Head of School Bookshelf, Fiction Edition, Fall, 2015

A few times a year, I share a booklist with the Phillips Academy faculty and offer up copies of the selections on a bookshelf outside my office.  I’m going with an all-fiction Head of School bookshelf for Fall, 2015. Last Spring, a faculty colleague suggested that I try a fiction list next, because that might encourage participation by those who might have found my non-fiction-heavy (not exclusively non-fiction, but mostly…) lists in the past a bit dense. That was all the encouragement I needed — and it also meant that my summer reading inclined more toward fiction than it ordinarily does.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Anchor Books, 2013).  Adichie’s novel about identity, race, love, and learning has been showered with praise and awards — for good reason.  It’s a wonderful, funny novel and also full of insights about topics we talk about all the time at Andover.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014).  With a special nod to the history faculty and students, I chose Doerr’s account of lives during occupied France for reasons similar to the choice of Americanah.  It’s truly engaging fiction that also presents a human story with many lessons about empathy, love, and understanding.

Johanna Lane, Black Lake (Little, Brown, 2014).  We are so excited to have Johanna Lane with us at Andover as our Writer in Residence and Instructor in English at Andover.  She’s written a masterful novel about a family handling loss of multiple forms.  Lane writes beautifully — a great inspiration to all Andover students (not to mention those of us on the faculty who try to write, too!).

Tobias Wolff, Old School (Vintage, 2003).  I was tempted to list A Separate Peace here, even though it’s (a) quite old and (b) famously about Exeter.  I figured that might be a step too far back toward my own alma mater, so I decided on a more recent novel very much in the genre of A Separate Peace, but less likely to be based on Exeter and more intriguing in some respects (at least, on p. 168, there’s a reference to Exeter that makes it plain that the school depicted is another school).  It’s a great story and introduces a whole pile of the themes we struggle with (and often overcome!) every day in boarding school.  It’s also about writing, literature, and competition among boys — lots of fun.

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (Square Fish, 2006).  I wanted to include on this list a novel that takes an inventive form of some sort, and Yang’s story about Asian identity in America (among many other things) fits that bill.  It’s a clever, engaging graphic novel about assimilation, difference, and the perils of growing up in America today.  Warning to those easily offended: it is edgy and most certainly un-PC in parts; that’s what makes it worth reading, actually, to my mind.

Additional Selections.

I find it hard to limit myself to five selections for a Head of School bookshelf, so I tend to cheat and add some “additional selections.”  These choices happen to be non-fiction, and failed to make the official list solely for that reason.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists (Anchor Books, 2014).  Super-short!  Packs a punch.  Self-explanatory.

David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House, 2015).  You may have read parts of this book in Brooks’ New York Times column and elsewhere over the last year.  The full book adds to the texts that were published elsewhere; gets you thinking about Resume Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues in new ways.

Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015).  Both when I was a student and then as a faculty member at Harvard Law School, I admired very much the scholarship and teaching of Prof. Guinier.  Everything I’ve read of hers has been highly worthwhile, including her most recent book on what we mean when we talk about “meritocracy” in the context of education — a big theme as we went through strategic planning at Andover.

Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Simon & Schuster, 2015).  Two of the most forward-thinking people I’ve met have come together to write a book on innovation and education.  Both Wagner and Dintersmith have visited Andover recently and left us with much to contemplate.  Their book challenges all of us in education to press forward faster and with more ambition.  Worthy text to engage with, from start to finish; they pose lots of hard questions.  They also have a documentary out of the same name, which is inspiring.

Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education (W.W. Norton, 2015).  I loved this book as a step away from the day-to-day conversations about teaching and learning.  Zakaria’s text brings the reader to a higher plain about the point of education and how we go about it, in conversation with contemporary work such as Andrew Delbanco‘s College, which I included on a previous list.

This week, I am putting a pile of copies of each of these books out for the faculty on the bookshelf outside my office, free for the taking, and I encourage those from afar to get copies at your local independent bookstore or library, if you are interested.  I’d love to hear what you think of them.

A few previous editions of the Head of School Bookshelf can be found here: Innovation; Adolescence, Tech and Sexuality; and Tech and Learning for Secondary School Educators.

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