Assigned reading is not the antagonist

It’s time to change how we view the books we read for school

Hannah Matson, Creative Director

English class is not everyone’s metaphorical cup of tea: keeping every single character in “A Tale of Two Cities” straight in your notes, fighting through a swarm of high-horse 19th-century writers in preparation for an AP test, and articulating the essence of “Hamlet” in a 40-minute timed write could drive any student crazy. Sometimes, it feels like English sucks all the fun out of books. But the strenuous, boring, and/or stressful aspects of an English class do not overshadow how reading a work of art under the guidance of an expert enhances its meaning, and can never take away the bonding experience of a thousand students all reading the same pieces of literature.

Good books are like parfait—the top layer is delicious, but nothing compared to eating the whole thing. Once you really start to understand a piece of literature, once you’ve simmered with its characters, once you’ve chuckled at and then reflected on its motifs, once you’ve peeled it apart to reveal its complexities and contradictions, reading becomes worthwhile.

While no one is going to arrest you if you read a book for its plot alone, (yes, in some cases, the plot is the only thing a book has to offer), when there is more to a book, it’s a shame not to try and access it. English teachers are there to guide you to that next level. When writers write something “confusing,” their objective is really just to make you think. Teachers are the ultimate Spark Notes: they redirect your thinking so you’re on the same page as the author instead of deciding “Lord of the Flies” is, for instance, an allegory for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

But great literature isn’t just meant to be read: it’s meant to be discussed. English classes foster discussion through classroom discussions, debates, and Socratic seminars. While students often think of these activities as “stressful” instead of “enlightening,” the truth is they are just conversations that generate different ideas and opinions about these complex, multifaceted works.

Whether we like them or hate them, the books we read in class bring our school together. The senior class collectively cringes at the phrase “So it goes” now that it has read “Slaughterhouse-Five”, and I can hardly count the number of times I’ve heard “Sucks to your ass-mar” and “Piggy dies in Lord of the Flies” jokes over the past three years. And while it may be a rare phenomenon, those “Lunch Table Conversations” Mr. Level always wants us to have occasionally blossom into reality.

Books are written to help people connect with one another, and that’s exactly what happens to a group of people (such as Liberty’s student body) when they all read the same novel. So the next time it’s two in the morning and you have 60 pages left in your assigned reading, don’t grumble over how you have to read a book for a class. Instead, rejoice, for tomorrow you can discuss Dickens’ obsession with Lucie Manette’s forehead with your friends.