Thursday, June 18, 2009

Readers in their youth... the short story, continued

Or... why not just teach whatever the heck I feel like? I think I've been feeling a lot of anxiety at the prospect of teaching only literature classes next year. There are rumors that my school is clamping down on electives. Apparently they're too small (student numbers) and too much of a scheduling hassle. I, obviously, think this would be horrible for teachers as well as students, but with public schools, sometimes it's about the kids, and sometimes it's about the money.

In the past I've had the freedom to do a lot. In fiction writing alone I've used the collections Werewolves in their Youth and Nine Stories as well as anthologies like You've Got to Read This (thanks Bob Pope), and The Oxford Anthology of American Short Stories. Some of the best discussions we ever had came from reading Werewolves in their Youth. Why? We read some of the bad Amazon book reviews, such as:

" I just read one of the stories from this book because my visiting cousin (16 years old) has it assigned for classwork. She said it was "the dumbest thing" she had ever read. Thinking she migh be missing something, I read the story myself. She is correct. This is the type of verbal diarrhea that causes young people to dislike literature. What a sad commentary on our culture that this is considered worthy of study in any context." -Erika Kendra

Isn't that hilarious! Here's another:

"Chabon is so praised, I try to find quality in his work, but it's pretentious writing, that tries so hard to be literary, and nothing in the stories or the words themselves pulls you toward the next page. I started reading a short story in this collection, and had to look up two words within the first two paragraphs. It made me feel stupid. But then I realized that I just finished reading WAR AND PEACE the week before, and had not had to look up a single word when reading THAT (the greatest novel ever written). Chabon should take a lesson from Tolstoy and try to write more naturally, and stop trying to be such an academic fop." - A Customer

The idea that looking words up makes someone feel stupid got my students laughing and stirred up. Then we debated. Half of the room took the opinions of these readers, that Chabon is spewing verbal diarrhea is an academic fop, yadda yadda yadda, while the other half tried to defend the merit of his writing. This was after we read "Spikes," which is a really good story in my opinion.

1 comment:

Meagan said...

Reading 1 star reviews is one of my favorite and most addicting time wasting hobbies. It never would have occurred to me to do anything productive with them, like use samples in a class. But then, I suppose that's part of why I'm not a teacher. Nice one.