Ruining the Reading

I keep hearing from teens and occasionally older readers, about their dislike of reading as a leisure activity. When I probe for reasons why, I’m told that it was English class and the assigned reading that turned some folks off.

This makes me wonder if book groups aren’t guilty of the same “overreading” of books in an effort to get readers to “understand” all the nuances, metaphors, meaning, and, oh, all of it.

I hope not. I’d like to think it doesn’t happen in my book groups. It’s why I try to offer a balanced mix of Great Reads thoughtful reading, graduate seminar level discussion, and entertaining conversation, with tidbits from “behind the book.”

It was a post from English teachers on the English Companion Ning pondering how best to teach literature to students and get them to appreciate the work without loathing the reading that brought these musings on.

Some of the suggestions the teachers tossed out to get the students involved in the reading were great ones to use in a book discussion. I picked up two new questions to ask. One is a conversation starter, “What did you understand about this book?” and one is a conversation ender, “What are the lessons here?” These may sound academic, but they’ll be different from my usual topics.

And the most valuable tip from the teachers? Talk less. Let the participants do all the talking.



About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

4 Comments on "Ruining the Reading"

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  1. Keir says:

    Good post, Kaite! And the “valuable tip” applies throughout life, doesn’t it–we engage better with people when we close our mouths and open our ears.

    I respectfully disagree, however, with one of the questions: “What are the lessons here?” I think the equation of reading with learning (and the notion that there is a lesson to be extracted from every text) is exactly what turns some students and adults off from reading.

    I linked to a great essay on that topic awhile back on Likely Stories, “Leaving Literature Behind,” in which Bruce Fleming argues that the teaching of literature is killing the love of reading.

    “Great,” that is, if you like being depressed.

  2.' Kaite Stover says:

    I think I’d try to reword that closing question. There’s a way to ask what the author wants the readers to take away from the text without making a “lesson” of it. Maybe that’s the phrasing to use, “In closing, what do you think the author wants the reader to understand about this book?”

  3.' Jessica says:

    Maybe it would be better to turn the question around and ask, what did you learn from reading this? That way it doesnt have to be academic and we know that many readers learn from leisure reading, and enjoy that aspect of the reading experience.

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