My Most Favorite Book I’ve Ever Read: Slice of Life #sol18

slice-of-life_individual

Each semester in my son’s online English class, they read one book. Last year, it was The Way to Rainy Mountain one semester, which is a phenomenal book, though perhaps not the most obvious choice for 9th graders. And The Alchemist the other semester, and apologies now to all of the readers I’m about to offend, but that book is a load of crap. Just so bad. One semester last year there was a bonus book: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I was just relieved not to have to plod through Julius Caesar or Romeo & Juliet.

As with most assigned reading, I’ve taken a resigned approach. We’ll try to get through it, however we can. We read every word of The Way to Rainy Mountain and spent a lot of time online looking at maps and photos of the areas Momaday describes and discussing the book. The Alchemist was just too badly written to read aloud–we were both squirming over some of those corny sentences. So we read chapter plot summaries we found on the Internet. I worried that Shakespeare would be a bit much for my English Language Learner, so we watched the movie, and he liked it very much–and laughed when he should have–and was then ready to try a few sonnets, which he also understood, though I’m not sure how much he liked them.

I can’t see any rhyme or reason behind the titles chosen, so I had no idea what to expect this semester.  I was both pleased and horrified when I saw that Night would be our required read. Pleased because it’s a good book and an important book. Horrified because my son avoids anything too disturbing in his reading. And it’s hard to imagine a more disturbing book than Night. At least it’s short, I told myself. We’ll read a few pages a day, we’ll manage.

But I underestimated my son. He has been deeply engaged, and reading even a few pages a day takes forever because he has a million questions. I keep the computer handy because we frequently shut the book to hop online and do some research. He knew a little bit about the Holocaust before, but most of the story is new to him. All of our research and all of our conversation isn’t helping him come closer to an answer to his big question: how could humans do this to other humans? I don’t know, I keep saying. Because I don’t.

Yesterday we read the scene where the child is hanged, and he sat there with his hands covering his face as I read.  He has been deeply emotionally affected by every scene and situation in the book.

“This is a really hard book,” he said afterwards. “But it’s so good. I think this is my most favorite book I’ve ever read.”

That gave me pause.

I don’t believe in required reading. Choice and independent reading are two of my most cherished teaching beliefs.

And yet. I know that my son never would have chosen to read Night independently. He never would have picked it up on his own even if I had given the most dazzling book talk about it. And now it is his most favorite book ever.

I’m not sure what, if anything, to make of that. I guess that sometimes a book can be the right book at the right time even if it’s required.

I think back to my own history of required reading and all the books that were the right book for me at the right time, even though they were required. It was the required reading throughout 11th and 12th grade that made me fall in love with literature, that turned me into an English major. It didn’t have that effect on anyone else in the class. To my knowledge, I was the only future English major in those two classes. I don’t know how much that steady diet of classics grew anyone else’s literate life. But still. Maybe there were a couple of books in the curriculum that were the right books for someone else too?

Mostly, this makes me ask what next for my son. If he is ready for the power of Night, what else could we read together? My mind is full of titles that could be his next favorite book ever. Whole categories of literature that I never thought of sharing with him suddenly feel possible. What might he choose from the selection of titles I’ve got swirling around my mind right now?

But I wonder, too, if there can also sometimes be magic in having no choice at all.

 

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “My Most Favorite Book I’ve Ever Read: Slice of Life #sol18

  1. Required versus independent is a question I think many teachers grapple with. I know there were many books I was required to read that I would not have voluntarily picked up on my own. Some I really enjoyed and others I thought why do I have to read this. It is hard to know which books will strike a chord with students and make them ask those hard questions. Sounds like this book hit a nerve with your son and lead the way to a whole list of recommendations you can share with him.

  2. I was surprised by this post. I thought from the title that it would be about YOUR favorite book ever, and I was eager to see which among the thousands of books that you have read, that you would choose as your favorite. But I love that it is about ‘the boy’ and HIS favorite ever. It is so interesting that he loved this book in spite of the horrific story and the intensity of the emotions he must have felt in response. His response is evidence of that mystical connection that can happen between a reader and a book. I love that he feels that!

  3. This hit me right in the gut, thinking of him sitting there like that–feeling all the feels over a book he never would have chosen for himself. LOVE!! I do think there’s something to be said for assigned reading, but it’s obvious that teachers have an incredible responsibility when selecting sources. At the end of 9th grade, I was assigned Don Quixote for our Honors English class. At 15, it felt like the most terrifying task and I still feel anxiety when I think about reading it, today. You can’t make me!!!!! On the flip side, while finishing my MLS I took a graduate children/YA literature course where we had to read what felt like massive amounts of literature in a short amount of time (I can’t remember if it was an 8-week summer course–but possibly). And our brilliant professor offered a selection in each category. So for example, if she wanted us to read a certain amount of modern fantasy novels that semester, a certain amount of historical fiction novels, a certain number of graphic novels, a certain number of Newbery novels, etc. etc. then she might have an approved list of maybe 10 in every major assigned category and then have us “select three” from each category on the list. This allowed her to pick some of the best writing in each category and be prepared to interact closely with each of us throughout our reading while still giving us plenty of choice. There was something comforting about having that element of choice, even if the parameters were limited. Great thoughts here, Elisabeth — I love this post!

  4. I had goosebumps reading this. The part when your son had his hands covering his face spoke so much about the power of the story. I like how you look at required reading from different perspectives.

  5. I wonder if he would have had the same reaction without your interaction. He certainly didn’t read the book alone, which may be what makes the difference. I can’t imagine reading “Night” without having people to discuss it with! I think I like the idea of “green belt” writing that Ralph Fletcher advocates for in writer’s workshop. If I were teaching high school, I think I’d have a few assigned books, and leave time in between for choice reading – a good balance.

  6. I think we will have this argument for as long as there are books and teachers. I’ve had to relax a bit this year over my all choice policy because of district requirements and, low and behold, my students aren’t revolting. What is the key for me is the element that you kind of glossed over, the relationship you are building around this book. When I read aloud and interact with my students about reading, the specific book matters less than this relationship. You, as well as Night, are important to your son.

  7. So I have mixed thoughts about this as well. I am not a huge fan of the whole class novel and/or forcing a student to read something, but I also have had the enriching (and surprising) experience of reading something I would have never have picked up on my own. I think it should be a balance, but mostly choice for the child.

    And, so cool that your son was engaged with Night.

  8. “Sometimes a book can be the right book at the right time even if it’s required.” Thank you for a thoughtful response without an easy answer. Thank you also for an honest answer to your son’s profound question. I, too, don’t know. When I attended high school there was required reading. I don’t remember finishing any of those books. But I was in the library most afternoons reading. In junior college I also had required reading. I remember finishing all of those books, partly because I had two fascinating teachers whose passion for English was palpable, partly because the power of words hit me very hard. I still don’t understand why words have such power over me. I do, however, remember being sick with the mumps, reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, and being transformed. I hope your son experiences a similar transformation.

  9. I love the layers of complexity in this post & in the responses. Reading is such a mix of the words on the page, the people around us, expectations, outside knowledge… your post illustrates this perfectly. Also, I love how you’ve approached the various books in various ways. We don’t have to “read” every book in the same way. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Elisabeth. You touch on the challenges and the promises of preparing an education for all students. No easy answer. I appreciate your positive take on this small yet relatable experience.

  11. This has been my favorite blog of yours I have read this semester. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. As a student and teacher candidate, I am absolutely torn about required reading. Without it, I wouldn’t have read some truly great works, but other selections fell flat for me. As educators, it’s important to instruct students on how to think and process through a book they may not enjoy. This is a time to pull out the reading strategies and try to access the deeper meaning and attempt a connection to a reading, for better or worse.

  12. I love this! Yeah, there are many books that I have read in class that I never would have picked up on my own that have had a significant impact on me. Choice is good, absolutely, but sometimes being stretched is good, too.

    I loved that your son connected with the book so much. Ahhhhhh, this made my heart happy.

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