The Odyssey of summer reading

Summer reading is perhaps the most joked-about assignment at PHS — how it’s boring, how your friend read it the night before school started, how you didn’t read it at all. Yet, especially with curriculum updates, hundreds of students each summer actually enjoy reading the assigned books. Here are a few reasons why.

Freshmen – A Father’s Final Odyssey

graphic by Avery Hom

This summer, students were asked to read A Father’s Final Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn, an article published in the New Yorker. The article follows the journey of Mendelsohn and his father reading The Odyssey together and eventually going on a cruise that tours many of the famed locations featured in the epic. As stated in the title, this is Mendelsohn’s final opportunity to go on a journey with his father. The article starts when Daniel begins teaching The Odyssey to a group of college students, and his father decides to participate in the class, reading the book alongside the students. The article follows him and his father’s opinions — that are sometimes conflicting — as they read the book and then later when Mendelsohn takes his father on a cruise to Ithaca, where they continue their own final odyssey. Ultimately, the book is a touching tribute to the familial bond that a father and son share, and the journey they take to celebrate it.

Sophomores – Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

graphic by Avery Hom

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, covers her childhood in Iran, during and after the Islamic Revolution of 1978-1979. The art style is thoughtful but simplistic, and the black-and-white renderings are unique and charming. Her narration is enjoyable, with quick-witted, sly, and thoughtful commentary that folds in relatable truth; Satrapi manages to unravel complex political situations in easy-to-understand depictions, and to keep seemingly dry history or cultural explanations interesting.  

The book never lets you forget its setting, or that it is a memoir of what “everyday life” feels like under a newly-established oppressive regime. However, Persepolis’ heavy themes are interlaced along with humorous anecdotes about personal rebellions, and sincere confessions about the pains of growing up. You stay invested up until the heartbreaking last panel.

I may have read it for summer reading, but that’s not why I’m reading the sequel, and that’s not why I’m recommending that you read it, too.

Juniors/Seniors – Let the Great World Spin

graphic by Avery Hom

While reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, I found the use of different perspectives a welcome change. As McCann does not create a one-sided narrative, the writing allows for the character’s daily lives to be captured in a new and refreshing way. In terms of character development, the way that McCann writes about the characters allows you to find yourself sympathizing with the most different and unexpected people. An unanticipated character that McCann brings into the novel is the teenage photographer, Fernando. Although only giving him a singular part to play that many may have interpreted as inessential, for me, it only made the connections more lively and meaningful. With the central image of a man walking on a tightrope, it highlights the network between the characters, as well as bringing organization and meaning to what would otherwise be chaos. For instance, although Solomon and Fernando never meet, the tightrope walker functions as an intermediary between them. The hidden and subtle messages that McCann leaves scattered throughout the plot allows for the reader to find connections between the different characters’ lives. Overall, when recommending the book to a potential reader, I would advise looking beyond the seemingly confusing moments of the book and finding the bigger picture McCann is trying to convey. It will become apparent that the book is written keeping every word in mind.

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