Hi! Remember me? Yes? Awesome. No? That’s quite alright- allow me to re-introduce myself.
I’m Daniel, and after a few months of being forcefully absorbed by every aspect of life other than reading, I’m ready to dip my feet back in the world of blogging. Dre and I have both been very busy recently, as I try to stride past (or rather, hobble towards) the impending finish line of high school, and Dre takes time to explore the world in new ways. You’ll see Dre add some posts every now and then, but for the moment, I’ll be creating a lot of the content. I still have two more months of high school left, so I won’t really be blogging full time until the summer, but I’ll try to keep on reviewing and making new posts throughout the spring as well, so this blog doesn’t look totally bare. (We’ve been going through a bit of a stagnant period recently, as you can probably tell.)
Daniel’s Digressions is a new category I’m introducing that allows me to share some of my ramblings, rants, and musings with you guys whenever I feel like expressing them in words. I’m very opinionated, as my closest friends will tell you, and whether you agree with me or not, I want you to hear what I have to say. The idea for this first topic actually came to me during that ugly time period when life swept me away and I forgot about reading. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a senior in high school and I take AP Literature and Composition. Long story short, it’s a hell of a workload. You have to be able to read classics and contemporary novels, along with poems and texts from different eras, analyze them really critically, and be able to write an essay about them immediately. I dislike the course, and I find that my feelings toward the AP Literature stream represent my attitudes toward the general Canadian high school English curriculum– let me tell you why.
I know that there are many of you who love classic literature and love taking AP Literature. That’s awesome. However, I am not one of those people. And I want to be cautious in not over-generalizing, but through conversations I’ve had with my class members, I speak for a lot of us when I say that we don’t find the AP Literature course particularly stimulating or useful. Before you get all riled up, here are a couple of reasons why we don’t love the course.
First of all, I haven’t really learned anything. Aside from memorizing a few literary devices, all I’ve done, and all most of my class members have done, is bullshit our essays and overanalyse the crap out of the texts and novels we’re given. And it’s never a good thing when you don’t really believe something you’ve written. It’s like making a campaign speech when you’re not even sure you should be running for office in the first place. Out of all the assignments and essays I handed in, I could count on one single hand the number of my papers where I actually thought I provided some interesting analysis and I personally believed what I wrote.
I also was saddened by the fact that we were only able to study certain types of novels– novels of a certain “prestige” and “merit“. I was talking to my friend about this the other day, and she stated that AP exam creators have to draw the line somewhere between acceptable and unacceptable works in the context of the exam, and I understand that. I totally do. You probably can’t bring up mangas to use as examples to strengthen your thesis when responding to an AP prompt- if you want a good mark, at least. But books are so subjective; there are some books you can immediately establish a connection with, and others that will quite literally bore you to sleep. Heart of Darkness is one of these books we studied that you either loved immensely or hated with a passion. To ME it was a shitfest- while other people listened intently as my teacher read the book out loud, I passed out on my desk and napped the entire class. Listen, I don’t care whether a book won a Pulitzer Prize or a Razzie Award- I respond to each book differently regardless of its reputation or merit. Heart of Darkness might be an award-winning novel, but there are other YA contemporaries regarded as “trash” by others from which I can pull more interesting and thought-provoking insight. While I understand that the AP Literature exam writers have to set boundaries for the purposes of the exam, I personally don’t like being holed up and confined to certain genres.
However what disappointed me the most about the course was how it sapped my love for reading. I took a break from reading for pleasure, and a lot of that was because of AP Lit- I had so much stuff I had to read that I didn’t really want to open. I couldn’t enjoy reading my own things because I felt guilty for not reading my required material. This leads us to the fundamental problem- in my school, the English curriculum does a bad job of encouraging people to read. The AP Literature course is an example of how school can change readers into non-readers and non-readers into even more vehement non-readers. It turns a lot of people away from reading, which is so so disappointing.
I have a lot of friends, especially guys, who ask me about reading. When I tell them that it’s just as entertaining as a TV series or a movie except that you can imagine it in your head however you want, they get confused. “Really?” they say. When I ask them why they don’t read, they respond with something like, “it’s boring,” or “I don’t have time for it.” The only experience that my friends have had with reading is through school- through the forceful recitation of Shakespeare or Joyce. The word “reading” immediately conjures a negative connotation in their minds, so much so that they’re not willing to give it a try in their own time.
As we bloggers know, reading is AMAZING. Not only is it incredibly entertaining, but it’s had positive effects on my performance in English class too. Even through the reading of “trashy” YA novels, my critical reading and writing skills have become so much more developed, and it’s become a lot easier for me to read and analyse all different types of text in class. It’s impossible to understand the joy of reading until you actually, well, read. And the English curriculum in my school doesn’t do a great job of emphasizing the wonders of reading.
Shakespeare is an excellent writer, sure. And I do think that it is necessary to study great writers from all eras. However, I’d like to see a bit more freedom in the curriculum that allows students to choose books that interest them. During our Independent Novel Study unit in AP Lit class, we were given the opportunity to give a presentation on essentially any book we wanted. I presented on Room by Emma Donoghue (review for that will be up soon, I hope) and it was one of my best presentations and assignments of the year. Because I was able to choose a book that interested me, I was able to present interesting insight AND rediscover my love of reading that had somehow escaped me. That’s how our education system can foster the love of reading- through a curriculum that allows students to explore their own passions and interests by choosing their own books on occasion. Not only will more students discover a new way to entertain themselves, but they might start performing better in English class- like I did.
What about you guys? What was your reading experience like in school? How do you think we can foster the love of reading to children and adolescents? Did you enjoy the first edition of Daniel’s Digressions? I’d love to hear what you guys think.