Wisdom does come with age, it seems. When I was a young lad in high school, we were assigned four books to read during the summer prior to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades (I attended a Catholic high school in Tampa, Florida). I can’t really remember which books were assigned which years, but I have a list from memory that I think is relatively accurate:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano
  • Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage
  • George Orwell’s 1984
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
  • Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • John Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent
  • Thor Heyerdahl’s Kontiki
  • James Herriot’s All Things Great and Small
  • Thornton Wilder’s Bridge Over San Luis Rey
  • Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (currently reading)

The reason there are only 12 books instead of 16 (four years’ worth) is because I got myself a little girlfriend in the summer between 10th and 11th grades. When school started in September, I also had a really cool ’69 Ford Mustang Mach I. I used to leave for school in the morning and drive to my girlfriend’s school and pick her up at the bus stop. We’d gallivant all over town for the entire school day and then I’d drop her back off as the bus was loading to take the kids home. She and I both missed so much of the first quarter of that school year that we could never recover in time to advance to the next grade. She had to attend summer school the following summer and I dropped out and got my G.E.D. from the State of Florida. Obviously, I had not yet attained enough of that previously mentioned wisdom at this time.

But back to this wisdom thing…

I‘ve often said since that time that these type of books should be mandatory reading for people in their mid-30s, not pre-teens or just-barely-teens. I don’t believe that children of 14 and 15 or so years old have the life experience needed to truly understand and relate to the stories and characters in these “classic” type books. Most everyone did just what I did. We skimmed and then bought the CliffsNotes in order to pass the quizzes and act somewhat knowledgeably about the characters and plots of these books. That’s a sad thing.

have always been a reader from a very young age. My mother taught me to read and write before I ever started school. However, I just didn’t like (and still don’t) someone telling me what I had to read. This is why I don’t join group reads or similar things. I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it. This rebelliousness or pigheadedness on my part kept me from reading these books way back then.

Fortunately for me, I corrected this situation later in life; once I was mature and experienced enough to truly appreciate the wonderful and profound things these authors were trying to communicate to their readers using the limited medium of the written word. I am forever grateful that I was wise enough to pick these books up and give them a go. They broadened my knowledge and enlightened me to many things I would not otherwise have experienced.

There only two books in the above list that I haven’t read as of yet. They are Kontiki and Winter of Our Discontent. I intend to read both of them sometime before the end of this year; might be some good reading for those cool winter eves here in Florida. Nyuck!

Anyway, should you be somewhere past 35 years old or so and are contemplating your next read, I strongly suggest you hark back to those days of yore during your teen years and pick a book or two that you didn’t read like you were supposed to. You won’t regret it.

Read something! It’s good for you.


*You can find all the above books and millions more at Goodreads. There you can read a synopsis of the book along with other folks’ reviews and thoughts. It’s a great website.

About V. T. Eric Layton

vtel57, Nocturnal Slacker

6 responses »

  1. Mechatotoro says:

    I appreciate your piece of advice. Thanks!!

  2. ebrke says:

    Well, I’ve read all on your list but “Player Piano” and “The Jungle”. It’s been many years, though. Somehow Vonnegut never really got on my radar, and while I knew about Sinclair, I just never actually read anything of his.

    • I’ve read everything Vonnegut ever put on paper. He has a wry, unique sense of humor, though. It may not appeal to everyone. Try him. You never know. The first Vonnegut book I ever read (since I didn’t read Player Piano in high school as I was supposed to) was Breakfast of Champions. That was it. I was hooked on Kurt for life. 😉

  3. Actually, I’ld like to read Animal Farm again. But there are quite a few on your list I’ve never heard of. They obviously weren’t part of the curriculum in my country.

    • Oh, I wouldn’t expect school curricula to be 100% the same between countries/cultures, even those with common roots, such as our two countries.

      Animal Farm is also on my “to read again” list. 🙂

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