High School Summer Reading List

cainemutiny

The Wall Street Journal had an editorial piece today about how weak and biased summer reading lists for high school students are these days. He relates the story of a friend who was dismayed to see contemporary writers such as David Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Barbara Ehrenreich on his daughter’s reading list, with Tobias Wolff’s 1989 autobiography “This Boy’s Life, as the oldest book assigned.

I must admit I have not read anything by Eggers, but I have heard great things about his bestselling book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”.  I am a big fan of Gladwell’s work, and I have enjoyed, and learned a lot, from reading a couple of Ehrenrich’s books. So while I am certainly no literary critic, I don’t see a problem with any of these three authors. I am not familiar with “This Boy’s Life”, and so I can’t really comment on that one.

The father asked the author of the editorial, Gilbert Sewall, to come up with a better summer reading list. Here is that list:

  • “The Eruption of Vesuvius” (79 A.D.), Pliny the Younger.
  • Declaration of Independence (1776), Thomas Jefferson.
  • “Self-Reliance” (1841), Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), W.E.B. DuBois.
  • “The Odyssey” (c. 750 B.C.), Homer.
  • “Aesop’s Fables” (c. 600 B.C.).
  • “Georgics” (c. 30 B.C.), Virgil.
  • “Metamorphoses” (c. 8 A.D.), Ovid. Icarus
  • “Canticle of the Sun” (1224), St. Francis.
  • “Romeo and Juliet” (1594), William Shakespeare.
  • “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), Jonathan Swift.
  • “Candide” (1759), Voltaire.
  • “The Fountains” (1766), Samuel Johnson.
  • “Ozymandias” (1819), Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834), Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), Edgar Allan Poe.
  • “Animal Farm” (1945), George Orwell

First off, that’s a really ambitious list for one summer! Second, I have not heard of most of the books on the list, so once again it seems like I’ve got to up my game. The book by Emerson is the one that seems most appealing to me, so I think I will put it on my summer reading list. Third, it’s interesting to read the comments to the article since there are several other books suggested.

The article got me thinking what books I might include on a summer reading list for high school students. So here is my list, a baker’s dozen, in no particular order, but separated by fiction and non-fiction. I’m guessing that most high school summer reading lists are almost all books of literature, but I wanted to include some non-fiction books on the list as well. The non-fiction books I’ve chosen are on topics that are not likely taught in high school, but I think the information contained in the books is quite useful, and the earlier that individuals are exposed to such information, the better.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
  • Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  • Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  • The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  • Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
  • The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
  • The Food Revolution, John Robbins
  • The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin
  • Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky are two books I hope to read in the near future, since I have heard that each is a classic. It may be that once I finish those books, I will need to revise my list.

I also know that there are several other classic works of literature that I have not yet read,  but I view that as a good thing.

In the meantime, I’d be curious as to what books you would include on a high school summer reading list.

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

10 thoughts on “High School Summer Reading List”

  1. Oh, how I love booklists. The one you cited is fairly erudite, I would say. Pretty ambitious, indeed. I enjoyed reading *your* list and will add those I’ve not read to my ever-growing “to-be-read” list.

    Here is one I put together tonight.

    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
    All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr
    On writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen king
    Little Bee by Chris Cleave
    Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
    The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
    The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
    Everything David Foster Wallace ever wrote
    Perhaps start with “Consider the Lobster and Othet Essays”
    The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald




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    1. Hi Susan,

      Thank you for the book suggestions! I’ve read the Frankl book, and it was great, and I’ve paged through The Artist’s Way, but have not read it from start to finish. I have not read anything by Wallace, but you sure make a good case for doing so.




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  2. I like your list, too, Jim. It’s hard to narrow down a list of all the great books that have been written, but three I would definitely have on the list are:
    • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. (Glad to see it’s on your list.)
    • “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom.
    • “Night” by Elie Wiesel.
    And then:
    • Any book by Mary Hunt book on being financially wise. She’s at http://www.debtproofliving.com, although she’s going to stop selling books on her site and leave it to Amazon. (She will continue to sell her ebooklets, though.)

    I love book lists, too, Susan!




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