Saturday, December 01, 2007

Monte’s Reading List

I didn’t even look up when my pal Monte walked into my office. The private eye business requires a lot of specialized skills, but typing isn’t one of them. So I’m still a two-finger guy, although I can get going pretty fast that way.

“So H, what you call me over for?” Monte asked. I’m lucky to find myself mentoring a bright young fellow who lives right across the street from me. I sometimes wish he didn’t have to grow up here in SouthEast DC, but like a lot of barely-teenaged Black guys he’s a hardy plant that would grow wherever you planted him. And he generally responds when I call him, even if he thinks it’s to get him to do some work. He’s a good kid, even if his pants can’t seem to find his waist.

“Relax, kid. I’m just putting something together for you. Remember a couple weeks ago you mentioned that you kind of enjoyed the reading assignments I gave you over the summer?”

Monte looked down and huffed. I think maybe he was embarrassed to admit he liked the books I gave him. “Well, that was part of a bargain. You somehow managed to get me to spend a day with one of my rap idols down in Virginia Beach and that was the tradeoff.”

“Yeah, yeah, but you DID say you enjoyed the reading,” I said. I poked the right button and my printer lurched into action, slowly grinding out pieces of paper. “And you did say winter was kind of boring.”

Monte nodded, dropping into my visitor’s chair. “Uh huh. You right. I just don’t feel like poking around in the library like an idiot. How am I supposed to know what’s good?”

“Got you covered, little G,” I said, getting up and pulling the pages from the printer. “See I was thinking about you. I reached out to a couple friends who have kids around your age, and one who’s a librarian in Baltimore. They sent along a list of likely suspects. You can check through them to see what you might like to spend some time with.”

I handed Monte the list and he whistled. Then he tightened his ball cap on his head by the bill hanging over his left shoulder and looked more closely.

“H, there’s got to be fifty books here!”

“Actually, only about half that,” I said. “I wanted you to have some stuff to choose from. You probably won’t like them all.”

“Wait a minute,” he said, drawing the words out the way he did when he thought he was being hustled. “The Great Gatsby? A Raisin in the Sun? These are movies my grandma watches. The Raisin thing has Sydney Poitier.”

“When we talked about Huckleberry Finn before I thought it made sense to put a few classics on the list. Gatsby is a nice, short, simple book about a self-made millionaire and how he deals with suddenly having money. Sort of a jazz-age rapper, only he’s white. Raisin in the Sun, on the other hand, is all about a struggling African-American family and how they deal with poverty and racism while they’re trying to get to a better life. It’s people you can relate to, little bro.”

Monte was clearly interested now. “I heard of this one too, ’Fahrenheit 451. Isn’t that science fiction?”

I smiled, looking back on some nice childhood memories. “Well, yeah, Ray Bradbury’s a sci-fi writer, but this book isn’t about space ships or aliens. It’s a scary view of the future, where firemen don't put out fires--they start them to burn books.”

“That’s wack,” Monte said with a smile. “Might be a cool story, though. And this title - Giovanni's Room. Is that like Da Vinci’s code?”

“Oh, wow, that’s an interesting leap,” I said. “Actually, James Baldwin wrote about a guy who couldn’t decide if he was in love with his girl friend or another guy.” And this was in the 50s when people didn’t talk about stuff like that.”

“Sounds kind of heavy. And old.”

“Well, they’re not all set in the past,” I said quickly. “Look at Bronx Masquerade. In that one, a teacher is holding open mike night in his class and the kids doing poetry are sort of working through their own identity confusion with their rhymes.”

Monte kept scanning, and I watched his face shift from smile to frown and back as he hit titles that he recognized and some that were strange to him. Then his eyebrows went up.

“Your experts recommended these? A Series of Unfortunate Events? The Bionicle Chronicles?”

“Well, if you’re like me you might like getting caught up in a series. I’m told there are 13 of that first series, written by a dude with a weird name...”

“Yeah,” Monte tossed in. “Lemony Snickett!”
“Uh huh, and I hear they’re the thing for people who just can’t get enough of a bad thing. The Bionicle Chronicles look like they’re all action, about six warriors out to save the world from evil.”

I headed to the kitchen for a couple of root beers. When I got back with the bottles Monte was still smiling. I think I got his attention, and maybe he was happy that I took the time and trouble to make up the list instead of just telling him to go find a book to read. I got to tell you, getting a 13 year old to stick his head in a book is as rewarding as catching a murderer.

“You know, Grandma will be real proud if she sees me reading all the time,” Monte said. “And it IS too cold to be on the court all the time. But I don’t have any friends who are into books like this. I’d get into it more if I had somebody to talk about them with.”

With Monte, everything was about the negotiation. He had to feel like he was winning something. In this case, I was happy to play into it.

“Tell you what, little G. You tell me what you’re reading and I’ll read every one at the same time. Then you can talk them over with me. Deal?”

We smacked our fists together like he’d taught me and I grabbed my jacket. I needed to make a run to the library while the idea was still hot.

Here’s MONTE’S reading list:

The Classics
A Raisin in the Sun Lorraine Hansberry
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
Black Boy Richard Wright
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
Giovanni's Room James Baldwin

Might Make You Think
Bang Sharon Flake
Chocolate War Robert Cormier
Bronx Masquerade Nikki Grimes
First Part Last Angela Johnson
Forged by Fire Sharon Draper
Hoops Walter Dean Myers
Monster Walter Dean Myers
Scorpions Walter Dean Myers
Slam Walter Dean Myers
Outsider S.E. Hinson
Rite of Passage Richard Wright
Where Do I Go From Here? Valerie Wilson

Just for Fun
A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) Lemony Snickett
The Serpent's Spell Rae Bridgman
Freak the Mighty Rodman Philbrick




Blogger Dr. Foo said...


2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's quite a reading list. I see "The Serpent's Spell" in your just-for-fun section. I'm honoured to be included!

You might be interested in knowing that the second MiddleGate book "Amber Ambrosia" came out this past spring (it's about MiddleGate's magical bees and honey)...and the third one is due out in the spring of 2008 ("Fish and Sphinx").

My regards,

Rae Bridgman

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I see "The Serpent's Spell" in your just-for-fun section. I am honoured!

You might be interested in knowing that the second book "Amber Ambrosia" cam out this past spring (MiddleGate's magical bees and honey)...and the third one is due out in the spring of 2008 (it's entitled "Fish and Sphinx").

My regards,

Rae Bridgman

12:34 PM  
Blogger Austin said...

Hello, Rae,

And thank you for writing. To paraphrase an old commercial, the fact that your book turned up on my youngster’s reading list indicates that it was “kid tested AND mother approved.” I’m always happy to other authors whose audience likes their work.

Keep writing!


4:15 PM  
Anonymous Joan said...

Fantastic list there. The Chocolate War, oh yes. Monte, read it well, it's a real eye-opener.

8:46 PM  

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