The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Big Read’s Teenage Reading Survey, Part I

May 25, 2007
Washington, DC

Calling all junior-high and high-school teachers: What are your students' favorite books? Not necessarily their favorite assigned books -- though if somebody says The Great Gatsby, nobody's going to try and talk 'em out of it -- but their favorite books, assigned or not, fiction or not, with word balloons or not. Whichever book gets the most votes, I'll see that the Big Read staff reads it, and I'll blog about it as soon as we're done. I'll also make some unsolicited suggestions about how to build lesson plans around the top vote-getters.?

Partly this is atonement for a conversation I had with a Miami-Dade College kid I met on the bus ride to Key West last month. His teacher had assigned him A Farewell to Arms for the Big Read, and he wasn't crazy about it. Few uninitiated teenagers cotton to the great books right away. Superficial differences in age and priorities can get in the way -- besides which, the fellow-feeling across cultures that a reading life instills hasn't taken root yet. This is precisely why non-readers need a book even more than the somebody who's already got one. The benefits of reading accrue faster than they dissipate; folks acquire the habit quicker than they break it.

The students of Stillwater High may have liked The Grapes of Wrath, but what were they reading on their own time? Photo by David Kipen

So I asked this kid, I hope not too desperately, what his idea of a good book was. I forget the title, but the author was Danielle Steele -- whom he called Daniel, by the way. Having been thoroughly conditioned to look down on Steele's work, I nodded politely and tried hard to think of something nonjudgmental to say. Pretty soon he went across the street for an Egg McMuffin.

What I should have done, of course, was press him, ask him what he liked about Danielle Steele's book. Not so I could convince him that my novel could lick his novel, but just to find out what this kid likes when, hallelujah, he likes a book.

So teachers, please email me (use the "Email us" link at right) with the names of your students? favorite books. Nominations from students themselves would be delightful too, but this whole thing idea cropped up because Molly here started fulminating about teachers. She's got nothing against them, doesn't even rule out going back into the classroom herself someday. But she fears that too many teachers try so hard to develop their kids' reading tastes that they forget to ask which books students ?already like?.

Before teachers pour out of the woodwork to rebut this scurrilous libel on their entire profession, I hasten to point out that this is Molly's idea, all Molly's, not mine, and if it belongs on anybody's permanent record, pick on her. (This is called having your staff's back.) But even if there probably isn't a scintilla of truth to what Molly says, I'd very much like to know what books teenagers are enjoying -- either in school or, better yet, on their own, just for grins.

So please, if only so I can make secret amends to that kid in Miami, bring on those emails. Because I've heard that some freakish people work better with a deadline, let's set one of Monday, June 4. Teachers, that question again: What are your students' favorite books? Maybe ask 'em two books they might read this summer, since Harry Potter may be a gimme. (No fair censoring the answers, either.) Daniel Steele, the nightstands of the Big Read staff await you?