I had a public school elementary education. I coasted along getting very good grades with very little effort. I was a voracious reader and I enjoyed most of my subjects. The big exception was math and even there I did not need to put too much effort into the struggle. Teachers were grateful for a quiet student who made some effort so my grades in math were not as appalling as they probably should have been.
Then my parents made the decision to send me to a private Catholic girls school. I was happy about the change and looked forward to going. I didn’t put much thought into how different it would be I was just happy to be going. I thought that if I was a good student in public school in eighth grade I could be a good student in Catholic school in ninth grade with not much more effort.
The first inkling I had that I was deluding myself was early in June of my eighth grade year. I received a letter from my prestigious girls school. It was three pages long and detailed my school work for the summer.
School wasn’t even over and I was being expected to begin my high school work over the summer? I was flabbergasted.
The work consisted of a long summer reading list and a list of essay topics which I should be ready to sit down within the first week of school and write up in English class.
I thought they must be kidding. “They’re not,” was my mother’s brusque reply. Many of the nuns who would be teaching me had taught her in a similar private Catholic girls school in Brooklyn twenty years previously. My principal had taught her science, so mom was sure as sure could be that this particular group of nuns was not given to practical joking.
“What is the big deal?” asked my mom. “You constantly have your nose in a book.”
Well the big deal was that I never had my nose in these books before. Nancy Drew, Little House and a whole bunk of junk and nonsense that I don’t recall but never things like this.
The Book of Ruth and The Book of Esther. The Bible? I was supposed to read the Bible? Over the course of my high school career we were required to read the Bible in it’s entirety. Fortunately I did not know this at the time. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, two Shakepearean Sonnets, Ethan Frome, (that one was just mean), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and a few other things I can’t recall.
I began wih Mark Twain, that book is still one of my favorites and after many years (never mind how many) can still make me laugh out loud. Having had a successful beginning I tackled the rest with a lighter heart. I remember hating, absolutely hating Ethan Frome and I have never tried Edith Wharton again. I should just probably get over that and re-read it. I loved Ruth and Esther and was delighted when I found out later that the I would be reading the whole Bible. I continued that love of Scripture into college taking a few Bible history classes and a class on the Letters of Paul.
My point is that reading lists and book lists can be good. Some of my die hard unschooling friends mught cringe when they read this but I stand by my opinion. A carefully crafted reading list can expand horizions and help a child get out of rut. Looking back on this reading list I am a little puzzled by some of the choices but I commend the attempt. There was a summer reading list mailed to my home for the following two summers and I never dreaded it the way some of my classmates did. There was usually a jewel waiting to discovered by me and I looked forward to the opportunity. There was always something I hated but I am certain it never did me any harm to read a book I didn’t care for and it was a good preparation for college where I often had to read things I didn’t care for. A class in Contemporary American Poetry comes to mind.
So this summer my children are getting reading lists. Don’t think I am cruel. I have reluctant readers who would happily spend their summer in the pool or in front of a playstation game without a little direction and since it is likely I will be bedridden at some point this summer the direction will have to be given early and emphatically. Their summer is likely to be a long one since we will finish up in a week and we may not be able to do our customary August 15th start since I am due to deliver that week. We may have to wait until September 8th – I like to start on a Marian Feast Day.
Don’t worry Ethan Frome is not on the list.
I met with each child to get their input and most of the books are of their own choosing with one or two put in by my decree. An effort to broaden their interests and help them appreciate other types of literature, or another time period.
I am going to post their lists in the sidebar. I hope if you, dear readers, have suggestions or comments you will post them in the comments box for me. I am always willing to talk books.