I realized that I forgot to include a list of the books that I had used when I talked to the teens. The list can be found on my school webspace. I used this list to show the books to the folks whom I interviewed via email.
I also wanted to add a comment about how all the kids indicated that they absolutely hate reading "classics." Some of them referred to this as "any reading for school," while others seemed to like some school stuff, but really don't like "classics." This makes sense--I've always been an avid reader, but absolutely hated anything by Charles Dickens, and The Scarlet Letter caused me an almost physical suffering. Which is funny, because in retrospect, it's a very good story. Anyway, the first book I loved for school was Jane Eyre, which was summer reading my senior year. I started it two weeks before school started, and ended up staying up all night and reading almost in one long sitting. But that was after 11 years of faking it--reading 2/3 of the book and writing a paper about a character who dies early, or the author's use of language.
Sorry, Mrs. Meyers.
But this element, which seemed perfectly natural and not really worth mentioning when I was talking to the teens, took on a new level of significance when I read Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers the other day. It made an excellent point that a lot of teenagers who might be avid readers of things they enjoy are turned off because everything they "know" about reading comes from school, from an English teacher. Most of their reading has been "classics."
This brings me to the question of WHY the books we teach in school are these choices. I mean, I can understand why we're not giving pop quizzes on Gossip Girl, and even why Boy Toy might be too much for the classroom, but what are we hoping high schoolers will get out of The Grapes of Wrath? There's a good answer to this question: cultural literacy. These books are modern history, it's English as Art class.
But that doesn't seem like enough of an answer. Is the point of English class to expose teenagers to the content of high culture, or is it to teach them the tools of reading, analyzing what they read, finding themes and morals and discussing the use of language to affect the reader? Because those are far more universal, practical skills, and those can be done with books that might have a much broader appeal. Moby Dick can be saved for, say, your senior year of high school, or maybe even college.
More later today on my newer reads!