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BooksRemember how as a child you hated spinach and now you quite like it? Tastes change.

Take books, for instance.

As a teenager, I positively loved Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I read it—devoured it—and then promptly reread it. I sighed over the plight of Rhett and Scarlett and Ashley and Melanie. I was ecstatic when I at last got a chance to see the movie. It did not disappoint.

Five years ago I decided to reread this old favorite. Big mistake. Sometimes you really can’t go home again. I could not make it beyond the first few pages because I found Scarlett so absolutely insipid!

After graduating college, I discovered—and devoured—the works of Thomas Hardy. A few years later, assigned to teach Advanced Placement English to 12th graders, I was thrilled to find a huge pile of copies of Return of the Native. That book has everything! Marvelous descriptions of setting that provide mood for the action, carefully delineated characters, a plot that parallels Greek tragedy, and enough profundity and symbolism to satisfy even the most demanding pedant. As I say: I loved that book. My students hated it.

This month I reread ROTN. Here and now I want to offer my long-suffering AP students an apology. No wonder they hated it. Ponderous language. Complex, convoluted sentences that you have to read at least twice. A proliferation of passive verbs. Obscure references to classical studies. Mind you, I still found much to “appreciate” in the book. I did not hate it and I did finish it. But I certainly understood why so many students found it tough going.

And therein lies a dilemma for teachers of literature: How do we balance “great literature” with student interests?

No. Don’t look at me for an answer!


    Lorie Smith Schaefer said:
    February 4, 2015 at 10:50 am

    As a student, I thought teachers HAD to assign those awful books because otherwise no one would read them. If a book is really good, I’d WANT to read it, right? I lacked any patience or perseverance. Sad to say I missed a lot of classics out of plain adolescent contrariness. I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye until well into adulthood.

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