Summer Reading

May 30, 2017

Dear Students:

I hope you’re enjoying the start of a great summer. As you returning students remember, summer reading is part of our school-wide humanities course, which aims to promote interdisciplinary dialogue, to create shared intellectual/artistic experiences, and to integrate our experiences here at the Governor’s School. Each of the readings listed below touches on topics we know are important to you: the arts and artists and their connections to the world around them. The school’s faculty and staff is also deeply interested in these topics; we have enjoyed choosing the texts and we’ll be reading right along with you this summer in anticipation of our discussions during the first week of school.

Over the summer, please select one reading from the list of options below. As you see, the options include a variety of genre and subject matter. All readings are open to (and will be challenging for) all students. These books are widely available for purchase in bookstores and on-line (cheap used copies are fine!) and at least one is in public libraries statewide. You should read your selection carefully and actively, by taking some reading notes or marking significant passages if you buy your own copy. To give you an opportunity to synthesize your reading, and to promote dialogue in our small-group discussions, we will write on several prompts before discussing the book. You will complete this written response during the discussion session in August, and it will be graded as your first assignment in Humanities.


Summer Reading 2017: Who are we as artists?
(Choose one book from the list)

David Baron American Eclipse (coming out June 6, 2017). Given the total eclipse coming on August 21 of this year—and we’re in the path of totality for a 2:39 event!—this reading is geared to give us a context for why the eclipse is such a big deal: scientifically and culturally. The book focuses on the 1878 eclipse on the American west and on three of the many “eclipse chasers” who went out to see it and study it. In the genre of science journalism, it’s a reading choice described as a “timely tale of science and suspense.”

Scott Gould Strangers to Temptation (2017). The author needs no introduction to returning students, especially the creative writers who know and love/fear him as their department chair. I’m also a member of the SG Fan Club, but please understand: the book is on our reading list because of its quality and its content. This collection of thirteen interconnected Lowcountry stories will give us a lot to think and talk about when it comes to topics like coming of age, race relations, and the blurry lines between fact and fiction. We’ll have the rare chance to talk to the writer, too, which is a bonus.

Neil MacGregor Shakespeare’s Restless World: Portrait of an Era (2014). Written by an art historian who was also the director of the British Museum, this book has been called a sort of “historical reconstruction.” In collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, bring MacGregor writes about twenty objects that capture the essence of Shakespeare’s universe. Featuring color illustrations and photographs, this reading uses these objects as artifacts of an era that help us enter the world of Shakespeare’s plays. The things give us access to the world they come from. MacGregor echoes this idea in an introduction to a 2012 TED talk: “That’s what the museum is about: giving people their place in things.”

Sally Mann Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015). As the subtitle suggests, this is a photographer’s memoir, one that uses samples of her work as part of her life story. Mann is one of America’s most renowned photographers, and her memoir includes (but is not defined by) her account of the controversy stirred by some of her work. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016 and it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction in 2016.  This title is widely available in public libraries across the state. Says one library review: “For young adults considering a future in the arts, Mann's memoir is a visceral experience of that life's risks and triumphs.”

Claudia Rankine Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004).  This book by an award-winning poet blends prose poetry, television/media imagery, and essay as it examines personal and national identity in powerful ways. You can learn more about Rankine and her work here. Or just take it on good authority from the student who recommended the reading: “There was this vulnerability and truth in her voice that lingered in my mind for weeks. Little sayings stuck with me: words, images. […] Her book leaves you bare and open as it discusses race, life, death, love, and the state of our nation.” (Jamiya Leach, CW Class of ’17).

Victor Wooten The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth through Music (2006). Wooten is a Grammy Award winning bassist, composer, author and educator. His book is required reading at the Berklee School of Music, and it had a transformative impact on one of our music students who calls him the “Buddha of the bass” (Shane Thomas, MU Class of ’17). His title gives you a good description of the focus of the book. In his preface, entitle “Grace Note,” he writes, “I believe that Music, herself, had something to do with you holding this book. What does that mean, ‘Music herself’? I once asked myself that same question.” If you’re curious about him, here’s his website. If you need a lift, watch the clip of him playing the national anthem at a Knicks game in January you’ll see there.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’m not on school e-mail daily during the summer, but I will check in regularly so don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can reach me at: jthomas@scgsah.org. Happy reading!

Sincerely,
Jennifer Thomas, Chair
Academics and Humanities