The Death of Reading

O.K.  This is not a commentary on a book titled The Death of Reading.  I’m busy reading Alex Shakar’s Luminarium — a dense read.  Not dense as in somnulent, dense as in cheesecake.  I just can’t eat the whole cake at once.

The National Center for Education Statistics survey is reporting that 20% of eigth graders read for fun, whereas 53% of fourth graders do.  The homeschooler in me says that the relentless demands to identify theme, interpret setting, etc. without learning about the historical context of the writer and the characters.  While there is a lot of truth to this, my ten-year old would distill it to this sentiment:  kids are not reading to become depressed. 

The success of Rick Riordon’s and J.K. Rawlings’ books is not just the fabulous excitement their fundamental premise (your real parents are cool, you have super powers), it’s the fact that the negativity (specifically loss of parent(s)) does not overwhelm the reader.  There’s interest, and the death references are peppered in, not lathered on like alfredo sauce.  There’s also a detachment from the pain:  no middle schooler is worried about Voldemort killing their parents or their mythological father abandoning the family. 

Books tossed at me that got the big thumbs down from my almost 11 and 12 year old boys for their melancholia:

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Jumping the Nail by Eve Bunting
The Giver by Lois Lowry

All of these are listed as books for 6th to 8th graders or 10 and up. 

I can remember taking a literature class in high school with this list of novels:  Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Death of a Salesman, Metamorphosis and some uplifting tome by Charles Dickens.  One depression book a term is plenty; book after book after book is too much.  The heaviness weighs down on the reading enjoyment.  There’s no recovery from the sadness.  Why look forward to adulthood?  It’s all one disappointment and gut wrenching pain after another. 

While I understand that the goal of all of these books is to get kids to think, to ask questions, to make connections (and make no mistake, the three boos from my boys are great books), is it necessary to overwhelm them emotionally?  Can’t we allow kids to escape into another time, another place, another dimension?  Don’t we want them to read?

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