Saturday, May 03, 2008

My summer of love (reading)

My sophomore year of high school we read the book, "Lord of the Flies." Each night we were assigned a chapter or so to read for homework and the next day we'd have a quiz on what we read. I kept getting into trouble because I'd show up to class without having read the chapter and would just wing the multiple choice test, but if asked any questions about what happened I would fail miserably. I finally got tired of it and went home and read the entire book in one sitting. That impressed my English teacher.

Then we had an assignment to bring in a poem of our choice to read out loud to the class and discuss it. I chose the poem, "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks.

We real cool.
We left school.
We lurk late.
We strike straight.
We sing sin.
We thin gin.
We jazz June.
We die soon.

My English teacher commented that he always wondered what it meant to "jazz June" and why the month of June was significant. My 15 year old virgin self stated bluntly - "June is a girl. We jazz June. Get it?" I think that even further impressed my teacher.

By the end of the year he had recommended me for the honors English program. Just a handful of sophomores were chosen and we were required to take an excellerated summer literature class which required us to read a bunch of classics. That summer I had little time to do anything else but read:
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Farewell to Arms
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Cry the Beloved Country
  • Julius Cesar
During the heatwave I'd be in my pool with a book propped up on the edge - reading every minute of the day that I wasn't in class or working. And I absolutely loved it. It was one of the best summers I have ever experienced.

So today when I read the list of the 50 best cult books, I couldn't help but smile. One of the books I read from that summer - a banned book at the time - appears on the list - "Catcher in the Rye." As a teenager I could not relate to the book at all. (Only in my 20's could I begin to relate.) I couldn't understand why adults wouldn't want us reading it and thinking that somehow we'd become psycho killers as a result - and I still don't understand the banning of books. It's too Fahrenheit 451 (which I thought for sure was on the list but it is NOT).

Hunter S. Thompson also makes the list with his book, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." As does "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac, and "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath.

Just like when the New York Times list of best books comes out, this list makes me want to run out and read every single book on the list.

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