by Shirley Drew
In my role as a college professor, I have often been frustrated that students don't read their assignments for classes. I am convinced that the problem is in the way that academics write textbooks. They are rarely (if ever) written in ways that engage students’ attention. Then, one day when I was having this discussion with some upper level students, I impulsively asked them what they enjoyed reading, if not the “boring” textbooks. Most admitted to me that they didn’t enjoy reading—and that they simply didn’t read—at all. I was completely stunned. I just assumed that everyone read something, at least sometimes.
I was thinking of this discussion a couple of weeks ago when the fall semester classes began. So out of curiosity I posted a question on Facebook. The question was:
“I have a question for my students, past and present. If you don't read books--meaning for pleasure, then why not? Just curious.”
I got some fascinating responses, but one in particular interested me. This response was from a former student. In effect, he said that he reads only non-fiction for pleasure because reading fiction is a waste of time. His reason? He reads non-fiction because he learns from it. Implication? You don’t learn much (if anything) from fiction, therefore it has no value to him. I was surprised. Fiction entertains, delights, inspires imagination—and teaches us many things. So for the remainder of this post, I want to thank some of my favorite storytellers for what I’ve learned from them:
Barbara Kingsolver: For giving us a new appreciation for our land, our food, and the reality of climate change, difficult though it may be to think about: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Flight Behavior.
J.K. Rowling: For reminding us that being young is not always easy, that it takes courage, and that it is sometimes a great adventure. The entire Harry Potter Series.
Dan Brown: For challenging our perceptions about what we believe and what is possible: The DaVinci Code and all the Robert Langdon adventures.
Stephen King: For taking on the subjects of childhood trauma, the courage to do the right thing, and the power of our connection to others: It, The Shining, and Bag of Bones.
Joseph Heller: For reminding us of the absurdity of war: Catch-22.
Gabriel García: For telling us a story about colonialism, political unrest, and the human condition in such a magical way: One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Mark Twain: For telling us the truth about who we are, as human beings, every time he put pen to paper: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Letters from the Earth. Among so many others.