Lately, I have been thinking about all the classic books I was forced to read in high school and college and how even though I love reading, I hated the books. I am not sure why I have been thinking about it because I have been done with high school and college for a few years. Maybe it is because as a teacher now, I have listened to my students complain about the stories we read in our reading books.
In high school, I remember being forced to read Hamlet and hating it because I could not understand the language which of course made me clueless about the plot. I remember reading The Great Gatsby and discussing the symbolism of the green light (which I still don’t understand) and coming to dislike the book because of that. I actually enjoyed reading Animal Farm but also disliking it because my teacher decided to assign it to us in the last few weeks of senior year when we already had a bunch of large projects due with the expectation that even though we would not discuss it in class, we would write a paper about the book.
I have always loved reading. I would stay up late and read all my library books in one day as a kid. I would always set aside time right before I went to bed in order to read every night. I would calculate how much time it would take me to read a book and then cut out TV time if necessary. I actually got in trouble one summer because my parents did not want me to sit around and read. I actually did read all that summer but quickly stopped if I heard my mom or dad coming upstairs.
Despite all the reading I did for enjoyment, I enjoyed very few books that I ever read for school. I hated how teachers would destroy books that could be considered almost decent because of the easy language or interesting characters by asking endless discussion questions or having us define countless vocabulary words (I actually had a lazy/ineffective teacher that made us do vocabulary maps for over 100 words in Huckleberry Finn) or looking for elements like symbolism that was clearly not there.
A couple weeks ago, I wondered if maybe it was not time to update what is read in school. Sure, some books are considered classics and there are many people that enjoy reading them. However, I believe that reading for pleasure is already at risk because of technology. If kids see that reading only consists of teacher assigned classics that are difficult to understand and have the fun sucked out of them, they will never read again. But if students could be introduced to classics such as Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, maybe they would take an interest in reading again. Lots of kids took an interest in those books. If they were assigned, I am sure reading could be brought back to life in schools and at home.
Plus, as a writer myself, I know that there are not hidden secrets in my books. You may have to read between the lines occasionally, but there is no hidden symbolism or other elements. What you get is right there for you to see. It is all meant for enjoyment.