I’ve been teaching at the college level for twelve years now and every year I am asked to go over the Course Learning Requirements. These requirements work in two ways. One, they give the course some structure. Two, they are the basis for how grades are assigned.
I was thinking this past term, what are the course requirements for reading? What is the end result of reading? How do you evaluate reading abilities? (hint, the answer is NOT standardized testing).
I came to the conclusion that the end result of reading is EVERYTHING. There is virtually nothing which does not require some form of reading to comprehend.(Okay, TV. But I am not of the mind that all TV is evil. In fact I mostly teach scriptwriting for Animation and TV.)From sports to driving to thinking about the world and your place in it. Reading is at the core.Now, thinking back to when I was in school, it seemed to me that the end result of reading was to ‘read GOOD BOOKS’. These books include:
Anything written by women who use ‘and’ between two words in the title.
Anything by George Orwell (which is fine, but take another look at Orwell and then consider the world around you and ask yourself, do a bunch of talking farm animals really make sense to people right now? – on another note, I love Orwell.)
The Great Gatsby. Which is…. great. But…
Hemingway…. I had an amazing teacher in grade 12 who covered a lot of Hemingway novels. I then went on to read the rest myself. But it was only in a recent re-reading of Old Man and the Sea that I actually understood what was going on in that book. What the underlying message was.
There is nothing wrong with any of these books. In fact there is a lot right about them. However, a young reader needs to have an interest in what a book is about ON THE SURFACE to actually want to read them. And on the surface a lot of these classics are kind of dull.Which brings me to what people have been saying about ‘Reluctant Readers’ for awhile. First of all, I’m not a huge fan of that term. Not because it doesn’t describe exactly what these readers are, but because it adds a language to a thing. THESE books are for BOYS who DON’T like to read. And this is somehow lesser than those who DO like to read.
I don’t believe that reluctant readers hate reading. Some might find it difficult. Some might have specific learning difficulties which make it feel impossible. But most, I believe, have simply not found the right books. Ones which grab their attention and keep it. Ones which speak to things that they think about. Ones about sports or music or messing around with their friends.
The books I have written are ones I would have loved to have read when I was younger. I’m sure there were YA type books around when I was a tween (a term which didn’t exist then) and a teen. But, and I’m hazarding a guess here, I suspect the majority of them were for girls. I remember The Outsiders and the rest of S.E. Hinton’s books. They were and remain great. I remember Gordon Korman who is still working today and putting out great, fun books. But then I remember Stephen King and being terrified of sewers after reading IT. There was a gap there. And the gap was that the books I was reading had nothing to do with the life I was living. I mean, I was never in a gang in Texas, nor did I play pranks on my principal and, as far as I know, nothing ever crawled out of the sewers.
Not, again, that this was a ‘bad’ thing. But I was a kid who wanted to read. I loved reading once I got the hang of it. But I saw a lot of my friends who didn’t love reading just stop reading altogether. And that led to a lot of other difficulties. Now everything that had to do with school was a chore. History, Geography, Social Science, it didn’t matter, it was reading at its core and reading about things they weren’t interested in.
I would like to believe that had books like the Orca sports series been around at that time, a lot of those kids who fell behind would not have. Friends of mine who skateboarded and snowboarded and would have read a book about skateboarding or snowboarding in a second and started to love reading; and by reading I simply mean the process of seeing words, interpreting their meaning, and putting sentence together to make sense. This same act, I believe, would have been transferred to reading about Ancient Rome or agriculture in Central America or the travels of Columbus. But instead, the kids were asked to read about a man who loved a woman and spent the rest of his life trying to get her to return to him. I don’t know any fourteen year olds who could relate to The Great Gatsby, no matter how beautiful a book it is.
Anyway, that pretty much sums up why I write the books I have been writing. I am writing other types of books now. Still YA. Still interesting (I hope) and still with the basic premise that you cannot bore anyone any time in writing and the most boring thing of all is self-indulgence. My hope is that whatever I write will help instil a love of reading in people. Reading to understand the world around them. Reading to understand themselves.