Summer Reading

2020 Portsmouth Abbey School 

Summer Reading

Portsmouth Abbey School, with its Benedictine tradition, encourages devotion to the Word. By reading books together as a School we hope to foster the “shared experience of community life” in our Mission Statement.  We hope our entire community—students, faculty, monks, staff, parents, alumni—will join us in the cultivation of our minds and hearts through reading over our summer months. 

Practically, the best and most fruitful way to increase verbal skills is to read, not to take test-preparation courses.  We expect by requiring our students to spend some of their free summer time reading they will improve those skills as well as develop the life-long habit of reading.  

We live in an age that bombards us with visual stimuli. We are never far from a flickering screen, and our eyes have grown accustomed to processing images at tremendous speeds with little reference to the meaning underlying all things. Our all-school reader puts us “on the same page” and challenges us to listen, attentively.  

This summer each student will be required to read two books:

·      Voices in the Air, Naomi Shihab Nye, and

·      a title from the student’s Form List

To ensure that the reading has been completed, early in the Fall Term the English & Humanities teachers will administer an assessment on both books. The grade on the Summer Reading tests and projects will figure into the Fall Term grade for each student.

Voices in the Air, by the acclaimed poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, has been selected by the Visual and Performing Arts Departments for the all-school common reader this summer.  This book is a sequence of 95 poems that pay tribute to “artists, writers, poets, historical figures, and ordinary people” who have inspired the author.  Poems are a compact expression on the page, much like a painting, a play, or a song.  Throughout the summer, there will be opportunities to reflect on these poems, as well as when we return in September.


We hope you enjoy your reading,


Kale Zelden                                                               

Dean of Faculty                                                        


Dear Students,

As you may have noticed, this year the Summer Form Reader list is a little different than usual. The list is shorter—each form must select from three choices. We’ve kept the titles relatively contemporary, and have made an effort to include a diverse group of writers.

To help make your choice more meaningful, several teachers from the English department have written “teasers” for the titles. They are listed below and will also be posted on the Abbey website. We hope they will lead you to a good read this summer!



Mr. St. Thomas and the English Department


3rd form:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

               On the porch of her old abandoned house, sitting with her best friend Phoebe, Janie Crawford looks back and tells the story of her quest to discover meaning and happiness in her life. In the end, this is a love story, and in the telling, Janie reveals that her love just might be bigger than all the individuals who have inspired it. Written by one of the foremost folklorist of the 20th century, the novel weaves African- American legends and tales from ancient oral traditions into the fabric of the story. And the opening paragraphs are just unforgettable. Hurston’s body of work, both fiction and nonfiction, laid the groundwork for much of America’s exploration of itself as a nation. Beautifully written, accessible, full of hope and power, this extraordinary novel is a tour de force in the modern African-American literary tradition. Also, for those interested in African-American folklore and oral tradition, Hurston’s Mules and Men is a must read. (Ms. Smith)

Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James

               Why do we love a good murder mystery—a Whodunit?  What is so riveting and compelling about a good detective story that readers find it difficult to even put the book down?  This is a story that begins when the body of a student is found buried in the sand at a small school on the seacoast.  There are students, teachers, and monks involved; a murder in the chapel; and where the innocent appear guilty and the guilty appear innocent.  Into this Eden-like setting Scotland Yard’s Inspector Adam Dalgliesh—a famous detective, poet, and the son of a parson—must find the murderer and restore something of the lost innocence of the place that he knew having spent many happy summers at the school as a boy.  P. D. James’s Death in Holy Orders is a fantastic read that won’t be hard to imagine if you’ve ever been to the Abbey! (Mr. O’Connor)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

               Though Huxley’s dystopian novel was written in 1932, it feels unnervingly current. He conceives of a futuristic World State that keeps order not by the threat of violence so much as by manipulation of desire. Human embryos are farmed in laboratories and, before birth, sorted by genetic features into social classes. Society is configured to maximize pleasure for its citizens, and consumer choices abound. But are people fulfilled? “John the Savage,” raised on a Native reservation, provides the only alternative to the World State. What happens when his experience collides with that of the rest? (Mr. St. Thomas)


5th form:

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

               Fair Warning: this is a brutal, unflinching novel. You will not feel good or happy at the end. But it is a work full of depth and heart, and you will never see the world the same way again. Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison’s novel traces the coming of age of Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American girl with heart breaking dreams borne out of pain and abuse. This book asks incredibly tough questions about race, family, and individual identity, and explores what it means to be responsible to one another. Morrison’s first novel, this only hints at the genius that her later novels, Song of Solomon and Beloved, will reveal. But it is an extraordinary entrée into the work of Toni Morrison. (Ms. Smith)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

               The story of the Joad family’s migration from Oklahoma to the promised land of California is moving and beautifully told. Through Steinbeck’s evocative descriptions, the landscape itself becomes a character. The story is the closest thing we have to a 20th-century American epic. For maximum effect, pair with Bruce Springsteen’s album The Ghost of Tom Joad. (Mr. St. Thomas)

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

               A short story collection (that opens with a Hawthorne quotation from “Custom House”) which explores the human experience through eyes of Indian-Americans. It is accessible and insightful in its exploration of love, loss, connection, family, and friendship. (Mrs. McDermott-Fazzino)

6th form:

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

               Greene’s story of the affair between narrator Bendrix and his friend’s wife Sarah, set in World War II-era England, is not your typical love story. The novel ultimately reveals the existential and religious dimensions of human passion through a story that is about doubt as much as it is about faith, and hate as much as it is about love. Highly recommended for those who enjoyed reading Augustine and Pascal in Humanities. (Mr. St. Thomas)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
               This bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, casts Stephen Dedalus, a somewhat fictionalized version of Joyce himself, as a young Irish writer who aims to cast off the shackles of his influence (culture, family, religion) and become, like his mythical namesake, a great artist. In his effort to escape those formative elements of his life, Stephen begins to realize how difficult it is. His declaration of independence (“non serviam”) echoes that of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost, and his story raises fascinating questions about the relationship between the individual and his or her environment. Published in 1916, the novel is one of the most famous examples of literary Modernism, and at points Joyce experiments with the stream-of-consciousness narration that would come to dominate his later works. (Mr. St. Thomas)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

One of the great modernist works of the early twentieth century, Mrs. Dalloway traces a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London society lady preparing for a dinner party. But like Joyce’s Ulysses, this mundane subject matter becomes the stuff of the heroic in the telling. This is not an easy read, by any means; Woolf pushes the limits of narrative structure as she delves into the inner life of her characters. Into this narrative, she weaves the despair of post-war devastation, the elusive desire to create beauty, and the power of memory in shaping the present. This is a book you will return to for your entire life: might as well start on that journey now. And if you like this, try Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. (Ms. Smith)



Summer Form Readers 2020-21 School Year


Form III 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Death in Holy Orders, P.D. James

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley


Form IV 

 The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis 


Form V 

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck


Form VI 

The End of the Affair, Graham Greene 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf