Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Changes Lives
When I was in high school, I wanted to write my junior project on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I chose it because it was a controversial and frequently banned book, and I thought, from the title, that it might be a horror novel. I went to our school’s library and looked it up in the card catalog (here is a link if you don’t know what that is), only to find that it was already checked out.
The library had one other Vonnegut book, so I figured I’d give that one a try. That book was Cat’s Cradle, and it’s not hyperbole to say that it changed my life forever.
That’s what great books are supposed to do. Great books stay with you. They inspire you. They grow with you. I’ve read Cat’s Cradle two more times since high school, and I look forward to reading it a few more times before I die.
I may have never picked up that book — and pursued a literary life — were it not for that junior project. This is why education and youth literacy is so important — and why New Yorker staff writer and culture critic David Denby’s new book, Lit Up, is a must-read.
In something of a sequel to his Great Books, Denby returns to 10th grade English class to see what literature is being taught and how it is being received by youth whose lives are dominated by LCD screens.
I hope that somewhere, some alienated teenager has flipped to the last page of Cat’s Cradle, intoxicated by its madhouse narrative, and is reading that devastating final paragraph that begins, “If I were a younger man, I’d write a history of human stupidity…”
I also recommend Denby’s 2009 book, Snark.
The Sound of Time
This book may as well have been custom made for me. It involves the graveyard shift, factory workers and a psychology student. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about working in a steel mill, but one thing I loved was the creepiness of the rusted factory.
Cleaning the warehouse evoked a unique sense of dread. I was alone, sweeping the aisles between stacks of steel coils fifteen feet high. Knowing that if one of the coils fell, it would be a long time before they found me.
Essex’s novel is less about the physical threats of factory work, but more about the ghosts allegedly haunting the place. Essex incorporates quantum physics to add another layer of creepy.
Forget ghosts. The spooky implications of quantum physics can elicit more chills than a campfire tale.
The combination of setting, science and quality storytelling make The Sound of Time a hit for horror fans.