Read Hawthorne or Hughes This Summer

I was thinking about summer reading this evening when I came across this press release. “Experts Agree, The Difference Between Good Students and Great Students is What They Read.” The Great Books Summer Reading Program at Amherst and Stanford report that reading challenging literature at a young age improves your mind and test scores. “Read more challenging books, more hours a week, starting when you’re younger — and you’ll develop the kind of mental muscles that will help you rise to the top. That’s the basis of real education and real success,” said the president of the organization that developed the 2005 SAT. By reading and discussing well-written books which deal with the big questions–“What is the good life? What do I owe my neighbor?”–a teenager’s mind and heart can gain the strength his circumstances may restricted.

Evan came to the Summer Reading Program as a 14-year old from Mississippi and from one of the lowest-rated schools in the nation. Evan’s teacher, Annette, described him as a very curious child but discouraged from his disadvantaged circumstances and no one believing in him except his teacher. Evan speaks of his “life changing experience” at Great Books Summer Program. “Evan will never be the same again,” gleams Annette.

What would you think if a publisher, say Penguin Classics, promoted classic literature as great summer reads? Maybe they would offer special editions with new or at least sound essays on the work in question. I would pass on Kafka for something like this, but I would be tempted by Hawthorne or Ralph Ellison, Thoreau or Langston Hughes. I suppose publishers think these works are promoted enough through schools and attention to literary awards. But what do you think? A good idea?