Required reading

So, I have to read two books for my job. They are the “summer reading” books for incoming freshmen, and I don’t know how the freshmen are feeling about this assignment, but I’m none too happy. This is sort of strange, because I’m normally the kind of person who doesn’t complain about assignments and required reading; I’m a dutiful student who will pretty much read whatever the teacher tells me too. But in this case, it’s not a teacher telling me to read something, but the higher-ups at work, and the entire summer reading concept doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at my school. If this were a meaningful reading assignment for the students, one that were carefully planned and integrated into some kind of program or into classes, that would be better, but it’s really not. There’s one day when we’re supposed to discuss the books with the students, and after that it’s up to individual teachers to figure out if they want to use the books in class. Really, I’d prefer not to use them at all. And I know exactly how the two summer reading books were chosen, and it wasn’t exactly the most intellectually rigorous process.

What worries me is that the students will recognize that this was a pretty meaningless assignment — of course, any reading they do is good, so it’s not “meaningless” really, but they come to school expecting the programs and curriculum to make sense, expecting things to fit together, expecting to find that they will have to write about the books or that the discussions will be lengthy and in-depth. And they won’t find this. Instead, it’ll get brushed aside pretty quickly, and they’ll learn that they could have skipped the assignment entirely. And that’s not the attitude I want them to pick up right off the bat. We have a freshman summer reading assignment for reasons of image, I think; the higher-ups think it sounds like a good idea and, after all, everybody else does it. What the school doesn’t do is think through the purpose of the reading assignment and how (and whether) they can integrate it into everything else going on.

I’m left feeling like a rebellious student who’s trying to find a way out of doing my work. Should I call in sick the day of the book discussion? Alas, I probably won’t. Skimming? Online summaries of the books?

No, this isn’t one of my best moments.

The books are Fast Food Nation and Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Fast Food Nation shouldn’t be too painful — I might find it engaging and might learn something from it, although I feel like I’ve kind of got the concept already and so am already feeling in danger of boredom. Sparrow I don’t know anything about. Is there someone out there who can make me feel better about having to read this? Please, someone, tell me it’s a great book, and then maybe I can muster up some excitement.

I often have to read things for work — the things I teach in class — but those are things I’ve chosen. The length of this summer reading assignment and my complete lack of control over the choices, however, are what’s getting to me.

Okay — sorry about the self-indulgent whining! I know, I know, it’s terrible that I have to read books for my job. Poor me.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Reading, Teaching

One response to “Required reading

  1. Sparrow is an SF book with an interesting premise: a priest leads an expedition to another planet to study the two intelligent species there. How you’ll feel about having read it will depend on what you think of the ending. A lot of people think it’s a great book; others think it’s manipulative. I heard it was going to be made into a movie soon.


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