Thump. A brand new volume haphazardly finds its way to your desk, every page untouched and begging to be creased, smudged, torn, but most of all just read. The tiniest bit of excitement, however big or small, resounds from the possibilities a fresh book almost always brings. Proceed to analyze everything that resembles black ink for the next solid hour and 27 minutes. The thin layer of glamour previously surrounding the book is all but microscopic. An experience that is all too easily neatly wrapped into two words.
The correlation between reading for pleasure and school has always walked a tenuous line, and in many cases, becomes an inverse relationship. In many young minds, school immediately becomes associated with involuntary work, and thus, no fun. It takes the prospect of entertainment and a certain level of interest for a teen pursue a hobby outside of school. It is here that reading for fun transforms into an extension of school, a hostile, deserted territory for any student.
Even if a book is deemed interesting enough at the start, the preceding hours spent annotating and close-reading as “homework” is enough to dispirit even the most zealous reader. The goal of literature classes is to cultivate a deeper level of understanding in important literary works, introduce new ideas, and develop reading skills that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. The underlying goal becomes bogged down by mandatory annotations and slews of reading quizzes.
I encounter fellow peers that proclaim themselves as people who “don’t read,” and therefore regard literature as either pointless, tortuous, or a bit of both. However, I don’t feel that the individuals themselves are the problem, but rather their introduction to reading. As a self-proclaimed reader myself, I did not achieve my start in reading from school. If anything, school merely reinforced in my head that reading was a good thing to do. The biggest factor for myself was the power of choice. I got to choose what books I wanted to read, at what pace, the amount, and for however long I wanted to. Had I gotten my entrance into reading from school, I have no doubt that my initial interest in reading would have been considerably smaller.
As the viewpoint towards books becomes altered into work and “effort,” students completely miss the point of literature and what it has to offer. As through any other aspect of school, students find loopholes, ways to get around the work given. Sparknotes, Cliffnotes, and Shmoop all come to mind as guilty candidates for offering students tantalizing shortcuts. Students do what needs to be done to get past books they neither care for or understand.
The dilemma stands of teaching valuable reading comprehension skills versus cultivating an equally important love for reading. I think literature teachers do a fantastic job of working with criteria, injecting life into the bones with projects, activities, and discussions. It is hard enough for books to compete with the light speed of the 21st century.
However, I hope it will recognize that not enough is being done for the young generation of readers. Students should early on be encouraged to read books that spark their interest, and be given freedom to explore any genre they please.
I myself have long since established a firm line between reading for myself and reading for school. While erasing this line might be impossible to imagine now, the least that can be done is to assist students to finding the other side.