A very smart young man named Josh was recently in the bookstore asking all about classic literature and poetry. We talked about Paradise Lost, the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Homer, and the classic novels he admired. He said a teacher spoiled Poe for him by making him memorize The Raven. I laughed and told him that my granddaughter Maren complained of a teacher ruining To Kill a Mockingbird for her by “over teaching” it. “Too much grind and not enough real insight,” was how she put it. Josh’s face lit up. “There should be a list of books that teachers are forbidden to teach so that young people can really discover and enjoy them on their own!” he said. I paused to ponder for a minute. Would the young then just never read these important novels? Would they never find the real enjoyment of reading them on their own? Challenging the ideas contained within the covers? Discussing them?
I decided that some would and others wouldn’t, but at least none would come to “hate” the book because they “had” to read it. Finally, I told Josh that I agreed with him, and asked what works he would put on the list. He laughed and said number one would be The Raven.
I think some books are such treasures that we need to come to them when we are ready and not when they are on the agenda for certain grade levels. As I was writing this a group of four young ladies, all in their early twenties, came into the bookstore. I posed my question to them. “Are there any books that you feel you might have enjoyed on your own but were forced to read and be tested on until there was no enjoyment left?” They thought a minute or two and then gave me the following titles:
For me (and I’m sure no high school student today is required to read it,) it was The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, completely out of the grasp of the average 16 year old — English class systems, an emotionally restrictive protagonist in Soames Forsyte, etc. Reading it today, I would have an appreciation and sense of the importance of this novelist’s work. But not at sixteen.
Does anyone want to have a little fun and add to this list of books teachers shouldn’t be allowed to teach?