Summer Reading is Killing Literature

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people my age, no matter what age I was over the course of my life, and found that my peers hated reading. It is extremely rare for me to encounter a fellow bibliophile, and when I do I grab that person and try to remain bffls. Part of the reason I started this blog was to find like-minded beings.

But I always wondered why such a large number of my peers hated books. I could never understand their aversion. To me books were like air and food. I needed them to survive. Without them, how could I live? What would I do with my time? How could so many people not appreciate the stories the words created? How could they groan whenever it was time for the class to go to the library? How could they doodle in our literature books? How could they use books as doorstops? Why did they like TV better?

After twenty years, I have finally discovered the answer.

My two younger sisters are entering high school and fourth grade within the next few weeks. Both were assigned summer reading lists.

And there is the problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Required reading is ruining reading!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cover of "The Book Thief"

Cover of The Book Thief

There is nothing wrong with having a reading list. Encouraging kids to read is a good thing. It’s all the extra stuff that comes along with it that repels children from books. My sister headed to high school was told to read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. It is one of my favorite YA book that I absolutely devoured when I read it for the first time. I also re-read it,which is a great testament to the writing because I am rarely a re-reader.

Anna hated it.

Where it took me three days to read, it took her three weeks. Why? Rather than just reading it, she had to carefully analyze each chapter, select three quotes from each chapter, and draw connections to her life from all three quotes from each chapter.

There are over seventy chapters. Maybe ninety, I don’t recall exactly.

Why couldn’t she just read the damn thing? Why couldn’t she enjoy it for what it was? Honestly, she would probably have made more connections – more genuine connections – on her own without forcing them out of her brain just so she could fill a quota. She told me to made half of them up anyway, they weren’t even real connections!!! When I tried to talk to her about the book and what happened to the characters, she rolled her eyes, mumbled something and turned on the Disney Channel.

I am of the firm belief that if she had just been asked to read it without the assignment, she would have enjoyed the book. She would have made the connections and enjoyed the story and absorbed the literary symbolism and techniques without even realizing it.

My sister entering fourth grade also had reading assignments. She and my mother are currently shouting at each other downstairs about how much she hates doing it. She doesn’t want to do the writing her teacher is requiring her to do. Now she consequently doesn’t want to finish the book. My mother knows there are only a few days left of summer and is on her case about finishing it before the first day of school. They started out having a great morning and now are fighting with each other and throwing tantrums and crying and having an altogether shitty day. The assigned book causing all the drama? Ramona and her Mother.

Ironic.

No wonder kids hate reading. If it takes them most of the summer (Anna had three more books to read with the same attached assignments) and is the disrupts a peaceful day, then I don’t blame them.

Why can’t they just enjoy it? You draw more from something you enjoy than something you abhor. I’m positive the authors of the books did not wish for their life’s work to be hated. They wanted people to learn from them, laugh with them, smile while reading them. Not one of them dreamed about some kid groaning over having to read their book.

I’ve fallen prey to this too. I still cringe and hate Farenheit 451, Cold Sassy Tree, Lord of the Flies and Three Friggin Cups of Tea with a passion. Fine, it’s just Three Cups of Tea, but I like my title better. After pointless assignments and essays that neither affected my life nor my grade, who can blame me? All it caused me was frustration and time away from my friends and other books I could have been enjoying for my own personal pleasure. I, a reader, have nothing but bad memories from summer reading. It’s no small wonder people live their lives hating books. Like an adult scarred for life by a clown from a bad day at the circus when he or she was three years old, unpleasant memories from school reading assignments can permanently turn people off to reading. Think about it, they never made us do math problems over the summer. Or science. Most people I know like those topics much more than reading.

So thank you summer reading, for killing literature.

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About Miss Rosemary

is a recent college graduate from NY hoping to complete her novel of ten years. Stop by her blog, Miss Rosemary's Novel Ideas at http://missrosemary.net or contact her at MissRosemarysNovelIdeas@gmail.com with comments, questions and suggestions. She'd love to hear from you! View all posts by Miss Rosemary

32 responses to “Summer Reading is Killing Literature

  • Rowenna

    So true! It’s not only what is assigned (I’m sorry, but no high school freshman should be given Great Expectation as summer reading. Good Golly) but also the mind-numbing responses students have to write about them (I’m sorry, but a 250 word response for 25 pages of Great Expectations is painful–well, we saw a room. Yep, a really messy room at Miss Havesham’s place. Ok…220 more words to go…). (Can you tell that I was required to read Dickens’ Great Expectations as high school summer reading? Guess which classic author I haven’t touched since.)

    I think a lot of it (prepping to get flamed on this, but I’m saying it anyway) is lazy teaching. Different books need to be taught differently. Teachers without an clue on how to respond to books are throwing catchall assignments and books at kids without grounding them or developping assignments that would enrich the experience rather than feel like pulling teeth. In an effort to cram more in, we’re doing summer reading–but it’s just busy work unless it’s done well.

    And I’m sorry, fourth grade!?!? That’s ludicrous. Summer vacation for a fourth grader is about swimming and eating popsicles and running around and getting scraped knees and picking your own books at the library. Not homework. For crying out loud, let kids be kids.

    • Miss Rosemary

      Exactly! It’s one thing to tell a fourth grader to read a book with maybe a hundred pages or so but all the entries and stuff? ridiculous.

      And high school teachers really are the worst about it. They have no clue how to teach. I learned more about YA lit in a college YA lit class than all the classic lit I read in high school.

  • Agatha82

    How right you are. All those incredibly boring assignments numb your brain. Who on earth wants to do that! It really is killing the desire to read. If that’s the kind of impression you’re left after reading, it’s no surprise people don’t want to read now. Sad but true. I’m lucky I was an only child that was alone a lot and lost myself in books way before I was FORCED to read one.

  • sharmon

    Wow, the memories this dredges up. Red Badge of Courage, people? For a fifth grade girl? Ugh. On Walden Pond? zzzzzz. On the other hand, I wasn’t assigned F.451 or The Awakening and read them when my sons were assigned them in high school. I actually kinda liked ’em.
    Makes you wonder if kids were given pads and pencils and told to write a 250-word essay on Lord of the Rings as they watched the movie, if they would manage to turn a whole generation of kids against Tolkein!
    I have to say I am eternally grateful that I discovered Poe (well, mostly), Austen, the Brontes, etc. when I was curious and open enough to receive and appreciate them.
    Sadly, I’m in the process of teaching myself Shakespeare. Ninth grade kinda spoiled it for me. And it’s way easier to watch Mel in Hamlet, than read it! No abuse, please. I said I’m attempting to read and appreciate it.:-).
    Fun post!

  • aloysa

    I remember myself in school. We also had summer reading but it wasn’t something we had to analyze and report on. It was mostly to prepare us for the school year. Still, I never could get myself to read the book on that list. Instead, I read what I wanted and really enjoyed it. I totally agree with your post. Brought back some memories…

  • Cassandra Jade

    I’m all for the reading, and even encouraging students to read certain texts, but seriously, the task needs to be about reading and enjoying. Maybe some minor reflection once the book is read just to get the brain ticking over. I loved reading growing up but I hated doing novel studies at school because of the stop, discuss, answer, format.

  • Jessica

    I didn’t like getting a reading list when I first started my A level courses, it was depressing to see so many books to read AND still do my studies. Holiday lists I never minded, and local libraries often run reading clubs where we could eran badges for reading and reviewing books. I guess a lot depends on the teacher and how they put the message across – read these if you have time or you must read these!

  • junebugger

    Highschool killled Shakespear for me. It’s all because of my English teacher who “taught” us Merchant of Venice by basically letting the class read it straight through during classes,without explaining all those confusing phrases, and just mumbling now and then the significance of a certain theme. Yah, inhighschool, Mr Shakespear was the bane of my life

  • kimberlyloomis

    I have no qualm with required reading lists or even giving assignments that pertain to said reading. What I do have a problem with is STUPID assignments that do NOTHING for understanding literature (like what you described). An example of the converse would be Robin Williams as a professor in Dead Poet’s Society. Creative, brilliant and inspiring. Reading can be fun, even assigned reading can be used to tremendous benefit, but the curriculum in the US is lacking in both creativity and in encouraging actual thought. It’s all about regurgitation and memorization and OF COURSE the arts will suffer as a result of this.

  • 83October

    I never had a summer reading list. We don’t have it around here, so I’m glad. But I know what you mean by losing the interest to read because of that book report hovering above you. I read The Book Thief in about the same length of time as you did, but analyzing every chapter can get everything ruined. It will make the whole exercise of reading a chore. So it is possible that such an association with reading could be the cause of people’s aversion to books.

    In our case, we do have required reading for our literature class and that has the same effect. My friends feel that all books are identical to the classics we read in class. When you’re forced to read something it becomes difficult to digest. When I try to introduce the magic of books to people I tell them look through the library, find something that speaks to you and read it. Don’t be pressured to read the books other people read.

  • Emily and Her Little Pink Notes

    I think that by the age you start high school (14 here where I live) either you are a reader or you will never be one but maybe I judge too harshly.
    By the time I was 10 I was already in love with books and no matter how many assignments, analysis, recaps I had to write (there were many) books weren’t ruined (unless there was no feeling to begin with, see Farenheit 451).
    Most of my friends don’t read at all, I thought that maybe it’s because they hadn’t found the “right book” but now I think that it’s all about habits, as you get older it gets difficult to pick up new habits.

  • Suzanne

    Miss Rosemary,

    I loved reading this post and I totally agree. I have been teaching a graduate course for a year now and have learned that my students resent having to read.

    It never occurred to me that they were programmed to do so from elementary school.

    I’m with you – I love reading – it’s my favorite way to spend ‘unscheduled time’. I’m enjoying your blog when I can…betyou didn’t know your old aunt was reading this!

    Love,

    Aunt Sue

  • Lua

    Oh God I couldn’t agree with you more, the school system and all the “required reading” is making everything worse! I read “the catcher in the rye” in high school and hated it! I couldn’t stand the book and the narrator’s voice. Then last year, I picked up the book again and this time… wow! I was blown away with the voice and the characterization. If they don’t stop this we’re going to gave a generation who hates reading…

    • Miss Rosemary

      The same thing happened to me with Gatsby. High school reading it – summaries of each chapter, quotes etc = hate. College – one short paper on something that struck you after you read the whole thing = love. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Mckenzie

    In high school, forced reading killed my desire to read any Hemmingway or Fitzgerald. I just can’t do it. I’ve tried.

  • jannatwrites

    I think you’re right. All of the ‘classics’ they made me read in high school – hate them. I didn’t ‘get’ Shakespeare, Poe confused me, Faulkner, Hemmingway and Dickens bored me. (I know they are great authors, but I’m just not sophisticated enough to appreciate them. Sorry.)

    I always read books on my own, so I didn’t need to be forced to do it. Anytime you are forced to do something against your will, it becomes a chore and you’re going to fight it…so it’s no wonder many kids steer clear of books!

  • Ollin

    Ah, Miss R! Not only are we writing soulmates, but I think we’re reader soulmates as well!

    You are absolutely right. There are so many books kids are being forced to read that they are simply not ready to read yet. Certain books must come to you at certain times, when you are ready for them and their wisdom. When we actively seek out a book, it comes to us with a magical generosity and we are never the same afterward.

    But when a book is shoved down our throat it can have the exact opposite effect. It’s a dangerous, life-sucking, evil thing. This practice is making people think they always have to read what they hate, when its so not true.

    So much more can be gleamed from a book than a show or movie, too bad many won’t find it out, because they’ve been traumatized at such a young age.

    Great post! 🙂

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