Did you know that research shows that reading for pleasure makes you smarter, kinder, happier … and that it even helps you sleep better if you read a book before going to bed? Did you also know that one of the best ways to encourage your children to read is to model it yourself? Unfortunately, many of us now model reading by gluing ourselves to our laptops to keep up with the news or by scrolling through social media posts on our phones. You can change that! Summer’s coming, your kids will be home, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for you all to lose yourselves in some great fiction or non-fiction, kick back with books at the beach, spend an afternoon at a library, pull out a novel as you sip lemonade or lattes at a cafe, and then talk about what you’re reading with each other. Students will all be diving into News of the World over the break, and we encourage them to keep going and read at least four more books during their time off. If they’re looking for ideas, the Cate English Department and the school librarians curate some wonderful suggestions for students on our library webpage. But what about you? There are some fabulous recommended reading lists out there and great podcasts that I love like Levar Burton Reads (to listen to Burton’s fabulous taste in short stories) and The Librarian Is In for recommendations and inspiration from the New York Public Library. Check them out! And below are a few books that I’ve recently read, re-read or am currently in the middle of that I highly recommend.
Did you go to school when free speech was a huge mantra at American colleges, and nothing was more important to students than fighting college administrators for the right to talk about challenging issues like war, apartheid, or civil rights of every variety? Do you look at college students now as they fight college administrators for the right not to talk about challenging issues on their campuses and wonder with bemusement what in the world happened? Then The Coddling of the American Mind is a great book to dig into this summer, especially as the parent of a Generation Z child. A dispassionate, rational examination of what the authors call the three common “great untruths” on college campuses today, along with ripped-from-the-headlines examples, there are so many revelations and connections that come up as you read this that you won’t want to put it down. Trigger warning: trigger warnings are one of several practices the authors criticize, and their thoughtful analysis may open your mind to new perspectives.
And speaking of trigger warnings, let’s talk about Aunt Ada Doom. She saw something nasty in the woodshed a looong time ago and never recovered, so don’t say “woodshed” around her if you don’t want to get an earful! But we can all laugh at the brilliant Cold Comfort Farm, a parody of the rural doom, gloom and drama novels popular in 19th and early 20th century England. The story features the pragmatic Flora Poste—who can manage Aunt Ada and all of her other peculiar relatives with one hand tied behind her back. It’s as funny today as it was when it was first published, and as a follow-up, there’s an excellent movie version to enjoy. If you’re buying the book new in the U.S., I recommend the Penguin Classic Deluxe edition—avoid any abridged versions.
Short stories can be a great way to wean off clickbait and back into literature, and Miss Muriel and Other Stories is an excellent place to start. This is a re-release of Petry’s work, originally written from the 1940s to the 1970s, but her characters are timeless and the African-American stories she tells are still being told. Complex, thought-provoking … you’ll feel the resonance of today’s world in the echoes of the recent past, and if you share this collection with your family, you will surely have a lot to talk about.
Did you miss this Pulitzer winner from 2016? If so, summer’s the perfect time to pick it up and explore the secret life of William Finnegan. By profession, he’s a journalist for the New Yorker and has spent his adult years covering global conflicts, poverty and social justice issues. He grew up in L.A. and Hawaii, though, and what he didn’t often write about in mainstream publications was his great passion: surfing. Barbarian Days changed all that, and I highly recommend it, even if you’ve never dipped a toe in the ocean. It’s an amazing adventure story, a life structured with waves in mind. If you’ve had a taste of the haole experience yourself, you’ll also really connect with the description of his introduction to Hawaii.