Reading the Whole Book

24 Oct

I came across this blog post today, which is totally something I should have already written, considering how often I think it. The piece is written by Ariel Sacks, who is an English teacher who also just wrote the book Whole Novels for the Whole Class. Her main point is this – it’s no wonder that kids don’t like reading these days because we’re always interrupting them. The metaphor she gives is a great one – how would we feel if we were at the theater and suddenly, after the second scene, the lights came on, and someone started asking us questions. Buzzkill! I hate that. 

I’ve had experiences a few times recently that have been really eye opening to me involving being asked to read a text that I actually love and then also having to answer questions about that text. Now, I’m not talking about thought-provoking questions but fact-finding questions like “What color was the driver’s suit?” and “What was the man carrying?” I mean, I love literature, and when I really love a text, I want to talk about it, but I want to read it first. I want some time to digest it on its own. And then I don’t want someone asking me the kinds of questions you ask someone if you don’t trust that they’ve done their reading. Ask me something interesting (that does not have a right or wrong answer, please!). 

It’s this disharmony between the aesthetic and efferent tasks of reading for pleasure vs. reading for information that make me think the next time I teach any literature in class, I’ll do it in the form of a book group or lit circle but not as a central component of the course. I know that I’m definitely in the minority of English teachers when I say that I’d rather get kids engaged in critical reading, thinking, and writing when they’re working in non-fiction. Let’s savor that fiction. Dissection does not lead to love. 

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