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Inspired and Not Required: Summer Reading

A single year at Boston College offered me experiences and opportunities beyond even my own expectations—the kind of personal growth which can only come from living away from home for the first time, exploring a new city, and embracing a newfound (though certainly an incomplete) independence. Perhaps the greatest advantage gained over the past year, however, has not been the result of some external or profound stimulus; rather, the awakening of more human, internal strengths has been made accessible by the academic introduction of some of the world’s greatest works of literature and philosophy.  

Nonetheless, even in the midst of growth, the repercussions of such expansion could not be readily seen. What good is it, after all, to be able to reason through Plato’s allegory of the cave or Aristotle’s explanation on the three forms of friendship without applying these discussions to more tangible and personal topics? The true appreciation of knowledge (and the true purpose of higher education) is not evident in a well-executed essay answer, but instead in individually-directed study beyond the scope of any class curriculum.

And so, as BC students around the world approach the midpoint of summer vacation, undoubtedly making the most of break with adventures at home and abroad, an opportunity lingers for any and all intellectually curious individuals, an opportunity to capitalize upon the growth experienced over the course of last year.  

A few days into the break, bored and looking for something (besides Netflix) with which to fill my time, I turned to the written word. This was, admittedly, an action which at first seemed like a bit of a chore after a year of late study nights and countless pages of writing. Immediately, however, I realized the value of applying my education outside the classroom.

No work of art—least of all any literary piece—comes to existence in a vacuum. No matter how great the author, and no matter how creative the mind, the genius behind a book is shaped by countless intentional and accidental influences which serve to enrich the writing itself. Reading during the summer months offers the student the opportunity to realize these connections, utilize the experience gained over the past semesters, and, in so doing, learn more about themselves, the world around them, the work at hand, and even the works which formed the basis of their intellectual growth in the first place.  

I’ve never finished a summer reading list (or even come close), but, encouraged by the connections and foundations revealed in nearly every work of which I’ve explored thus far this summer, it would seem that this is finally an attainable goal. This is the greatest gift which a year at Boston College has given me, considering I have been alerted to the invaluable link between the tedium of collegiate study and the joy of personal growth.  

The following works comprise a selection of those I’ve had the pleasure of encountering this summer—a selection which I believe any student of Boston College could come to appreciate in one way or another.  

Walden by Henry David Thoreau—a work which I’ve met in the past, but which has taken a deeper meaning to me as my appreciation of the works of the Buddha, Confucius, and Grecian philosophers has deepened. The student who has taken the opportunity to visit Concord, only a mile away from Walden Pond and fifteen away from BC, will find an even richer connection to this work.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch—an engaging and somewhat more politically relevant work to anyone interested in or looking to explore the struggle for ideal public schooling. It is a frustrating topic, but one which deserves the attention of the entirety of the educated population.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth—a startlingly realistic view of an alternative historical path. The reader is alarmed by the eerie resemblance to certain recent developments, which may have seemed impossible (outside of fiction) until this past year.

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare—one of the Bard’s lesser-known works, but one which can certainly be appreciated by any lover of dark comedy, fantasy, and theatrical flare. Those in the Massachusetts area this summer who enjoy this one should be sure to catch Shakespeare and Company’s performance of the work in Lenox, MA, running from July 4 to August 6!

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy—not for the faint of heart, but a true story of resilience in the face of disappointment. Those who liked James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus may see his somewhat less noble reflection in Jude.

At risk of repeating any tired cliches regarding the “countless worlds encompassed in a book,” I will remind the reader of the true purpose of opening a book this summer: The titles above may look the same to you and me, but the contents are inevitably different; such is the charm of the written word.

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