By: Trip M.
My apologies to the English department for any hyperbolic assertions inappropriately made regarding books
Reading. A word with almost unspeakable magnitude. Its legacy has endured tears from lower-schoolers, groans from middle-schoolers and not much from high schoolers, who often go to great lengths to avoid “poisoning” their minds with literature. What is it that makes reading undesirable to so many students? More importantly, how can we make reading easier?
A great example of a difficult book to read is Shakespeare’s most mainstream tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. It’s a perennial favorite for Mr. M.’s ninth graders to stumble through. Why is it that so many simply give up after the first page? Why do so many resort to the dark side of the internet to aid them? Well, my first piece of advice certainly isn’t new. Romeo and Juliet is old. Really old. I would be surprised to find anyone at SIA reading something older than Shakespeare’s works (save some picaresque-savy Spanish students). Sorry Dr. M., in this case, I’m not counting the classics. That’s cheating. But even old lingo can be translated into modern English; why does it still make no sense? Well, Mr. W. will tell you that Shakespeare’s works were never meant to be read, rather, acted out. Don’t think of the language of a story; think of it as a dialogue. This also makes the reading much more enjoyable because Shakespeare can often be quite funny (and rude).
Okay, so, you are a junior now. No more “he’s too old” carte blanche. Now you’re reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I once said that reading Heart of Darkness is like trying to “interpret a lead plate.” Sure Conrad’s tough. His writing is very difficult to follow because it is hard to know who is speaking. All of the Juniors who tackled this book over the summer ended up getting head-locked and stiff-armed by Marlow and Kurtz. Once we learned about the special “boxed novella” narrative, however, the book became much more approachable.
So here’s my final address, the things that I have taken from reading many books that qualify as “boring.” My first piece of advice, as I said before, is to always know who is speaking. If you don’t, go back and find out because your perception of the language is immediately changed by knowing who says what. Second, most great writers enjoy writing unnecessarily descriptive passages. Don’t worry about all of those adjectives. Yes, if there is a metaphor, it is important. However, if John Steinbeck talks about dust for thirty pages in The Grapes of Wrath, you know you’re in for a long day. Finally, make an effort to keep any distractions away when you read. Whether it is a TV blaring, or your latest selfie blowing up on Instagram, try to distance yourself from anything that could take your attention from reading. Do these things, and you should see that your book has not only become more bearable, but in fact may be interesting. It’s almost as if books were some kind of entertainment…