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 I’ve gotten on my soapbox before about how high school English ruins reading for kids.  And be forewarned, here we go again.   But before I begin, I just want you to read this:

“This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age.  In this double demotion the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way.”

I have one question.  How the HELL does anyone expect a 16-year-old to understand that?

The fact is, course, that they can’t.  They’re sixteen, mere emotional fetuses.  They read John Knowles beautiful words, but they don’t digest them.  They hear but they don’t listen (isn’t that typical teenager behavior?). They don’t get what this book is really about, which is deeply sad, because there is so, so much to “get.”

I know this, because I was asked to read this book when I was sixteen and I even I, a practically professional reader, almost forgot about the third protagonist – the war.  What I remember most was wondering idly which of the boys I would have liked to date (Finny of course!).   In that way I am (or rather, as I like to think, was) no better than the scads of Twi-hards in their Team Jacob and Team Edward tshirts.

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I apologize dear reader(s), for being gone so long.  My blogging has been stymied by other obligations.  I have been reading like crazy, however.   I promised to get back to y’all about that.


I decided to devote some of new year to books that high school or junior high has ruined for millions.  Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are two of these.  I must admit I was looking for the same lightning in a bottle as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Alas it was not to be, though I can’t say I’m disapointed either.

Tom Sawyer has been accurately described as a children’s book about a boy.  I would venture to guess that if it were written today it would not make the best seller lists.  What it lacks in complexity, it doesn’t make up for in plot.  There is a lot of action and adventure and not much substance.  One wonders how one boy got into so many scrapes in such a small amount of pages!  I must be getting older, because I wonder about Aunt Polly’s fitness as a guardian.  Though her Mary seemed to turn out alright.  All in all, it’s over too soon and not much of it sticks with you, besides the whitewashing scene.  Though cultural prevalence probably has more to do with that than anything.

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To Kill a Mockingbird should never be read in school.  Period.

To Kill a MockingbirdI originally read it when I was 16; it was an assignment for some class or another. I rushed through it, impatiently endured the various discussions of race and class and prejudice and ultimately felt burdened by the fact that I was supposed to like it.   That was, I think, a typical reaction to class reading assignments and I know I was not alone.  And I was a reader, for goodness sake, and any educational system that gets readers to disregard truly great books is obviously doing something very wrong (and very very deterimental).

Harper Lee and her pal Truman Capote are in vogue right now, thanks to the movies Capote and Infamous and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve caught the fever (I reread In Cold Blood about a year ago).  I also just finished a awfully written novel surmising about their relationship post Cold Blood.  It was called Capote in Kansas (skip it, it’s not worth the time) and it kicked off a sudden desire to read that slim novel collecting dust on my shelves. 

Rereading this book now, as an adult, I realize that there are few books which can be read without cynicism (or maybe which can read without cynicism, an entirely different thing) .  An experienced reader learns to like books – with reservations.  We learn to tolerate poor writing in the search for a good story.  We forgive or willfully deny plot holes and wide spaces of imperfect style and content.  In short, we learn to say “I liked it, but. . .”   Because we think that we can’t do better.  That all the good books we already read with abandon by the age of seven.

With Mockingbird there are no buts or reservations.  This book is simply perfect.  It belongs to a short list indeed; I can count on one hand the number of books that can claim such a grand achievement. 

Which to me is all the reason I need to understand why Ms. Lee never wrote again.  She’s already succeeded at the unattainable.  Where else could she go but down?


P&PI’ve never been one for “studying” literature.  Dissecting plot lines, themes and social context doesn’t really inspire me.  That is the main reason why I never pursued a degree in English Literature, despite my passion for reading it. I didn’t want to make it work.

My senior year in high school AP English is a perfect illustration.  We studied a lot of works that year (1984, Canterbury Tales, and Macbeth to name a few).  The total number of pages I read can be calculated easily – zero.  How did I pass?  My class was filled with the smartest of the smart kids that year (one major exception being my friend Christine who, I suspect for communist reasons, opted out of AP for regular English class *gasp*) and all I had to do was let them start the discussion and take their talking points a bit further down the road. 

I’ve never been haunted by the ghosts of AP English past, and I’ve never taken the time to read the books I should have read ten years ago.  In fact, I always felt as if I had already read Pride and Prejudice.  It’s such a famous book that it’s wormed its way, Jungian style, into the literary and popular culture (see it referenced in the movie You’ve Got Mail).  Between the BBC version, the new Keira Knightly movie and the pervasive Bridget Jones I’m sure everyone feels it would be a bother to actually open the pages.  We already know the story. 

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading