PolicyMic Summer Reading List: Before 'The Hunger Games' There Was 'Ender's Game'


Editors Note: Throughout the summer, we are going to run a series of articles called the PolicyMic Summer Reading List where users write about their favorite books. We’d love to cover a wide variety of books and we’d love for lots of users to contribute to this series. Do you have a favorite book you’d like to write about? Let Elena Sheppard know, (elena@policymic.com) and soon you too could be featured as a part of this series! Check out the first in the series here

What do a middle school Language Arts department, a 21-year-old college senior, the United States Marine Corps, and my video-game-induced insomniac of a little brother have in common? Well, they all find something worthwhile in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Regardless of whether you saw this title on your sixth-grade summer reading list or not, this potpourri of recommendations ought to verify that this book contains something for everyone.

Now that summer is in full swing, you are doubtless in need of some more reading material. Last week's summer storms ensured your fifth cycle through the Harry Potter series a success, memorizing Pablo Neruda's love poems proved handy but short-lived, and you are not in the mood to start Infinite Jest — for the third time this year. To top it off, every "Best Summer Reads" list seems to repeat the same books that you always wanted to read but "never got around to."

When I hit this slump — as we all do every summer — I look for books that I know will be worth my time. Moreover, I look for books that I know will still be worth my time even after I finish them. It is important to have books that we read year after year; books that divulge to us truths about the world, and illuminate for us truths about ourselves. Ender's Game is one of those books for me, and I firmly believe that it can be that book for so many others. 

When strolling through the library — or scrolling through Amazon, as we millennials are more wont to do — pause for a moment. Call home and ask for your childhood copy of Ender's Game. If the November 2013 Hollywood release is not enough reason to read it, let me give you a bit more.

On the surface, Orson Scott Card’s 1977 short-story-turned-1985-novel appears to be a typical work of science fiction. In the future world where the story takes place, earth oscillates between war and peace with extra-terrestrial villains, causing the government to respond by training its military in technological and strategic genius; however, these military bigwigs are children.

At the school where the government trains its military youth — and yes, the allusions to World War II and use of children in the military are latent throughout the book — Ender and his cohorts participate in simulations, or "games," wherein they learn to maneuver their bodies and work through injury. But again, it goes much deeper. As you read, you are thrust into Ender's mind and forced to learn with him. One need not be an avid strategist to enjoy this though — the references to Ancient Greece and 17th century British thought serve as another kind of game for the mind, as well.

But what if you like emotional stories that cut to the core of human experience? Not to worry, Card uses that experience to introduce the novel and carries it until the last page.

When we meet him, Ender Wiggin is six years old, and the third child of his family. Written with comparable complexity, the Wiggin family dynamic will be reminiscent of your childhood. Rather than a side plot, though, this dynamic bolsters the entire sentimental narrative. Recent studies claim that siblings can have a large impact on social and cultural understanding; Ender's Game examines this relation through a heart-wrenching story of separation and growth. As the oldest of three, I appreciate the way this book gets at the connections between brothers and sisters and would recommend it to anyone who knows what it is like to, at once, love and hate and be proud of someone else, sibling or not.

Almost 10 years before Legends of the Hidden Temple and more than 20 years before Hunger Games, Orson Scott Card explores our society's increasing infatuation with dangerous games and entertainment. Though different than becoming a "tribute," the pressures that Ender succumbs to, and then overcomes, makes you almost wish he had been Katniss's partner over Peeta.

Orson Scott Card may not have written the most happy-go-lucky beach read. In fact, reading his book is an exercise in reflection and empathy. These are necessary practices for any time of the year, but I think the summertime is exceptionally appropriate for them, with less going on and more time to think. Ender's Game even responds to this demand for happiness over other qualities in one of the most poignant lines in the book:

"Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf."

Indeed, Ender’s Game is brilliant, and if — like the inscription on my most recent copy advises — its lessons are kept close to your heart, it will leave you more hopeful and more happy, than before you picked it up.