With bookmarks, seniors display their growth

Class of 2019 offers its recommendations in Exeter's annual 'Senior Class Bookmark' tradition

May 28, 2019
Books sporting senior bookmarks on display at the Phillips Exeter Library.

Each spring, Exeter seniors share with the Academy Library a short list of books they’d recommend to others. What results is an annual collection of favorites that runs the gamut from Faulkner to Seuss. 

This year's offerings — assembled and displayed once again in a kaleidoscope of bookmarks in Rockefeller Hall — are similarly disparate and equally inspired. So many of the books on the lists blossomed from an English assignment or a guest speaker's remarks. Many reveal the maturation of young learners from wide-eyed preps to insightful seniors.

We asked members of the class of 2019 to reflect on their choices and share their inspiration. Here are some of those reflections:

Eugene Hu, "Sentimentality Across the Ages"

The Eye of Minds, by James Dashner
A Note of Madness, by Tabitha Suzuma
Angels in America, by Tony Kushner
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee
Go Down, Moses, by William Faulkner
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

"I wanted to choose books of different settings, times and genres. These books, at first glance, have nothing in common, but the common denominator is that they pay great attention to how they depict vulnerability and sentimentality, especially when it comes to characters that are meant to serve as a symbol of power. The bear in Go Down, Moses, revered as the guardian of the woods, eventually fell like any other creature. Helen Burns from Jane Eyre, a woman of strong faith, dies a death almost unfit for someone with her purity by consumption in the arms of Jane. Roy Cohn from Angels in America, a man of unrivaled influence, struggles between his identity and the preservation of his reputation in the shadows. We don't expect much sentimentality out of some of the characters we encounter in life, especially if it seems as if they are too powerful to have a vulnerable side to them, but regardless of the time, the place, and the person's walk of life, the humanness inside us always has a way to show. This humanness, this vulnerability, and the control it has on our subconsciousness and our consciousness alike, are among the few unchanging factors in life aside from life's inherent unpredictability. These books demonstrate that perfectly, and that's why I chose them."


Ava Harrington, "Lifechangers"

Drown, by Junot Diaz
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
The Lady Queen, by Nancy Goldstone
Light in August, by William Faulkner
The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Chronicles, by Bob Dylan

"I think books are beautiful in their unique ability to impact the world, and more importantly, influence the lives of everyday people. The books that I chose are those that have had the greatest impact on my life, whether it be by uncovering a passion, influencing my dreams, or broadening my worldview.

"A lot of my choices for books on my bookmark are rooted in my passion for English and writing. Ironically, when I came as a new lower in the fall of 2016, I wanted to focus on STEM, specifically biology. When I began my first English class at Exeter, that all changed. English Teacher Mr. Lundy Smith introduced our class to Drown by Junot Diaz. The semi-autobiographical novel weaves stories of life across countries, of being an outsider, of being imperfect. It is compelling and it is vulgar. It takes no prisoners, tackling topics that are all too often overlooked in classic literature. It is riddled with themes, poetics, intelligence, and a beautiful fluency that I have never before seen in literature. And instead of lecturing us on these themes and poetics, Mr. Smith gave us free range to discuss what we thought they were. Books capture the human spirit and are made for readers to claim for their own understandings of the world. Díaz's book allowed me to lay claim to my youth, my rebellious spirit, and most importantly, with the encouragement of Mr. Smith and the Harkness method, my ceaseless love for literature. I hope that every young person finds a book like Drown, whether it be that book, another Junot Diáz book, or anything that breeds a love of reading that escapes too many of us."


Juliana Merullo, "Books I Remember I Love"

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed
Into the Wild, by Jack Krakauer
Land of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling 

"I included Little Fires Everywhere not only because it is one of my favorite books I have ever read, but also because I found it when I was browsing the senior bookmarks from last year! Celeste Ng's name appeared in multiple recommendations from the class of 2018, and when I went to a bookstore at the start of the summer, this was the only book of hers they had. The story covers themes of family and childhood and belonging, and is woven together with the grace and gorgeous prose that Ng is known for, a style that instantly captivated me. Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy was another book that was brought to me by the school, and thanks to Principal Rawson after he provided them for all students following Stevenson's assembly. I read it over spring break this year and what I found forced me to reckon with my previous ideas surrounding our country and our justice system, as well as poverty and the vast spectrum of human experience that lies outside the Exeter bubble, in particular. If there was any one book I would want people to read it would be this one, and I know that I will continue to re-read it for many years to come. 

"The book I'm reading now, one that I have yet to finish, is Land of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris, but I already know it will greatly impact my life. A librarian in our PEA library brought me this book as I was working behind the desk one day after she had seen the summary while shelving and connected it to my gap year plans. This book captures the state of mind I have found myself in recently, namely one full of questions and wishing for answers, and the author, who biked across the Silk Road, reminds me of why we travel and what we are searching for wherever we may go. 

"And I couldn't resist putting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on my bookmark, since it was the first full book I ever read, and the start to a series that has so greatly impacted my life and the life of so many people my age. A world and its characters come alive in these pages, and will always bring back memories of my childhood when I read them. For those who have seen the movie: this book will fill in all the details; for those who have so far ignored the series as a whole; you won't know what you are missing until you start reading!"


Alan Wu, "A (Slightly) More Global Perspective"

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky 
The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China, by Lu Xun
Independent People, by Halldor Laxness
The Tale of the Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu
The Sound of the Mountain, by Yasunari Kawabata
Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahman Munif
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead

"What I mainly wanted to do with my senior bookmark is showcase literature from all around the world and to avoid books from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany. Some of them represent the 'national essence' of their respective countries, whether it be the spiritual turmoil of 19th century Russia in The Brothers Karamazov, or the satirical questioning of Chinese tradition in the short stories of Lu Xun, or the poetic meditations on post-World War II Japan in The Sound of the Mountain

"Others showcase a foreign perspective on the global influence of the five countries I listed earlier, as seen in The Man Who Loved Children's dissection of the American family, Independent People's interrogation of the American dream and capitalism, and Season of Migration to the North's depiction of the effects of British colonialism on Sudanese identity.

"I hope that these books can help to break people from a Eurocentric or American-centric perspective, and even convince some to seek out masterpieces from every part of the globe. This is far from a complete list, hence "slightly" in the title. There are no Southern African authors, Latin American authors or Southeast Asian authors. There are only two female authors and no LGBTQ+ authors. That being said, I think these books are a good starting point, and they have been extremely pivotal in forming my own increasingly global and multi-dimensional worldview."


Isabella Bacon, "Discovery: Scientific and Personal"

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
The Martian, by Andy Weir
Paper Towns, by John Green
Dying to Meet You, by Kate Klise

"Over the past year, I have been preparing for my 40-day hike of the Appalachian Trail. The main reason I decided to go on this hike is the almost meditative state hiking puts me in. I find so much out about myself while hiking, something about the sounds of nature and fresh air help me to become introspective. Throughout my time preparing, I have found comfort in books about people who have done similar things. These authors are able to put the feeling I know but cannot describe into words the world can understand and connect with. The other books I have chosen for similar reasons. The medical ones connect to my fascination with science and desire to become a doctor. The wonder in Oliver Sacks’ writing is also something I know but cannot describe. In each of these books, I have found people with voices more well developed and profound then mine, but these people are describing the feelings and experiences closest to me."