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Dorothy W.

Interesting arguments. I'm not sure what I think about all of it, but I do agree that students should have some time to read freely, whatever appeals to them. Reading shouldn't be drudgery! I guess I'm most likely to disagree about the multicultural authors argument. I see nothing wrong with having a book "just for you" on the list. Maybe the list could be more balanced between contemporary and older, though.


Dorothy--I'm not really sure either--I guess high school teachers only have so much time to teach a lot of works and how do you choose which ones. But I do think it's good for students to be able to relate to what they read at least some of the time, and not all students are of the same ethnicity and background--and I do think they should also be exposed to other cultures and ways of thinking. Francine Prose wrote one of the blurbs and she notes that Dirda has "impeccably high standards" so I wasn't really surprised by his ideas.


I'm like you, Danielle, in that I mostly read the canon authors in high school and college. It was only later that I started discovering contemporary authors, so I'm not sure Dirda's correct that students would find these authors on their own. That summer reading list does seem geared toward reluctant readers who wouldn't read without a push. And maybe the hope is that by steering them toward good contemporary authors, they'll develop a habit of reading good stuff.

One trend these days is toward free choice reading in which students can read anything they like, but they have to read a certain number of books or pages, or for a certain amount of time. Ideally, the teacher will provide lots of guidance to help each reader find the book that will suit him. One teacher I've read about requires students to read a certain number of books in different genres, which I think is pretty cool.


Very interesting. I guess at some point students will go off and find their own reading niches, but I still think it's important to have read at least a few of the classic/contemporary greats which are on all the teaching lists for a reason and which will teach students and readers to appreciate well-written prose. Of course, I didn't realise how great these works were until much later...


I like Michael Dirda even though I don't always agree with him. In this case though I do agree that kids should have summers of free time. Summers were always a marvelous time to luxuriate in books and authors of my choosing.


My kids usually have 1-2 books that are required reading over the summer (my oldest graduates from high school this May), plus their teachers provide lists of "recommended reading." I think this is a good approach as if left entirely to their own devices and tastes, a lot of kids would not discover the gems of literature that can actually change lives.

Most of the best books I have ever read are from the Canon--there's a reason why they have stood the test of time. I see no problem with pointing out which are considered the gems...not requiring them, per se, but pointing them out.


Very interesting essay and I do see his point about multicultural texts. I'm a huge fan of Amy Tan but Amy Tan can't represent all Americans of Chinese heritage. Certainly, I think most literature courses are dominated by white European male writers.


Teresa--I think as a student I would never have picked up the books on that high school list unless someone did a good job pointing them out to me. Now, of course I have no problems finding books, but young adults is another matter entirely. I like the idea of varied reading--having some books required from the Canon and then letting students choose their own but giving them lots of guidance!
Sakura--I think I didn't appreciate classics until much later as well, even though I liked reading even when I was younger! And I think it's nice to have some uniformity in reading in school as there should really be a common knowledge--hopefully everyone will be at least familiar with certain classics and be able to discuss and understand them.
Stefanie--This is my first Dirda essay, and I'm looking forward to reading more! And I always did my library's summer reading program (the winter one is for adults and the summer one has always been for kids). My mom was always good about taking us to library's and letting us/me roam about bookstores (even if only a mall bookstore) and choosing my own things to read.
JaneGS-I was left on my own to choose and in a way this was good, but I really missed out on a lot of books that others seem to have read as children that I didn't. I wouldn't have minded a bit of guidance, but I am trying to catch up now. I haven't read as many books from the Canon as I should have but I think I at least appreciate what I read more now than I would have when I was 15-ish. I think it's good your kids are provided lists from their teachers.
Nicola--It's hard to strike a balance, isn't it? I like the idea of reading broadly, but with so little time and so many books to choose from it's really hard to cover so much ground!


Thank you for the shout out! I am so excited to read more of Dirda now that I discovered him via my book a day calendar. I can't believe I had never heard of him before now. I'm also looking forward to finding some of the videos on the internet of him talking about these same subjects!


One of my indulgences was to order Dirda's Bound to Please, a huge volume of his reviews. I really love his writing about books - but he intimidates me, because he is just so brilliant at talking about them. I haven't read any of his wider-ranging essays, although I'd like to. I tend to think that children in school need to be given books that will really capture their imagination. I adore reading, but loathed all the books I had to do in school. I never quite feel that Shakespeare ought to be given to 15-year-olds (although my son likes it okay!). So I'd be on the side for them reading all sorts of things - so long as the writing is good, why worry whether they are canonical or not?


Kathleen--I had no idea there were videos of him I'll have to look for them as well! I'm glad I had a book on hand to try and will add his newer one to my wishlist. Aren't those Booklovers page a day calendars great?
Litlove--I bet his reviews are great, and you're right he does seem a little intimidating after even that one essay! Although I wish I had read some classics when I was younger, I am sort of glad I was left to read on my own as I found all sort of reads that really drew me in and made me love reading. Shakespeare is hard for me now--I know I didn't appreciate him in high school. It's good your son likes his plays! I think there are some very good books outside of the Canon and I'm for variety, too!

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