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Reading for Fun: Getting over the high school hump

Andria
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WHAT GOES AROUND

WHAT GOES AROUND After high school, there’s still a chance reluctant readers learn to enjoy books. (Illustration: behance.net/runamokstudios)

Every summer, we like to talk about reading as something to do with our down-time. But for high schoolers, summer reading lists generally signal work more than they do relaxation.

Admittedly, Aerin Kalmans was not a happy high school reader.

“The only detention I ever got was for failing the summer reading quiz to prove we read the book,” the 2018 Kinkaid School graduate says. “Because I didn’t read the book.

“I always faked my summer reading lists. Sorry, English teachers. I struggled to focus on the words on the page because I wanted to go outside and play softball. You couldn’t pay me to read Shakespeare; I couldn’t see how these books related to my life.”

Since graduating from the University of Richmond and moving to New York to work as an analyst with New York Life Investments, Aerin has changed her tune. “Last year I read 76 books,” she says. It started with a college class relating to her leadership studies major. “We read like 12 books in a semester, which was insane. But when it was over, I was like, Wow, I love to read now.

Aerin says reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, changed her life. “It helped me learn about how other people live and the situations they come from,” she says, “and to understand my own situation and privilege.” Another favorite was The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us, by Paul Tough. “I wish I read it in high school, and I wish every parent read it.” 

Aerin now loves reading so much that, with her high school friend Belle Martire, she hosts a podcast called “A to Z with A and B,” where they share their love of books, Peloton, and how they’re navigating life post-college. It began when Aerin, in New York, and Belle, working on the Hill in Washington D.C., were wishing they could be in a book club together. They started a virtual book club, which led to the development of the podcast. 

Aerin and Belle choose a varied list of books based on what friends are reading, and they’ll even ask employees at bookstores what they are reading. “To be honest, I’m not sure anyone reads along with us,” Aerin says. “But people are obsessed with listening to our lives, because that’s what we talk about in the beginning. I think people like it for the vibe.” A new episode of “A to Z” is released on Spotify every other Monday. 

A few recent fiction reads Aerin recommends: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, about a vibrant 50-year-old woman coping with early onset Alzheimer’s disease; As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, by Zoulfa Katouh, a novel about a young woman navigating life amid the Syrian Revolution; and the newest release from bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, The Five-Star Weekend, which brings friends from every stage of the protagonist’s life together for one weekend on Nantucket. 

“Now I’m reading books I’m actually interested in,” she says. “During the pandemic, it really clicked. I started going to Blue Willow Bookshop, and even though it’s a 30-minute drive from my house, it became my favorite place. On my birthday, if I’m in Houston, I want to go to Blue Willow.”

Back in Houston working on a real estate license, Lucy Frankfort (full disclosure – she’s my daughter) grew up with Aerin and agrees. “Frankly,” she says, “I didn’t read the entirety of my senior year. I think I figured it was senior year and I just could not be bothered.” 

Then she was assigned Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a part-fiction, part-memoir account of the Vietnam War as told through the narrator, who is a soldier. The 1990 classic grabbed Lucy. “I kind of dodged my way through the class until we had to write a however-many-page paper, which I knew I couldn’t make up,” Lucy says. “So I started reading, and then I thought, Oh, maybe this is actually a good book.” Several years and several reads later, it’s one of Lucy’s favorites.

The Sun Also Rises is another one,” she says. “I was supposed to read it my sophomore year, or was it eighth grade? Well, I didn’t. And then a couple of years ago someone asked me if I liked Ernest Hemingway, and I thought I should know the answer to that, so I gave it a try. There’s a reason it’s a classic, just like there’s a reason most of those books are classics!”

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