Monday Musings | Required Reading

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Lately, I’ve been really interested in finding out what influences and encourages people to read. Are we born readers? Is reading a nurtured skill? Maybe (most probably) it’s a bit of both? A few weeks ago, I asked whether “only children” and older children tend to read more and the responses were extremely interesting. This week, I’m wondering whether required readings in schools push us toward or away from becoming readers.

As I mentioned in the post linked above, I’ve always been a reader, even before I was at the level where we had required readings. So for me, when I got to high school and our English class had set reading lists, I approached (most of) them with excitement. However, I was also raised to think that classics were “cool,” so that might have influenced my enthusiasm as well. That being said, I’ve spoken to many people who have told me that the required readings in school actually put them off reading, whether it was because they weren’t interested in the reading material or because they felt like reading had become a chore for them. I think that’s definitely understandable.

Reading is supposed to be a fun experience. I know first-hand how frustrating it is to feel like you HAVE to read a certain book or books. That’s what pushed me to take a year-long hiatus from reading after graduating from university- the fact that reading had become a chore, something that was merely done to fulfill homework assignments and not necessarily appreciated or enjoyed. But I wonder if there’s a way out of this problem. Required readings are set for a reason. How do we engage with the text so that they inspire readers instead of push them away? Obviously this is a very complicated question but I do wonder what your stance is.

Do you think required readings discourage potential readers? Did you enjoy any of the reading you had to do in school? Is there possibly a way to make reading fun in class? As always, I’m looking forward to your responses as they are always so thought-provoking and interesting!

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16 thoughts on “Monday Musings | Required Reading

  1. Words for Worms says:

    This is such a great topic. I think it depends on what books are assigned and how it’s approached. I mean, I was STOKED to read Catcher in the Rye (teen angst phase) but not even a little jazzed about Moby Dick. I still hate Moby Dick, but the older I got, the more I appreciated required reading. By the time I hit college, I was choosing classes specifically because I thought they’d have a great reading list. (Helpful hint to undergrads: Women’s Studies classes and Women in Literature classes rocked my world, and introduced me to Margaret Atwood!)

    • kmn04books says:

      I was stoked to read Catcher in the Rye as a teenager too! I LOVED that book. I wonder if I would feel differently nowadays… For some weird reason I never had to read Atwood in school (not even in university, where I was an English major AND took women’s studies?!) but I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year and really, truly understood what a book hangover feels like. I have Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood just waiting to be read and I can’t wait to get to them. I definitely think the way books are approached in school is crucial though – it can really make or break the experience!

  2. Amy Sachs says:

    In high school I usually liked the readings, but was never super engaged in the classes or anything. In college, like Katie said above me, my women’s studies classes showed me some of my favorite books ever, The God of Small Things being one of them, and I was much more into the class itself when I enjoyed the readings.

    • kmn04books says:

      I so agree that the readings either made a class bearable or terrible… although, I guess the professor’s perspective on the books were key as well. If a book was terrible but the prof had some really great insight, it could totally make up for it. I’ve seen The God of Small Things around but I never thought to pick it up! I’m glad that this comment thread is introducing me to new books/pushing me to read my neglected books 😛

  3. Milliebot says:

    I hated required reading in school because of the way it was handled. Read aloud in class, take a test or write a report. I prefer to read to myself and would rather do a more creative project. There were times when I just didn’t like the book (sorry, Grapes of Wrath and Catcher in the Rye!) but mostly I just feel it was my school system ruining it. But I always read on my own time. I can see how it can push people away from reading though.

    • kmn04books says:

      Reading aloud was THE WORST! (Although, I always loved when others volunteered to read Shakespeare… so fun!) I actually didn’t mind writing reports/essays in school, but tests were the worst. In university I had a prof who made us do comprehension tests to make sure we actually read the book but my memory for small details is so bad that it was actually a minor struggle even when I had read the text! I can’t imagine reading Grapes of Wrath in high school – I remember it being quite a chunkster. Catcher in The Rye though… man I loved that book.

  4. tanya (52 books or bust) says:

    I think required reading is a dangerous thing, especially for kids who are already reluctant to read. People should read what they’re interested in if we truly want to make readers out of them. I have always been a reader, but some of the reading I was made to do in high school I really question the value of. I think it is more important to have kids read stuff they like, than have them not reading at all and viewing it as a chore.

    • kmn04books says:

      When I was talking to people about this a few weeks ago a question that came up was “Why aren’t we reading young adult novels in high school?” Like you, I feel like if younger, high school-aged readers actually enjoyed what they were reading/could relate to it then they’d probably enjoy it more. I really can’t imagine reading Grapes of Wrath that early on…

  5. cricketmuse says:

    As a high school English teacher I sympathize with those who suffer through boring required reading. No book should be boring though! It’s all in the teacher preparation. For To Kill a Mockingbird I spend a week on priming students: Jim Crow, Southern manners, the Depression, Sissy Spacek reads the first chapter–students can’t wait to start reading on their own!

    • kmn04books says:

      I’m so happy that there are teachers out there like you! I totally agree that prepping the class for the reading adds A LOT to the discussion and what students get out of it. I’m always sad when people tell me they didn’t enjoy reading To Kill a Mockingbird 😦 (Thankfully that isn’t often!)

  6. The Paperback Princess says:

    Required reading is a slippery slope. Like Tanya says above, if you are already a reluctant reader, required reading can snuff out the spark. You know this yourself from your year long reading hiatus. I’m a firm believer that everyone is a reader but each person has to find that one book that sets them down the reading path. Reading is such a personal thing, it can’t be forced on you. I think a lot of it is down to the teacher and I think it’s really important to expose kids to classics but a lot of it is on parents too. I have friends that don’t like reading, that aren’t that interested in reading to their children (I know!) – when those kids get to school, are they going to jump at the chance to read books or automatically view it as a chore?

    • kmn04books says:

      I totally agree with you. I feel thankful that I grew up thinking reading was “cool” – I definitely think it helped me become the avid reader I am now. I’m with you that everyone is a reader once they’ve found their area of interest. That’s why no matter how annoying it might seem, I’m always THAT adult buying kids books every holiday. Eventually one will stick out (I hope)!

      • The Paperback Princess says:

        I do the same thing! It’s easy when they are really little but once they start being able to read for themselves, you better be right! My mom used to buy me books and I hated all of them. And I was a big reader. But my mom and I liked to read very differently as children and she would buy me things that she would have liked to read. Fatal mistake. It’s one of the reasons I’m not so judgey about reading material anymore. You want to read erotica? go for it – you’re reading. Eventually you will look for something else.

  7. Charleen says:

    I was a total bookworm as a kid, and high school reading completely ruined reading for me. Well, I think high school in general didn’t help, nor did being on the honors track… so much homework, reading or otherwise, meant that lounging in front of the TV was a far more appealing way to relax than opening a book.

    The school system is so full of fail. I know there are tons of great teachers out there doing the best they can, but that doesn’t mean the system’s not broken.

    • kmn04books says:

      Man, I can’t imagine being in honours or IB in high school. Like, I feel like I would have learned a lot from it, but I definitely see your point of view. That’s kind of how I felt after university. I wish there was a way to really get new readers excited about reading!

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