Dragging through the Classics

In one of many essays occasioned by the release of the final Harry Potter instalment, Ron Charles at the Washington Post remarks,

As I look back on my dozen years of teaching English, I wish I’d spent less time dragging my students through the classics and more time showing them how to strike out on their own and track down new books they might enjoy. Without some sense of where to look and how to look, is it any wonder that most people who want to read fiction glom onto a few bestsellers that everybody’s talking about?

As I look back on my own dozen years of teaching English, I’d like to think that while dragging my students through the classics may not have taught them where and how to look for new books, it has taught them a lot about what to look for when they actually sit down to read–and maybe also raised the bar for the kind of books they enjoy. That said, I agree that English teachers should encourage their students to see the work they do in class as preparation for a future in which, for most of them, there will be no more “required” reading. For those who need help when they do strike out on their own, John Sutherland’s How to Read a Novel provides some useful, if idiosyncratic, advice.

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