Friday, October 14, 2011

Assigned reading and other annoyances

by Meredith Cole

I love to read. I spent many lovely afternoons as a child with my nose in a book instead of running outside to play (although I did my fair share of playing, too). And it made me so happy to hear my son say in the car this past weekend "I love books!" Yeah. Me, too.

But here's what I have a serious love/hate relationship with: assigned reading. In school, we were given various educational tomes to read, some way better than others. I wanted to read great literature. In the summer, I would go through my academic parents' bookshelves and read Don Quixote (for fun) and other books that had probably been on their assigned reading list at some point. But there's something different about having to read something and knowing there will be a test. I limped through Moby Dick in English class, wishing I could have been reading something else. I felt a tad bit resentful.

I think it's because reading what someone else tells you to read when they tell you to read it feels like work (and it is). Picking out Moby Dick because you're interested in whaling and want to see what Herman Melville has to say--that feels like fun. Same book, different circumstances.

Which brings me to my excuse for why I can't tell you a single great book I've read this year. Assigned reading. I'm a judge for a contest (which will remain anonymous--for now), and every week or so large packages from publishers show up on my doorstep. Instead of the usual glee that I feel at seeing a package (yay! presents!), I feel dread. Not every book is to my taste, but I have to read it. Some books are so awful I can't believe they a) got published and b) anyone is voluntarily reading them. Others are great and absorbing, but... I still feel that niggling resentment. What if I'm not in the mood to read this particular book? Too bad! There will be a test in November, and I"ve got to read through all the books to get ready. What if I hate it from the first sentence? Too bad! It might just be my bad mood, and I've got to dig deeper to find out if it's any good.

So since my reading list is classified, I'll list out what my seven-year-old has been reading lately:

He's about 200 pages in to the third Harry Potter book, and he's been reading Encyclopedia Brown in school. I've been pretty impressed with their homework--they had to figure out character motivation, sum up the plot points and other essential writerly tasks.

I've been reading the Narnia series to him and really enjoying it again. I'm surprised how little of it I remember. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some dream-like sequences that are difficult to decipher (especially now as an adult when I know that he was writing about his Christian faith). A Horse and His Boy is still one of my favorites.

And here's what my kid can't wait to read next. I just pre-ordered it to make sure we have it by his birthday. I just love a kid who asks for books on his birthday/Christmas list, don't you?

So--what are you reading? Anything good for my TBR list in January?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

A Horse And His Boy was my favorite of the Narnia series, too! Reading your post makes me want to read the entire series again. And I know what you mean about assigned vs. pleasure reading. I never realized how much I loved Dickens until I read it without the fear of being graded.

Meredith Cole said...

It's such a different experience, isn't it?

I keep wondering when they'll make a movie of Horse and His Boy...

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post, Meredith!! I totally agree. Anticipating the report, the test, the discussion while reading a book is enough to make anyone self-conscious and uncomfortable. No wonder so many people have bad memories of history class or the "required" texts at school.

Your son's reading list makes me want to re-read the Harry Potter series, but no time. Wish I had a time-turner! ;)

Meredith Cole said...

Oooh, me too Kelli! It's hard when you can't find the time to read the books you love again and again. Luckily there are so many amazing new books and I can (sometimes) find the time for them.

Gabi said...

My limping assigned book was Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. I had to keep putting James Michener's Centennial down to keep up. Reading resentments do linger.

lil Gluckstern said...

I'm going to be a wise guy and suggest "Posed for Murder" and "Dead in the Water", now on Mount TBR. You know what I liked about your book was seeing a New York I was too-um-serious to enjoy. Of course, it was 50 years ago, but I remember thinking we were so cool if we went to Greenwich Village. Your blog mates have some nice books to read if you are looking forward to January. I miss my kids being young and at home. We read a lot of good books together.