One of the running jokes we’ve had on our tour over the years is how any piece of literature that is dirty or offensive, gets banned, gets a lot of criticisms for obscenity or lewdness….well they tend to sell very well. This continues to be tried and true.
Howl by Allen Ginsberg,
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s a Few Figs from Thistles
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (still often on the top 10 most banned books in the last decade)
It kind of goes on and on. In fact our running gag is saying if you want kids to read literature, forbid them from doing so. Put Shakespeare on the highest shelf, tell them there’s too much sex and violence, that they are not allowed to read it. They’ll have it memorized.
I’ve often wondered, had I been a high school English teacher, what if I assigned a Free Reading book- students choice, put a big list of books on the chalkboard and then clearly and succinctly inform them they were in no way whatsoever allowed to pick any book or author on that list….would they read them? Obviously wouldn’t put that in for the assignment, but could you actually influence kids to read more literature outside of the curriculum this way?
Several years back we did a tour for 120 high school kids. Obviously we did not go to bars (well, the guides did afterwards to commiserate, but not on the actual tour). We broke them up into 4 groups and walked them through the village.
They were hands in pocket-eye-rolling-heel-dragging bored about as much as a high school kid could be. (As a former high school kid, I can testify that we can get super bored). We reached an Edna St. Vincent Millay house, and on a whim I tried something. I said (approximately)
“Millay wrote a lot about feminism, she wrote a lot about female sexuality and lesbianism, about love affairs and…..oh geez actually I probably shouldn't be talking about this. Let’s keep moving, don’t tell you folks or your teachers, I probably shouldn’t have come here.”
And we continued the tour. At the end of the tour the chaperones came up and told me that almost every kid in my group asked them for the name of that poet, who it was that I was talking about.
So teachers, we already have a problem with kids and adults not reading. Why not? Give it a try? Forbid them from reading some great works, and lets see what happens. You might just reach a couple kids.
And then maybe they’ll come on our tour.