Like a lot of other people I know, I like books lists.
My friend Kelly posted a list on Facebook last week, challenging her closest friends to join her in a read-a-thon. I thought the list looked dull, the majority of the titles classics I had to read in middle and high school. I’d read 49 books on that list of 100, and the author had asserted “most people haven’t even read 6.” I was a lit major in college. I get it.
And I like to read. Most of my students do not.
I watch for interesting book lists because I am always adding titles to my classroom library. I watch for books that my students will read–like the books on this post: 21 YA Novels that Pack a Serious Genre Punch or this one: 15 YA Novels to Watch Out for This Spring.
See, these lists are more like temptation for bibliophiles like me than “These are the best books ever and you should read them” lists, which do little for the book addict in me. Huge difference.
I have a growing contention with anything “you must read.” (Okay, not anything. I do require my students to read short works that we study for craft, and analyze and discuss together.) Too many students have told me it’s the force feeding of “boring” books that has made them hate reading.
I know that some might contend that it’s the way those books were taught, not the books themselves that turned kids off to reading. I get it. And I’m guilty of it, too. It’s not like I have never taught a whole class novel, but I doubt I ever will again.
I have a few colleagues who agree with me and many more teacher friends from across the nation who are more interested in developing readers than teaching books; my #UNHLit13 peeps Shana, Erika, Emily, and Penny for sure. Heather, too. She saw Kelly’s Facebook post, and I knew her ire was up when she commented: “I still have to ask. What makes these books more of a must read than any other book out there on the market?”
The topic must have lingered because she blogged about it here: Recommended Reading–Reading Lists. Heather’s question is a good one:
Who gets to decide what the BEST or the TOP or the MUST READ books are for
any given category of interest?
I recently read Janet Potter’s 28 Books You Should Read If You Want To and saved it to use as a mentor text at the end of the year when my students do their final personal reading evaluation. Potter asserts “What [book lists] miss is that one of the greatest rewards of a reading life is discovery,” and she produces a lovely list of ways we can decide which books we choose to read. That is what I want.
I want students to choose to read.
“You should read the book that your favorite band references in their lyrics.
You should read the book you find in your grandparents’ house that’s inscribed “To Ray, all my love, Christmas 1949.
You should read the book whose main character has your first name.
You should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart whose cover makes you laugh.”
I am with Janet Potter.
You should read the book you choose to.
I hope that I can provide enough opportunity, enough time, enough titles that my students will have some kind of positive experience with books. I hope they will notice when people are reading, and they’ll peek at the cover and be curious enough to search out the title.
That’s what readers do.
We notice books. We notice others reading.
Dear Readers, how about we write our own list. Complete the sentence in the comments.
You should read the book ________________________________________.