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NightWieselA few months ago, some teenagers spraypainted swastikas and various other offensive things onto a historic black schoolhouse in Virginia. When they were sentenced, the judge said they were going to have to read a book each month for the next 12 months and write a report on each one.

Here’s the list of books they could choose from:

  1. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  2. Native Son, by Richard Wright
  3. Exodus, by Leon Uris
  4. Mila 18, by Leon Uris
  5. Trinity, by Leon Uris
  6. My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
  7. The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
  8. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  9. Night, by Elie Wiesel
  10. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
  11. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  12. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
  13. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  14. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  17. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
  18. Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
  19. Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle
  20. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  21. A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind
  22. Down These Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas
  23. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
  24. The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  25. The Banality of Evil, by Hannah Arendt
  26. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
  27. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
  28. The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang
  29. Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  30. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
  31. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
  32. Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  33. Too Late the Phalarope, by Alan Paton
  34. A Dry White Season, by André Brink
  35. Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides

handmaidstale1Certainly several of these books would be considered standard assignments in any basic college course that dealt with multicultural or tolerance issues (Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alan Paton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Harper Lee).

But others selections are more interesting, such as Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (a North Korean defector struggles to adapt to life outside the dictatorship) or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (dystopian fiction about a theocratic America in which women are merely vessels for reproduction). It sounds like the judge is looking at a broader idea of educating here that involves not just tolerance but empathy–which is, after all, one of the greatest lessons that fiction can provide.

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