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School Reading vs. Recreational Reading

After winter break, I filed into English class and immediately received a syllabus that included a list of books for outside reading. The list included both fiction and nonfiction literature, with mostly books that are considered to be classics. Usually, the books I am required to read for school are similar to this list. They are novels that were written before or during the early 1900s by authors considered to be literary icons. Although well-respected and famous, required school reads are not usually popular among students, as they are sometimes hard to understand or cover topics that are not very modern. Therefore, when students choose books to read on their own time, they do not often pick ones that are found on required reading lists.

Charles DickensI, however, tend to enjoy the books that I read in school. While some of them would not be my first choice, I almost always like the books that I read for a class. For example, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens for English II my freshman year. At first, the writing was hard to understand simply because I was not used to the words, phrases, or sentence structure that Dickens used to tell his story. I worked through my occasional confusion and boredom, and the more I read the novel, the more I liked it. At the end of the book, not only had I completed my school assignment, but I had also discovered a work of literature that I thoroughly enjoyed; I now consider A Tale of Two Cities to be one of my favorite books.

Something similar occurred the year before, my eighth grade year, when I was taking English I. Every student was required to read a book for outside reading, and while this book did not have to be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, my teacher “strongly suggest[ed] it.” Honestly, I’m not sure that I ever would have read Lee’s novel if not for that English class — the book just did not seem like it would interest me. I was very, very wrong. To Kill a Mockingbird drew me in very quickly, and it was not long before I felt an emotional connection with the characters in the novel. In fact, I have made it a personal goal to be more like Atticus Finch, who is not only my literary icon but also one of my heroes despite his nonexistence.

2013-01-12 22.10.29These two books are not the only ones that I was introduced to through school and ended up thoroughly enjoying. This has led to my reading of books by similar authors and from similar time periods. Instead of only including the newest literary works on my want-to-read lists, I also have books on there from the 19th and 20th centuries. My bookshelves include books that span many decades, with novels from vastly different time periods sitting beside each other. For example, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is directly next to The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas on one of my shelves.

Despite the appreciation I have come to develop for my school reading, my classmates do not always feel the same way. I think that I was the only one in my class who actually liked reading A Tale of Two Cities, and, while it was more popular, not everyone liked To Kill a Mockingbird either. A lot of my friends do not read any books written before the 1990s on their own time, and sometimes they won’t choose to read anything before the 2000s. I think the main reason for this is not the actual contents of older books but the style in which the author writes. After all, I have found that so many written works, whether contemporary or classic, have timeless themes that are relatable no matter when or where they are read. Perhaps personal reading lists and school reading lists should be more inclusive, made up of quality literature from every genre and time period.

— Kayla T., 10th grade, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, currently reading Plague in the Mirror by Deborah Noyes