Your Worst Required Summer Reading?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 11th, 2013

As much as I love schools encouraging their students to read over the summer, I’m afraid it’s true that nothing can suck the joy out of a great book faster than being required to read it. I don’t think there’s a child alive who loves reading more than I did, but I did not want to read books in order to do homework on them in the summer. I’m the only kid in my eighth-grade class who loved The Grapes of Wrath, and I still dreaded assigned reading, especially if I had to “journal” about it. (N.B.: I still haven’t gotten used to ‘journal’ as a verb.)

Kids who devour books by the bushel come into the store in June or July, and I can tell which book they’re requesting is assigned reading by the way the light goes out of their eyes. It’s tragic! I try to help them re-frame — or reclaim — the reading experience. “This is a REALLY good book,” I’ll say (if it is). “Just try to pretend while you’re reading it that it hasn’t been assigned, that you chose it. And then see what you think. Form your own opinion.” I don’t think this helps much, if at all, but if I can help even one young teen not dismiss To Kill a Mockingbird before cracking the cover, it will be worth it.

Anyone have good tactics for helping raise a book to “want to” as opposed to “have to” status?

I also want to know what summer reading assignment scarred you as a kid. Were you felled by The Old Man and the Sea? Sister Carrie? Heart of Darkness? Is there a book you might have loved, if only it hadn’t been assigned? Is there a book you were prepared to hate, but fell in love with by surprise?