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?