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LT Summer Reading Challenge: An Alien Genre

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Science Fiction, Summer Reading

The genre of science fiction, although quite popular among many readers, had until recently remained relatively foreign to me. I had nothing against it, but the subject never seemed to grab my attention. However, despite all protests, my fellow bookworms held tenaciously to their predilections for the oddities that science fiction offers. So, under the influence of others and with the excuse of the LT Summer Reading Challenge, I proved amenable to a change; I delved into the depths of the incongruous as I began Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, surrendering to the vast sea of genres before me. Ender’s Game is only one of two science fiction novels that I have ever read, and I am pleased to say that I am effusive in my praise of the novel, as it was extremely entertaining and endlessly thought provoking.

Card’s novel proved to exceed my uninitiated understanding of the genre, as I imagined the stereotypical Sci-Fi narrative centered around aliens and spacecrafts. In fact, I found that the story ignited many ponderings about deep philosophical questions. For example, one of the main themes that Card toys with is the notion that humans are merely parts to a much greater entity. This makes acts like betrayal or manipulation justifiable under the condition that they benefit this greater being or purpose we humans are serving. Under this idea, we, as individuals, become somewhat valueless. At the end of Ender’s Game, Card confirms that this manipulation is inescapable, for even Ender’s sister slightly manipulates Ender at the end of the book. She argues that he must help her save the “buggers,” and that if he doesn’t, he will simply be following the path set for him by someone else. Therefore, although Ender does end up living his life happily and by his own volition, I was left  with the big question: is Ender really free, or is he merely being used as a tool for a different purpose? And if he is in fact being used, is he free as long as he is happy?

It’s no wonder that Card’s story is considered by many to be among the best Sci-Fi novels ever written. He has a way of effortlessly combining action and adventure with an emotional, moving plot and relatable characters. There is also a flawless balance between fiction and reality throughout Ender’s quest to save the world. For example, the games he plays are fictitious simulation exercises, yet there are often realistic components involved that many readers can easily relate to, such as bullying. In this way, Card is careful to prevent readers from forgetting that Ender is not simply the typical Sci-Fi hero with superhuman strength and intelligence, but a little boy with feelings.

Card has opened my eyes to the potential of the science fiction novel, its limits vanishing along with any previous misconceptions I once had. I will be sure to branch out from my usual book choices to explore other inventive worlds. With high hopes and expectations, I move on to my next journey.

Summer Reading: Asking Teens to ‘Own the Night’

May 23, 2012 in Literary News, Summer Fun, Summer Reading, YA Fiction

It seems like everyone feels nostalgia for school days-past during this fateful time leading into June. A time when we were given that final homework assignment: Summer Reading. Either a daunting or exciting task, depending on the student. For some kids it was an albatross preventing them from fully enjoying their summer camp adventures; for others, like me, it was a task just to wait to see which books were chosen. I would run to the local bookstore where the summer reading lists from nearby schools were displayed at the front of the store. I am not saying I always loved every book that was chosen, but reading each one was like unwrapping a present to find out what was inside. Some were the equivalent of a style sweater you would never wear, but you just had to open it to find out!

I’m interested in what “the kids” are reading “these days”. I pay attention partly out of curiosity and partly to get in ahead of the curve. After all, with the popularity among adults of young adult fiction such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems that, for better or worse, teen readers are on to something.

This year, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), in affiliation with libraries across the country, is giving teenagers an opportunity to ‘Own the Night.’ While students may not be able to avoid that assigned copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (C’mon guys, just give it a chance!), they can also be part of a program designed to encourage leisure reading in teens and young adults. The program is nationwide and a Google search of “Own the Night Summer Reading” pulls up library websites from Albuquerque to Boston and everywhere in between. While each library system is putting its own spin on the program to garner interest, the basic plan is the same:

The program runs roughly from June until August, targeting students entering grades 6-12, with a list of contemporary books involving creatures of the ‘night,’ including tales of zombies, vampires and other fantastical dystopian adventures. Books vary by library and different libraries are offering different incentives for participating.

The J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford, Massachusetts is offering raffle tickets in exchange for reading log entries; the more you read, the more chances you have to win prizes such as movie passes and gift certificates. The Jasper County Public Library in Indiana is offering cold hard cash with its “Books for Bucks” theme. The Gaston County Public Library in North Carolina is expanding its program to include a multitude of events: games, crafts and movie nights, as well as a “Gruesome Gala” where teens can dress as their favorite creature of the ‘night.’

With so many locations participating, make sure to check out your local library’s website for more information and don’t forget to pass the word along to the teenagers in your life. There are similar programs for younger children and adults as well. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and there is nothing quite like the joy of sitting in the sun with a good book. Whether you are a fan of the classics or in the mood for fifty shades of guilty pleasure, remember, summer reading doesn’t end with graduation. Whether you’re traveling to exotic places or venturing no further than your back porch, pick up a book and enjoy the trip.

Reading Mark Twain On A Summer Day

July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Image via AmazonToday, in honor the holiday and the long weekend, I’ve decided to forgo Friday links and instead focus on one of my favorite American authors: Mark Twain.

For a lot of people, “summer reading” means one of two things. Either they’re referring to the mandatory “great books” assigned by High school English teachers or they’re talking about the light, “trashy,” less-than-literary novels commonly termed “beach reads.”  But when I hear the term “summer books,” I think about something else entirely.

For me, a summer book is one that I return to over and over, one that breathes heat out of its pages and soothes with its particular brand of fantasy.  These books feel carefree – reading a summer classic is about as satisfying as climbing a tree, or diving into a swimming hole.

My all-time favorite summer book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, though Huck Finn comes in at a close second.  These novels perfectly capture the mischievousness of childhood, the excitement and the continual yearning for freedom.  They speak to a part of me that still sometimes secretly longs to run away from home and join a circus, or a band of traveling musicians, or just float lazily down a river, ignoring all of my other responsibilities.  With his sharp wit and ability to capture the local color perfectly, Twain transports me back to a different time, one that only appears simpler at first glance.

Another reason I love Twain has less to do with his characters and more to do with the setting.  Twain is an American Author.  He is quite possibly the quintessential American Author.  Not only does he write in that hilarious, rambling, biting-yet-kind voice that feels so American, he also manages to inject each of his novels all the beauty of our country while remaining authentic.  He does not sugar-coat his books; childhood is not a perfect place, free of tension.  Tom and Huck may not be aware of the great injustices of the world at the beginning of their journeys, but as they grow and progress, they come to see our world for what it really is.

This July 4th, do America proud and pick up a book by one of our many great authors.  If Twain isn’t your cup of tea, how about some Faulkner?  Or Melville?  (May I suggest Benito Cereno?)  Or, if you don’t have that much time, check out one of our articles on Mark Twain, which include A Revealing Interview with Terrell Dempsy, Author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World, Mark Twain in Unionville, Nevada, and Finding Mark Twain’s Hannibal.   You can also search for other American authors at LiteraryTraveler.com.

Happy reading!

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