Summer Reading Lists

by Harry T. Roman

We got them every summer at Barringer High---the vacation reading book list. Everyone had to read 5 books, picked from a variety of subject categories. Remember the lists?

I always picked up my paperback books from a little luncheonette type store on Bloomfield Avenue, between Clifton and Mt. Prospect Avenues, right near the old Dairy Queen. That's when paperback books could be gotten for maybe $0.50 to $2.00 each.

There were no malls back then, nor fancy bookstores that serve cappuccino or snacks. You either went to the local library or picked up a paperback version of it. Since you inevitably had to write a report on your books when you went back to school, paperbacks were good so you could make some notes and have the book handy for the report writing. You could always pass the books along later to cousins, friends, or siblings as they probably would be reading them soon enough.

Reading those books during adolescent years helped mature you-- exposing the real world--or so the common and time-honored wisdom went. Can you remember some of the ones you read or were on your list? Here are a few to jog your memory:

Catcher in the Rye


Brave New World

The Good Earth

The Grapes of Wrath

Of Mice and Men

Cheaper by the Dozen

April Morning

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Pearl


Tom Sawyer

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Any of those ring a bell? How about these......................

Travels with Charley

A Bell for Adano

Red Badge of Courage

The Mouse That Roared

The Great Gatsby

Silas Marner

Tale of Two Cities

Oliver Twist


Silent Spring


Surely some of those sparked a memory or two! Well maybe I'll mention a few more......

Gone with the Wind

Mutiny on the Bounty

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Main Street

Romeo and Juliet

A Mid Summer's Night Dream

Much Ado about Nothing

Cannery Row

Wuthering Heights

Little Women

Profiles in Courage

Whew, that's quite a bit of reading. But they must have been really good books, because many are still on reading lists today. Some things remain pretty much the same, helping us mark that fuzzy transition between adolescence and young adulthood--when the written experiences of others suddenly causes us to sit up and take notice, maybe challenge things for the first times in our lives.

Seeing something written in black and white that we only previously snickered or whispered about when alone with our friends, seemed to take on a kind of authority. Foul language in print, sensual passages by the page load, anger and arrogance that jump out from the page and grab you by the collar. You probably recognized people like that in your neighborhood, maybe even a bit of yourself in those words.

Afterwards, we were changed by the experience, remembering those words perhaps for the rest of our days, even passing them down to our children. You get to think differently about libraries after that, seeing them not so much as dead places where books are housed, but rather a museum of emotions, passions, and experiences.....and it's all there, free for the taking.

Can you remember the doubts and uneasy feelings some of the stories conjured up? Somehow your old dolls, baseball glove, or childhood remembrances just did not seem the same anymore. You sense something is in the air, and it's going to affect you and your friends. It's unavoidable. It’s about growing up.

Responsibility and consequences are coming into focus, and your high school English teachers are showing you how to make choices in life. Those stories that you read are vignettes about what life may have in store for you. And you thought English was only about grammar and composition.

Pretty heavy stuff for an Old Newark memory, huh? But as you are reading this, I would be willing to bet that passages from those old books still remind you of a specific summer day when you read them, or a humid, darkened room, like maybe your bedroom, when a summer thunderstorm loomed.......and you just couldn't put that book down. Not long after, you went into the workforce and met some of those very people you read about. Funny how those things happen—“ain't” it?


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