A Plea to Teachers Assigning Summer Reading

By Adam F. RSS Wed, May 21, 2014

I was never a “reluctant reader” but when I was in high school I was reluctant to read from the lists my teachers made. This voracious reader preferred to make his own choices in the library accidentally while browsing nonfiction on the shelf as arranged intentionally by Dewey and his followers.  

Yes, nonfiction. I realized that by now the socially-constructed gendered division of reading labor is much discussed in the education literature. This year’s lists from the School District of Philadelphia certainly includes some balancing nods to memoir and nonfiction. Even if we ought to be skeptical of these binaries, you don’t need to be a librarian to know that there’s a lot to be read. It doesn’t all have to be a funhouse mirror reflecting our adult perceptions of what the youth will dig.

I’d like to challenge teachers who want their students to read over the summer to let go.  Dare your students to reject the list.  If every book on it seems like a chore, tell your students to go to a neighborhood library and ask their librarian for recommendations. We’ll give them readily. On any subject from journalism to street lit to extraterrestrial worlds we can connect your students to the right book.

If going to the library seems like an even bigger chore to our younger fellow citizens or worse if tearing through a book on the Sub seems like an inconvenient form of social death to them, then let’s collaborate to sneak the recommendations directly onto students’ phones. Recently, a teacher with whom I sometimes work, wanted to know whether he could make a summer reading list in Overdrive (our main ebook app and supplier). He thought that sharing an electronic list of eBooks would be less intimidating than handing out a paper list of physical books.

Overdrive does allow users to construct “wish lists” but sharing them requires an extra step. Because the links are persistent, one can copy and paste a wishlist into a Google Document and share them with the whole world (or even just a classroom-sized slice of it). To the right, you’ll find one such list of current eBooks and Audiobooks available through our Overdrive service. As a music librarian, I’ve focused only on titles addressing topics in music, but there’s much to be read or listened to on a variety of topics across the spectrum of human creativity and intellectual production. As summer approaches, we look forward to hearing from your students looking for a good read in fulfilment of your expectations and assignments. Send them our way.

 A Summer Reading list on musical topics


[Click on a title to access the electronic book. Have your library card number and PIN ready to check out. All book blurbs are from Overdrive, but lightly edited - Adam F.]



Click here to view eBook details for Mo' Meta Blues by Ahmir

Mo' Meta Blues

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

"You have to bear in mind that [Questlove] is one of the smartest motherfuckers on the planet. His musical knowledge, for all practical purposes, is limitless." --Robert Christgau


Click here to view eBook details for Book of Rhymes by Adam Bradley


Book of Rhymes

Adam Bradley

“[H]ip hop is the source of some of the most exciting developments in verse today. The media uproar in response to its controversial lyrical content has obscured hip hop’s revolution of poetic craft and experience: Only in rap music can the beat of a song render poetic meter audible, allowing an MC’s wordplay to move a club-full of eager listeners.”


Click here to view eBook details for Decoded by Jay-Z



Expanded edition of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller features 16 pages of new material, including 3 new songs decoded.


Click here to view eBook details for No Woman No Cry by Rita Marley


No Woman No Cry

Rita Marley

A memoir by the woman who knew Bob Marley best—his wife, Rita. Rita Marley grew up in the slums of Trench Town, Jamaica. Abandoned by her mother at a very young age, she was raised by her aunt....


Click here to view eBook details for The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky

The Supremes

Mark Ribowsky

The Supremes is a sprawling tale of unforgettable music, cutthroat ambition, and heartbreaking betrayal. Mark Ribowsky explodes Dreamgirl fantasies by taking the reader behind the closed doors of...


Click here to view eBook details for Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday

Lady Sings the Blues

Billie Holiday

Series: Harlem Moon Classics

Originally released by Doubleday in 1956, Harlem Moon Classics celebrates the publication with the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Billie Holiday's unforgettable and timeless memoir.


Click here to view eBook details for The Hippest Trip in America by Nelson George

The Hippest Trip in America

Nelson George

"We wish you love, peace . . . and soul!"When it debuted in October 1971, Soul Train boldly went where no variety show had gone before...


Click here to view Audiobook details for The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross

The Rest Is Noise

Alex Ross

The scandal over modern music has not died down.


Click here to view Audiobook details for Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Musicophilia- ebook Version

Musicophilia - Audiobook Version

Oliver Sacks

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in MUSICOPHILIA, Oliver Sacks tells us why.Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion.


Click here to view eBook details for I Walked with Giants by Jimmy Heath

I Walked with Giants

Jimmy Heath

Composer of more than 100 jazz pieces, three-time Grammy nominee, and performer on more than 125 albums, Jimmy Heath has earned a place of honor in the history of jazz.




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Cool list and recommendations! ?uestlove's book is great! I want to check out that Alex Ross book.
Peter - South Philly
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Rest is Noise is a fun read. It's especially hilarious to read Alex Ross, a self proclaimed classical music nerd, describe discovering punk and connecting with it for the first time. For him, it was the basso ostinato, of course. The timeless bass licks of the rocking rabble everywhere.
Adam F. - Free Library of Philadelphia
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I appreciate the challenge as well as the recommendations. As a behind-the-times, just-getting-wise-to-e-books-middle school teacher, this is a great nudge/cough/rallying cry. Thank you, Adam!
Rebecca D. - Brooklyn, NY
Thursday, May 22, 2014