Wednesday, August 05, 2009

No Wonder They're High at Spare's School

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Do you love to read? I do! I just got a message from Mrs. B with 100 books the BBC chose that most people had probably only read six of. I went down the list, and I had read 51 of them. Some people love to read, you just can't stop them.

Needless to say, reading is a high priority at my daughter The Spare's Blue Ribbon High School. Spare is one of those people who doesn't like to read. She's a slow reader and very picky about content, unless the reading material in question is a teen magazine.

Every summer, Spare must read a book and complete an assignment before she returns to English class in the fall. This summer's reading must be a book by a winner of the Penn-Faulkner Award.

Now, there are prizes and there are prizes. Some, like the Nobel Prize, are given to people who mostly write stuff that anyone can easily read and understand. (Yes, there are exceptions.) The Pulitzer Prize likewise most often goes to a serious but approachable book.

The Penn-Faulkner, on the other hand, is almost invariably a high-brow, college-level piece of writing with heaping helpings of sophisticated vocabulary, "deep meanings" that are so deep you could drown before you find them, and literary tricks that delight college professors and baffle the rest of us.

When Spare read down the list of books, Mr. Johnson and I just looked at each other. Mr. J. is a book collector, so he has first editions of some of them. Not because they're gripping literature, but because they're collectible. (Oh well, to be fair, he is reading one right now. I forget which one.)

I'll be the first to tell you that kids should read during the summer. When I was Spare's age, that's just about all I did. But wouldn't it make more sense for Spare to choose her own summer book, one that might actually pull her face out of the vapid teen mags?

Spare made a choice from the list, and I'm not going to say one bad word about the book she chose. Except it's not a book for a 15-year-old. I didn't read it when I was 15. I didn't read anything like it when I was 15.

Wish her luck. She's going to need it.

There's an epidemic of drugging and drinking at Spare's Blue Ribbon High School. Gee, I wonder why.


Pom said...

Good luck, Miss Spare. I'm not certain I could name a book from the list off of the top of my head.

Mini Me works in the local public library and therefore reads almost constantly. Her attention span is awe inspiring to me as I cannot maintain focus if someone so much as enters the room. Yet she will read 3-4 books at a time whilst listening to her mp3 player and sitting outside where people will drive by and honk and wave or stop to talk to her. Mind boggling. But even with her hunger for books, I cannot say that every book she reads is prize worthy. I've contented myself with the fact that she reads.

Morningmoon said...

I just had a look at the list at the Penn-Faulkner website. I have read only one...The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. THAT book I would highly recommend, although it would be a tough book for a young woman like your Spare. Might I suggest you read the book she has chosen along with her and have your own mini bookclub for month. *I* want to have a bookclub like that. :)

THE Michael said...

I have constantly railed against the idea that "educated" necessarily equates with "smart". I bet the people most able to make any sense out of these literary nightmares probably can't read a map or tie a bow knot. I can appreciate deep, as in President Obama as compared to DUBYA (I refuse to lend him the honor of a title), but these ivory tower acedemics, I swear, make up this vapid world where complicated vocabulary totally outside the realm of the real world is used strictly to exclude those who haven't got the time to translate English into.....well......English.

You'll notice that the Harry Potter novels were NOT on that list, yet I bet all of them put together did not equal one book in circulation.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Oh dear. I've only read one of the books on the Penn-Faulkner award list (The Hours). I've read 37 on the BBC list though, so now I feel pretty virtuous, a.k.a. smug.

Servitor Lucem said...

Of course, the object of these summer reading assignments appears to be to suck all the joy out of reading, so that it becomes a chore. After all, we don't REALLY want a society of people who enjoy reading. Where's all the money in that?


i've been reading at least 3-7 books a week since i was about 4...i try to understand people that dont read ...but's hard.

Nettle said...

I got 72 from the BBC list. Wow, I read a lot. Only four from the Pen/Faulkner list, though. I'm not actually interested in most of what's on that list, which is too bad because I'm sure they have lots to offer. The older I get, though, the less interested I am in reading anything too literary - mostly because it's usually also depressing. I get enough challenging material in real life. I don't want to read about other people's messed up families anymore unless there's a dragon or a ninja or an invisible flying telepathic tiger or something involved.

Too bad "Things Fall Apart" wasn't on that list - we read that in 10th grade, as I recall. "Poisonwood Bible" is, though, and those two would be fantastic read back-to-back.

Anne Johnson said...

Michael and Servitor, as usual, hit the nail on the head.

Anne Johnson said...

I think Penn Faulkner only goes to American writers.

Maebius said...

Wow, I usewd to work at a library while in grade school, and all but failed out of college due to bookworming, but I have not read many "literary greats" if this list is the litmus test for greatness. :(

I agree, while I understand, in theory, the challenge of forcing a student to read something outside their comfort zone, making that list so far removed from most ordinary readerships is worrying. Why not jsut entrust the student to "read something you usually don't" and impose a page limit or other vague restriction to avoid some people using a teen magazine as their choice to "play the system".

Such challenge, even to my mind, would just drive me farther from the books out of spite and frustration, rather than broadening my experience by reading outside my usual themes.
Bad school. No donut!

Lavanah said...

This is a battle that I have fought (and lost) every year since my oldest (now entering her final year of college)was old enough for summer reading assignments. One year, the school librarian responded to me by saying "yes, I understand your point, but your children would read anyway." When I pointed out that the summer reading program guarenteed that children who already didn't like to read NEVER WOULD, she was shocked. It had never occured to her. All she cared about was making sure that the children would at least open quality reading material. Which is probably all that many of them did.

Maeve said...

At some point I wish people would be able to see that ANY creative work really does have the ability to inspire people, and to have layers of meaning for people. You might have to get pretty zen with very simple works to find deeper meaning, but it can be done.

Summer reading should, in my opinion, be offered as an "extra credit" option. And if they really wanted to get kids interested in reading they'd include all manner of books from these terribly Worthy books to graphic novels.

I had to look up the award because I tend to ignore 'awards'. I skimmed the list of books and have to wonder what on earth these students are expected to be reading in college if they're expected to be reading these books now. I mean, really. I read "Imagining Argentina" for a senior level contemporary lit course. In college.

I'm wishing the Spare well in her endeavor. Maybe she'd enjoy interspersing Terribly Worthy writing with some Rick Riordan "Percy Jackson and the Olympians". :)

democommie said...

I don't know which list you've got. I found one that I had read about 20 of the ones cited. Do you have a link?

democommie said...


I just saw you "Randon Books". So, you read some Carl Hiaasen (who was a reasonably good friend of Warren Zevon). Do you read Tim Dorsey, Bill Fitzhugh, Christopher Moore or Lawrence Shaimes?

Anne Johnson said...

Thanks, Commie, for leading me to new authors! If they're anything like Hiaasen, I'm good to go!