This is another tricky one to answer. When it comes to university level required reading, it really depends on the subject area and genre that the student is studying, and I could spend days listing the books that I think should be on those reading lists. However, as an English and History teacher who teaches students generally between the ages of 12 and 18 in Australia, a country with varying levels of literacy throughout, I will focus my suggestions on that age group instead. And yes, I know the challenge for today was to name one book, but it is just too hard with this topic to stick to one, as I’m sure many of you will understand.
One of the challenges I have found in my brief teaching experience is getting kids to, well, read at all. Some of them love reading and devour books, but many who weren’t brought up with books and stories in their homes (which is sadly a large amount of them) not only don’t care for books and reading, but don’t even really ‘get’ it – they don’t know how to appreciate a book, and when they have boring books thrust upon them during their education, it only strengthens this apparent resentment towards what for many is one of the most enjoyable pastimes of all. And in a way, it’s hard to blame these kids, with their televisions in their bedrooms, mobile phones constantly at their side by a younger and younger age, internet and social networks now at their fingertips like never before. There have never been more distractions for young people than there is today.
There are many different avenues by which we might be able to overcome this particular challenge. One of them is to utilise this technology, and I think in the very near future we will see this really come to fruition, however I’ll probably go into that in another blog some time. For me, I feel like we need to find shorter books for the students (because presenting a child who doesn’t read with a big 500 page novel is probably not going to entice them), but we also need to find more exciting books. As a teenager I read the Tomorrow When The War Began series, and thought that was great. A lot teenagers now are also into fantasy books, in particular most recently The Hunger Games, a book series which I am yet to check out, so I cannot fully comment on, but it is definitely a possibility – I don’t think we should brush off the fantasy genre so readily if it gets teenagers reading with it’s exciting other-worldly adventures.
There are other books I have read that I think different ages of teenagers would enjoy, and that would also serve well to break down and analyse and study more academically, and I am going to focus here on books I didn’t study at school. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is one of the most loved novellas of all time, and clocking in at only 121 pages, this book won’t be too demanding on even the most reluctant readers. What I love about this novella is the simplicity of the story, focusing on the friendship of two drifters, George and Lennie, as they attempt to get work and stay out of trouble, and yet despite this, the novella is in fact very layered, and perfect for studying in depth.
Another author who I never studied but suspect I would have loved in school is Kurt Vonnegut, and the two novels that spring to mind from him are Cat’s Cradle, a bizarre dystopian novel satirising the end of the world and the madness of mankind, and Slaughterhouse-Five, the funny and powerful depiction of the firebombing of Dresden, and one of the world’s best anti-war books. Again, both these books come in at about 200 pages, so quite easy to read in that respect.
Another book I think should be on the list to make teenagers think differently is Perfume by Patrick Süskind, an incredible tale of suspense about a murderer who possesses a powerful sense of smell, despite not emitting an odour himself, which serves as a great way of looking at how books can focus on other, less common senses (other than sight and sound, like most novels do).
Lastly, I think it would be great to see some funnier works enter the High School reading lists, just to lighten the mood a bit. Both of the Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-time Of The Soul are both hilarious, relatively short, and despite the seeming madness, are full of interesting insights into people, society and the bigger picture of the world, all of which can be discussed in depth if one wants to do so (for those wondering why I have not mentioned the other famous series by Douglas Adams, it is mostly because I feel these two books tend to appeal to a wider audience, that’s all).
So, what do you think of the books I have suggested? Do you agree/disagree with any of them (I will admit I have just thought of them all on the spot)? What books do you think should be on such reading lists?