Force-feeding Literature?

I posted about whether or not reading crap is better than reading nothing at all, which made me start wondering if those thousands of girls reading the Twilight series are softening their brains, dooming themselves to a future of nothing but Nora Roberts. Shouldn’t we insist they read Emma instead?

Full disclosure, before we go any further, I read the Twilight series in its entirety.

Here’s where I propose that reading crap is better than reading nothing at all. If someone can’t get enough of Twilight, if reading Twilight gets her into the book store to find more titles she might enjoy, if she chooses to read Twilight instead of watching Dancing with the Stars before bed, she’s on her way to being a reader. And eventually, most readers will pick up something by Jane Austen or John Steinbeck or whomever you consider a great writer.

I have a painful memory of being forced to read “great literature” in my senior year of high school. We had a legendarily horrible English teacher who assigned a number of volumes that were very difficult and less-than-engaging, especially to 17-year-old students. Among them: Lord Jim, Invisible Man, The Fountainhead, and Dante’s Inferno. Not exactly light reading for a bunch of kids skating through their last year before college. Even the most studious of that group found getting through Lord Jim to be a slog. And so, we learned to detest Joseph Conrad and Dante and the guy who wrote Invisible Man. (I should mention that many of us liked The Fountainhead, even though that fact threatens my argument.) The books were hard to read, someone was forcing us to read them, and the someone was mean. To summarize, Mrs. Hoffman didn’t set us up to love the classics.

I’m not suggesting we not offer Emma to our kids because they might find it harder to read than the works of Stephenie Meyer. I’m suggesting that learning to love reading in general should come first, even if it comes before learning to love reading great books. Put great books on the shelves in your living room, where your kids might happen to crack them open, but don’t freak out if you see only stories about teen vampires in their backpacks. That’s all you can do.

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2 responses to “Force-feeding Literature?

  1. Once again, your grasp of the essentials of the literary life is making me laugh out loud with recognition. I was 30 before I stopped hating Shakespeare. Thanks for pointing out the simple common sense behind why that was.

  2. I love Shakespeare and Austen, but hate almost all other classics. I’ve been trying to read Anna Karenina for the past 5 years and I find it painful. There are other classics I aspire to read, but if reading doesn’t involve some sort of enjoyment, I just won’t do it at all.