I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns on Saturday, in a wonderful act of one-day reading. Since it was a book club choice and I think (maybe? possibly?) some of my book club members read the blog, I’ll refrain from discussing it yet. But I loved it. Really loved it.
Instead, I’m thinking about reading goals tonight. This fresh-pressed post got me thinking about it. British education secretary Michael Gove is challenging British school children to read 50 books a year, asserting that the bar has been set too low–that children CAN read that many books, they’re just not. My first thought was that 50 books isn’t THAT many. When I worked in an inner-city school where many students were struggling readers, our goal was 30. Most students met that goal. So why not set the bar higher?
But, as the author of the blog points out, whenever you’re forced to do something, some of the fun is removed. And I wondered–is that true? Is there something inherently less fun about doing anything because you’re obligated to?
I thought about my own reading experience–do I like the books I’ve been forced to read? I’m lucky; I really like the canon. I really enjoyed most of the books I was asked to read in school, from The Big Wave in 2nd grade through Song of Solomon in AP English. But because of that my taste became very narrow; if I enjoyed the kinds of books I read in school, why would I read anything else? I liked certain kinds of books: Gothic romances, American Literature after the Civil War, 20th century multi-cultural women’s literature (I went to an all-girls school, leave me alone).
So when I got to college, that’s what I was interested in. Those are the classes I took. Freshman year, I chose my intro to Literary Interpretation class not because of the professor (a completely unmemorable TA), or even when it met (5:00-6:45 Tuesdays and Thursdays wasn’t particularly convenient), but because Wuthering Heights and The Bluest Eye were on the reading list. I never broke out of my literary comfort zone. Even now, I’m hesitant to try new literary ventures. I used to tell myself it was because I didn’t want to buy a book that I wasn’t sure I was going to love, but I’ve realized now that it’s more than that–it’s rare that I’ve found a book I’ve loved outside of a classroom.
So I’m not sure if obligatory reading makes reading less enjoyable. I do feel myself hesitate when I know I have to begin reading a book club book–what if I don’t like it? But I’ve also really enjoyed the books I’ve been “forced” to read, and they’ve even led me to other great books. Maybe I was just lucky?
On a slightly related note, I set a 50 book reading goal for myself this year! I’ve only read five, whomp whomp, but the summer is my big reading time anyway.
Obligatory reading–awfully enjoyable or just plain awful?