Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Books for Summer Reading

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Books for Summer Reading

Article excerpt

One of the attractions of school life is the yearly pause that summer brings. But while that pause gives educators a chance to relax and recover from the day-to-day demands of the school year, it doesn't have to mean idleness. Indeed, for educators, summer is the best time of the year for what we would call "independent reading" if we were our own students. In this year's edition of the Kappan's annual "Books for Summer Reading," Roger Soder has enlisted some book-loving friends to offer an assortment of ideas for using those lazy summer days to good purpose.

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer breaks the mold of South Africa's racial prejudice in My Son's Story (Penguin, 1991). Gordimer's character development and attention to detail are classic achievements in this account of the evolution of a family in the midst of a revolution. Her capacity to write from multiple perspectives- male or female, black or white - is singular.

For a compelling look at the complexity of race relations closer to home, try Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit (1944; Harvest/HBJ, 1992). Smith writes with sheer power of the conflicts arising from differences in race, class, gender, generation, and education. And, true to life, she leaves readers in the middle of conflict, reminding themselves that this story is not contemporary.

An unusual and extraordinarily inventive book, The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson (Ivy Books, 1991), follows a strong, gothic tradition of inviting the reader to embrace fear - in this case the fear of true passion and obsession. With a spareness that belies its complexity, this beautifully written tale is as bizarre as a Flannery O'Connor short story and as unusual as Gary Larson's "Far Side" cartoons. Because it is both genuine and unsentimental, this book took some courage for a contemporary author to write.

Brief, brutally honest, and with a blast of irony, Josephine Hart's Damage (Ivy Books, 1991) demonstrates how members of a family that looks quite normal from the outside can unwittingly contrive to injure one another. Using descriptions that border on the spooky, Hart depicts a hero who avoids pain - and so, much of life itself - until a catalytic personality acts on his own and his family's complacence. Hart's sparse prose, a strange combination of the poetic and the clinical, pulls readers along at a fast clip as she seeks a broader view of this "landscape of the soul."

A classic to be savored like a fine meal is George Eliot's Middlemarch (1874; Norton, 1977). Eliot charts in exquisite detail the pulsing of 19th-century English provincial society, replete with humor and pathos. An imposing piece of work, Middlemarch challenges modern readers but rewards them with an understanding of times past that helps put today's moral questions in perspective. - Sargassa Literatae, a Washington, D.C., reading group whose members are Lynn Barnett, Adell Blankenbaker, Laura Casal, Francie Gilman, Sharon Givens, Bev Hitchins, Mary Jane Klocke, and Marilyn Shorr.

At a recent family dinner, my sister, who is deaf and teaches American Sign Language at Gallaudet University, was asked if she would consider having a cochlear implant. Despite all our attempts to convince her of the benefits of hearing, she was adamant not only in her disdain for such a device, but also in her preference for remaining deaf - a perspective difficult for the hearing to grasp. She suggested that we all read The Mask of Benevolence (Knopf, 1992), by Harlan Lane, to enlighten ourselves about her view of cochlear implants. The book provides an in-depth and compelling view of deafness - its history, culture, and politics. Most important, Lane shows how the language and culture of the deaf minority in our society are actively suppressed by the hearing majority - what Lane refers to as the "audist establishment" - primarily for its own benefit.

Arguing against the prevalent view that deaf people are disabled, Lane, a hearing psychologist, makes the cogent argument that the deaf community is both a cultural and a linguistic minority with its own history, heroes, and legitimate language. …

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