Obligatory Reading

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?

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5 Comments

Filed under Books, Newspapers, School

5 responses to “Obligatory Reading

  1. I’ve generally disliked obligatory reading from schools because teachers have consistently forced the same books on students. As the example I always use, my freshman year of high school I had to read Great Expectations and I hated every word of it. I think if teachers would do more research on trying to find books that are not necessarily more modern, but more accessible to students today we would have more students reading on their own and then going on to read more in general. Late in high school I discovered Piers Anthony’s Xanth series and discovered I loved fantasy books, which are almost never used for reading in schools (or at least weren’t when I was in school). I’ve expanded my reading beyond just fantasy to include books from many genres, but if I hadn’t gotten attached to the idea of reading from finding books that I actually enjoyed reading I probably wouldn’t read nearly as much right as I do right now.
    As for the idea of reading 50 books in a year, I think I’m well on my way with about 12 or 13 under my belt so far this year, and yes a lot of them are still fantasy novels which tend to be quite large as novels go (just finished reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss which was about 1000 pages, reviewed it in my blog, good book).

  2. I hated most of what I had to read at school – mostly, because our German teachers were forcing us to stumble over every single alliteration and discuss their meaning. Additionally, we had to read a lot of rubbish (I’m not quite sure, how popular Günther Grass and E.T.A. Hoffmann are in the U.S.).

    Since I have started university, I like what I have to read most of the time – just because you really talk about the book and don’t get caught up in really unneccessary little things (right now, I have to force myself through Sterne’s “A Sentimental Journey” …. phew. 😉 ).
    Generally speaking, I prefer poetry classes to other literature courses: You’re sitting in a small room with about five people (plus professor) and talk about the poems and the poet … Nice! 🙂

  3. Thanks for responding to my blog post. Being Fresh Pressed by WordPress is a blessing and a curse. I’ve had more page views in two days than I have in a year and the comments have exploded with ideas, provocations and protests at books that were left in or left out.
    When I went to university I was deliberately careful to pick a “rounded” diet of modules covering literature and theatre. In my first year I’d covered a broad swathe of theatre history starting with Ancient Green and running right through to Post-Modern Performance Art (can you feel those capital letters?!). The literature side looked at the development of the novel, writing the American Dream, the 60’s in Pop Culture… it was lovely and there’s a little part of me that wishes I’d focussed in on one aspect of literature and theatre more but the broadness of my studies and reading (and the generosity of family members picking up the bill for all my reading list books) meant that I’m now a joyful reader skipping between styles, authors, periods.

  4. 2blu2btru

    It depends. Sometimes it takes obligation to get me to open a book that I end up absolutely enjoying. It expands my horizons if done right. For example, I am not a fan of Toni Morrison (sacrilege, I know). I had a teacher I loved and who loved me (strictly academic love, you understand ;-)). He told me he was teacher a class on Toni Morrison and he wanted me to take it. I did. I still don’t like Toni as a general rule, but I can appreciate better why most do and the quality of her writing. On the other hand, I can’t be forced to read a Twilight or Harry Potter book. I. just. can’t.

    I love being adventurous with books. I’m not a sky-diving, parasailing, adventure addict person; but reading a book outside of what’s normal for me is how I walk on the wild side. Sometimes, I need a great big push to take that first step, though.

    Exposure to many books can’t hurt any kid. Trust me, if they don’t like reading, they still may not like it after this, but at least they know rather than assume. They may even find a genre that hooks them and makes them lifelong readers.

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