Books for a rapper

Last night I interviewed a former student at the charter school I’m writing about, and discovered that Jose is working in construction, studying for his GED and planning to enroll in community college classes, probably at night, in the hopes of earning a college degree. He’s a bright guy who writes rap-style rhymes as his hobby and discusses questions like “what is real?” with his kid sister, who’s on the honor roll.

I’d like to give him some books to encourage him to keep reading, writing and educating himself. At first, I thought of Hemingway’s short stories, and then I thought I should send him poetry books. Blake, maybe? I just checked and I have two copies of T.S. Eliot’s poems (with Prufrock and Wasteland). One was mine in high school; the other was borrowed and never returned from the dorm library by my ex-husband. Of course, I can get used books cheaply from Amazon, so it doesn’t have to be something I have on the shelves now. I’d particularly like to ask teachers who work with teen-agers what they’d recommend. I also have short story collections. I think Jose would get Nelson Algren’s “A Bottle of Milk for Mother,” but I don’t think stories about the marital angst of New Yorkers would do much for him.

About Joanne


  1. Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is always interesting. Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though that may be a bit sophisticated?

  2. When I was a teen, I liked the Beat writers. On The Road, perhaps?

  3. Macbeth. I recently did a 2-day stint for a sick English teacher of jaded 11th grade students. They perked right up when I told them not to think of Macbeth as a prissy story of kings and queens, but instead think of it as a gang war, a Sopranos story, or Law and Order (you have the crime happen in the first part of the story, and it turns on watching the perps break down, turn on each other, and get their just rewards).

  4. CatholicSchoolMom says:

    The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky is in my thoughts constantly, having read it recently. I wished it had been required reading in high school or college. Not likely read anymore in the schools because of Christian themes, but still a life-changing experience. Christianity, human nature, timeless things. The characters described (in the 1800’s) are the same people you know and meet every day.

  5. Andy Freeman says:

    Don Quixote.

    The hard part will be to get him to start because it looks like a huge book, but at the end, he’ll want more.

    Maybe you can send him just the first 20 pages and then reveal what he’s in for.

  6. I would recommend over for cheap books. also offers cheaper media mail shipping while amazon does not.

  7. The short stories of Isaac Asimov.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    The first question should be at what reading level do you want to books to be at and what are his interest.

    The suggested reading list reads like why most high schoolers hate reading, because we keep requiring them to read adult level books are appeal to middle age and older women or books that are forty years out of date.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Kipling and Heinlein and Hoffer.

  10. If he likes rap, he may like Langston Hughes, who often has a ‘rap-like’ feel to me.

    I second the recommendation of Isaac Asimov. He might like “Ender’s Game” too, or Ursula K. LeGuin.

    Maybe an anthology of some kind would work. You know, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction” or something like that, so he can try out several different authors and maybe find a couple he’d like to read more.

  11. Robert Service. You could try printing out a few of his poems (cremation of sam mcgee, for example) but then toss him a few of the war poems.

    Likewise Robert Louis Stevenson.

  12. Greg Lippman says:

    Stop Time, by Frank Conroy. The narrator thinks like Jose, and, like Jose, is smart enough to be semi-horrified by the person he is. Also, like Jose (hopefully), he bails himself out at the last minute and gets to college.

  13. Mike in Texas says:

    How about The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein? Who hasn’t wanted to travel back in time to gte even?