Last week I confessed to having only read approximately 50% of the books I was assigned in high school. My “blog-fession” made some readers breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they weren’t alone; it made others cringe (“my heart hurts,” wrote one).
Laying the titles out like that—the ones I either only partially read or skipped entirely—made me cringe a little, too. Despite the academic success I experienced in high school, I couldn’t help feeling a little horrified by the number of texts I shunned.
So I began thinking about the books I did read and tried to think what it was that caused me to stick with them to the very end (and in most cases, thoroughly enjoy). What I discovered, while limited to my own personal experience, can potentially give myself and other educators some insight into how to encourage–or alternatively, kill–kids’ love of reading.
|Books I Read in High School||Musing(s) About Why I Read Them|
|Wuthering Heights||I chose this book from a list of potential books we could read over the summer. It had it all: romance, revenge, and scandal, not unlike my beloved Sassy magazines.|
|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn||The main character is a kid. Plus, having read Carrie in my free time a few years earlier, I was drawn by the whole scene with the pig blood.|
|Oliver Twist||The main character is a kid. It was also during this time in my adolescence that I discovered how interesting the concepts of class & social justice are, and this book just fueled my fire.|
|Pride and Prejudice||I wanted to be Elizabeth. She was kind of like me: not the hottest chick in the room, but damn, she’s got some wit. The themes that centered around class and societal expectations of women were also extremely interesting to me.|
|Uncle Tom’s Cabin||HELLO, can it get any more social justice-er? And I loved that Harriet Beecher Stowe in essence really stuck it to The Man by writing such a successful book (you GO, girl!).|
|Twelve Angry Men||Social justice, duh. (Technically not a book, but whatevs.) You could see the influence of my reading this during my sophomore year if you were to look at my current bookshelf.|
|Lord of the Flies||The main characters are kids who create their own mini-society. And they freaking KILL each other, for Pete’s sake! Compelling stuff.|
|A Separate Peace||The main characters are kids (you sensing a theme, here?).|
|The Autobiography of Malcolm X||I chose to read this one as part of an extended research project. Plus it might have a little teensy-weensy social justice theme to it.|
|The Old Man and The Sea||This is the one outlier. Although there is a kid in it, I’m not sure what compelled me to actually read this other than the fact that I do enjoy a good survival story from time to time.|
This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Clearly I was attracted to books that I could relate to, could understand, and/or that fit my own personal interests (proper make out techniques notwithstanding). Now, I know that there is value in assigning texts for students to read; without this, the only book from this list I likely would have picked up on my own would have been The Autobiography of Malcolm X. However, as Kelly Gallagher so articulately outlines in his book Readicide, it is important to remember, among other things, that the books we assign must be scaffolded by actual reading instruction–but not too much!–and must be balanced with an eye toward supporting students’ recreational reading as well. It is a difficult balance to make, but one that is necessary if we want students to develop into lifelong readers.
Also, FYI, no one wants to read Billy Budd. No one.