Here’s what some of our English teachers recommend reading this summer (for fun).
Ms. Schloss’s picks:
“Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: One of my favorite authors is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You might know her from her TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” which is sampled in Beyoncé’s 2013 jam, “Flawless” or, if you’re one of my former English 3 students, from her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
Adichie’s novels take inspiration from her upbringing in Nigeria, where, as the daughter of university professors, her family experienced political unrest in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. While you can learn tons about the inner workings of the modern Nigerian state in her other novels, Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, I recommend her debut novel, “Purple Hibiscus”, as an absolutely absorbing read.
“Purple Hibiscus” centers around fifteen-year-old Kambili, whose life experience is limited to her strict Catholic school and her wealthy Catholic father, who has created an oppressive and fanatically religious home life that stunts Kambili’s individuality. When Nigeria suffers a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a university professor, whose house is alive with laughter, curiosity, and warm familial connection. There, Kambili and her brother discover life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority.
Adichie’s debut novel is gorgeous in its description, and highlights the quiet rebellion of a daughter who is enchanted by the allure of ties to her tribe’s history, and who learns about the promise of freedom: freedom from her father’s suppression, and from her government’s strict societal expectations. If you’re looking to pick up an enlightening book this summer, this is it!
Ms. Schieffelin’s picks:
“No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy: While the Coen brothers’ movie version of this novel is impressive (and I highly recommend watching it), the novel develops these rich characters in much greater detail. McCarthy tells the story of Llewellyn Moss, a Texan who finds a load of heroin and two million dollars in a pickup truck, surrounded by dead men. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain. On the run, Moss tries to evade his pursuers, most importantly a man named Chigurh, a highly principled yet ruthless killer. McCarthy’s sparse prose is riveting as he plunges us into Moss’ flight from the law and a brutal assassin on the Texas/Mexico border. If my review isn’t enough of a ringing endorsement for the novel, talk to Will Beerbower, who wrote a fascinating senior thesis on the book.
“The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss: If you loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, give this book a try. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer’s ex-wife, Nicole Krauss, the novel echoes Foer’s novel in its intersection of old and young narrative voices and its exploration of the effect of the past on the present. Her story is something quite different from Oskar and Grandpa’s though. She immerses us in the life of fourteen year old Alma Singer who wants to get closer to her mother and discover why her mother is so lonely, so she sets out on a search for the author of a book her mother is translating. The novel weaves her story together with that of an old man, Leo Gurksy, who is living out his later years in New York, dreaming of a lost love and his life sixty years ago in Poland. If you’re looking for a wonderfully immersive summer read, this is it.
“Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer: One of my favorite books by the best Symposium author KO has ever had. This novel will make you actually laugh out loud and bring sad tears to your eyes, all within a span of a few pages. The novel weaves together two story lines. A character named Jonathan Safran Foer is traveling to Ukraine to track down a woman in an old family photograph and writing a fictional story of his ancestors. His Ukrainian translator (Alex) tells the other story of his travels with Jonathan as they try to uncover the past. Alex’s narrative is written in a hilariously butchered English that you’ll find yourself quoting. It’s that funny. If you loved “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” give this a read!
Ms. Kasprak’s picks:
“Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Peshl: This novel was a big hit when it came out in 2006; once you begin it, you’ll have a hard time putting it down. It describes Blue Van Meer, a voracious but lonely polymath who ends up at an elite boarding school where she finds a clique of equally eccentric friends called the Bluebloods. After an improbable murder and a hanging, Blue and her friends are trying to figure out a wildly strange and compelling murder mystery. The book is dotted with illustrations, charts, lists and charts drawn by the author that add to the story’s wonderful quirkiness.
“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach: This book is for anyone who loves baseball, coming-of-age novels, great characters and the politics and culture of small liberal arts colleges. The beautifully written novel tells the story of Henry Skrimshander, a gifted baseball player who has to navigate many of the expected challenges of a college athlete, while confronting several wildly surprising ones as well. Added bonus: lots of loving references to Moby Dick… but it won’t matter if you don’t know anything about the novel.
Ms. Frye’s picks:
“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins: An oldie, and a darn great one. Do you love reading about conspiracies, illegitimate heirs, and asylum escapes? If so, consider this 1859 novel by Londoner, Wilkie Collins, your new best summer friend. It takes readers on a delightful romp through romantic love, devastating secrets, switched identities, and mysterious deaths. The Woman in White also features perhaps my favorite villain of all time: Count Fosco is a brilliant, calculating, obese Italian, whose sweetness towards his pet canaries and mice nearly blinds the reader to his cruelty to the people around him. I mean, what’s not to love?