The Pros & Cons of Summer Reading

SHOPThis year when I sat down to do my summer reading, I faced a dilemma.Normally, I just knock it out in a day before the first day of school, preferably during the week before. Not during "real" summer, but during the hasty preparations of the early weeks of August. I'd rather get it over with, but still fresh enough to where I could remember it for the inevitable quizzes.Last year, I started my summer reading on the night before school started, preferring to wrap it up within the insomniac hours that the night before school always brought.Considering it was about five hundred pages, it was a calculated risk but it worked out. It was also five hundred pages of landscape descriptions, so I wanted to hold off on dealing with that for as long as I could.My problem this year? I couldn't read.A recent concussion left me with poor visual tracking and other problems, screwing with my light sensitivity and basically ensuring that I couldn't get past a page or two without a splitting headache. My doctor told me I couldn't read while I rested my head. I literally could not do my summer reading.So I turned to the audiobook. Seven minutes in and the heady Southern accent had me debating insanity. Finally, I just popped a few Advil and settled in to read in spurts of about a hundred pages. Ouch.Our book this year was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I'm enjoying the book so far, but I tend to feel the same way about inspirational historical books that I feel about inspirational horse movies: they're good but they're all the same after a while. My favorite book is a historical fiction but Revolution is set in the high drama of the French Revolution, interspersed with complex and compelling characters on the contemporary side. That I can happily read, but the dull household life as detailed in so many of Kidd's pages left me trudging through it for a while until the pace quickened.It left me thinking about the trials of summer reading. Try as I might, I can't think of anybody who enjoys their summer reading. One school in our area was lucky enough to have The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, with another all-guys school saddled with Matched by Ally Condie.I've hated my last few summer reading books: My Antonia, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, Robin Hood.Doesn't summer reading just make everyone hate the book anyways? It leaves us thinking, yes, but also causes us just to dread the act of trudging through another chapter. Slow readers find that it eats up more and more of their summers. There are classics that I force myself to read on my own before we read during class just because I know the over-analyzing will make me hate the book. August is always one of the blog's busiest months because I get so many freshmen clicking on my Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie post for insight into their summer assignment.There are definitely some pros though. I think it's great that they do encourage kids to read. I think it's great that it eases us back into thinking again and writing about it. It forces us to gather up our articulation before school actually starts. Sometimes you get a rocking English teacher (like mine this year!) or a great book to read and you end up loving it.I definitely agree that schools that do a list-format have the right idea. Getting to pick your summer reading from a list at least gives you some choice in the matter, some indication of how you'll feel about it. People prefer different genres naturally, and I love how some schools understand that. I especially love schools that hand out YA reading assignments rather than the same stilted classics or biographies.There are some issues with that though. Many teachers weave the summer reading into the first month of their curriculums, with tests, class discussion, and homework centered around it. With the list-formatted summer reading assignments, they couldn't regulate that nor keep their lesson plans on task of that one book. It's definitely easier to get a baseline of how many kids in the class think and additionally, to keep the classroom running smoothly.There are a lot of factors involved in summer reading. So, I've compiled a little list of the pros and cons to clear it up a little bit. This is all entirely opinionated, of course.

Pros:

  • It gets kids to read outside of their comfort zones
  • It gets us to think about issues and ideas we wouldn't necessarily be exposed to otherwise
  • Some English teachers make really great choices
  • It's easier for teachers to make lesson plans
  • It's easier for teachers to get a baseline of how most kids in the classroom think and how they're doing

Cons:

  • Kids who don't read often who hate their summer reading are less inclined to read on their own because they aren't exposed to multiple books that they may enjoy
  • Books are often very similar or dull
  • Books are often overanalyzed to death to the point where most kids end up hating it
  • It can be difficult to get the reading done
  • Kids spend more time answering the questions or homework that goes along with the book rather than sinking into the experience of it.

In any case, I think there are valid points on each side. Do I think we should ever get rid of summer reading? No. Do I think we should be more selective in the books picked and the lessons based on those? Yes. My parents raised my family and I by fostering reading, getting us to love it. They didn't care what we read (although I was restricted from YA until a certain age, for obvious reasons) because at least we were reading. If you love reading, you can learn a whole lot more about the world than in any other way. Even if you hate doing it, reading helps.(I am actually enjoying my current summer reading book. I wouldn't necessarily read it again, and my concussion might be contributing to some areas of my dislike, but I'm already brainstorming ideas for the accompanying essay.)

What do you think? Does summer reading help or hurt?

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