Of course, there is such a thing as important literature. Certain books have altered the landscape of civilization forever, changed people's minds when they needed it most. But many students are going to find these books completely unlikable.
If the love of reading is already ingrained, this is not a problem. But what if it's not?
What if the student is unused to real books? What if the curiosity has not been enlivened from an early age by the joy of reading? If that is the case, what can these books do but kill the love of literature stone dead?
I only remember reading one book in high school that was truly important to me. It was so important that I'd already read it--for fun--at home, and seen the movie many times. It was "To Kill a Mockingbird," and at the time, it was the only assigned reading in school that I thought was actually important. And that was okay.
We are not made to have our tastes dictated to us by book clubs, to suffer guilt because we hate a book a famous person loves.
My love of reading was fostered from an early age, because reading was always a fun time, a time to to explore. I sought treasure and lost cities, mapped galaxies and lived with the wild beasts. These were my important literature.
How did reading become something else? How have we come to a place where children's books can only succeed by offering brevity in place of fun?
I was fortunate to have a father who made it his business to help me have a good time. When I outgrew a series, he would introduce me to another one he had loved growing up, and I came to love it, too. And so, world after world of adventure opened up to me.
Adventure? How can a boy become a sophisticated reader by reading adventure stories?
They helped me to love reading, that's how.
This did not mean I was superior to anyone else, to even more intelligent. It meant I was having so much fun that I frolicked to a higher and higher reading level.
Because of this, Dickens, Kipling, Shakespeare and many others have become my friends over the years. It started, not with the gray novels the school system told us we needed to read, but with a little boy and his father sitting together, laughing themselves silly over a Calvin and Hobbes book. It started with an impromptu story told to the boy about him and his stuffed animals having wild adventures.
We cannot make anyone love reading without offering them a good time. And how can we ensure they get the most out of assigned literature, and aren't turned away from novels toward the shallow pleasures of the glowing screen?
We raise kids who love reading, that's how.