ONE OF THE PODCASTS I've been enjoying lately is The Incomparable, which is generally for sci-fi nerds only. It covers a wide range of geeky topics--people can spend 90 minutes dissecting the new Star Wars movie trailer, for example. But a recent episode focused on assigned school reading. While the books covered ranged from those assigned in junior high school to college, most were assigned in high school. I apologize in advance to the high school literature teachers in our readership--you are legion and we remain humble before you.
Many of the titles will send the same posttraumatic shivers down your spine as they did mine as I listened. A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Perhaps if I read these books as an adult, I might have greater appreciation for them. But I won't read them because life is too short to potentially suffer through them a second time.
I remember some books fondly. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Even The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
The podcast presenter made an important point while discussing Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Students who had read the novel on their own enjoyed it as a sort of horror story; those assigned it found it a slog. And so they--and we--are reminded that the act of being assigned a book, of being forced to read it, can color the way we view that book forever. Knowing that you'll be quizzed on a plot or dreading that you must...