I’ve always loved reading. From a very early age, I became obsessed. In elementary school, I would try to get my work done fast so that I could get back to the book I was reading. Overall, I still have positive thoughts and experiences about reading. However, I would say the excitement has dialed back a bit from where it used to be. In my teen years I had some experiences that definitely shaped me into the reader I am today.
In middle school, I really enjoyed YA books. When you grow up in a small, conservative town, where there is very little diversity, books were a way to learn more about the world. I defiantly found myself reading YA books with some pretty intense themes. It was also around this time that I discovered audio books. With my bike being my main form of transportation, listening to audio books was a great way to pass the time.
As I got into high school, there became a lot less time for free reading. Schedules got busy, and teachers gave more required reading. One great thing my school did was DEAR time every other day (we had block scheduling). For the first 20 minutes of study hall, everyone in the whole school was to be reading. Fantastic idea, right? The only down side was my study hall teacher NEVER took it seriously. Students were really aloud to do whatever they wanted. While I’d like to say I still read amongst the 20 minutes of chaos, that would be a lie. I know my classroom was not the only one that had issues. There were a handful of other teachers that never took it seriously. There were also the students that would never bring a book with them and either say they were going to the library to get a book (never happened) or would try to convince a teacher that they were “reading” their textbook.
And the classics….whether you liked them or not, they were an integral part of the high school English curriculum. I’d like to say I fell somewhere in the middle of the love/hate spectrum. I tried to love the classics, I really did. However, I often felt extremely overwhelmed when I would try to read them. Those books made me start to doubt my abilities as a reader…Through trial and error, I developed some skills to help me get through them. One thing I did a lot was to read a chapter, and then immediately read the Sparknotes summary of the chapter to try and make heads or tails of what I just read. Looking back on my experiences, I really wish my teachers would have spent more time on teaching us how to read the books. Often, I would be handed the book and a reading schedule, and that was that. I also felt a lot of pressure because when a section of reading was due, it often meant a quiz or worksheet that day in class…without having actually discussed the material as a group. I don’t think we need to completely do away with the classics, but a major restructuring of how they are taught is imperative.
There is however, one exception…The Great Gatsby. I read The Great Gatsby my junior year of high school and fell in love with the book. The way it was written made it seem like there was a movie playing in my head the whole time. I participated heavily in class discussions of this specific book, and looked forward to reading it as part of my homework. After two years of trying to stay afloat in my English class, this book helped me gain confidence in my reading abilities. I was, and forever will be, Gatsby obsessed.
My last point isn’t about me as a teen, but is relevant and keeps with the chronological nature of this post. In high school, I mostly read what was required of me. Right now, at 22, I’m starting to find more time to read. (Mostly in the summers and over breaks, of course!) Last summer I went to Barnes and Noble, looking for a new book. I was immediately drawn to the YA section. I felt like there are so many interesting YA books that I have totally missed out on. However, I wondered if I should be choosing books from the adult section. Yet, I’m still a pretty young adult, and on most days, hardly feel like one… Of course as teachers, we will read books intended for younger audiences. But when it comes to personal reading, is there a cutoff? Or should you throw all caution to the wind and read what you want to read? While option B may not be pushing my reading abilities, it’s definitely the more enjoyable one. What do you think?