Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Kind of Reader are You? Part 2

In today’s paper, there is an article titled “Why teens don’t read: English teachers ruin it.” It discusses how English teachers are charged with stimulating their students used to ever changing visual stimulation – and now these same students must become enthralled with words on a page – and a narrative without pictures. But, the article suggests that this is not the big issue. That making connections with the kids is where the struggle lies. That teachers cannot engage them as they dissect Shakespeare into pieces that don’t seem united with the whole. That they cannot engage students with works that seem irrelevant to the students. That a student cannot write a passionate paper about a work that she never connected with in the first place.

So, this entire article got me thinking. I have always been a reader. I love to read. And will read just about anything. But, I must admit that classics scare me. I was not a big fan of the required reading in school. I did not fall in love with Dickens. Or Shakespeare. And I still get a headache thinking about Thoreau. Or Faulkner.

And I vividly remember a day in my high school English class, discussing Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants.” Where all I got out of it was a boy and a girl talking. And then leaving on a train. But apparently, she is pregnant. And he wants her to have an abortion. So, the baby is the symbolic white elephant in the room. I apparently can’t see the white elephant, because I got none of that from the conversation in the story. Actually, I am not sure that I got anything from the conversation in the story.

I think that my favorite classic is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It is an engaging novel of courage, compassion and tolerance. Both of the book clubs that I am in read it. And there is a lot to be said for re-reading the classics as an adult rather than a disengaged high school student.

And then this year, when I decided to do the 888 challenge, I picked classics as one of my categories. I wanted to read things that I had not read in school. I needed a reason to pick them up. You will notice in my sidebar that the classics category is the one I have read the least of. I know they can be good. My book club read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” last year – and I loved it. But now, we are reading “Emma” by Jane Austen. And I have this feeling that I am supposed to like it. To love it. When really what I want to do is throw it against the wall and move on. I had to put it down. And the temptation to give it up entirely is there. Along with removing “Pride and Prejudice” from my list and finding something else.

I have read three classics this year in the challenge. “Little Women,” which I did not like at all. The saccharine sweetness of it all just turned me off. But, I really liked both “Animal Farm” and “Brave New World.” Probably because I could make connections with them – and see how they related to our modern culture and sensibilities.

When I read “Animal Farm” it was along side Katie. We read it at the same time we studied about Mussolini and Hitler. So the connection was made. But something that I always keep in the back of my mind is “twaddle.” Because sometimes the books the girls choose to read just make me cringe. Is it okay to encourage this love of reading? To let the kids read whatever they want – even if it the equivalent of junk food? Or do you keep encouraging “nutritious” reading habits? And how do you do that without turning them off completely?

So, what about you? Did your high school English teacher foster or squash your love of reading? Did/do you like to read the classics? Do you have a favorite? Or one that you wanted to throw against the wall?

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What kind of reader are you - part I: book snob or slob?

31 comments:

KimmyDarling said...

My mom was a total Book Snob, with a Masters in English Lit, and her mother and sister were librarians, so I came by my love of books naturally. I don't think our English teachers could have squashed my love of reading if they'd tried, really. I can't think of a single book I was assigned in class that I didn't enjoy.

However, I have a Wicked Stepmother, who tried to punish me by assigning me three books to read and write book reports on before I could go to somebody's 15th birthday party. (Don't throw me into the briar patch!) She picked The Good Earth (dismal), Wuthering Heights (yawn), and The Old Man & The Sea (terrific- one of my favorites). Lucky for me (and much to her chagrin), I am a very FAST reader, so I read and reported on all three just in time to go to the party, which did end up being worth the effort. I remember I "painted" my hair blue and silver that day, as a symbol of my FREEDOM. <-- I can't even type that without rolling my eyes! (@@) Those were the only two books I ever remember wanting to light on fire.

When I got to the University of Alabama, I fell in love with Faulkner, thanks to a BRILLIANT professor, Diane Roberts (a renowned Faulkner Expert). The Sound & The Fury has remained one of my all-time favorite books. Not because I "got it" from the beginning, but because I actually had to learn to use my brain in a different way in order TO get it-- kind of like one of those 3-D posters at the mall, only not, and better. ;)

Mockingbird is still one of THE BEST EVER, though. Can't go wrong with that one.

Britt said...

I've never been a huge fan of the classics either. My mom never really pushed them on me in highschool. I have always had a voracious appetite for books, and my library bag was constantly in a state of overflow, so I think she just figured I had it covered. And I did.

Only one of my younger siblings has the appetite for books that matches mine. The rest love reading, but each has their own specific interest. Manga being a huge one along with Star Wars fiction and other science fiction titles that I never could get through. My mom has switched teaching styles again in the past year or so, and now requires a lot more reading. A lot of that reading being in the classics and historical fiction, which we all happen to love.

I don't think there is anything wrong with making the classics required, however you shouldn't expect everyone to read them and just fall in love with them. They may be classic, but they aren't going to resonate with t, everyone the same.

I never could get into Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters. I had a friend in highschool that loved all of that and just swooned over those stories. I got bored and lost interest .. never could follow the plots very well. I loved The Little House series however, and also Anne of Green Gables series. I loved little women as a kid, but as an adult I can't seem to get through it.

Kim said...

Have you read Around the World in 80 days? We have classics lining the bookshelves lining the family room thanks to Michael's grandpa but we don't read them often. I struggle with the symbolism and whatever else I am supposed to be getting out of the literature. I do however fondly remember analyzing a song in high school for a lit class. I agree that books are more memorable and touching if you have a connection of some sort. Maybe some books are meant for certain times in your life. Maybe that is why the sugar sweet did not sit well. I am going with the theory that a little drivel mixed in the bunch won't hurt but I am trying to encourage either historical ficiton, non fiction or classical (defined loosely as things that we used to read or appear on a best 100 list).

ps we have been to the beach a lot but I can explain this because others keep taking us to the beach with them. Is it that we are soo fun or better yet, that I cook and bring arts and games for the kids? Am I now invited on your next trip?

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

Classics in high school... honestly... I think that we all should have to skip that class in high school and all return to it when we're 35. So many of them made no sense to me at the time, but now, with the life experiences I have under my belt, they are so rich and meaningful....

As for my girls... as long as what they're reading is SOMEWHERE close to their reading level, I let them read whatever they want (well... Essie... Gert's still learning TO read). My mom was VERY into books but let me read whatever I want. I was a young teen romance JUNKIE!!!!

Jennifer P. said...

I remember loving Lord of the Flies and 1984 in school. I hated Tom Sawyer, but loved it when I read it again. I've taken to reading classics out loud with my kids---and they seem to enjoy them, but I guess they enjoy them because we're just reading--not disecting. I don't think you should have to disect a classic unless you're an English major. Everyone else should just get to enjoy them! A great classic is Carry On Mr. Bowditch---loved that one! And Little Britches and Robinson Crusoe (the abridged version is just as good as the long one!) and, of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (kid classics are just as great!).

Did my English teacher squash my love of reading? A bit. Glad I re-discovered it for myself!

Teri said...

I love reading now much more than in high school. Or maybe, I loved to read in high school - it just wasn't that crap they were assigning. :-) Anyway, I am now reading philosophical works that I would have burned in high school. What makes them so great now is that I have excellent professors who are truly interested in helping us all find the major and minor themes, and also to learn how to decipher this stuff on our own.

Oh, and I have to read Macbeth for my Nothing class by next Tuesday. I am trying to resist that old high school feeling of "OMG!!"

elena said...

Wow, you're deep today. :) I love to read, but classics sometimes kill me. I SO want to love Emma and Pride & Prejudice too, but I just can't get into them. I enjoy the movies however. I don't think my English teachers ever made us read many classics. I remember Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird, oh and Of Mice and Men, but that's it. Maybe I've just blocked it out.

scargosun said...

I am a middle of the road gal. Reading stimulates my brain in a very good way, whatever it is I am reading. I can take something away from a Nora Roberts book just as well as learning something profound from a Hemmingway. HS classes in English are forced to teach to the test so very little time is spent helping the kids with the connection to the classics. I remember when I first got some of the humor in Shakespere and it was like finally understanding Algebra. I got it and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that connection.

My advice is to let your kids read what ever comes to them. They will read what peaks their interest. Sometimes those interests may seem like 'junk food' but the reading, the love of it, will stay with them forever.

scargosun said...

Oh, I litterally threw "Prague" against the wall. I also needed to walk away from "The Golden Compass" for a bit (the bc I am in is mostly teachers so we read a children's book once a year).

amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amy said...

Whoops! Hit post before editing. What I meant to say was:

I, on the other hand, DID fall in love with Dickens and Shakespeare. (Though I have a love-hate relationship with Hemingway, and did indeed throw Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge against the wall) I started reading very young, when my parents were still in college, and I picked up whatever was around the house and read it. It seems like the "classics" are being rather overlooked these days, with my son entering his senior year much more well versed in Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou than Dickens, Hemingway and Thoreau, which I think is a shame. (Because I think it ought to be a more well rounded experience.) I remember thinking that many of the books we read in school were negative drivel... the years I got the most out of my lit classes were a)the years they let us pick from a list instead of having one book that everyone had to read and b)the year my British Lit teacher organized a trip to England. (Well, yeah!) ;o) BUT my advice to you is, read Moll Flanders. It's so darkly funny I kept laughing out loud the whole time I was reading it, and had to keep explaining myself to my husband, who thought it was odd I was getting such a kick out of it.

Aubrey said...

I love reading but that is not because of my English teacher. Totally hated her. Hated all the required reading too!

Thanks for stopping by my blog today for the tour of Colorado! I appreciate it!

Finding Normal said...

I don't even remember reading for recreation in high school. Perhaps I did and don't remember, but more than likely I was too busy reading those classics. And hating them. I did like Animal Farm and all of its symbolism. I know I read A Tale of Two Cities, The Great Gatsby, and some Shakespeare, and I remember a bit of each, but I'm sure they'd be more meaningful now.
As for the students (since my kids don't read yet!) I have noticed a lot more of the comic book style non-fiction being popular, especially with the boys (4th grade). It's not something I would choose for them, but if they enjoy it then I'm okay with it. The 2 series I hate hate hate are Captain Underpants and the Goosebumps. CU is just assinine, and G gives me the creeps.
Great questions!

Kat said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments - I think they were all just as long as my post - and perhaps even more thought out! :-)

Classics really kick off a lot of feelings. And I am trying to get over my hesitations. Because, honestly, I read just as much "regular" fiction that I want to throw against a wall.

For the kids, Katie reads some twaddle. But she reads a lot that is pretty good too. And for Madalyn - if she can get excited about a book - then I would be excited, too.

And Jennifer P - Lord of the Flies was the first book I read that I GOT. I really saw the symbolism in it. All on my own. It's pretty empowering!

And Hot Tub Lizzy - I am so with you - that we can appreciate things more as adults. Part of that article in the paper today was a lament of an English teacher about "Catcher in the Rye" being moved from 11th grade to 9th. And that the kids in 11th grade could really identify with Holden Caufield - on a level that they would not get in 9th.

Lula! said...

I love Shakespeare--but he's kinda hard to read. I love Austen--but she's kinda hard to get into. I love Hemmingway, but he can get too angsty & long-winded. Therefore I take the easy route--I watch the movies.

And now I'm praying my high school AP English teacher never knows I said that.

I do love Kate Chopin..."The Storm" and "The Awakening" were brilliant. I also love Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." And Alice Walker's "The Color Purple." (Wrote senior thesis on that one.) Apparently I like a lot of female authors.

Oh...I also love "Doomed Loved," by Virgil...that's my kind of thing.

And now everyone knows that I do read "real" literature outside of Stephenie Meyer's novels. Ha!

Great post, Kat...

Blarney said...

I read books like I drink wine ... any damned I want. I say we should just be glad they are reading. Who cares if red is supposed to be for red meats ... I say read 'em if you got 'em!

Rhea said...

I LOVE that Hemingway story you mentioned. It's so vivid in my memories. I love short stories though.

I have a hard time reading some of the classics too.

My English teachers always inspired me, but sometimes I did feel we dissected what we read a little TOO much.

Angie's Spot said...

I've always been resistant to enjoying assigned reading, no matter how great the book. (This is why I'll never join a book club) I think if I were to go back now and re-read some of the classics that I was forced to read in school, then I might enjoy them. One that I never HAD to read was Catcher in the Rye and it's one of my favorites of all time. My senior quote in the yearbook was one of Holden Caulfield's lines. Brilliant.

Shannon said...

I came back to comment... when I was here earlier, my girls heard Gershwin playing and came running! They recognized this piece of music from Fantasia 2000 and wondered what I was looking at on the computer!


As far back as I can remember I've loved books and reading. I can remember getting the Little House series for Christmas when I was in 3rd or 4th grade... they were by far my favorite gift!

All of my high school English teachers encouraged my love of reading... whether it was reading Shakespeare in 9th grade... or Willa Cather, Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald in 11th...

Firefly mom said...

I went to an alternative high school and we didn't have a Lit class. We did have plenty of required reading in middle school and I hated ALL of it! The books they chose were so boring and the teachers all talked to us like we were a bunch of idiots.

I was always a voracious reader and read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I wasn't a big fan of books for kids (think: Scholastic) and preferred things like Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie.

I don't "require" reading with Cody. He's severly dyslexic, and I'm more concerned about him learning to love reading than him reading a particular book. If there's a classic that I'm wanting us to try, I'll either read it to him or get it on audio book. After the Swiss Family Robinson fiasco (we HATED it!), we'll now quit reading a book that we abhor.

Nissa said...

I've always loved to read- I think it depends how you're raised (and perhaps is a bit hereditary). Kids learn the love of reading at such a young age.

Personally, I believe you should read whatever makes you happy. You shouldn't be forced to read something you cannot connect with, because it does indeed take all the joy out of reading. I let my son read all the books he want. Some of it is what I'd consider good reading, others are just fun. I myself love to plop on the couch for a free afternoon and read a trashy romance. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. It still beats the heck out of TV because at least you still have to use your imagination to picture the characters and see their interaction.

In high school English, I was introduced to George Orwell, who I probably would never have given a chance, and 1984 has been my all time favorite book since (You reminded me, I need to reread Animal Farm- it's been years and years). I also loved Lord of the Flies, and a few others that I wouldn't have picked on my own.

In one of my high school English classes the textbook would give us a chapter or 2 of classic books and we'd analyze them. I liked it, because we didn't have to read all of books we might not like,(Beowolf -icky icky icky!), yet would intrigue us enough to go and read some others (I loved Dante's Inferno).

Did I have a point to this? I don't know, but you really made me want to go pick up a good book, Kat!

Nissa said...

I just went back & read all the comments, and I think Jennifer P. has great taste in books!! :)

Tamie said...

what an awesome post!!! so thought-provoking...and before i forget and move on: you had a friend that stayed at the Broadmoor for a WHOLE WEEK!!!! nice friend you've got there...that would cost a year's income alone (possibly, its not like i've done the research!)
i think that kids should be guided in what to read. there are so many movied made based on books that you should start with some movies and in they are enthralled with that, see if they want to read it...it will be easier for them to follow b/c they already know the characters and the basic sotryline.
i enjoy reading as much as you, but i am the same way and haven't read too many classics b/c they are really heavy reading.
i think that the public school system needs a huge overhaul and among other things changing the teaching styles of teachers so that they are *telling* students what they should know and learn, but rather bringing literature and history and things like that into context so they actually do mean something to the studuents. i always enjoyed my classes more when i could see a connection to me and my life at that time. (ok long commment....)

Mama Dawg said...

I hated anything by any of the Brontes, Austen, etc...

I LOVED Huxley, Rynd, Orwell, oddly enough..Hawthorne.

I liked some Shakespeare, but not all of it.

Jill said...

I am an avid reader... devouring anything I can get my hands on (except romance novels - so not a fan of the cheese).

In college I was an English major - focusing on literature. Sadly, I can not remember most of the books I read. I don't think I appreciated any of it then - and should probably re-read some of the books. Lucky I had the gift of gab and could BS my way through any paper.

My favorite genre was black history. The writing is so real, so raw. Favorite author there - probably Zora Neale Hurston.

Insane Mama said...

It REALLY depends on my mood. I do enjoy reading John Muir because of his descriptions of nature and I love his adventures. He is very poetic.

Kathi said...

I totally agree with you about how the classics were boring in High School....everything except Shakespeare. I had a great teacher...that helped.

Most of the others you mentioned though...yuck. Our book club read Pride and Pejudice and I was terrified at the thought! :) It is actually really good. We saw the movie after. We also read John Steinbeck's East of Eden and To Kill a Mockinbird. I liked them all...but I have to admit I'm more of a Best Seller type of girl. Right now I'm hooked on the Twilight series.

My Dad really encouraged my love of reading. He would take us all to the library and let us pick out whatever we wanted. I try to do the same thing with my kids....so when my 8 year old is reading Captain Underpants or The Diary of a Wimpy Kid...I think at least he's reading and enjoying it.

Sydney said...

I'm a little bit slob, a little bit snob. I don't like trashy romances or mysteries, but will read Chick lit like there's no tomorrow. My high school English teacher my freshman year was amazing. To this day she remains one of my all time favorite teachers. She went so far above and beyond the required reading... it just expanded our horizons so much.

As a freshman I read:
Anthem -Ayn Rand, Animal Farm - George Orwell, Great Expectations - Dickens, Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream, I think we read The Odyssey or parts of it. And that's all while having to read one novel per quarter on our own! She fostered a love of literature in me that thrives to this day.

I majored in English in college, so I have a love the classics, especially Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens. And as for the novels I read now, most of it is popular fiction.

And I LOVE that you have "Rhapsody in Blue" on your player right now!!!!

Jenny said...

I loved reading at high school - I think I was the only one in the class who would read and reread the required text many times. Perhaps I was just lucky with the choices.
I loved Brave New World - it was one of the books we studied.

Now, some Australian classics you should try - Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, A Fortunate Life by AB Facey, and My Place by Sally Morgan.

Joye said...

I read this earlier in the week but was so busy with work. This a struggle that I face as a reading teacher. I want to instill a love of reading but it is my responsibility to also nurture comprehension ad other skills. I try o find a balance between assigning books and offering choice.
I am also modeling what I want students to do. I read current books, classics, textbooks...But most importantly I talk about and recommend books to my students. And I listen to books that they recommend to me. Great post, Kat.

Kelly said...

I'm a couple days late on this one...but I still have to comment.
I've always been an avid reader...as a kid all kinds of "SweetValley High", kiddy romance novels, VC Andrews, etc. etc.
I could not stand high school English Lit...I liked the teachers just fine, but in my opinion they destroyed the classics for me...when I read, I like to enjoy and get into the story. I don't like to dissect it to figure out the yellow outfit in this chapter meant this and the green hat meant that...Yuck!! Unfortunately, this has stuck with me into adulthood. I tend to stay away from the classics like it carried the plague...
As an adult, I still stick to popular fiction and read voraciously.