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May 27, 2016

A high school senior’s top 6 NewsHour-reviewed books to read before college


GettyImages-535837803-1024x768By Amanda Wilcox

The following six books have had a great impact on me not just due to their authors’ talent for writing, but also due to their complex messages and calls for social change. Each author has also been interviewed or featured in a segment on the PBS NewsHour.


“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Between the World and Me” is a father’s brutally honest letter to his son about the realities of being a black person in the United States. Drawing from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ youth in Baltimore, it is strikingly bleak about the future of racial progress in America — Coates firmly indicates that the long American history of white supremacy and violence directed towards black people is unlikely to ever change. The book has enjoyed resounding success, topping the New York Times’ bestseller list and securing Coates the National Book Award. He sums up the deeply broken state of race in America with a simple statement: “Fully 60 percent of all young black men who drop out of high school will go to jail. This should disgrace the country. But it does not.”

Click here to listen to Coates’ 2015 interview with Gwen Ifill.

“Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman was a 24-year-old graduate of Smith College with no criminal record when she fell in with the wrong crowd and became entangled in a drug-smuggling ring. Years later, she faced money laundering and drug trafficking charges and was sentenced to 13 months in the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut. Her story is powerful evidence of how youthful misdeeds can impact a person’s life and shows the importance of choosing one’s friends wisely.

Click here for Hari Sreenivasan’s 2014 interview with Kerman.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan

Since the dawn of time, man has been faced with what Michael Pollan calls the “omnivore’s dilemma”: what to eat for dinner. With the advent of the modern food system, this question has become exponentially more bewildering and complicated. Pollan followed meals from four sources from soil to dinner plate: industrial, industrial-organic, local sustainable and hunter-gatherer. He revealed that big agribusinesses producing mountains of cheap commodity crops control the lion’s share of the food system, but that social change can occur with more sustainable, responsible eating practices.

Click here for Pollan’s 2013 interview with Jeffrey Brown about the importance of cooking.


“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

In times of war, even though there may be victories, there are never real winners. “The Things They Carried,” which is based on the stories of soldiers who fought alongside Tim O’Brien, approaches the Vietnam War with brutal honesty and profound insight. The author defies the typical romanticizing of war as the novel’s fictional protagonist of the same name briefly considers escaping the draft and later watches friends die. O’Brien conceived “The Things They Carried” in response to the general public’s ignorance about the Vietnam War and the novel is required reading for those who wish to avoid repeating this dark time in American history.

Click here for Jeffrey Brown’s interview with O’Brien 35 years after the close of the Vietnam War.

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

“The Kite Runner” is the heartbreaking tale of an improbable friendship between two young boys belonging to vastly different Afghan social castes — one, the son of a wealthy Kabul elite and the other, his family’s lowly house servant. It is set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent times in Afghan history: the collapse of the monarchy followed by Soviet military presence and the rise of the Taliban. As the country falls apart, so does the relationship of protagonists Amir and Hassan due to a devastating act of betrayal. Khaled Hosseini’s novel provides deep insight into the plight of modern Afghanistan at a time when the majority of the Western world remains woefully ignorant.

Click here to listen to Hosseini discuss his subsequent novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Widely regarded as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo (a metaphor for Columbia) through the eyes of several generations of the Buendia family. Garcia Marqeuz’s characteristic “magical realism” style portrays magical and fantastic events in an otherwise rational world, making the novel an immeasurably rich and engaging reading experience. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” embodies the brilliance of Latin American literature in an age when such authors are often underrepresented.

Click here for a tribute to Garcia Marquez following his death.

Amanda Wilcox is a graduating senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. 

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