People don’t read much anymore. I’ve known it for a long while, but this year, it’s hit me especially hard because even my AP Lit kids don’t want to read. Even them. They brag to me about never having read a book in high school. To me. Their teacher. And they’re proud of it.
And me, I’m sad about it; damn near sick about it.
I’ve tried and tried to reach them, but they only want to socialize and see what’s on TikTok and Snapchat. They can’t have access to their phones, so they’ve decided I can’t have access to their minds. I’ve used a gazillion approaches, so many projects, so many competitions. They refuse to yield. I refuse to give up. But I am growing desperate. I know what’s at stake.
So, for the month of October, I’m trying a unit filled entirely with short stories we’ll read together in class. A captive audience is a more accessible audience. At least, I hope so.
I plan to hook them with dark and twisty tried-and-trues at first: Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Alice Walker’s “The Flowers.” Then a couple of newcomers to add insult to injury: Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring.” Dantiel Moniz’s “Exotics.”
Then, after they’re hooked and horrified, I’ll gut them with Ken Leiu’s “The Paper Menagerie.” (If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. It’s available online. But beware: it’ll leave you sobbing in snot-soaked shirt sleeves.)
Which is my goal: to demonstrate the power of literature so that maybe after I’m through, they’ll get it.
They’ll understand why reading matters. How fiction exists to show us how to live — and how not to live. How fiction shows us our truths — the good, the bad, and the ugly — inside our hearts.
But if reading dies, then good fiction, truth-telling fiction, will cease to exist and we’ll be left with the fictions of Instagram, snapchat and tiktok — the fiction that teaches nothing but falsehoods through filtered, fragments, all the real sliced away from the reels. Illusion masquerading as life.
If reading is lost… we will be lost.
I believe this much to be true.