Let’s Talk Bookish: Required Reading

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was originally created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books starting in August 2019, and was then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion from May 2020 to March 2022. Book Nook Bits has hosted since April 2022.

April 14th: Required Reading

Prompts: This week, we’re bringing back an old LTB topic from a few years ago: Required reading. How do you feel about required reading? Do you think it is unfair and boring? Or do you think it helps students become better readers? What kinds of books do you think should be required reading, and what should classes avoid? Is it a good way of getting students to read old classics? 

This is a really interesting topic. So let’s dive in. I think required reading is kind of a necessity when you’re teaching a room full of people, at any level – if you’re studying Literature, you want people to be using the same text for at least part of it. And it can prompt discussions around the text, too. I know there were some books I was required to read in school I absolutely hated, and these had the impact of putting me off some ‘classics’. At the time, I definitely would have said this was unfair – after reading Emma, I never wanted to pick up Jane Austen again, but a friend encouraged me to read Pride & Prejudice and I really loved it.

The ‘required reading’ I enjoyed was very much dependent on who was teaching it, and how. I think it’s important because I think there’s a lot of books students wouldn’t pick up unless they had to, and it’s a good way to expose them to different material. However, I do think teachers should also be prepared to talk to their students about the books beyond their literary merits – I know I more enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the books in historical context than just what was on the page, and if teaching classics it’s important to make students aware of outdated and bigoted attitudes that can be found within them.

However, I do think we place a bit too much focus on ‘classics’, and I feel this can be a lot of students off reading completely. At school level, there were some books I enjoyed, but I felt like many were a big chore, despite the fact I loved reading anyway. When I was at university, because I did American Studies, part of this was American Literature, and we worked through this in chronological order – it was a much bigger variety, and there were post 1900 books included – it made it a lot more enjoyable throughout to know there was a wider scope than Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen.

I think it’s useful for students to read classics, but I think the best teachers look for engaging ways to do this. I would argue that Shakespeare should be taught in Drama, not English, and allow more for students to get up and perform the works rather than just dryly reading them. Adaptions can be useful for engaging students at all levels, too – whether these are maybe audio dramas, plays, or films, and whether they’re direct adaptations or things like Bridget Jones’ Diary, where a new story is created based on the old one (see also Ten Things I Hate About You).

To me, required reading shouldn’t just focus on the so-called classics, either – it’s not a bad idea to introduce more recent books into the classroom, and allow students to discuss characters and themes in a setting a little more relevant to them. If we want to encourage them as readers rather than just students, ‘required reading’ should take on different forms and even foster conversations about what is included on these lists and why – let students have a voice about how they feel towards the reading and maybe what they’d rather see.

As part of my American Literature module at uni, we had to do a presentation on a book we would include in the reading, and almost every group picked different books, examining why they thought they were good examples of literature, how they reflected the time period, why they were engaging, etc. Even though these books weren’t required reading, it had us students engaged and eager to discuss them.

I’d love to hear what other people think about this topic, as I find it completely fascinating! Link me to your posts or let me know in the comments what you think!


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