Summer Reading

August 15, 2007 | 8 books mentioned 3

I’d have thought that the whole concept of summer reading lists for high schoolers would have fallen by the wayside, as it would seem to lack usefulness in our testing- and extracurriculars-obsessed education system, but a CS Monitor article shows that it’s alive and well (and just in time for that last-two-weeks-of-summer cram).

The article includes some interesting insights on the makeup of such lists and how they’ve changed over the years.

For the most part, reading lists are still heavy on classics. But consider the differences between reading lists from the 1960s and those in the 1980s. Of the nine most commonly taught books in public high schools in 1963, only one (the 1938 play Our Town) was written in the 20th century. By 1988, the 10 most commonly taught novels in public schools included four books from the 20th century: The Great Gatsby (1925), Of Mice and Men (1937), Lord of the Flies (1954), and To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

But not all novels take a generation to catapult to required summer reading lists. Some new staples in summer reading lists: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Ten years ago, these reading lists didn’t have new books like that,” says Alleen Nilsen, Arizona State University English professor and co-author of the textbook Literature for Today’s Young Adult. “These are really popular new books.”

So what catapults Life of Pi and The Lovely Bones to the elusive reading list club? Both are bildungsromans, or stories of young people coming of age. Ms. Nilsen says this theme is crucial for reading list inclusion, as youth need to feel a connection to the literature.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Last week, the Times ran an article on Summer Reading for college-bound seniors. Very interesting stuff. The upshot: "difference"–ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic–is big, and books that get chosen as required reading for incoming freshmen can be a boon to publishers.

  2. I am not sure I get the necessity to "feel a connection" through characters like you. One of the joys of reading is that you might discover and learn about characters *not* like you.

    One of my most favorite books growing up was Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." As a 15-year-old growing up in Mumbai, India, I was as removed from the book as could be. Yet the story resonated and still does. Another favorite was Anne Frank's Diary which I read when I was 12.

  3. I'm 19 year-old soon to be college freshman and I've just finished compiling my own reading list. I'd say my list is pretty varied. I have classics, contemporary classics, drama, books written by African-American, Russian, French, English, American, Irish, Japanese, Native American, & Latin American writers, graphic novels, non-fiction, and a couple of the popular new fiction that's been on bestseller lists. Of course, my list is about 92 books long, which is what allows the list to be so diverse, but only a few of the books I've chosen are coming-of-age stories and only a few of the fiction books have been published in the last 10 or 15.

    I picked all of the books based on interest, but I think in order to really differentiate & appreciate flavor-of-the-moment modern literature from the "go down in history" modern lit you have to be somewhat familiar with the classics. It's kind of like when I watched Casablanca for the first time. The movie has been referenced, ripped off, and parodied in so many other mediums that finally watching it was underwhelming, to say the least. So I've decided to read as many classics as I can devour before I start reading more modern books so that I can experience those classic stories without experiencing the 'been there, done that' feeling. Other Teens' Mileage May Vary, of course.

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