Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Writing and English Classes

Remember my rant about wanting to pick writer's brains?  Well I found a book that has done that.  I haven't read it all yet but I wanted to share a few things.
The authors "interviewed" in Daniel Alarcon's The Secret Miracle are mostly foreign, but a writer is a writer!  The book is a compilation of some panel interviews conducted by the author and simply consists of questions and each author's answer.  The chapters are organized to reflect basically different parts of the writing process: influences, starting, plot, character, scene etc., revision, and finishing.

I'm mostly skimming right now but loved this answer from Santiago Roncagliolo in response to the question: "How many books do you read in a given month?  How many books do you read at a time?"

"If I don't like one, I abandon it and I begin another.  There are lots of good books to be read.  There's no need to obsess yourself with the bad ones.  There are also good books that you read at the wrong time.  In those cases, it's better to wait and try again later."

I could not have said this better myself!  He is so right and that of course leads directly into my biggest soapbox:  English classes in high school.
(I'll try to be brief and concise here, otherwise we could be a while.)

With 5 years of English teaching experience across a broad spectrum of "abilities" and desires, I've come to the conclusion that 4 years of English classes reading "classic" literature is a waste for most students.  I, personally, love classic literature and yet there are certain authors that I DO NOT READ FOR FUN:  Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Steinbeck are just two.  So yes people, the smart thing here is to require it of teenage boys and girls who are planning to spend their lives in construction, as math teachers, as scientists or doctors, working at Walmart, or painting, or whatever!  (Please read heavy sarcasm here).  

Education should be focused on teaching students to read and write well and should use a variety of tools to do that.  If that means you dig out Captain Underpants then so be it.  The tools will lead them to greater success than the actual book.

That being said, I do have books that I have put aside only to love them later.  A good example of that is Charles Dickens' Hard Times.  Love that book.  Love love love that book.  But I didn't love it until college.
And my grandmother often sends me books with a note that she didn't like it and stopped reading but here you go anyway.  Although we have similar taste, there's a few that I have loved that she hasn't been able to get through.

That's what makes a blog like this problematic.  I can recommend books, but that doesn't guarantee that YOU will like them.  And that's ok!

I'll still love you.