“′Classic′ – a book which people praise and don’t read.” – Mark Twain
At my college preparatory school, our vacations weren’t unfettered thanks to “Summer Reading” that required us to read four books during break. Our list going from seventh to eighth grade was limited to four books so we had no choices. I only remember two – Pride and Prejudice and The Oxbow Incident. I’m sure none of the boys would have read Jane Austin and I promise I would have never read The Oxbow Incident if not forced to do so. I never regretted reading either book.
Going into ninth grade, we had to read Les Miserables. Consuming this gigantic tome wouldn’t have been quite as bad if we hadn’t had to read three other books as well before early September. Les Miserables was such an overarching requirement that I can’t remember the other three books. I do recall feeling quite upset when Fantine had to sell her hair, then her front teeth, then turn to prostitution to support her child she’d abandoned to unscrupulous innkeepers. I mean, how much money could a toothless, hairless prostitute earn? That autumn I quipped to the teacher that, “I would have been less miserable if I hadn’t had to read it.” She was not amused.
Tenth grade meant two more large volumes: East of Eden and Moby Dick. The others were shorter (I think one was another Jane Austin entry) but trying to tackle the unromantic Moby Dick felt all-consuming since it held zero appeal for me, a teen girl.
I thought the school wimped out when the following year they issued a list of about thirty books and let us choose. The boys immediately checked out the shortest books from the school library so I was stuck with longer ones. Ironically, I can’t recall any of the books I read for school that summer.
All this gloom despite the fact I love to read. I like long books when I find them on my own. For instance, I read Gone with the Wind in the seventh grade and read it again in the eighth grade.
My school was or is hardly alone. Students are assigned reading all the time, to everyone’s benefit. But I wonder what the authors would think of schools forcing unwilling and bored students to read their books. Novelists write for income but also for love of story and craft. Don’t all storytellers want readers to enjoy their work?
Maybe you’ll never write a book that students will be compelled to read long after your death. But if you can touch hearts and minds of your generation, isn’t that a gift from God?
What is your favorite book that would be considered great literature?
Do you want to write great literature?