Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The End of Reading

Fifty schools in England have refused to accept donations of free books due to the fact that students find them too diffficult and boring to read. Who's at fault here? It is quite easy to blame the schools for not teaching better reading skills, or parents for not encouraging their offspring to read more (all of which are guilty to some degree); but I think the underlying factor is the fact that most of the books donated are boring. OK, not all of them - I love Shakespeare, but we seem to push these classics when there is little in them that will excite students. Hence they won't read them, and hence declines in reading in the population over all as each genreation comes of age.

The director of the foundation that donated the books was surprised that students couldn't be coaxed into reading Evelyn Waugh. Really? I mean, really? He was expecting a 15 year-old to pick up a copy of A Handful of Dust and get excited about it? Many of these books take a certain amount of appreciation that can come only from acquiring a taste for literature, and we seldom develop students' palates sucessfully. We'd rather pour a $150 bottle of Scotch down the throats of kids who don't even have a taste for Boone's Farm. Hell, I still can't get the taste of James Joyce out of my mouth.

Solution: Find something that will interest them and then introduce the classics. And don't stop at the traditional high school literature bibliography of Ethan Frome and Portrait of a Young Artist - introduce students to more genre titles. There are plenty out there that are even better than the crap students are forced fed right now. Perhaps if the educational system changed its ways some, the world will become better educated, and better read. Plus, to look at this problem from a genre writing stand point, it would develop more respect for popular fiction and erase the stigma that literary fiction is the best.

That's my two cents.

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