Rediscovering Our Love of Reading

by Jami Gold on April 10, 2014

in For Readers, Random Musings

Woman reading on a beach with text: The Importance of Reading for Pleasure

I read one of those “sad but true” posts the other day. Over at Writer Unboxed, Keith Cronin wrote about how to make someone hate reading. His theory? Send them to an American high school.

As I stated last week, schools too often do a poor job of teaching fiction. They rarely teach fiction writing, and when they do mention fiction, it’s usually as part of a literary analysis unit. Worse, that analysis focuses on nebulous concepts like theme and symbolism.

Heaven forbid we talk about what makes a story enjoyable. Or why we like or don’t like a character. Or whether or not the story grabbed us.

No… We can’t possibly encourage kids to like reading and see stories as something to enjoy—for fun. We have to turn reading into analyzing “classic” stories with subjective questions about whether the wall color in a scene reflects the character’s mood or whether the dusty kitchen table foreshadows the ending.

Too many kids who were voracious readers earlier in their life learn to hate reading during their teenage years in high school and college. According to Keith’s post, one third of high school graduates won’t read another book—for the rest of their lives.

For too many, reading becomes a means to an end. Absorbing knowledge. Period. And reading for pleasure now seems like a faraway dream. Maybe even an immature activity.

That’s not to say all teenagers will fall victim to the school system’s perspective, but far too many do. I know. I was one of them.

My Confession about Reading

I’ve mentioned before how much J.K. Rowling has influenced my life. Her Harry Potter books inspired me to write a fan fiction story, my first foray into fiction writing. What I haven’t mentioned before—what I actually misrepresented the truth about—was how those books inspired me to once again read.

In my previous post about her influence, I said:

“Starting with the fourth book, I bought the books in hardcover. However, as I’ve mentioned here before, my to-be-read pile is scary-huge, so I didn’t actually read any of them until after the fifth book was released.”

That wasn’t quite true. While I read constantly as a child, once I was done with college, I bought books only rarely, and I would reread one of my childhood favorites, like the Chronicles of Narnia, about once a year. But I didn’t read any new fiction books.

In my previous post, I made it sound like I’d always had the TBR pile I now have (which is scary-huge) because the fact that for a time I’d stopped exploring new fiction worlds seemed like sacrilege for someone wanting to become an author.

Shouldn’t authors be so secure in their love of books that even awful literary classes wouldn’t come between them and their love? How much could I really love books if a dozen term papers got in my way? I was ashamed of my past as a “fallen” reader.

But Keith’s post helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault. That my experience was, in fact, all too common.

Rediscovering Reading for Enjoyment

What I’d stated before about buying all the Harry Potter books in hardcover was true. Also true was how I started reading them after the fifth book was released. A coworker of mine convinced me to buy them, and after the fifth book, I decided I should actually read these things if I was going to spend hardcover money on them. *smile*

But I didn’t just read them. I inhaled them. I think I read all five in a week or two. And I wondered why I’d ever stopped reading for enjoyment.

It all comes back to being forced to read books I had no interest in. Even worse, I then had to write long analyses and participate in discussion groups about these tear-my-hair-out books.

(I’m shamefully proud that I learned to analyze the story by listening to the first five minutes of discussion and then fake my knowledge of the story well enough to fully participate in group discussions without ever reading some of the books—or the Cliff Notes. Maybe this is how I first developed my understanding of story structure, tropes, and plot flow. *grin*)

I’m happy to say that I’m back to my previous love of books, and I wish I had more hours in the day to make a dent in my to-be-read pile. (Current stats: 291 on Kindle, and about 100 more in other ebook formats, as well as about 250 print books on my desk and in my bedroom.)

Is It Possible to Teach Literary Analysis in a Way Students Won’t Hate?

(Maybe I should add a disclaimer and say “Students Might Hate Less.” *smile*)

My point with this post isn’t to say that students should never analyze stories for theme, structure, symbolism, etc. Far from it.

Learning to see the depth in fiction is a fantastic way of getting people to value fiction more. Non-fiction is easy to value. If it teaches us what we want to know, it’s valuable. Fiction is harder to value and appreciate.

However, it does no good to try to get people to value a book they hate. In fact, that approach is likely to make people value fiction less.

Instead, I say we should let students analyze stories they already enjoy. Some teachers in a school system here have assigned their students to read all of the next grade’s Literature books (about 8-10 books) over the summer before the school year starts.

The teachers don’t care if the students skim read the ones they don’t like, as long as they get the gist of the story. The point is to provide opportunities for the students to read books they might not usually choose. Exposure, not torture. *grin*

When the school year starts, the students each choose their favorite four books. Those are the books they’ll analyze during the year in small discussion groups with other students who chose the same ones.

This approach would still teach literary analysis and get students to think of all those theme and symbolism aspects. But it would also encourage students to discover more ways to value the stories they do enjoy. Win-win.

Themes, Schmemes…

While I’m ranting at windmills, let me propose that teachers not insist there’s only one correct theme to take away from a story. As we discussed last week, a story can have many themes—based on the story arc, character arcs, etc.—and themes often grow out of a lesson learned. In other words, any lesson a reader takes away from a story can lead to a valid theme.

As authors, we should be conscious and intentional about as much of our writing as possible. (If nothing else, we want to make sure we’re creating the right impression for our readers.) However, our subconscious has a mind of its own and reading is extremely subjective. So teachers do students a great disservice if they act as though there’s only one way to interpret a story.

I could go on ranting about how many of these issues are driven by the structure of the school system in general and not teachers’ fault, but I’ll stop here. My point is that while the current approach is more convenient for teachers—only one book to cover at a time, fewer lessons to develop, etc.—any approach that kills the love of fiction for so many is broken and should be changed.

I know. I was there. When I think of how much I loved reading as a child—complete with library visits, bringing a book to baseball games (they go so slow!), and sneaking a flashlight under the covers—I weep at how much time I lost to forgetting that it is possible to read for fun.

It’s a tragedy I hope we can avoid in the future. Again, if the goal of literary analysis is to teach kids to find the deeper meanings within fiction, we need to find an approach that meets that goal and encourages a sense of the value of fiction, or all our efforts are for naught. Who’s with me? *smile*

P.S. This might have something to do with why I’m a genre girl now. *grin*

P.P.S. None of this is meant to bash teachers, who often have too little to work with and too much to do. Rather, I hope this inspires new thoughts for an approach to teaching that respects the kids and the goal of valuing fiction.

P.P.S. Feel free to share this rant with your kids’ teachers. The green sharing button at the bottom-right below allows you to email this post to anyone. Teachers might listen to us as authors, and maybe we can make a difference. *pumps fist*

Did you struggle with Literature classes? If you didn’t, what made it work for you? Did you go through a post-formal-schooling fiction-reading drought? What turned you into a reader again? Do you have other insights into how we could improve the current approach to literary analysis?

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29 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee April 10, 2014 at 6:52 am

For too many, reading becomes a means to an end. Absorbing knowledge. Period. And reading for pleasure now seems like a faraway dream. Maybe even an immature activity.

Yeah, in my denomination—and in other denominations and religions, I’m sure—there’s a fairly common attitude that fiction’s a waste of time. That only “edifying” non-fiction should be read, like the Bible and writings by pastors and former pastors.

Fiction—especially speculative fiction—is seen as “childish escapism”. And even if a fiction reader points out the value of fiction in comprehending others’ perspectives to be able to have a meaningful discussion with them, some will answer that others’ perspectives don’t matter if they’re wrong.

Some folks who believe that are consistent and won’t watch anything they wouldn’t read, but most will watch a movie or TV show in a heartbeat. Many even enjoy spec fic TV and movies!

Despite my dad’s fondness for spec fic viewing and my mom’s fondness for fiction viewing, I was harassed by my parents for my fondness of reading speculative fiction (for both reading and writing it), so I pretty much kept the reminders that I did it out of my parents’ sight, to reduce how often they thought of it. They stopped bothering me about reading it once I had to for work, but then they started harassing me about my work itself. (I don’t remember the exact timing, but I think it was after someone I edited ended up on a bestseller list that they started insisting I don’t know what words mean.)

Now, the ironic thing about all this is that Mom isn’t much of a reader. But she intentionally encouraged my brother and I to read, reading to us when we were little, because she had a sense of “That’s what a mother should do.”

But then the results of that—my brother and I both enjoy reading for pleasure—have our parents calling us lazy, immature, and naive. (I frankly suspect Mom has PTSD and an anxiety disorder at the very least, possibly even a form of OCD. Any attempt to point things out to her—with objective, 3rd party verifiable incidents—is me being “angry/resetntful/hateful”, and then she turns around later that conversation, month, or year and insists I have those very problems. Mom’s lately been insisting I have Asperger’s. Dad…I’m not so sure. I suspect some of it’s a reaction to Mom, while some is an unwillingness to admit he’s as imperfect as anyone else.)

So actually, school reading was more of a haven for me. Though I admit that I sometimes BS’d my way through reading discussions, too, in one particular class that ended up being “Classic Homosexual Lit 101” (which was not what I’d signed up for).

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 8:38 am

Hi Carradee,

I understand–to some extent. Among some of my extended family, I’m a heathen for writing fiction, much less romance, much less paranormal romance. 🙂 They’ve actually asked me why I couldn’t write a nice non-fiction book about healthy relationships instead. *pfft* Luckily my parents weren’t like that, although they never read much fiction (that I saw) until recently.

I’m sorry for your situation, and it makes sense why school-assigned reading would be a haven in that case. And you’re absolutely right about how some people will look down on fiction books, even though they’ll think nothing of watching fiction TV or movies. It’s like reading seems “lazier” to them maybe? As though sitting to watch a movie involves obvious watching, but they don’t respect the mental activity going on when people read. I don’t get that either, but you’re right that it’s a very common attitude.

My parents laugh about some of the “comic book” movies I go to, but yet thought nothing of watching Lost or Once Upon a Time. *shrug* Whatever.

I don’t let their teasing bother me and I don’t travel to visit those members of my extended family. The distance between me and my extended family has helped me reduce their attitude to something I can laugh about. In your situation, parents can be more difficult to deal with, but you wouldn’t be the first person to move away from their parents (physically and/or emotionally) if you decide that would be healthiest for you. *hugs* Thanks for sharing and I wish you luck!

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Rebekah Loper April 10, 2014 at 7:36 am

I was homeschooled, and Mom never forced us to do much with literature, beyond encouraging a voracious reading appetite. Occasionally she would ask us what we liked about a particular book/series/author, but she never made us analyze anything (thank God).

I never actually made it to the point of taking any literature classes in college, either, before finances and real life (got married, car troubles that meant I couldn’t drive as far as I needed to my campus, etc) made me drop out.

However, I watched so many friends go through college – people who had been readers as much as I was – and for one friend in particular, it took her about two years after college to be able to pick up a book longer than a hundred pages and read it just for fun.

I think in some cases it’s not about having to analyze fiction, but in how much plain old reading is required to get through classes. It’s kind of sad.

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

Hi Rebekah,

Like I said, I don’t think analyzing stories is a bad thing to do. Encouraging deep thinking and analytical skills is good, and when I love a book, I don’t mind talking about it or figuring out why I liked it. And maybe if schools encouraged kids’ opinions with the attitude, “It’s okay to hate this book. Analyze the story and tell me why you hated it,” this would be less of a problem.

But every teacher/professor I encountered LOVED the books they selected for class, and to be honest, they took it personally and attacked students who disagreed with them. I actually heard teachers accuse students of being “too stupid to get it” if they said they disliked a book. 🙁

I hope most teachers aren’t like that, and I’m assuming most aren’t, which is why this isn’t an “attack the teachers” post. But yes, there was a reason I avoided the “serious” literature classes as much as I could in school. I didn’t need to deal with a whole semester of Shakespeare groupies, thank you very much. 😉

To some extent, I agree with you about the sheer amount of reading we have to do for school, but another part of me thinks about how I never stop reading. From the newspaper to cereal boxes, I bet those some people still read something. 🙂

Whatever the cause, you’re right that it’s very sad. Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda April 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I’m happy to say I never lost my love of reading (my sister commented recently that what she remembers most about our family camping trips was me sitting next to the camp fire, hunched over a book). But to this day I still can’t read the classics. Not even the modern ones.

I read a few books in high school that I adored (The Bean Trees, Maus 1 and 2, pretty much everything Shakespeare) but I now have a violent hatred for all things Steinbeck. A friend of mine had to read Snow Falling on Cedars for a class senior year. Now she won’t read anything that isn’t genre fiction.

Part of this I think was because I had awesome teachers for most of high school, and when I got to college, the reading I had to do was still interesting (I have a degree in sociology) but far enough removed from the types of fiction I’d normally read that taking a break to read a novel was still fun. And, strangely enough, I actually discovered I enjoyed narrative nonfiction (depending on the subject). My parents are big readers and always encouraged my sister and I to read as much as we wanted, and my closest, oldest group of friends are huge readers, too, and remained so all through our school years. I think that makes me pretty lucky 🙂

But what bugged the crap out of me in school was the constant harping on symbolism and meaning and theme. Sometimes I wanted to stand on my desk and shout that maybe, just maybe, the author didn’t HAVE a deeper meaning he or she was trying to convey. Come to think of it, I think I did do that once 🙂

It seems to me the curriculum was pretty rigidly structured for my school district. Everyone in my grade was always reading the same thing at about the same time, so I don’t think the teachers had much choice about what books the students got to choose from, which was a shame, and I’m guessing it was frustrating to the teachers, as well. We were lucky our English teachers, for the most part, were so enthusiastic about reading and literature (the Shakespeare class was one of the most popular classes in the entire school and always filled fast). I wish they’d had more freedom.

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Hi Amanda,

I don’t get jealous of much, but that’s one thing I will be jealous of. LOL! I think of all the books I could have read if I hadn’t stayed away for so long. 🙂

Good point about symbolism! Now that we’re writers, we know sometimes we do include deeper meanings, but not as many as our readers could find. There’s no wrong answer because everyone’s unique experience will cause them to interpret things differently. That’s just subjectivity for you. But that means those questions about symbolism and themes are no MORE valid than questions about characters and liking and disliking a story.

Teachers sometimes act like the analysis of stories is objective, and that they don’t want to deal with the opinions of liking or disliking. But they’re ALL opinions. And discussions of whether or not a story grabbed us are just as valid as discussions about themes. *ahem* Yeah, more ranting. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Pauline Baird Jones April 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I can still remember a question on our Red Badge of Courage test (which teacher beat to death with stick well before the test): what is the significance of the squirrel on page xxx. I could NOT believe it. And said so. Lost it and went off on total rant. LOL I was lucky she didn’t flunk me, but she was some poor teacher in training.

I managed to bluff my way through the classics and retained my love of books by sneak reading. But I’ve never been able to get over my hate of some of the classics. I took a college course and modified it, but still love popular/genre fiction the best.

My third grade teacher probably helped me love books, but reading to us after lunch. She read fun, fiction books. I remember looking forward to getting back to school in her class.

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hi Pauline,

Ugh, ugh, and double ugh. Yes, that’s the kind of stuff that gets me ranty. 🙂

As you pointed out, if teachers’ goals are to encourage an appreciation for the classics, the current methods fail spectacularly. I know of far more readers (or now non-readers) who say their classes turned them off forever from those books than readers who learned to love them. Those results should teach us something. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Shelly Chalmers April 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Great post, Jami. 🙂
I guess I was a weirdo that I actually enjoyed the reading throughout high school, though I despised the analysis … which led me to an English degree. But by then I knew that the way to get through was to accept other people’s opinions and usually not venture to try and make your own about the themes, etc (most profs certainly didn’t believe an undergrad had a valuable opinion).

Strangely, though, some of the heaviest analysis classes I took are the ones that influence me the most in my writing simply because it did influence me to push my boundaries, and it gave me a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of well written books, genre, Literature or otherwise. Though it took me a long time to write fiction again, it was one course about pop culture literature where I got to research and defend the romance novel that cemented which direction I’d be headed in. 🙂

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Hi Shelly,

Exactly! And that “my way is the only right way” for interpreting a story leads only to cutting students off from thinking these books CAN speak to them. It’s too easy for the students to think, “Uh-oh, I didn’t get that. This story must be meaningless to me.” 🙁

I love that the analysis lead you to your genre though. LOL! If only some of those “my way” teachers realized that their lessons were having the opposite effect from what they intended. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Deena Remiel April 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I loved this post today, and I AM a teacher. I teach middle school English/Language Arts. Unfortunately, until standardized testing is abolished, we will have to analyze text and teach about themes. But really, is that such a bad thing? I think the key here is not the content that is taught, but the manner in WHICH it is taught.
When a teacher approaches a novel with passion, it translates to her students. It’s all in the presentation. For example, I’ve taught The Martian Chronicles, a favorite science fiction book of mine by Ray Bradbury, to my 6th graders, and every time, my classes loved it. My teammates, on the other hand hate the book, and that directly translates to their students. It’s all in the approach. I came at this book from a themed perspective and treated the novel for what it was- a collection of short stories loosely threaded together with some interludes. Had I not brought to light the historical backdrop Bradbury was writing in and commenting on, the themes would have been lost and this book would have been lost on its audience. My colleagues couldn’t see past the structure to its essense, and therefore, couldn’t present it in a way that mattered to the kids. This is one example of many where themes of books are worthy of discussion and rousing debate.
So I offer up this to you: an apology for having to sit through poor teaching technique and approach all those years ago. Consider this when you have your next discussion with your friends over a book. Reflect and see if what you’d talked and debated was or wasn’t about theme and sub-themes. After all, most books have blatant and/or underlying messages to be received and pondered by us, the reader. Fondest regards…

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Jami Gold April 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Hi Deena,

I agree! I speak about theme all the time here, so I know how important they are. 🙂

It’s absolutely valuable to teach about themes, and as you noted, the problem is more in the WAY they’re taught by some teachers. Unfortunately, my schooling was filled with the “one right way to interpret” type of teachers, and that lead to my experience of losing touch with the benefit of fiction reading.

But now as an adult, I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the wonderful kind of teachers who encourage students with open-ended questions that lead to discussions about the many themes and sub-themes in books. Let’s hope for more of that kind and for a school system that supports them! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung April 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

You know, after reading this post, I feel sort of ashamed for the opposite reason, haha. Because I actually really enjoyed those English classes with those themes and symbolism and all that nerdy stuff. And the classes also successfully made me enjoy two books that I thought were extremely boring when I first read them (Camus’s The Stranger and Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Okay, maybe for the latter not so much, but I learned that there was SOMETHING to like about it.) So yeah. I kind of feel ashamed about enjoying something that so many others found a torture…

But I do agree that a lot (maybe most) students loathed English classes. 🙁 And yikes that only one third of college graduates still read for fun! That’s really quite tragic. 🙁

I really like your suggestions, though. About only analyzing books that students CHOOSE, i.e. only books they actually like. Maybe another idea would be to not burden students with a too heavy reading load.

Hmm, I think the reason why I never stopped reading for fun is because I’m addicted to wandering in other universes outside our own, lol. I feel EXTREMELY uncomfortable when I don’t get to read books for a very long time (long time as in several or many weeks). And I also never agreed with those who think that stories are just escapism and that escapism is bad. In fact, I think escapism is a GOOD thing! And I even think that a life with NO escapism, is unhealthy, lol. So in my opinion, escapism is just as important as exercise and a balanced diet for our mental health.

About why American schools squeeze all the joy in reading out of people, in a psych class, my prof (who’s also an American) suggested that it could be because we were giving people external motivators for reading, e.g. read these books to collect stickers , and with this number of stickers, you can win a prize. So gradually, a lot of kids interpret their reading as motivated by the rewards/ prizes, and not by their intrinsic love of reading. So their motivation has been externalized. Thus, this made a lot of kids and teens lose interest in reading. Of course, as my prof emphasized later, this doesn’t happen to EVERYONE, because it depends on how you INTERPRET those external rewards. Someone who interprets the rewards as THE REASON they are reading the book, will gradually not love reading anymore. But someone who interprets the rewards as simply INFORMATIONAL, i.e. just FEEDBACK that you are a good reader/ avid reader/ awesome student, then this someone will not only not stop reading, but will also feel EVEN MORE encouraged to read because the rewards boosted their self-confidence in reading and made them feel like they were “meant to be” fantastic readers/ bookworms. Anyway, that was just a theory from psychology, haha, but I thought it might be interesting to bring up.

Yet I think it’s good that through your example in this post, you highlight that it’s NEVER TOO LATE to become a reader again. 🙂 Or if you were never a reader, it’s also never too late to BECOME a reader. 😀 Speaking of, I have this pretty sad story about a friend. His teachers have always told him that he was dumb and slow, especially in English classes, and gave him poor grades in English too. (From my interactions with him, he’s definitely NOT dumb or slow. Those teachers were really mean. 🙁 ) So that really discouraged him from reading. In fact, he told me (not sure if this is an exaggeration) that in his life, he has only ever read TWO books for fun! (I.e. all books read for class or for finishing book reports/ book logs don’t count.) I was so shocked when I heard this, but it just goes to show how adults’ feedback can have a really big impact on kids. In contrast, there are friends whose teachers have always praised them for being good in English, writing, reading, and literature, and so these friends have never stopped being bookworms. Nevertheless, the first friend I mentioned in this paragraph does want to become an avid bookworm one day, so he’s starting to buy books. I really emphasized that he should buy books that he finds INTERESTING AND ENJOYABLE, rather than books he thinks will be useful.

Yeah I totally get the vibe from people that “fiction is useless”. 🙁 I mean, I love non-fiction books very much too, but fiction isn’t useless. Fiction develops your philosophical / sociological/ psychological/ artistic, etc. worldviews. 🙂 I don’t think something that helps you work out your beliefs and philosophies is a waste of time. And I’m quite serious that fiction has helped me develop my belief systems; not that I ONLY rely on novels to find and elaborate on my beliefs, as of course I think about other inspirational sources as well; but novels have had an ESPECIALLY huge impact on me in forming my beliefs and attitudes I have today. 🙂 And EVEN IF you LITERALLY learn NOTHING from reading fiction (which is so ridiculously untrue, lol), it still doesn’t follow that fiction is “useless”. 🙂 At the very, very least, fiction is a source of enjoyment, and people, as human beings, NEED sources of enjoyment somewhere or else they won’t be happy or psychologically healthy. And since fiction DOESN’T harm your health like smoking and drugs, fiction is a nice way to derive enjoyment healthily. That’s my view on why I advocate reading fiction anyway, haha. And I really don’t agree with those who think that pleasure and enjoyment is unnecessary to life, and that only “value” and “usefulness” is necessary, for the reasons stated above. And I also don’t like how some people think such emphasis on pleasure is “hedonistic.” What’s wrong with liking something just because it brings pleasure and enjoyment? Unless it’s something that’s harmful to you or other people, of course.

Oh by the way that just reminded me of something. My dad mentioned once that people in Taiwan are so intelligent as they’re reading so many “high level” nonfiction/ science books, whilst people in Canada just like reading novels. My reaction was like -_- So why on earth do you think reading novels makes people UNintelligent?! It’s really quite infuriating how some people demean fiction like that. My dad is an avid reader, but all his books are nonfiction. He used to like fiction and literature when he was younger, but now he thinks fiction is “useless”, just like what so many other people believe. XP Pretty sad, isn’t it? Eek. So I’m totally with you in your rant against this view of fiction being “of no use/ value”!

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Jami Gold April 11, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! Don’t feel guilty. As I said in the post, this isn’t a rant about NEVER discussing themes or symbolism, but a) about how classes should talk about OTHER subjective things sometimes too (like whether we like or dislike a character or story and why) and b) about how at least some of the time, students should be able to pick which stories they want to analyze.

If it’s a story I really like, I can talk about themes and symbolism and look for deeper meaning all day long. I love the idea of finding more about the story to appreciate. 🙂

The problem is that too many books chosen by the teachers or the school system are the literary equivalent of vegetables: You read them because they’re supposedly good for you. But a steady diet of that can make you want to eat less because they’re so boring, bitter, and tasteless. Back in literary terms, that means a diet heavy in books you have to “slog” through leads to less desire to read, and THAT’S what I’m ranting against.

I’m glad you had teachers who managed to make those books interesting! Good teachers can make all the difference here. 😀

But something’s broken when too many people are lost to reading forever. That one-third figure? Keith said it was for anyone picking up any book of any kind, not just fiction. O.o So the figure for those who read non-fiction but not fiction, or who might read occasionally but not like before their schooling, etc. is even higher.

In the author/writer/reader community, we’re spoiled by being around people who read all the time. If we go out into the wider population, we’ll find that the vast majority of people don’t read for pleasure, or if they do, it’s only rarely. 🙁 (And many of those same people will read only what Oprah recommends, which are often more of the same as far as “reading for importance” and not for pleasure.)

Ooo, good point about how reward systems can become the goal rather than a bonus. Yes, some kids will certainly interpret reading and rewards that way, especially if their only fiction reading is what they have to do for class.

Yikes! That’s so sad about the comment of fiction readers vs. non-fiction readers. And yet, most people with those attitudes have no problem with watching fiction TV shows or movies. I don’t get it. Like “if you’re going to read, read something important.” *pfft* If you’re going to read all the time, you WILL get a good variety–that’s what I say. 😀 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung April 11, 2014 at 10:09 am

Thanks for the long and detailed reply! 😀

“That’s so sad about the comment of fiction readers vs. non-fiction readers. And yet, most people with those attitudes have no problem with watching fiction TV shows or movies. I don’t get it.”

Omg I should tell my dad that. XD He enjoys watching shows like Smallville and Supernatural, lol. Which aren’t technically “useful”, so he was being a hypocrite. XD Don’t get me wrong, though. I love my dad a lot, but he can sometimes be a bit prejudiced. ^_^”

“If you’re going to read all the time, you WILL get a good variety”

This is a good point too.

” how classes should talk about OTHER subjective things sometimes too (like whether we like or dislike a character or story and why) ”

😀 I like this as well. In contrast, in university, our English profs often ask us a general “what did you think of the book/story?” kind of question. One prof even asked, “Were there any moments in the book that made you go WTF?” XDDD (He said the letters WTF, not the actual words, lol.) I love these profs, haha. I do think that university literature is more enjoyable than high school lit though.

Good analogy with the vegetables. I love brocoli and cauliflowers though, even though that’s irrelevant. XDD

“That one-third figure? Keith said it was for anyone picking up any book of any kind, not just fiction.”

D: I agree that the vast majority of people in the population probably never or almost never read for pure enjoyment. That’s what my mom said in one of her motherly discouragement moments, lol. But I told her that there ARE many people who are avid bookworms–even if they are the minority, they are still a CONSIDERABLE, SIZABLE number of people, at least in my opinion. So I think my mom’s being too pessimistic that “writing novels is useless because you won’t find anyone to read them”, lol.

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Jami Gold April 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! Yep, just because we love our parents doesn’t mean we agree with them. 🙂

I very much agree that it all comes down to the teacher. In high school, I did have one class where I enjoyed almost all the books. We read Animal Farm, Watership Down, Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, and Once and Future King (and maybe a couple of others I’m forgetting). So my schooling wasn’t all doom and gloom. LOL!

(And I like vegetable too, but if that was ALL I ate, I’d probably starve from eating less in general. 🙂 )

Good for you in trying to set your mom straight. There are entire sections of those ecards or “reader problem” quotes on Pinterest, so obviously there are many people who love reading. Maybe she’s just hanging around the wrong kind of people. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Sharon April 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm

This is going to sound crazy since I have a degree in English and literature, but I think analyzing fiction texts is a waste of precious learning time. I can see the purpose of it in college when you’re earning a degree in the field, but unless you’re planning to be a literary critic, it isn’t a real life skill.
I admire the language arts teachers at the middle school where I worked for seven years. They realized theme is subjective. When students had to analyze a novel for theme, as long as they had support from the text, it was an open playing field. This is teaching them analytical skills. If you say there’s only one right answer, you’re training them to memorize for a test. That’s not much of a real life skill.
Most of them tried to read modern books in class so the kids could relate. For example, in 7th grade this year the class read Ender’s Game and then wrote an essay about a selection of literary topics. I’m glad to see that symbolism isn’t addressed at the lower grade levels. As a writer, I don’t think about symbolism in every scene just for making a major point about character, setting or theme.
Anyway, I loved this post. I may refer to it on my blog sometime this month. I’ll be sure to link back to it.
The best way to learn is to live. I’ve lived a thousand lives through books. I think I’m gaining more knowledge than those people who think reading fiction is a waste of time.

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Jami Gold April 11, 2014 at 10:23 am

Hi Sharon,

Analyzing themes and symbolism in books might not be a directly applicable skill, but I think the benefits are more about learning to think and analyze deeply, learning to see connections that aren’t obvious, and learning to pick up on and notice subtext. In other words, those things ARE useful in our every day life for dealing with people. 🙂

Fiction books–even the most shallow of genre ones–still propose worldviews and have something to say about the human condition. Those viewpoints help us explore our own views and question our idea of things. But that exploring and questioning won’t happen if we don’t learn that we can look deeper in books or if we don’t learn how to look deeper.

Yes! I love the example of how the teachers where you worked handled theme. You’re right that one approach teaches memorizing and the other teaches analyzing–very different skills and very different importance to our life-skill toolbox. 🙂

“The best way to learn is to live. I’ve lived a thousand lives through books. I think I’m gaining more knowledge than those people who think reading fiction is a waste of time.”

Love this! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

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Glynis Jolly April 11, 2014 at 6:06 am

I learned how to read by example. If my mom wasn’t cooking, cleaning, or doing something for me or my brother, she was reading. She started taking us to the library when she would go when I was four, my brother only one year old. Let me loose and later this applied to my brother too. Yes, I was reading when I was four. If we didn’t pick out any books to take home, she kept her mouth shut about it. She was only providing the opportunity to read, no force. I didn’t like the forced reading in school but I put up with it and found bit and pieces of it that I enjoyed. My mom still reads all the time at the ripe old age of 87. She still inspires me.

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Jami Gold April 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hi Glynis,

We didn’t have city libraries easily accessible when I was a kid, but I haunted the school libraries frequently, and the vast majority of my allowance savings went to the Scholastic book catalogs. The day the orders came in was like Christmas. 🙂 Your mom is an inspiration to me too. Thanks for sharing your story!

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chemistken April 11, 2014 at 6:31 am

I read science fiction when I was young, but that was about it until someone lent me their copy of The Hobbit in high school. That’s what got me into reading other books. Not the boring stories they required us to read in English.

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Jami Gold April 11, 2014 at 10:33 am

Hi ChemistKen,

You know, I think I’ll have to do a post about something Mary Buckham said in her character workshop last weekend. I think a lot of her insight explains why some enjoy the classics and some don’t. I’m definitely on the “not” side too, and I think I better understand why now. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Nina April 12, 2014 at 8:04 am

I got my M.A. in English in 1996 … and I didn’t start *truly* reading for pleasure again until 2002. I was blessed to have some really good English teachers in high school, college, and grad school, but one thing never changed for me: If you wanted to suck the pleasure out of reading for me, then *require* me to read it.

I’ve taught a few literature (and writing) classes here and there. I like to think I didn’t ruin reading for my students, but I’m sure I did for a few. If they were readers before, though, they’ll probably follow the same path as many of us: When they’re ready, they’ll return to reading for pleasure.

I don’t regret getting two degrees in English, though. I love the mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually enriching experience of being able to use my past knowledge, analytical skills, and intrinsic enthusiasm when I read. I hate that English classes–the very classes that are supposed to help us all learn to have that experience–too often have the opposite effect.

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Jami Gold April 12, 2014 at 8:38 am

Hi Nina,

Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed most of the books I was required to read for one course, so the “requirement” aspect doesn’t have to lead to a loss of pleasure, but I know what you mean. 🙂

With your passion and enthusiasm for the subject, you might have encouraged as many new readers as discouraged others. *fingers crossed* LOL! While we hate the thought of literature classes having a negative affect on students, I also don’t want you to feel guilty for your love of the subject. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gry Ranfelt April 16, 2014 at 7:54 am

“As authors, we should be conscious and intentional about as much of our writing as possible.”
Oh – too true!
I suffered for a while because I’d decided “I have to read classics and get smart!”
But my reading got sluggish and I dreaded it. Blogs are so much more fun! (Lol)
When I gave up on that and just started reading whatever I felt like it all became much more awesome. I’ve read a ton of stuff since then and ALSO “literary”, heavy stuff, like 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit (number I don’t remember) and some Hemmingway.
But I LIKE those classics. I DON’T like Gatsby, Moby Dick or (sorry dad) the three musketeers.

Yet I’m not entirely a fan of genre. But I’ll get to that after reading your latest post about literary vs. genre fiction.

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Jami Gold April 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

Hi Gry,

Exactly! Reading what we like doesn’t mean we won’t read the classics. I enjoyed 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 too, even though they were all assigned in various classes. 🙂

That’s why I like the idea of exposing kids to all the books teachers want to “push” and then letting them choose. Where teachers have used that method, I’ve seen boys choose what would normally be thought of as a “girl” book (that they didn’t think they’d like until they read it with no pressure), and vice versa. That’s the way reading should be. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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