Most St. John’s students cultivate habits of reading in high school that take them well outside the required curriculum, into territory that stretches the intellect, excites the imagination, and inspires further learning. We’ve asked some students to name a few of their favorite books—and to tell why other students might find them stimulating and useful as they prepare for college.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was the first book that I read about a dystopia. The way that the government of the book was able to control people, the use of a kind of crowd identity, was interesting because I had felt the same kind of identity when going to local sports games.
Jacob Simon ’11
I know the title sounds a little hokey, but it is a fascinating book that deals with both science and poetics, joining them together to create an interesting philosophy. Reading this book, it became apparent to me that life is not just poetics, literature, and art, but the technical stuff as well. Even deeper than that, this book made me consider how the technical and poetic are interdependent. This interdependency is just like the
Elsabe Dixon ’10
I read The Brothers Karamazov between junior and senior year in high school and fell in love with it. In high school, I was going through a crisis of spirituality. I wanted to answer the question that I think every young adult begins to have about whether he or she believes in God, what faith and religion mean, and how that fits in with the belief system of his or her parents. The Brothers Karamazov came at that tumultuous time in my life when I was both confused and eager. Every character in the book has an opinion about pleasure-seeking, God, and the pursuit of real spirituality, and together they make up the “Karamazov spirit.” It was the first time I ever found true insight in a book that applied to my own life, and I realized then that books have something more in them than just good stories or ideas; they have life.
Kirstie Dodd ’10
Voltaire’s Candide is the story of a carefree boy who experiences misfortune after misfortune, and how it affects his outlook. The conclusion he reaches is that everyone must “cultivate their garden.” The garden is a metaphor for a personal goal or dream that can never be destroyed. It is also something that requires constant preparation and attention, just as a garden must be watered and harvested. My education is my garden, and because of the required curriculum at St. John’s, I study things and explore areas that I would have otherwise never touched. I am learning that there is a neverending pool of questions, each with multiple answers.
Sophie Stauffer ’12
Crime and Punishment influenced me because I had previously thought that evil and evil acts were things I couldn’t comprehend, things that other people could do but I would not do. Raskolnikov was not obviously evil in the normal sense. He was somebody who was reasonable and thought a lot about things; he didn’t wish people harm. Yet he did commit a crime, and it made me think about evil and human nature. It raised a question for me about whether evil is something each of us is capable of.
Charlie Salem ’10
Whether you’re taking the class or not, read the primary sources for AP European History. Seek out the major philosophical and political works of notable historic time periods, which will include works like Euclid’s Elements, Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses or Dante’s Divine Comedy. Not only will it help to reinforce the historical context of works, but it will also get you used to the high level of reading comprehension and writing styles that you will experience in college.
Kelsey Miller ’10
It demolished my conviction that human evolution is a principled force towards a higher good by analytically going through each commonly found argument, deconstructing it, and revealing it as erroneous. However, the author still allowed for the possibility that his seemingly strong argument might be overturned (he explains in the introduction that someone could still produce a royal flush). It taught me never to take anything for granted, no matter how seemingly obvious, unless it be with a healthy dosage of salt.
Gordon Greer ’13
St. Albans, Missouri
I really feel like going back to my childhood favorites in high school helped me de-stress and stay focused. It gave me a sense of proportion. And writing children’s books is harder than we think; Goodnight Moon reminds me of how important each word is.
Hannah Pasternak ’12
Livingston, New Jersey
I first read The Great Gatsby during my middle school years, didn’t understand any of it, and thus reread it every year following. Every time I return to the book, I gain a new understanding of Fitzgerald’s work, whether it be on hypocrisy or the pressure of modernity. The book not only prepared me for the readings at
Anne Frazier ’10
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The insight that Conrad presents about our human nature and civilization is stunning. The darkness of mankind that is portrayed in the book opened up my eyes to the contrast (between light and dark) that has been present since the origins of humankind.
Tamaki Ishii ’12
Palos Verdes, California
It’s hard to pinpoint just one reason why this book was stimulating as well as helpful. The ideas it addresses were certainly ones I had never thought of before in that particular way, which made it very attractive to me, but the largest use/attraction I can think of is that its style of writing is very reader interactive and helps prepare you for how to read a text very well.
Babak Zarin ’11
Oddly enough, there’s a series of children’s books by Ralph Moody–the first is called Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers–which I loved and found extremely helpful. The series emphasized the importance of thinking independently, finding (sometimes unorthodox) solutions to problems, recognizing when failure is inevitable, and working through failure to find success.
Thea Chimento ’10
I remember reading Sirens of Titan when I was 15 or 16. I had always been what most people would call a “reader,” but until that moment, I had never really been inspired by a book. Sure, I had found books interesting, or considered them to be relatable, but when I read Sirens, it was like Kurt Vonnegut understood exactly how I felt about the world and its people. It wasn’t as though I had experienced some great ideological upheaval in reading it, but what I loved (and still love) about this book is its ability to portray flawed human characters as still being fully able to experience the most beautiful in human emotions. These characters are not great men or women, but simply lost people who are unsure of their place in the big scheme of things and act accordingly. As the main character states at one point, “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”
Noah Michael Royer ’12
Minot, North Dakota
I learned so much from this story about the limitations of human beings and how we put limitations on ourselves. I appreciated it because it taught me how language formulates the way you interact with the world and how that informs you as a human being.
Esme Ann Gaisford ’10
I found this novel to be quite helpful in preparing for college because of its Dickensian plot, which allowed me to see that even the most unusual choices in life can help us to lead a successful and fulfilling one. I feel that The World According To Garp helped me to gain confidence in knowing that no matter what I do with my life I shouldn’t worry about it being an unfulfilled one.
Mary Johnson ’13
Manhattan Beach, CA