Back to Basics



Almost all elementary school kids are bookworms–I was one of them. I always had a book in my hands whether it was Calvin and Hobbes or Harry Potter or The Boxcar Children. But then came junior high and high school. Suddenly, reading was no longer cool, reading became forced and I stopped reading for fun. I made it through The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and the core novels, and I flashed through several “free reading” books. However, all of that was with an ulterior motive in mind (class projects, assignments, homework, etc.).

Instead I immersed myself in ESPN, SLAM and newspapers. I was told to write a lot to be a better writer, so I did. Recently, I was reminded that reading also plays a major part in improving writing skills, and I was starting to figure out that purely relying on articles wasn’t going to cut it. This summer I had surgery on my foot and haven’t had much to do. After flying through the House of Cards and watching a nice chunk of Breaking Bad, I felt like my brain was turning to mush. That’s when I made my goal: read at least one book per month for the entire year, starting now.

Here’s a quick look at what I read this summer (in one month):

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

Arguably the most important book of the year. The Almond Tree tells the tale of the life of a Palestinian Muslim boy named Ichmad. As a reader, we follow him from life in a tent to University to America, from a young boy to a 70-year-old man. I nearly cried, I laughed, I felt Ichmad’s frustration, his hopelessness, his triumphs. It sheds a much needed light of humanity on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I would say it’s a must read for everyone, especially Americans. The US funds Israel, American citizen taxes fund Israel, and yet hardly anyone knows the true history of Palestine and what is going on in the Middle East. We feel the extremist terrorist backlash, and we never care to learn about their perspective. This book allows us to stand in their shoes. I challenge you to read the first chapter and try putting it down. In one instance, Ichmad is having problems with a Jewish University professor. Jews and Palestinians are typically enemies. His father gives him this advice, and Ichmad is able to overcome the adversity:

“People hate out of fear and ignorance. If they could just get to know the people they hate, and focus on their common interests, they could overcome that hatred.”

1984 by George Orwell

Reading this one gave me the chills. George Orwell wrote this in 1949 predicting 1984, though it feels as if he is describing the near approaching future or even 2013. In a world controlled by Big Brother, the government totally dominates its people. They change the past and burn all paper records (as Obama did with his website?), they “disappear” anyone who defies their rule (sound similar to Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Michael Hastings?), and they watch their citizens’ every move (NSA crushing the 4th Amendment?). In the story, Winston Smith struggles to keep his mind in check. He has distant memories of a better past, but he is not allowed to remember them. Orwell hashes over the mindless masses and how they feel no obligation to act. The lowest wrung of society is called the “proles,” and they make up 85% of the population–they could easily overturn the government. However, they don’t care enough to take that step. Tell me this doesn’t describe society today:

“Here were produced rubbishy newspapers, containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator.”

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I purchased this book at the British Museum in London right after I walked through an exhibit on Jack Kerouac. I saw the original manuscript for this modern classic and felt compelled to read it, as I’d heard such great things about it. It starts out a bit slow, but after the first 20 pages I began drinking in the words and couldn’t stop. The prose that it’s written in is silky smooth, it’s a conversational tone. The story is intriguing about a man named Sal Paradise (said to be Kerouac himself) and his best friend Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy), and their journeys around America. There’s so much energy in the words–“ground-hugging walk,” “mixing up our souls,” “ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being.” One of my favorite quotes sums up the entire book:

“It was a wonderful night. Central City is two miles high; at first you get drunk on the altitude, then you get tired, and there’s a fever in your soul.”

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I bought this one four years ago for school and never finished it (I cranked out a project thanks to Spark Notes). With AP Physics, AP US History and basketball season, I didn’t have the time. But it is a fantastic read. It’s sarcastically funny. The premise is the concept of Catch-22. An example is how the main character, Yossarian, wants to convince the doctor he’s crazy and be sent home from war. The doctor replies that if Yossarian wants to be sent home, then that proves he is sane, and that everyone else is crazy. When Yossarian asks why all the other soldiers aren’t sent home, the doctor says that you must ask to be sent home. Thus, no one is sent home because only a sane person would ask to go home. It’s confusing and brain-wracking, yet brilliant. Yossarian is too smart for his own good in his situation:

“The enemy is anyone who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.”

2 thoughts on “Back to Basics

    1. Thanks for reading! I’ll comment on your post as I just read it. “On the Road” is definitely a classic. I remember being at the British Museum and hearing Brits talk about it and thinking, “I’m American. I should really get around to reading this.” Definitely read “Catch-22.” It’s a little long, but it’s worth it, though I’d recommend “The Almond Tree” above all others if I had to pick one.

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