Courtesy of years of Eurocentric summer reading lists, it’s often books like THE GREAT GATSBY, OF MICE AND MEN, and LORD OF THE FLIES that come to mind when one thinks of the ‘the Classics’.
These books have literary merit. Of course they do. If they didn’t, half of the Western world wouldn’t have been forced to write myriad essays on them in high school.
But they’re not the only books with literary merit. Not the only Classics.
I don’t need to recommend the others, because you’ve heard of them. If you haven’t, a quick Google search will bring up hundreds of titles.
If you were lucky (or if you finished high school more recently, or are still in high school), you may have been assigned a more diverse summer reading list than I was. If not, here’s a good place to start.
I have read all of the books included in this list, but there are many, many others that either have been designated Classics by the powers-that-be and just aren’t included on school book lists or that deserve to be designated Classics and haven’t been.
All blurbs have been taken from Goodreads.
1. THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker (PoC, gender-bending, and LGBT+)
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.
2. THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe (PoC, non-US/European, Religious diversity – Odinani)
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
3. NIGHT by Elie Wiesel (Religious diversity – Judiasm)
NIGHT is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. Penetrating and powerful, as personal as THE DIARY OF ANN FRANK, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.
4. THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros (PoC)
Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero. Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.
5. ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson (LGBT+)
Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of THE PASSION and SEXING THE CHERRY. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.
Any of these on your summer reading lists? Got some recommendations? Leave them in the comments!