The other day, as I was making yet another stack of copies of another short story that my sophomores will be reading in a couple of weeks, I had a thought: why don’t we have copies of a really good anthology of short works geared toward high school students? Oh sure, there are English textbooks, but those are bulky, bloated, and are geared toward test prep more than toward teaching literature. What I mean is a “normal-sized” paperback filld with short stories or essays, something similar to the copies of The Best American ____ I used to be issued for various writing classes in college.
Now, I know that’s probably a dumb thing for me to say because there probably is an anthology out there somewhere and I just have to find it; however, that’s easier said than done. Where I am, time to do anything is virtually non-existent and so is money for the most part. So even if I did carve out an hour to search for a collection of stories, I probably would wind up buying one copy and then would find myself once again standing in front of a photocopier making a class set of a short story. In other words, I’d be right where I was a paragraph ago.
I could always ask my students what they would be interested in reading, but I am not sure that they would know very many short works of literature aside from, perhaps, the occasional poem or the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Furthermore, when I have such conversations about literature with students, the works they bring up are either inappropriate for the class (i.e., too much sex or foul language, even for me) or are below grade level (i.e., the honors student who tried to submit Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as an independent reading novel). So I wind up searching things out myself and that leads to the same photocopier, which I am sure is tired of me staring at it while begging it not to jam.
I hear and read a lot about getting reluctant readers to read and a lot of the solutions seem to be geared toward younger students or are extrinsically based (you read books? Here’s pizza!) and I’m skeptical that they would work for high school sophomores who have had several years of not reading. Furthermore, these students often focus so much on the length of the work of literature and that can add to the reading battle–I’ve actually heard vocal complaining that a five-page short story is “too long.” Five. Pages. How do you even respond to that?
Well, with a photocopier. And a class set. And the hope that maybe this will be the story that everyone likes and connects to so that for once a discussion about literature isn’t like pulling teeth.