Discussion: Required Reading – Does it Lessen Your Enjoyment of a Book?

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So this an interesting topic I’ve wanted to discuss. Does reading a book required for school make you enjoy the book less? Or are you indifferent to it – a good book is a good book, right? Though, let me say, and I mean no offence to any writers out there, but I feel as though a lot of the books school choose to study are what you would call “deep and meaningful”, awash with symbolism and layered meanings. I find that these are the books I’m less inclined to like.

Of all my years of schooling, I’ve liked only one – yes, one – book I studied in school. It was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Funny, really, because I hadn’t expected to like the book at all. I’m not a huge fan of classics. I read it in literally a couple of hours. (Though it was really short so maybe this is not saying much.)

When you read a book for school, though, you don’t just read it and move on to the next thing. You’ll read it, study it, and write many, many essays – most likely you’ll have to read portions / all of it again to find quotes and symbolism and whatnot. And this is where, I believe, that some of the dislike for required reading came from me. I don’t like to analyze things too closely. It’s okay if you do, but that’s not me. I like the story to unfold on its own, and I don’t want to have to pick and pick and pick at the author’s writing – finding every small metaphor or literary technique he / she might have used to convey her point.

I just . . . couldn’t help myself, okay?

Okay.

For example, do I think of any of these things when I write?

I don’t. I’m sure that there are many literary techniques in my own writing, but as a writer, I don’t sit down before my laptop and think, “Oooh, let’s add a metaphor here to show the reader my characters’ undying love for each other!” or whatever. I just don’t. I find this area of the subject English to be very vague and just downright pointless – why am I nitpicking every little thing the author has to say? How is this supposed to help me in life? And how do you, as a teacher, even know that was what the author actually meant of those words? Here is the wonderful thing about books: they mean something different to everyone.

More to the topic, though, does this affect your reading enjoyment? When you’re going over a novel, again and again, doesn’t it become tiresome? I know after reading The Shoe-Horn Sonata for Year 12 (this was a play, actually, not a novel) I wanted to throw it out the window. It’s a fantastic, moving play, really – but the months of picking it apart for essays and questions made me grow resentful towards it. I can’t help it. It almost made me understand why people out there don’t enjoy reading. It also makes me wonder whether required reading for school hinders people’s willingness to read on their own rather than helps.

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Bloggers / readers / writers, let me know what you think! How do

you feel about required reading? Do you enjoy it? Or not? And

why? Is it like me, because we’re forced to analyze every small

detail in the novel? And here is a question for you writers: when

you write, do you consciously consider symbolism / metaphors /

other literary techniques when you’re writing? Also, do you think

it’s fair to an author for people to be constantly trying to examine

the author’s meaning / message of a story? I would love to know!

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32 thoughts on “Discussion: Required Reading – Does it Lessen Your Enjoyment of a Book?

  1. I, personally, despise required reading. (I’ve actually gone into a reading slump multiple times because of this.) I too hate that we’re forced to over-analyze everything, but my main problem with it is when I’m forced to read a pretentious–to me, at least–book and pretend it’s the best thing that has ever been written.

    Although I have to admit that it has introduced me to some pretty good books, I still hate it nonetheless.

    And as a writer, I don’t really think about metaphors and symbolisms when I’m writing. It just kind of comes out, you know?

    • Yeah, I know what you mean. A lot of the school required books do come off as a little pretentious. I AGREE. I know there are some metaphors and whatnot in my own writing, but I generally don’t intend for them to be there; like you said, they come to me, and they just fit the plot well, so I leave them there.

  2. I personally hate being told that I ‘have to’ do something. Which is why I hated studying books in school. I completely agree with pretty much everything you said. I don’t like analysing things too much either, unless it’s something that I’ve voluntarily read multiple times and am so invested in the world/story that I need to know every detail. I’ve often gone back and reread books that I’ve had to study, and I’ve ended up enjoying them because I could read/understand/interpret it how I wanted and at my own speed.
    That was something else I hated about required reading, the time constraints. You don’t get to fully immerse yourself in a story because your mentality is, ‘I have to have this many chapters read by this time.’
    When I’m writing, the last thing on my mind is purposefully using literary techniques. If it happens, it happens, but I don’t sit down with the intention of using a certain number of different techniques.
    As to your question on whether or not it’s fair to constantly analyse a message/meaning, I definitely don’t think it’s right to say, ‘The author meant this, and only this.’ It completely takes away any opportunity to form your own opinion or viewpoint on it. I hated being told, ‘So and so is this type of character. End of. They’re horrible. They’re a victim.’ I used to drive my English teacher crazy because any time he named a character as a villain, I’d go out of my way to prove him wrong and show a different side to them, vice versa with the ‘victims’ of the book.
    I think when you over-analyse a book, particularly in a classroom setting, people stop thinking for themselves and just take what they’re told as their own opinion because it’s easier.

    • Oh, I know exactly what you mean! When someone tells me what to do, I dig my heels in a little, and become verrrrrrrry stubborn. So of course when I was given the texts I had to learn, it became more of a chore. Under normal circumstances I would never, ever consider reading to be a chore, you know? But it’s hard to like a book when a) teachers are forcing it down your throat, and b) you have to pick apart literally EVERYTHING.

      The time constraints is another good point. A couple of times I remember rushing things just to get the work done, which didn’t give me the time to even try to enjoy it. I’m pretty much of the same mind when it comes to writing. Sometimes these things are there, sometimes they’re not. Either way for me it doesn’t matter; but I don’t, whatever I do, try to force it.

      I was home schooled for most of high school so luckily that last point didn’t really apply to me. However I do know where you’re coming from. I mean, it’s hard to have your own opinion of something when teachers / other kids are telling you something different. That applies, too, in exams. Markers are looking for certain things when they grade essays and whatnot, so it kind of takes away one’s individual opinion, in some ways.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. I think the same. And when everything is about exams, more is focused on what we need to be able to write about rather than the book itself. Which is the quibble I have with the creative writing too – if we NEED to have a certain amount of similes/metaphors or whatever, then it’s kind of pointless because they’re not needed. But…I do use symbolism in my books. Not usually in the first draft, but it works its way in eventually :)

    Great discussion!

    • To be honest when it comes to exams, a lot of it was (for me) just memorizing things, then rewriting it to fit the essay question or whatever. And I just don’t see the point of that. What am I learning from that, anyway? When I think about it, I’ve realized that I too have symbolism in my novels, but I never intentionally put it there, which makes me wonder whether other authors do — or if it’s just me. xD

  4. I’ve had several teachers who ruined legitimately good books for me by bad teaching (ie focusing on vocabulary instead of making connections). Also, I’m a naturally fast reader, and so reading books for school gets frustrating because most teachers hold me back so I don’t get ahead of the rest of the class. By the time I go back to the next chapter or selection or whatever, I’m feeling a lot less excited since it’s been days since I last read.

    On the other hand, my current English teacher is absolutely wonderful. We’re working on Shakespeare right now, and so in each lecture she’ll teach us how to pick apart his writing to see the metaphors and deeper meanings- but she also encourages us to notice the puns and innuendo that you can find in pretty much any of his writing. I feel like I really enjoy Shakespeare far more than I normally would, because even though it’s required, it’s also well taught and interesting.

    So all in all, I think it depends on the teacher and how they teach it.

    • You are completely right about the teacher. Teachers make all the difference when it comes to school — and not just in English. Any subject, really. For the majority of my high school though I was homeschooled, and without a face-to-face teaching environment it could become a little difficult to figure novels out properly. :)

  5. Omg yes yes yes! The part about where authors don’t think “let’s add a metaphor here to emphasise the tone blah blah” when they write. I feel like it should just come naturally to writers right? I’ve only ever enjoyed one book from school as well and that was Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French. Most of the time, I think it’s the language that takes away from my enjoyment more than the fact that I have to study it. My school always chooses books from a billion years ago and it’s hard for me to lose myself in the story when I can’t understand it. :P

  6. WAIT IS THIS A NEW BLOG DESIGN I SPY? (I’m probably very late to the party). As a writer, I don’t really consider metaphors/ symbolism/ morals when I write. First and foremost, I write what my characters have to say. I don’t read enough classics though, lol. I should do that more…

  7. I completely agree with all of this Kara. I try to be unbiased when I read books required for school, but, needless to say, it never really turns out that way. ;) It always seems like teachers pick required reading books based on what they feel their students would like, when in reality it’s probably something completely different. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous discussion! ♥

  8. Actually, I often enjoy reading and rereading the classics over and over again in school and just by myself to try to pick apart how the author accomplished telling such a fabulous tale. I think it really helps me to improve my writing and make my writing as layered and complex as the classics. I don’t consciously consider elements like metaphors and such when I’m writing my first draft, but when I’m editing, I do pay attention to the symbolism. That said, I don’t actually like required reading for school that much because when there’s a grade attached everything becomes more stressful and unenjoyable. Also, I don’t like annotating because it totally takes me out of the book when I have to stop to write like 4 sticky notes on EVERY PAGE. Okay, maybe not that many sticky notes, but still.

    • Ooh, you actually make an excellent point there, Ana. And I really do know what you mean. Because when I do read a good book — or at least one that I think is good — I do pay a little more attention to the way it’s written, and what it is that makes it such a good book. For us writers I think that can be very useful. But sometimes I think that schools can be a little overboard when it comes to their teaching of a text. Not a fan of sticky notes in books here either. xD I am much too lazy to pause every few lines to write something down!

  9. I loved Of Mice and Men, but that was only after my boyfriend forced me to read it. I agree though, the expectations of reading for school makes me enjoy a book a lot less than I should. I hated all the analysation and often found it contrived and absolutely stupid. Really, the use of a blue curtain highlights sorrow? REALLY?! I read To Kill a Mockingbird in school and really disliked it because I feel like the discussions in class butchered its overall loveliness. I know in my heart it’s a wonderful book, but I can’t seem to shake off the school imbedded within the book. One day I will read it again without having to analyse every sentence…hopefully I will love it then. :P Brilliant discussion lovely!

    • I KNOW RIGHT? Blue curtains, sorrow!? I mean that is a really, really tenuous link there! I’ve actually been meaning to read To Kill a Mocking Bird; in fact, I’m quite glad my school never studied that one. At least now I’ll be able to read it because I’ve chosen to, and I won’t have to over-analyse anything. :)

      Thank you!

  10. I need to read To Kill A Mockingjay for required reading this year and honestly, I’m not looking forward to it as much as what i’d feel if I just read it for pure enjoyment. When I read a book for required reading, I have a habit to use a whole crap load of sticky notes (sometimes like 3 on one page) to just note down everything so it’s easier when I have to write an essay and refer back to my copy. I think the constant stopping to do that and the slow pace I have tor read does ruin it, for me.

    Interesting post, Kara! <33

  11. Hmmmm very interesting. I think it wasn’t required reading that bothered me, it was the picks that the education system wanted us reading. None of them hit it off with me. ESPECIALLY THE DAMN ENG ADV COURSE UM NO. And could they not with all the Shakespeare. School did get me reading 1984 which I loved. And the Extension Eng course had some fantastic texts, albeit I wasn’t crazy for the poetry. But yeah, I think it’s more of what’s being dictated to us, you know? At least that’s what it was like for me. I do get you about the bullcrap (sorry I get passionate LOL) that they make us pull from these texts. “Oh I think the blue font on the cover obviously matches the blue curtains which emphasise how deep and sorrowful the protagonist felt. ” UM NO. THANK YOU. I just think the author wanted blue font and blue curtains because pretty. Ok, look at the english in this comment. I’m going to stop and go away now LOL

  12. I agree with you. I think a lot of people do. Being required to read something sometimes makes us feel like we need to find something that our teacher wants us to se and we feel like we have to stay inside a box. When I read alone, I want to get something about of a story for me… Learn a lesson that deals with my life. Not for a grade or to please a teacher’s eyes when they read our commentaries.

    At times, though, I find that I like the stories we read in class. When we’re done, I often read it alone and get my own take on the words that left me wondering… I actually loved ‘The Great Gatsby’ and “Farenheit 451′. Those books really inspired me and I love the meanings behind them. And I wouldn’t have read them so early on in high school if it wasn’t for my class… there are pros and cons to assigned reading. But I’d rather want to feel free to read what I please. :)

    • I haven’t read either of those books you mentioned, but actually, I would really love to one day! So I’m glad to hear you enjoyed them. I’m the same, I would much rather choose the book I have to read…rather than have it forced on me. Thanks for your thoughts!

  13. Gah. Required reading. It has ruined books for me! Yeah, without it I wouldn’t have read Lord of the Flies or Of Mice and Men (I like them both, and yeah OMAM is soooo awesome!) but still. I don’t like studying books without having time to adjust to the book and fall in love with it. I’d love to know about the writer’s intentions and fangirl about the words after I have read it, not while I’m reading it with a whole bunch of people for the matter! :D
    However….without required reading I wouldn’t be loving some of the books I do…a lot of them are on required reading lists (like To Kill a Mockingbird) but I haven’t studied them. And although I love, love, LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird I can understand the contempt a person would have if they’d near broken their fingers writing essay upon essay on the beautiful piece!

  14. Personally, I don’t really find myself enjoying books less because they are required reading. Two books I have read that have been required reading and loved are “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. These are books we had to read for school and I absolutely adored them. Required reading doesn’t have an effect as to my enjoyment of a good book.

    However, if a book is set as required reading and I didn’t like it, I tend to judge it even more. Two good example of this are “Waiting for Anya” and “Private Peaceful”, both by Michael Morpurgo. I found a variety of different problems with it, but my hate for it has probably intensified significantly because it was a book I was forced to read.

    I can think of 2 reasons for this. One, I think it happen because the novel in question is treated like an over-hyped book. Teachers keep gushing praises about a book that really isn’t that interesting, and you have no idea why, so there’s this feeling of annoyed confusion that settles inside you. Secondly, it’s because you’re forced to read it. You didn’t want to touch the book in the first place for whatever, and as it turns out, your instinct was right because it’s horrible, and yet you STILL have to go through with it.

    Not sure if anyone has already expressed these opinions because I haven’t been reading the comments above, but that’s just my 2 cents.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts!

      For me, it’s definitely because I’m being “forced” to read them. I don’t like to read things I’m not interested in. I read for enjoyment, for myself, not because of school. And well, I personally find then majority of what the English subject teaches us from Yr 7 onwards just useless.

      • Definitely get what you mean.

        P.S.: I’ve just reread the first message I sent you and I’ve realized that I have written it so poorly. Glad you were able to make sense of the mess though. :)

  15. I just read anathem, a 800 page book for school, and it was absolutely tedious, and not something I’d have read on my own. i also forgot to make notes when interesting things were happening, which defied the purpose somewhat. It really redeemed itself over thse second half. though. i guess the thing about required reading is that if forces you to read something out of your comfort zone, though whether that is a good or bad thing really depends.

  16. I have mixed feelings about this. Some books I hated and didn’t understand why they were included in the syllabus. Others I ended up loving….

  17. I commented on this before, but I’m doing a research essay/presentation and my chosen topic is related to this post. I was wondering if I could maybe mention your post in my presentation? I’m trying to find different opinions and ideas.

    Feel free to say no if you want!

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