in a person's life can result in a direction not originally anticipated.

Thank you for your consideration. I am a parent of two recent high school graduates.


Germantown, MD

I have been fascinated with the "Invitation." I have distributed copies to my two reading groups. (I blew it up -- print too small!)

How, if at all, do you deal with the challenge of "what to read in high school" in respect to what has been written since? (I was a junior in 1944.) Personally, I decided to peal over this time difference. With much pondering, my choices are:

Valley of the Horses, by Jean Auel (and then would read her other great books)

Sarum, John Rutherford (and his others)

In 1944 and 1945 we were reading more Dickens, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and essays (Addison and Steele, Lamb, Emerson), Walden Pond, just to name a few. I also, of course, was immersed in both The Iliad and The Odyssey, and The Aeneid in junior-year Latin. I cound go on and on!!! Summer reading lists were hefty. I was among the few who read the complete set of selections, all four years. Looking back, that's partially because I wasn't dating much -- time of my hands (the other days I inadvertently mentioned having "hands on my time"!). Those lists included Master Skylark, Men of Iron, Lorna Doone, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and Return of the Native{hellip}. You get the picture! I fervently wiash there had been more with background of solid American History both on lists and in class, and any good writing to capture attention incorporating time lines. I never grasped them until college -- to my dismay and discouragement{hellip}.


Herndon, VA

This is my second letter responding to the challenging invitation to share what we wish we had read as high school juniors and seniors. I belong to two reading groups, both of which met this month; I distributed copies of the article. The first is part of the GFWC-General Federation of Women's Clubs, headquartered in D.C., devoted to community service and self-enrichment, founding many of our first libraries. My group in Kensington noted modern relevancy in today's classes, as opposed to our exposure to much literature which, although well crafted, was not pertinent to our lives. Noted were Henry Esmond and Vanity Fair, accompanied by groans; Dickens was much too sad and enervating, and some would dismiss Shakespeare. (Not me!) One of us would have enjoyed encountering Bill Bryson, many longed to have been better acquainted earlier with Ben Franklin. One cited with longing and empathy the impact someone like young Mattie Stepanek would have made -- his Heartsongs are now reaching many of our grandchildren. What is Kensington's reading group now tackling? One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The second group is one I formed for seniors who live at Herndon Harbor House, a retirement community in Herndon, Virginia. We just met this afternoon. We began by being astounded by the history-making results of One Vote, including Jefferson by a whisker amid lies, slander and trickery; and Kennedy's one vote per precinct in 1960. All this is a great book called One Hundred Stories Never Told. One of our members, now an extraordinarily well-informed, avid reader, who never was in high school, wishes he had been exposed to a book like this one -- consistently absorbing, eye- and ear-opening and easy to tackle. He also notably mentioned a series of wonderful books now among his favorites and worth reading because they are expansive, immediately appealing and offering much food for thought, sometimes written almost like poetry, painting unforgettable word pictures. Tops on his list are: Outermost House, A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, by Henry Beston. (I first came across this as a newlywed at my in-laws' cottage at Eastham, right on the now eroded cliff, not far from the house now long washed out to sea. I hadn't thought about it for more than 50 years.) Next, he would have benefited from A Sand Country Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, and anything by Marston Bates, renowned anthropologist and naturalist, also anything by Eiseley.

I will close by noting that three women stressed the importance in their lives of reading the Bible; one of them is re-reading it for her third time!...


Herndon, VA


Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli

Summer of the Skunks, by Wilmoth Foreman

Summer of the Monkeys, by Wilson Rawls

Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin

The Water is Wide, by Pat Conroy

Tunes for Bears to Dance To, by Robert Cormier

Anything by Steinbeck


Port Republic, MD

What high school students need more than a list of good books to read is a single book telling them how to read. And the book I suggest is Mortimer Adler's classic How to Read a Book. It was written originally in 1940 and updated in 1972 and is readily available today.

I first came across Adler's book during World War II. I had quit high school to join the navy and, at the time, was more intent on high adventure than on reading. But then I chanced upon Professor Adler's book and discovered the high adventure of intelligent reading. I can truly say that my intellectual life (such as it was) started with the reading of How to Read a Book.

After the war I returned to high school, went on to college, and after a satisfying career in trade-association management, got a master's degree and taught school for nine years before retiring again to read still more books.

If, as Francis Bacon tells us, some few books are to be "chewed and digested," Adler's How to Read a Book is surely one of them.


Silver Spring, MD

Are your contributing readers all so young that they never heard of or read Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind or Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? The first, a truly great American romance; the second, the finest 1930's nostalgia set piece and without the tragic undertones of the era; and both turned faithfully into two of the top ten movies of the entire 20th century!


Alexandria, VA

My selections for high school readers are:

The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer (a great summary of the pathologies that lead ordinary people to commit horrible crimes)

The Outermost House, by Henry Beston (the beach will never be the same)

The Tartar Steppe, by Dino Buzzati (I read this in high school and waited 50 years to read it again. At age 16, it was a dully book, and for me now it is anything but dull.)


Cockeysville, MD

Recommending summer reading for third or fourth [sic] high school students presents a task of reconciling the useful and the enjoyable with books both reachable and teachable.

I try to remember what books held my attention and transposed vision at that age when we are more self-absorbed and seeking than ever. Three novels altered my consciousness then: The Return of the Native, The Grapes of Wrath, and A Farewell to Arms.

Hardy's Egdon Heath, "upon which the hand of man had made but little impression," captured my attention because [sic] so different from my accustomed suburban Arlington and the family farm in Fairfax scaled to human uses. Clem Yeobright tries but made some poor choices and circumstances prevail. Better for vocabulary development and reader interest than Silas Marner.

In my junior year at Washington-Lee I read The Grapes of Wrath because a special girl recommended it. The book has wordy parts -- Steinbeck tries to outdo Don Passos -- and melodramatic moments, but shoed me another world where individuals are reduced to nothing and must restart themselves.

Senior summer 1942 I started A Farewell to Arms in Lubber Run Park among stumps of cutdown trees. The clean wash of words gave me a sense of the struggle with war and pain felt by others as well as myself.

These books enabled me to grow a little beyond myself and I recommend them to others.


(Professor of English Emeritus, Old Dominion University)

Norfolk, VA

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