BETTY STEIN: ‘Reading List for College-Bound Students’ nice break from cleaning

Thanks to a wild desire to clean out a couple of drawers, I came upon a book list titled “Reading List for College-Bound Students.” Stop with the cleaning; start reading. And what a list it is!

Whoever compiled this list assigned ease of reading by stars. “Murder on the Orient Express” received one star (Easy). So did Samuel Clemens for both “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” earned two stars (Average) as did John Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.” Thackery’s ‘Vanity Fair” and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” each was called “Difficult” so has three stars by its name. Do you agree? I started “War and Peace” three times before I finally read it — the fourth attempt — and after a very good movie showed me what I should be learning.

Well, anyway, there are some very good books included, of course. I’m not sure I’ve ever written about “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque, but I should have. In my opinion, it’s the best war story I’ve ever read, and Paul is one of my all-time favorite characters. It takes place during World War I and depicts that war and life during that period from the German side. The reader sees life in the trenches, at home on leave, pressure in the classroom, vulgarity but real friendships — life as it was lived back then. There’s humor, but I also winced and I’ll say no more except read it if you haven’t.

Jane Austen has two books on the list as does Oscar Wilde. I smiled when I saw “My Antonia,” by Willa Cather. I remembered a student who sat in the library complaining she had read everything good already. So I handed her a copy of Cather’s novel and said I bet she hadn’t read that. She hadn’t, so checked it out, and the next day came into the classroom to say, “Thank you,” for a wonderful read and what else did Miss Cather write. Some of these books really are timeless.

Under the letter “S” are George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and Sartre’s “No Exit” and Ms. Shelley’s “Frankenstein” but NO Shakespeare. John Steinbeck’s name appears twice — but no Shakespeare. I suppose the person who compiled this list considered the Bard worthy of his own list. There is only one Dickens, which surprised me. Included is “Oliver Twist” but not David Copperfield or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or any other Dickens.

When I saw “Roots,” I smiled. Years before, I had read an item in the newspaper that an author who was writing a novel about the African-American world would be at University of Saint Francis to talk about his research, so I went. There were 35 of us in that classroom listening to that man. A few years later, he returned and he spoke to a jam-packed, every-spot-taken main library audience who came to hear that same man, the author of “Roots,” Alex Haley. What a difference a few years and huge success made!

Yes, Anne Frank is included and so is Malcolm X, and George Orwell makes it twice and Chaim Potok appears once. Of course, “The Fountainhead” is there, and so are two books by Thomas Hardy. How are you doing? How many of these books have you read even if not before going off to college? Confession: I didn’t like “The Fountainhead,” and I don’t think I would include it on my own list if I ever dreamed one up.

But yes, “The Forsyte Saga” is on the list !!!

More anon.

Betty Stein is a resident of Fort Wayne.

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