School is back in session, and as a librarian trying to run both a teen book club and a teen writers club, I get a lot of teens who don’t have time to read or write for fun because of school reading. I’ve always been a big reader, but even I hated quite a few of the books I was required to read.
Of course I have loved quite a few of those books. Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, and The Stranger (I read this first in French, then on my own in English) are just a few that I’ve read and re-read. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel are two poetry collections I really enjoyed, despite maintaining for years that “I hate poetry.”
But the bad ones were just so bad. Freshman year I had to read Great Expectations, and hated every moment of it. Never mind that my English teacher spoiled the ending of the first chapter for us all, it was 52 chapters of snooze. And is any teen at a point in their life when they might enjoy Siddhartha, the story of a man’s spiritual journey to Buddhism? The Jungle was another that I could barely get through. The only thing I remember from that book was when one of the factory workers
There is something about a book being “required” that sucks all enjoyment from it. I might have enjoyed The Once and Future King if it hadn’t been required summer reading (and over 1000 pages…). The Sound and the Fury was by far my worst summer reading assignment – the only book I’ve ever needed CliffsNotes to comprehend.
And don’t get me started on Shakespeare. I read three of his plays during high school – The Merchant of Venice, Romeo & Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew – and hated every single one. Especially Taming of the Shrew, which raised my feminist hackles.
When I got to college, however, I took a Shakespeare class and discovered that I actually really liked Shakespeare! All it took was having a great professor. (I still wasn’t a fan of Dubliners, which I had to read in both high school and college). The Great Gatsby, which I disliked in high school, wasn’t quite so bad as an adult.
It’s unfortunate that schools have to require reading, because so many books would have been better if I hadn’t been required to read them. Then again, would I have read them if they hadn’t been required? Probably not. Which is why I’m glad I’m not still a student and can read whatever the hell I want (sorry, students!).