Don't try so hard

I've spent a lot of time in the past week with my extended family. There's one cousin who is clearly Ausperger's; one "quirk" is the over-reliance on puns and wordplay, which makes casual conversation difficult. Here's an example: Sunday night I ordered prime rib - I was asked why I wasn't ordering secondary or tertiary rib. My father asked why I was ordering steak (I usually don't) and when I responded that I felt a need for iron, my cousin said that he had a ton of iron - literally - in his workshop. My father finds all this charming. I don't.

Also this week I was e-mailing a librarian friend about the upcoming ALA and AASL conferences and she asked if I'd read anything by Jasper Fforde (she was reading some and loving it). I said that I had read two Tuesday Nexts and two Nursery Crimes and
To be honest, I'm not fond of the Ffordes. He tries too hard with the puns and the literary references, which is great in Book One, but a little tiring in Book Two and by Book Three you're just ready to kill him (*I* think). The Nursery Crimes were better than the Tuesday Next's, but I'm not rushing to read anything new by him.
Fforde reminds me of my cousin: striving hard to be likable and funny, but missing because it's obvious striving and not a natural ("organic") thing.

Thursday I met with the Head of our English Department and with one of our 6th Grade English teachers. We talked about reluctant readers and how to motivate them (using alternative teaching ideas, expanding the range of books we booktalk, etc.). The problem is, this isn't just a problem in 6th Grade, it's a problem in Upper School. One thing I keep hearing from students is "reading is too much work" (as if!).

Why is it work? Because - and this is my theory - in English class you're taught to Read Deeply, to Read for Meaning. What journey is the hero on? Which archetypes does the heroine espouse? What allusions are being made in this passage? et-boring-cetera. Books aren't taught to be read for fun - there's Purpose to it all. No wonder Chick Lit (and Lad Lit and manga) are taking off: people want to read for fun, not constantly on the lookout for Important Stuff. Even a work of genre fiction, like Fforde's mysteries, can be work if you're always on the alert for a new pun, a new allusion (somehow, Terry Pratchett does this much better and seamlessly).

I have to admit, if a work makes me think too hard (and I mean, if that's the author's intent, not something I derive from the reading), I don't enjoy it. I'm not looking for antiheros and symbolism, I'm looking for a book that tastes good*** - and you readers out there know whatof I speak. I don't read Robertson Davies looking for Insights and Truth, I read him because the words sound good, because it's a world I can dive deeply in to and come out refreshed and renewed.

I mentioned this to the Head of English and now we're going to work on some ways in which we can have students read, but not try so hard.


(***caveat: this does not represent 100% of my reading!)

1 comment:

Aravis said...

You're right about the forced readings for deeper meanings in English classes: it sucks a lot of joy out of reading. Thankfully, it didn't rob me of the pleasure I derive from it altogether. You make an excellent point.

On a side note, last night I had a dream in which you became a librarian of a local library and I popped by to surprise you. This actually makes the second dream in a week (I think) in which I dreamed that I surprised a blogging friend in real life. Hm. Anyway, it seems you've been on my mind. *G*