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Fun books to read about high school subjects

By Staff | Jun 4, 2009

Remember at the end of the school year when you said good-bye to all your old classes and teachers and wondered what next year’s classes would be like? I’ve been reading an assortment of books which would probably not fit into any standard high school syllabus which is what makes them so enjoyable.

American History:

“Lincoln As I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes and Revelations From His Best Friends and Worst Enemies”, edited by Harold Holzer, published by Algonquin Paperbacks is a collection of essays written by everyone from General Grant to Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress. Some of the people hated him (Stephen Douglas and John Wilkes Booth) and some adored him (Mary Lincoln, members of his family and Harriet Beecher Stowe). Some of them knew him well like his law partner, William H. Herndon, and others met him only briefly, like Sojourner Truth, but he made a strong impression on all of them. The composite of these impressions makes a remarkable overall portrait.


Always my least favorite class, I would have enjoyed math if this book were the textbook as long as I wasn’t tested on the formulas. “One Hundred Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains the World” by John D. Barrow, published by WW Norton. In this book, questions you’ve probably pondered like why you always chose the longest check-out line (because everyone else thought it would be the shortest too) and the average number of coins you need to make change (in the US, it’s 4.7 coins)and why modern windmills have three vanes. I didn’t understand all of the chapters and I didn’t care about some and some were just weird (like the one about square bicycle wheels and what surface they would work on), and I ignored most of the formulas, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


“Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities” by Amy Stewart, published by Algonquin may scare you into staying on your couch and banning all house plants with its descriptions of wicked plants, many of which are in our own gardens. You might think that your home was a safe haven, except for the fact that so many houseplants are poisonous and some that we think are, like poinsiettas, aren’t, but watch out for philodendron, rubber trees or English Ivy. Sanibel has a history of poisonous plants, especially the castor bean plant, which was grown in the early settler’s day as a cash crop. It contain ricin, the poison that was used on the tip of the umbrella that killed a BBC journalist who was investigating the KGB. Many of us have been subjected to castor oil as children. You may see castor plants at the Sanibel Historical Village. The author classifies plants in interesting ways, such as “Fatal Fungus”, “Botanical Crime Families” and “Carnivores” and the book is filled with beautiful sketches of these nasty plants.

Language Arts:

I am using that Middle School term because the book “The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects” by Dyan Sudjic is about the language of art, especially the art of design so I think this book counts as two subjects. The book itself is beautifully designed and is filled with photographs of other objects from desk lamps to automobiles. The glossy cover, the subtle colors, the weight of the pages, the look of the font, the layout of the pages all prove his point that the design is often as important as the function of an object and is one reason why some of us will never truly enjoy a book read by a candle. It also explains why we buy things and why we often replace perfectly functioning items, like cell phones, with the latest design. He tackles issues like fashion, what makes an item luxurious and why things like paintings which have no value other than their beauty are sold for millions of dollars. With the current argument about the value of art education in Lee County Schools, it is important to remember that every product is designed and its design often adds immeasurably to its value.

I hope you enjoy this class schedule and fill your summer with all the reading you didn’t have time to do when you were taking all those required courses. Next month I will review mystery novels, always great summer reading.