Summer Reading

May 24, 2016

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. Most of these books are widely available at public libraries. If you’d rather purchase your selection, you can also find it in bookstores and on-line. 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 2016 (remember: you are only required to read one of these!)

Akiko Busch Geography of Home (2003). This collection of essays focuses on the “architecture, psychology, and history of house and home in America” (Kirkus Reviews). From the front door, to the laundry room, to its porches and closets, this book examines the structure(s) of American houses and what they say about us over time. Although there are sections on architecture, this book is not directly about the arts or a life in the arts. The student who recommended it, however, said it helped her “think about the ways in which our culture shapes my ideas of what art is, and what is required to make a home, or an artistic practice.”

Anthony Doerr All the Light We Cannot See (2014). The awards around this novel (including the Pulitzer prize for fiction) are as impressive as its scope; it’s set during WWII and interweaves the lives and stories of a blind French girl and an orphan German boy. This may sound pretty subjective, but those who recommend it say it’s one of those novels you sort of hate to finish, the kind you miss when you’ve finished reading it. This book is circulating (multiple copies) throughout the SC public library system.

Mark Doty Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy (2002). This reading is part memoir, part essay and clearly written by an accomplished poet. Doty’s book revolves around the 17th-century Dutch still life that serves as its title. “As he analyzes the items depicted in the painting, he skillfully introduces his thoughts on our intimate relationships to objects” (Library Journal). The student who recommends this title does so in ALL CAPS (for which she apologizes) and continues: “I got a little excited. The premise of this book is falling in love with a still life painting. The language and subject matter are mature and thoughtful. The book is pretty short, addictive, positive for the most part (which can be hard to come across in mature writing about art) and Mark Doty is amazing. That's all.” That’s plenty, really.

Nikky Finney Head Off & Split (2008). This poetry collection won the National Book Award, and its author was born by the sea in South Carolina in 1957. Coming of age during the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts movements, Nikky Finney describes the “shouting” of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. She continues: “I wanted to be a poet who didn't shout, who said things but said them with the most beautiful attention to language … I've been really working on this for thirty years, exploring how those two paths intersect: the path where the beautifully said thing meets the really difficult-to-say thing, and that's where I think this book finds its light.”

Jessye Norman Stand Up Straight and Sing (2014). This memoir by the internationally-renowned singer touches on her influences and role models, American history and lessons that reach far beyond her musical career. As the conductor James Levine writes in his introduction to this book, “[Y]ou will feel Jessye’s unique presence on every page—her passion, her sense of humor, and her full-scale zest for life. I recommend it as a ‘must-read,’ not only for her legion of admirers but also for […] students of every age—everyone who cares about the artistic life.”

Sarah Ruhl. 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater (2015). This collection by one of our most important contemporary playwrights will give readers a way to think about living a full, productive, demanding life while doing big, honest, meaningful creative work. Some essays are short (one is one word long!) and some will take you to into complex examinations of culture and theater. As a NY Times review puts it: “The 100 essays represent 100 different links between art and reality, as Ruhl’s meditations on writing and staging plays find reflection in her experience of family life, friendship, illness and ordinariness […] Ruhl uses her experience as a playwright to make us think anew about what we half-consciously know.”

Returning students, if you took your Humanities journal home with you, please put it in a safe place and remember to bring it back to school in August. I’ll be distributing journals to new students during the first week of school, and we’ll all use these for our summer reading discussions on our first Friday back in session. Please let me know if you have any questions. You can reach me via e-mail: I’m not on it daily during the summer, but I will check in regularly so don’t hesitate to get in touch. Happy reading!


Jennifer Thomas, Chair
Academics and Humanities