Welcome to the August Higher Learning column! In Higher Learning, College Guys talk about what they're reading, what they read in high school, and what books are important to them now. Since it's still summer, I held a cyber interview with Ben, one of my first-year advisees who will soon be a second year student at Grinnell College.
Ben is interested in Political Science, Economics, and International Affairs. He's also a big reader, who keeps up with book news and reviews. Ben was born in California, spent his some of his Middle School years in North Carolina, and returned to California in the seventh grade. Thanks for talking to Guys Lit Wire, Ben!
Kelly Herold: What are you reading at this very moment?
Ben: At this very moment, I am working on a non-fiction book titled The Splendid Exchange by William J. Bernstein. It’s a historical analysis of the evolution of globalization and how increased interconnectivity between different geographic areas and cultures has affected the world as a whole.
Kelly: Is The Splendid Exchange typical of the books you like to read?
Ben: It is typical of books I like to read, which are very simply books that pique my interest, which is really a broad way of saying that I enjoy books from every part of the literary spectrum, from non-fiction to fantasy to science fiction.
Kelly: Okay, let's go back to Middle School. What were you reading in, say, sixth or seventh grade?
Ben: Wow, that’s a while back to think. At that point, I remember I was heavily in a fantasy stage. I was always a pretty good reader, and my choices then reflected that, I think. I was big into thick fantasy tomes, such as the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, the multiple Shannara trilogies by Terry Brooks, as well as some less hefty volumes, such as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Oh, and Harry Potter. Everyone in my grade literally grew up with him- we were 12 when he was, and graduated high school when he conquered Voldemort in book 7. I feel his character will always irrevocably belong to my age cohort.
Kelly: What was the first life-changing book you read? A book that made you think 'Wow' for the first time when reading?
Ben: The first life-changing book I read was undoubtedly The Giver by Lois Lowry. A mix of Brave New World and 1984, it contained some seriously heavy topics, such as eugenics and dystopian futures, for a 6th or 7th grader. However, Lowry must be given credit for not making it depressing or overly serious; I remember enjoying it thoroughly. It was the first book that I read that made me realize that novels can make serious points while still having an enjoyable story line.
Kelly: What about High School? What did you read for school and what did you think about required reading?
Ben: High School is trickier to remember. I remember hating the literary curriculum for my 9th and 10th grade English classes. 10th grade especially was full of junky American literary works; such as Their Eyes Were Watching God, Yellow Raft in Blue Water, as well as other over-serious and underwhelming wastes of paper. There were a few good ones though; I enjoyed As I lay Dying in 10th grade, as well as Othello in 9th.
The curriculum in 11th and 12th grade more than made up for it; we read some fantastic books. From 11th some of my favorites were One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Slaughterhouse 5, Martin Eden and Crime and Punishment, all of which I loved. The curriculum in 12th grade was more classically focused, but still very enjoyable. We read the Odyssey, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, No Exit, Waiting for Godot and a few others, the names of which escape me currently. So in short: loved the required reading in 11th and 12th, hated it in 9th and 10th.
Kelly: Did you do much reading for fun when you were in high school? What did "reading for fun" mean to you?
Ben: I read extensively for pleasure in high school. I retained my love of fantasy, but also explored some other genres. The series that was most influential and time consuming was Patrick O’Brian’s excellent Master and Commander series. At 20 books long, it consumed a good chunk of my pleasure reading time in 10th and 11th grades, although I still reach for it today when I need something to relax.
Kelly: You read a lot of serious literature, including non fiction. What do you read for fun--when at the beach, for example?
Ben: Honestly, I still find serious non-fiction fun- my beach read over Spring Break was Alan Greenspan’s excellent memoir The Age of Turbulence. However, it’s usually something more along the lines of Catch 22, which is my favorite book. It is eternally bookmarked, as I am always in the process re reading it in my spare time. Other pleasure reads recently have been by Tom Wolfe- I just finished Bonfire of the Vanities the other week, and have The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test teasing me to start it.
Kelly: Okay, last question: Young Adult literature--ever heard of it? What is Young Adult literature?
Ben: I have heard of young adult literature. I think of it as books that fill a niche in between the chapter books of youth and the more serious novels of adulthood. Usually, in my mind, it has themes that deal with the change from childhood to adulthood, that kids in that age range (lets say 12-15?) can empathize with.
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