There was a big article in the NY Times today about kids picking the books they want to read in school, versus assigning them reading from required reading lists.
When I was a kid I was obsessed with the book The Fantastic Voyage (a novelization by Isaac Asimov that was based on the movie of the same name), in which a group of scientists shrink down to microbe size to go inside a diplomat’s brain to perform life saving surgery on him.
Along the way they are attacked by white blood cells and nearly die several times. (Raquel Welch plays one of the scientists, as I later learned when I watched the movie on Channel 4 on Sci-Fi Sunday).
I particularly loved that there was a lady scientist in the book, and that she was as smart and brave as the boy scientists.
I seriously must have checked this book out of the library a hundred and thirty times. I wrote at least five book reports on it. I wrote fan fiction based on this book. I fantasized I was the lady scientist. I loved it when Raquel Welch got white blood cells stuck to the outside of her wet suit (on her BOOBS!) and they were strangling her, and the male scientists had to pick them off.
Fortunately, no one, not the librarians, my parents, my teachers, no one ever said, “Hey. Don’t you think you’ve read this novelization of a movie enough times, Cabot? How about moving on to some Nathaniel Hawthorne now?”
That’s why I get so mad when I hear people saying kids should be encouraged “not to read so much junk.”
Why are people always making kids hate to read by forcing them to read things they don’t want to read, or aren’t ready to read yet? Who cares if I read The Fantastic Voyage a hundred and thirty times?
Did I go on to read other books that I loved even more?
I actually did read To Kill A Mockingbird on my own (because my mom gave it to me one day when the library was closed and I couldn’t check out The Fantastic Voyage again). And I really liked it.
But guess what? I still hated The Scarlet Letter (and yes, Wuthering Heights too) with a passion (and still do today) because I was “required” to read them in school.
Am I a contributing member of society now in spite of the fact that I read “junk” as a kid and did not enjoy the required reading in my school?
I think so.
Even though you put new covers on these books, I still hate them.
I don’t think there should be mandatory reading lists in school. I cannot think of a single book I enjoyed that I was required to read in school….
…with the exceptions of books I had read before they were assigned to me in school, like To Kill A Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye, which were then ruined by someone going on and on about all the “symbolism” in them, and what the authors really meant, which, as an author myself, I can tell you–THE PEOPLE WRITING ABOUT THESE BOOKS DO NOT KNOW. Seriously. THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE AUTHOR REALLY MEANT AT ALL, AND ARE MORE THAN LIKELY WRONG. THIS IS WHY THESE AUTHORS ARE IN HIDING.
And oh my God, guess what? I don’t care! I enjoyed the stories! Why can’t you let me?
But I still remember and love all the books I discovered on my own, or that librarians or my parents or friends or teachers recommended to me.
I think the classics should be made available for kids to discover on their own during quiet time for reading.
But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading “junk” if that’s what the kid needs to be doing, for whatever reason.
What I do think is guaranteed:
That reading is lot less fun when
a) people are haranguing you about your “poor” reading choices.
b) it’s something someone is making you read because it’s “good for you.”
c) someone is going on and on about Arthur Dimmesdale and what Nathaniel Hawthorne really meant by naming him that.
Oh my God! Give me The Fantastic Voyage now before I shoot myself!
Edited to add later:
PS How did I miss this thoughtful essay at the end of The NY Times book review section about how they are assigning point values to different books students read?
“Hamlet” is worth only 7 points, but the Harry Potter books are worth in the 30s.
I’m not saying the Harry Potters aren’t “worth” more than Hamlet, but how can you assign number values to books?
(Please note I am not even looking to see if my books are on the list and if so what they are worth, because I don’t want to know. It will just depress me more!)
Please, educators! REVAMP THIS SYSTEM!!!! Let kids read whatever they want, without point systems or stupid color coded cards (anyone remember SRAs? UGH)!
And don’t say if you do this, they won’t read at all. If you make reading time and books that interest them available to them, they will read.
PPS And from someone who loved them as a kids…comic books and graphic novels should count as reading, too.