I love reading. There is no doubt about it. Some books I like, some I love and some disappoint me.
But I know I am not the only one who finds material ruined when there is no choice but to study it. The more I have to think about a book, the more I’m forced to read deep meanings into something, the more I go off it. I know the same happens to a lot of people.
I’ve been lucky in a sense. School ruined some books for me. Being a fast reader doesn’t help as I would read ahead in the evening and then have to painstakingly go back over the same bits once I was back in class. University, however, was a different story. I had a massive reading list there, a never-ending one really. Being a writing student meant I was constantly being encouraged to read and once I was taking some modules further, was pressed to read particular things.
But university was a course I chose. Of course I wanted to do the reading because I wanted to learn how to hone my craft further. I wanted to be inspired, I wanted to write… And the number one rule for a writer is to read. When I got to my dissertation, I was reading fantasy books like they were going out of fashion. Although I was grateful to shake things up a bit afterwards, it never stopped me liking the genre or put me off certain books.
School, unfortunately, did. I still can’t bring myself to read The Great Gatsby properly, even though I know deep down it is an amazing book. The Colour Purple is also lost on me and I would be happy to never hear the title King Lear ever again. Same with A Christmas Carol for that matter.
What is it about the way we are taught that makes it hard to engage with the text beyond our school years? Part of it I’m sure is how close particular details are focused on. Rather than being allowed to make up your own mind about what something symbolises, it’s importance is thrust upon you and have you to accept it or nothing else makes sense and you get marked down on your essays. Hardly fair.
It’s not just the teaching. Personally, I think it was because someone tried to restrain my reading. They told me what it was symbolising, what it was doing, rather than letting me work out how I felt about the book myself. Reading is an individual task so trying to force a class full of kids into the same thing when they have all different attitudes never works.
It can’t all be bad though. There must be some people who are inspired by what they read at school to some extent, surely?
What do you think? Are there books out there you still can’t face having slaughtered them at school or even university? Why do you think that is?