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HomeLife In the BerkshiresIt's summer. What...

It’s summer. What are you reading? Three students share their choices

I asked some of my friends some questions about their summer reads (and then answered them myself.) These are our thoughts on books for this summer so far.

In an attempt to be thinking/talking/writing about books as frequently as humanly possible this summer, I asked some of my friends some questions about their summer reads (and then answered them myself.) These are our thoughts on books this summer so far.

Eliza Keenan, 15, rising junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School

Eliza Keenan, 15, rising junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, is one of three local teenagers who discussed her summer reading list.

What books are you reading this summer?
Currently Reading: “The Tempest” and “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare, a collection of poems by W.H. Auden, and rereading “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling.
Yet To Come: “In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction” by Lee Gutkind, “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire and “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

What has been your favorite so far?
Of my current reads, I’ve been most captured by W.H. Auden. I’ve fallen in love with his poems and feel connected to his writing in a profound way.

Why? What are your takeaways?
The Auden poems I’ve read have had a large range of themes including innocence, age, war, loss, grief, the human spirit, time, responsibility and love. All of these he uses to tell the story of what it means to be of the human race, and he does not avoid but rather calls our attention to our complicity in our collective state of being. To me, it’s a breath of fresh air, as I’ve never come across a poet who uses language (all of which is gorgeous and enchanting) in the way that Auden does to reveal truths that I hadn’t yet been conscious of, yet ones which I somehow recognized.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
The best book that I’ve ever read is “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates.

What did it teach you? What mark did it leave on your life?
Through simple storytelling, “Revolutionary Road” depicts life in American society with painstaking accuracy. It takes place in the 1950s, yet it held a mirror up to me and somehow reflected exactly how we as people have been confined, shaped and reborn through a maliciously subtle social system that we’re still influenced by today. It also revealed the underlying dominance that masculinity has on the world, and revealed to me the true dangers I’m in as a young woman, all of which are nearly invisible. Lastly, it made me realize and understand the risks I must take and the levels I must go to to maintain my dignity and rise as an autonomous being.

What do you think the importance of reading is—to your life, in this day and age, for young people?
I believe that there is nothing more incredible than writing. Writing is an expression of that which writers know to be true and, through the art of using words, they are able to share their perspective on the world with others. Whether one is receiving this perspective in the form of ideas, beliefs, attitudes and truths through realistic fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, dialogues or poetry, there is always something to be gained or understood from a story. I think that it’s especially important for young people to be gaining a multitude of insight on the world that they’re living in, for it allows them to question and/or challenge the ideas of others, and to develop their own ideas, theories and beliefs from there.

Greta Luf, 16, rising junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School

Greta Luf, 16, a rising junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington

What books are you reading this summer?
Already Finished: “Emily Dickinson Poems”  by Emily Dickinson, “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman and “DO/DISRUPT Change the status quo. Or become it.” by Mark Shayler.
Currently Reading: “In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction” by Lee Gutkind and “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty.
Yet To Come: “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore; “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld; rereading “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett; and, if these are not enough, I am on the hunt for books by Nicole Krauss, which take priority over every other book on this hopeful yet daunting list.

What has been your favorite so far?
It is a split between “Emily Dickinson Poems” and “Trigger Warning.”

Why? What are your takeaways?
I am completely infatuated with all forms of poetry. Dickinson’s work is raw and thought-provoking; you have to work a little to comprehend it all. She is unwilling to simply hand over her ideas. Her style is much more rewarding for the reader because she forces us to figure things out on our own rather than just giving us the answers. This format makes her work more applicable and personalized for the reader, as well. “Trigger Warning” is a collection of non-corresponding short stories written by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s varied writing is phenomenal; he goes from writing about Ray Bradbury to childhood nightmares. Each new story was a fresh take on something small and easily overlooked. It was an ode to the forgotten, lost and unexplored that we tuck away in our day-to-day lives.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
This is a three way toss up. Either “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss and/or “Coming Through Slaughter” by Michael Ondaatje.

What did it teach you? What mark did it leave on your life?
These books all dived into characters that were extraordinarily flawed or pushed down by society. Through each character’s flaws, you cannot help but see yourself and everyone else you know. And every flaw you witness and cringe at enhances the character; they do not degrade or weaken them. These characters are the underbelly of society, shot down for one reason or another, but are all we can ever hope to become. Each embraces the world and what they have been given, and proceeds on with the hope of one day being loved or understood. They all serve as a reminder that we are connected in eclectic ways and, the more we avoid it, the more lonely we become; essentially that vulnerability is a risk worthwhile.

What do you think the importance of reading is—to your life, in this day and age, for young people?
Reading is the gateway to learning and is crucial to understanding one another. All arts serve as a way to connect to one another on a level that a simple interaction cannot express. Literature takes guts to write and guts to interpret. The words are right there and it is up to us, as readers, to take those words and do something with them. We can simply skim them for an assignment or we can hold ourselves accountable to care about what the writer was trying to tell us. It is in interpreting that we show care for one another.

Claudia Maurino, 17, rising senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School

Claudia Maurino, 17, a rising senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington

What books are you reading this summer?
Already Finished: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel and “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin.
Currently Reading: “King Lear” by William Shakespeare, “Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson, and “To The Lighthouse” and “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf.
Yet To Come: reread “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, “Between the World and Me”  by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, “Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid, and many more that sadly won’t make it into the confines of July and August.

What has been your favorite so far? “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry”

Why? What are your takeaways?
Oh my goodness, this book!! It’s about a cantankerous man, A.J. Fikry, who runs a bookstore on a tiny island and, at the beginning of the book, he’s sort of down on his luck but, throughout the course of the story (and his life), he finds love and friendship and family and sort of realizes what matters in life. That’s a really meager synopsis, but nothing short of reading the book would do it justice. It is beautiful and sweet and breathtakingly honest and accurate, and latched onto my heart in a really close, comforting sort of way. It also put into words a lot of thoughts and feelings I have about reading and writing and why they matter so much.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Right now I’m really swept up in “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” so I’m going to go with that (it’s that good, and I’m mercurially opinionated), and “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss for similar reasons. (Also, there’s just something about Harry Potter that will always have my heart.)

What did it teach you? What mark did it leave on your life?
Both of these books really emphasize the importance of  love (familial, friendly, romantic) and how, in a way, life is defined by love, and that’s an idea that really resonates with me. These are really loving, really gentle books, and they comfort and inspire at the same time; reading them feels like both a hug and a call to action to live a beautiful, loving life.

What do you think the importance of reading is—to your life, in this day and age, for young people?
I think reading is an extremely important activity, whether you read poetry or journalism or novels or nonfiction materials or the backs of cereal boxes. I think the harnessing of words into diverse and multifaceted creative art forms is one of the best things human beings have ever done. I think reading connects the human race in ways that no other art medium can. I think words hold an awesome power for creation and destruction; and books are examples of pure beauty, pure art and pure human excellence.

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