In a recent New York Times column novelist Cathleen Schine explains how her adolescent reading was waylaid by a chance encounter with Dostoyevsky. In seventh grade, she picked up The Idiot â€œthinking it would be a funny book about a stupid personâ€. From there she moved through an idiosyncratic list of classics, and found herself as an adult without the modern literary context of her peers.
When Anna reflected at the article on Jezebel, a number of commenters chimed in with the classics their English teachers crammed down their throats that made them hate reading.
Schine’s problem, though, derived not from a teacher, but her own choices. What she really needed was some good reader’s advisory. The librarian in question should have intervened and suggested a more appropriate choice. She was able to read The Idiot, but admits she was only able to understand a tenth of it.
Recently in my high school a girl needed a book for independent reading. She’s an avid reader who counts The Picture of Dorian Gray as a favorite. I explained the basic plot of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks to her. I knew she would love it. She practically is Frankie. But she wrinkled her nose. â€œI don’t normally read teen-y stuff.â€ I told her to just try it, and she sat down and read for the rest of the period, at the end of which she asked to check out the book. I wonder what might have happened if Schine’s librarian had offered her a challenging but relatable book.
When I worked in a public library, it was usually the parents who insisted their children were incredibly advanced. â€œHe’s only four, but he reads at a fifth grade level. What do you have for him?â€ It’s always a tricky conversation explaining that just because a book may be at a lower reading level, it doesn’t mean that it’s not the right book for the student. What are your stories of parents or teens choosing the â€œwrongâ€ book and how do you handle it? I’ve heard some pretty fantastic stories on this issue, and am looking forward to hearing your tales.