By: JONI OSWALD
It could be that you enjoy reading on a serene Sunday morning. Or, perhaps, habitually weave through chapters of literature on a dismal weekday evening. You may even be a creature of reluctance, preferring to escape a boisterous Friday night exploring possibilities hidden on dusty library shelves. Although, on the contrary, you may be none of the above. Whether or not an individual prioritizes time for reading, there is something tranquil about delving into various concepts that lie within the words of a good book.
However, some pieces of literature are known to bear more quality than others. These novels have existed through generations and will exist for many more. Within their aged string of sentences and paragraphs lie timeless themes taught by well-known characters. These novels are known as the classics, many of which can be found on the Truman 64 reading list.
Created just this past year, the Truman 64 is a reading program created specifically for Truman High School. Books are displayed upon an official list in which students can choose to read a grand total of 64 over the course of their high school years. The title of this program contains historical context as well, for Truman High School first opened its doors in the year of 1964. Tied to each title is a teacher or faculty member that serves as the book’s sponsor whom students will seek out after completion of that specific piece of work. An informal, yet still intellectual discussion will then take place to further express opinions, comprehensions, and other thoughts. “This program hopes to keep high-quality literature an annual pursuit and hopefully create an environment that instills love and passion for lifelong learning and reading that will enrich students’ lives,” said Zachary Gall, founder of the Truman 64.
Teachers are mentors of the youth. Developing strong bonds with them has a tremendous impact on school culture. These book talks are meant to foster much more than a greater understanding of literature, moreover, they are intended to constitute stronger or even new relationships between students and teachers through literature. “Through this program, I get to meet with teachers that I had in my beginning high school years and catch up with them,” explained senior Sydney Knight. “I also am able to conference with teachers I’ve never met before and get to know more of the great faculty we have at Truman.” Inspiration, a sense of belonging, and simply having a confident shoulder to lean on are some of the many sunny sides to building these bonds. Something as simple as a book could be the beginning of establishing positivity throughout the hallways of Truman.
Whether you join Alex and his droogs on the dismal dystopian streets of England, or Yossarian in a flak-filled WWII bomber, or maybe even Gatsby as you luxuriate in his Eastern Egg mansion, the meaning of these stories may reach far beyond the printed page. Despite their value, many of these classic novels have fallen from the interest of many individuals- especially in young minds. With the arrival of the age of technology, an unsatisfactory trend has made its way in today’s statistics. While beneficial in many ways such as a boosting of creativity, instant access to information, and connection making across the world, social media has taken priority over printed books. The downhill slope representing literacy grows steeper year by year. According to the American Time Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average amount of hours spent reading has remained steady while the number of American readers has declined from 26.3 percent in 2003 to 19.5 percent in 2016. Interest in books appears to be falling at a dramatic rate.
To overturn any trend that deals with the population, a prominent method lies in reaching out to the minds of youth. While we cannot overturn the impact that technology has on Generation Z, coaxing the benefits that novel reading provides may serve as an effective influence. Exactly why do we read? More specifically, why do we read classical texts? These questions sprang into my life one morning while rummaging through Half Price Books off E. Jackson Dr. with my brother whom I’d dragged in with me. He had asked me as I skimmed the Faulkner section. I’d never dove into this concept up to this point. There was always that simple and blunt answer that floated within my mind. “Reading these books are good for you,” I regurgitated from my postulated thinking. I assumed this general sentiment over years of repetition ranging from my grandmother, my mother, teachers, and now myself. He took this response with passivity. We continued to scan through the spinal maze of books that filled the shop.
Later I found myself delving into this interaction, I searched for a better answer while casting a glimpse at the rows of titles propped up on my bookshelf: “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “The Stranger,” “The Life of Pi,” et cetera. Each story contains its own identity. However, certain similarities enrich these aged novels making them stand out from the teen fiction section at Barnes and Noble. The answer became more clear as to why the Truman 64 can be deemed as a hidden gem on the activity list at our school. The classics excel among other pieces in their complexity, abiding themes, relatability, and the overall wondrous sensation they emanate.
Out of each benefit, Preparation for collegiate content is a relevant reason why high school students should take up the challenge of the Truman 64. Life beyond high school is a thought that remains present around every corner. With this in mind, it is crucial for students to prepare themselves for these years to come. Many classical texts are known to be taught by professors. Familiarizing oneself with these types of pieces beforehand will place students in an advantageous position. Moreover, another benefit to the Truman 64 in this sense is the consistency it requires to complete. A 2017 study of nearly three million students conducted by Renaissance showed that 30 minutes of high comprehension reading per day yielded students that were twice as likely to achieve benchmarks for college and career readiness. Reading complex passages regularly will teach students the importance of working through challenges on a day-to-day basis.
Grappling with difficult diction may seem burdensome on the surface, yet many cease to look beyond the frustration to see the intellectual opportunity that unfolds when doing so. Intricate aspects that lurk within these pages such as symbolism, structure, tone, and overarching meaning reveals relevant gold. Simply consuming the knowledge attached to these pieces of literature broadens the mind. Not only will vocabulary expand, but one will grasp a better understanding of the time in which these books take place. “Within these classical books, many timeless themes may be found. We can see what life was like in the past and compare it to the present,” said Kassidy Chunning, English teacher and co-founder of the Truman 64. “Often times, it may seem that things have progressively gotten worse within our world, yet these books reveal similar aspects.” The old saying “history repeats itself” is a metaphorical trend noticed by many in today’s world. As future inhabitants of vital leadership positions, it’s important for young minds to grasp the patterns of the past in order to improve conditions in the future.
The mind, however, is not the only internal entity that classical novels have the ability to touch. As human beings, we thrive off of a sense of connection to not only others but to ourselves as well. Classical novels can pull at one’s heartstrings to open up a more significant presence of empathy and self-awareness. While our experiences with various characters may not parallel with our own lives, we grasp onto specific emotions evoked by them in hardship. Maybe it’s not within one’s best interest to harass an entire opera house for a women, however, we feel for the phantom in his yearning for love and human connection in “The Phantom of the Opera” by Leroux. Holden Caulfield may not be the epiphany of success in our minds, yet we hold dearly his values of preserving youth in Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” These characters and stories may reveal similarities to the eye of the beholder. They bring out hidden emotions- occasionally, eliciting parts within ourselves we didn’t know existed in the first place.
Physically, our bodies are bound to the boulevards and streets we’re accustomed to. Sensations of wanderlust may captivate our imaginations and Pinterest boards, yet adventure seems too far out to grasp. For some, these dreams of journeying through rolling mountain ranges, labyrinthine cities, or enchanted kingdoms remain just that- dreams. For readers, such sights are only a book away. Novels will take one’s curiosity as far as the pages stretch, allowing us insight to destinations that seem worlds away. “We want to see students branch out and find their place in the world. The Truman 64 will hopefully offer students a way out of this confinement,” said Gall.
Goals, in essence, are merely dreams that have yet to hit actuality. Changes in one’s set routine or mentality often serve as essential construction to obtaining any long-term aspirations. This practice turns many away from major changes. However, one must revisit their initial intentions in coming times of doubt. Why did they choose to begin this quest in the first place? Picking up this goal of reading will have these struggles. 64 books over the course of four years is a quest many students would dismiss without a second thought. But, for those who take up the challenge, they will experience an enriching satisfaction not only after completion but throughout the process as well. It is the happiness of pursuit. Revising the world’s declining love for books is a not a matter that can change overnight. Rather, it is an alteration that may take years to reach an upward slope. While the Truman 64 has only been in existence for few semesters, it serves as a minor starting line to set literature as a priority across the globe. It is time for our generation to put our minds in the place of challenge. It is time to change the world with the power of words. It is time to pick up the books again.