A Separate Doom: Summer Reading Lists

I am having a dilemma. Well, maybe not a dilemma so much as a full-blown crisis of the highest order. My 13-year-old son doesn’t like to read. I am a writer. I love books. And my son does not.

Tonight, we talked about his reading list for the summer. The eighth grade looms large on the horizon. The reading list is long; the requirements from that list rather short. My son needs to read two books.

Two books? I asked him.

Two books, dad.

So, like any good parent I went to the school’s web site. Sure enough. He’s required just two titles from the list. Just when I had lost faith in the public school system I saw one of my favorites on the list:


Even after all these years I am still in awe of Cather’s sentence structure; to say nothing of her use of description and character relationships. Sadly, my son was having none of it.

The other book he eyeballed tonight was A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.


An aficionado of all things xBox and Call of Duty-related, my son of course was enticed by the cover: a boy with an AK-47 assault rifle over his shoulders. Soon, however, my son was dismayed to find out that boys about his age found themselves fighting wars in various parts of the world; some ‘voluntarily’ and others forced into committing the reprehensible acts documented in the media.

We still have to pick a second book. I cringed when my son found the story line to John Knowles’ A Separate Peace appealing.


Of course, I didn’t let him see me cringe. That would be bad. But I seem to remember stumbling through that book in my adolescence. Later, as an adult, I found out why. It was no small wonder that I stumbled over awkward sentences like “I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.”

The bonus, if there was one in reading Knowles, is that it ranks above an eighth grade reading level on the scale his school uses. If my son chooses to slog his way through A Separate Peace this summer; if he can navigate his way through sentences and phrases that are as awkward as the conversations my son is having with girls his age; my penance will be to see my way through this book too. All things considered, however, I’d much rather spend time getting reacquainted with Antonia or visit Ishmael Beah in Sierra Leone for the first time along with my son.

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