Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Books for Summer Reading

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Books for Summer Reading

Article excerpt

It's June again, and "Sumer is icumen in." And with it comes that treasured leisure time for reading that most educators long for throughout the hectic school year. As in summers past, the Kappan editors have asked Roger Soder to poll some of his book-loving friends and gather their recommendations for your summer reading pleasure. We present their suggestions here in the hope that readers will find some books that will help fill the days between now and next fall with hours of enjoyment and enlightenment. - The Editors

Lately, it seems that every bookstore has a large section labeled "Nature" or "Environment." The selections run the gamut from calendar art to social criticism. From that vast array, I'd like to recommend three books that deal with the subject of nature.

First, I suggest that readers go directly to a great source of ideas and curl up with Emerson: The Mind on Fire (University of California Press, 1995), a fine new biography by Robert D. Richardson, Jr. This book is not just the life story of the man whose work largely set the course of American thinking about nature, nor is it merely a gloss on his texts, from which millions of aphorisms and epigrams have long been mined. This is one of that rare breed of books that illustrate and narrate the lives and times of ideas as well as people and their works. Richardson sets in context the concepts that inspired a new republic. Emerson led a highly influential circle of writers and orators in transforming British and German ideas into distinctively American ones. His version of nature is still the foundation of our thinking about the topic today.

To ask about the continued viability of that version of nature, I suggest Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Norton, 1995), edited by William Cronon. This is a collection of 15 essays proceeding from a seminar held in 1994. The authors approach ideas of nature from varied combinations of disciplines and styles, all asking why and how these ideas are built and maintained and come to be taken for granted. Reading these chapters on the past, present, and future of "nature" makes it hard ever to use the word or browse the topic again without thinking twice.

The third book I recommend, Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint, 1995), by Gary Snyder, takes old and new ideas of nature from East and West and distills them into poetry. Snyder has been writing good poems for a long time, and he says in the afterword to this volume that it has taken him 40 years to publish. I'd say the work is worth the wait; Snyder gathers images from his jobs, travels, readings, and meditations and connects them with an image of a landscape painted on a scroll from which the book's title is derived. This serial poem unrolls like a day well spent on a beach, at a lake, in the shadow of a mountain, or wherever Kappan readers might read and think about nature this summer. - Henry St. Maurice, assistant professor of education, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

Murder mysteries often get a bad rap. Yes, much of the genre consists of the drivel we secretly relish. Lost in the muck of such supermarket schlock, however, are some truly gifted writers. Their writing is poetic and profound - all the things good writers strive for. My first recommendation is The Godfather, (Signet, 1978), by Mario Puzo. Beautifully written, the novel is chilling and, believe it or not, subtle. Puzo quietly piles up the details that result in a violent explosion. In The Godfather Sicilian violence has more to do with the shortcomings of Americans than with the "hot blood" of Sicilians. Puzo's Sicilian immigrants, like many other Americans, soon find that the American dream does not include them. Thus they must find their own dream and their own retribution. The Corleones find both.

Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996) has as its central issue racial identity. John Smith is adopted out of his American Indian family by a rich couple who live in the Seattle suburbs. …

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