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What are the most influential books?

by Simone Bates, staff writer

visual by Tara Mandrekar

Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Salinger: you’ve probably been assigned many of these authors’ books to read, but how many did you actually read?

Over four years at Leigh, students end up reading various novels from the curriculum and depending on which class you take, which ones you actually read, and which ones you connect to most, these books have different and lasting impacts on us.

Some books, regardless of the teacher’s attempt to bring relevance to teenagers, just don’t stick, or seem too distant to create any emotional attachment to. However, some books directly influence how we think or how we look at the world.

“I most enjoyed ‘1984’ because it brought up a lot about politics and how present events influence the future, ” said Austin Fertitta, senior.

Books, in general, are created to make people think and form opinions around the argument in the novels. As teenagers, where we are in a time period of heightened outside influence,where we haven’t fully developed our opinions and we still have many lessons to learn, what books teachers choose, out of the millions available, for us to read to think about is especially interesting.

“The assigned summer reading of ‘The Kite Runner’ [was the most influential book I read], because on initial reading it seemed sort of irrelevant, but as we talked about it in class I quickly learned how much racial discrimination and rape are current issues that need attention,”said Anna Bowman, senior.  

Emma Preston, junior, also said “The Kite Runner” was the most influential, but for different reasons: “‘The Kite Runner’ [influenced me the most] because it goes through the lives of two different people in the same area and how they are totally different based on social class. As well as how the past and the present do connect, instead of being separate entities.”

When asked the same question of what book they read in high school that was most influential, Alena Brammer, senior, said “ ‘The Great Gatsby’; because I like the idea that there is tragedy simmering under the surface of beauty. That is extremely relatable.”

English teacher at Leigh, Meredith Moseley said, “Probably ‘Black Boy’ [is the most influential novel], which I teach to AP Language students, because for many students it’s the first time they’ve ever studied race in a deliberate way and had a chance to talk about how the issue that they see from the early 20th century still persist in a lot of the same ways in 2017.”

Another Leigh English teacher, Michael White, said,’“To Kill a Mockingbird’, because the book really is about empathy. Atticus Finch teaches his kids to be empathetic and that’s the most important skill that a person gains in life. It’s just such an important lesson when you think about the behavior of people on social media and how cruel they are to each, but if you can get across the importance of putting yourself in another person’s shoes, then you’re less likely to get on social media and be cruel like that. I teach this book to ninth graders who are on the precipice of who they are going to become, they’re still children but they are becoming more adult in their perspective, so it’s just the right time to catch them with those lessons. Great lessons about empathy, courage, and kindness, and all three of those lessons are summed up in what Atticus teaches his children.”

White also gave mentioned his runner-up, “The Grapes of Wrath”, for lessons of sincerity in regards to spirituality and humanity through the use of the character Jim Casey.

“These lessons have never been more important in our nation’s history when we have in the highest office of the land, a person who is utterly unkind and self absorbed, and utterly incapable of empathy,” said White.

Different things cause a lasting impressions on people, but the relatability and relevance of the lessons taught in books seems to be what sticks with students and teachers most.

Perhaps approaching all required reading with an overarching life lesson applicable to students, and basing discussions around the students experiences with these lessons is the best way to create a lasting impression on students.